recent contest put on by Leadership Journal, has concluded that
the top two preachers in America are T.D. Jakes and Chuck Swindoll,
with each receiving 23 percent of the vote. The September 17, 2001
issue of Time Magazine carries T.D. Jakes on the cover while asking
the question, "Is this man the next Billy Graham?" While Time had
acknowledged Billy Graham as the long-standing holder of the distinction
as America's Preacher, Vincent Synan, dean of religion at Regent
University, throws Jakes into a unique category in that Jakes and
Graham are the only two evangelists who could pack out Atlanta's
79,000-capacity Georgia Dome.
these two great American orators, Jakes and Swindoll, were given
high scores for their delivery, their skillful handling of the text,
and their overall ability to connect well with their listeners,
I was even more challenged by some of the comments that followed
the contest in Leadership. In particular I was taken by a comment
from Dan Kimball of Santa Cruz, California, as he stated his concern
that, "Preaching is only one, small part of being a pastor. Could
we subtly be teaching church attendees not how to feed themselves
from the Word of God, but to become dependent on the 'greatest'
I would never denigrate the necessity for the word of God to be
preached, (the kerygma, the Good News to be declared, Romans 10:14
still standing as a necessity, "...how will they hear without a
preacher?") I can't stop asking the question as to whether Kimball
has hit on something. Is it possible that as the gap deepens between
the talkers and listeners that we simultaneously lessen people's
eagerness and effectiveness in being message carriers to their world?
By making the professional pulpit the Olympics of Oratory, do we
in fact, continue to foster a pastor-dominated, sermon-driven worship
machine that actually hinders the average players role in Kingdom
expansion? It's like the age-old issue of experience and opportunity.
Remember when you couldn't get a job because of a lack of experience,
and yet you couldn't get experience because no one would give you
the question is asked, "How will they hear without a preacher?"
should another question also be asked; "How will they ever get good
a preaching if we always preach for them?"
have simply concluded that too many years of doing it the same way,
too much tuition moneys spent on seminary training, and too many
books cracked on the subject of preaching make us feel as though
we have to continue to reinforce the pastor's preeminent performance
in the pulpit. After all, isn't that what the pastors were trained
to do? Isn't that what pastors are paid for? It is very possible
that too much tradition and the reinforcement of tradition forces
us to continue to overstate the role as pastor and preacher. So
we keep being mesmerized by contests for the best preachers, and
the biggest audiences rather than looking for more effective ways
to release church as a whole to do their best in growing and penetrating
Professor Robert Webber sees it like this, "I began to see that
the pastor dominates much of our worship. From early childhood,
I have been accustomed to the pastor doing everything. But in the
past few years, I've noticed that I have become particularly sensitive
to pastor-dominated worship services. Whenever I worship or speak
at a church where the pastor is the focal point, I feel dominated
and stifled. I find myself longing to participate, to be involved.
I want to respond to what's going on, to say "Amen" or "Thanks be
to God" or give witness to my faith or pray. But in churches where
the pastor-figure is central, any response is often looked at as
odd or inappropriate. In this situation my stomach actually feels
tied up in knots, my muscles tense, and my whole body feels trapped,
even caged in. My spirit and thus my worship are affected. I feel
as though I'm not worshipping; I'm not actively participating. Rather,
the pastor is doing everything for me. I'm simply a receiver, a
passive recipient of the actions of one other person."
to Webber, congregations dominated by the pastor or the pastoral
staff become passive spectators-- they begin to treat the Sunday
church meetings as just another form of entertainment, such as sitting
down to watch television, attending a play, concert, or catching
a dinner show. Webber, Worship is a Verb.
strolling down the street next to our offices in San Diego, I was
in conversation with a brother who is a part of our fellowship and
attends one of our house churches. We had just eaten breakfast together,
and had enjoyed a really stimulating conversation over our meal.
As we walked to our cars, I asked him about what the rest of his
day looked like. He stated that night he would be attending his
house church, and commented it was hard. When I asked him why, he
said, "I think I like movie church, you know, where you can just
go and sit and watch and then leave, but in my house church they
won't let me do that."
and training people that as they come to a gathering, they are integral,
they are necessary, and they are vital, is a far stretch from this
"movie-entertainment-type church." When we instruct them (and believe
me, it takes a lot of instruction and modeling!) that they are there
not just to observe, to show mental assent, and to pay for services
rendered as the "plate" is passed, but, in fact, that they are responsible
for the quality and flow of the gathering as they fully engage and
fully participate in this wonderful experience called "church,"
you can be sure that many will struggle. At least at first. Mainly,
again, because it seems the only model we have had is that of the
"talking head" model. Now we even have contests to decide who is
the best of those "talking heads."
some of my past preaching articles on Third Day Preaching (www.thirddaychurches.com),
I have tried to share ideas, exercises, or games we can play that
can begin to draw out the listener and make him or her a participant.
This is a process. It doesn't just happen automatically. The more
you intentionally make room for others, the more you will raise
a new standard for how meetings are to go. But be warned, where
many will feel uncomfortable, and even threatened, many will like
it. And as people are drawn upon to now see them as a room full
of resources that God has placed there for a more multifaceted meal,
many will shift in their mindset and actually come to the meetings
carrying their gifts. They will want, and even expect to be given
the opportunity of sharing their gifts with the body.
again, in one sense, it is not about getting the Word, the Bible
into a meeting, it is about how we do this. The shift away from
the paid professional being the only delivery system is the issue.
How about two sermons from two different individuals, or even three,
or maybe the weaving of an exhortation, a teaching, a prophecy and
a testimony. Two recent conversations with a couple of the leaders
I am currently working with let me know that they were starting
to get it. One came to me at the end of one of our meetings, as
I had been challenging the people to participate more, and said,
"Hey, Gary, how about telling or letting us know the actual text
you or whoever will be speaking on next week, so we can pray over
and study the text at home, and see if God gives us anything to
share or add next week to the message?" The other leader pointed
out to me that his sense was that the more prepared I came to the
meeting, the less others feel adequate, particularly in the area
of the teaching of the Word.
a recent Sunday gathering, I was talking (and yes...I still am the
talking head on occasions when I have a strong word and feel I need
to share it!). But before I began, I handed out two small laminated
signs, each one carrying a single word, which was the theme of my
talk for that day. I handed one to each side of the room where people
were sitting. I told the people simply to look at these little signs
and them pass them along to someone else. A few minutes later, I
stopped, and asked where the signs were and asked that person who
had the sign to stand and give their definition of the word or theme
on the sign. At first, there was some hesitation as everyone now
realized the price that would be paid to have the sign in one's
possession when I paused to ask for a definition. But after they
got over the initial shock that I was actually soliciting feedback,
this little exercise began to flow. By the end of the talk, it was
working so well that some people were holding on to the sign, or
even wanted it back, because they so eagerly wanted to participate
and add to the meeting.
nations of the world do not have the luxury of highly trained seminarians
leading their meetings, and yet their churches are growing by leaps
and bounds with the priesthood of the believer at full tilt. Here
we are in a country that even has contests to determine the "greatest
preachers" of its day. Yet we have people coming to our meetings
week after week without engaging, without participating, and thus
without growing. Dr. Karl Coke has even stated, that he believes,
the church is at its weakest level of spiritual maturity in its
people are invited to "virtual church" where everyone is encouraged
to interact, to participate, to be a vital part, they will begin
to grow. They will grow because there is a direct correlation in
divine stewardship as to "getting out" proportionally, what you
Kahle addresses the devastating impact of our current model upon
believers, when he says, "The institutional church, with its reliance
on paid pastors, church buildings, teaching and worship services,
has created a passive, spectator form of Christianity that bleeds
the power out of its adherents and siphons resources away from the
building of God's kingdom."
years I have prided myself as being a lifelong learner. I read (my
wife tells me too much!), I go to conferences, seminars, workshops,
always wanting to learn more. Well then, what about the people I
am leading? I not only know they want to learn more; I also know
that they will learn best when they put into action or practice
what they are learning. That includes sharing, even in a public
church gathering, what God is showing them, or what they are getting
from Him, and how it is working in their lives.
do agree with those prophets, those prognosticators of our day when
they warn us that times have changed, and we must change with the
times. Erik Hoffer once said, "In times of change, learners inherit
the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped
to deal with a world that no longer exists. 'The world we knew no
longer exists.' Efforts to recreate that world are futile. Therefore,
we need a new kind of leader to deal with today's changing world:
just wonder, what kind of system are we creating, when we the preachers,
eating hearty, healthy biblical meals during our weekly studies,
to only then regurgitate these meals into smaller rations for the
masses on Sunday morning? Or, have we really been called to create
learning colonies, or learning societies, where people receive and
release. Places where they get and give away. Places where the final
test, or the final contest as to whether we are good at what we
are doing is found in the end product of the shy, untrained, neophyte
standing up in a worship celebration and sharing some thoughts that
deeply effect those in attendance? Not because we as leaders are
lazy, or bored, or burnt-out, but because we have actually planned
the meeting so that others are encouraged to participate.
years, my worth as a pastor, at least in my mind, was based upon
my ability to perform. And perform I did, from the earliest days
of long periods of research and preparation for each message, each
part that I played in the meeting. Even as a worship-leading-lad
in my father's church, I was diligent to make sure I had a cute
story about each hymn I would lead and at least a verse or comment
for each chorus. I took this call to lead very seriously. And I
still do. It is just that I am trying to lead differently.
am currently experimenting with different kinds of gatherings, for
different kinds of purposes. And I am seeing that teaching people
in smaller groups, that are highly interactive and highly participatory,
are, in fact, better than the download to the masses in large, passive
settings. This is not revolutionary; it is simply facing the fact
that the large lecture-driven meeting is probably not the best place
for people to really "get" what we are saying. And it is realizing
that transformation and not just more information, regardless of
how slick and high-tech the presentation.
are so many creative things we can do. But ultimately, we must first
admit that what we have been doing is not working. So how much longer
will we perpetuate the model of the glazed over looks of non-connected
listeners as they stare at the overly compensating "talking heads?"
we can do better than that! Particularly as we take seriously our
mandate to "prepare God's people for works of service, so that the
body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith
and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining
to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" Ephesians 4. Because
the purpose of the church is people development, not just pastor
performance, we must return to a biblical model that discourages
spectators and applauds participators.
Pastors, your new job in this new way of doing church (if you choose
to take it), is even greater and more far-reaching than before.
As mentors-coaches-facilitators, you get to create an atmosphere
and coach a team, rather than isolate yourself behind your research
and pre-planned sermons. You get to break the predictability of
the three-piece suit and the three-point homily and coach an army
to march. Will you ever preach again? Of course you will! Maybe
even better. Many times you will wrap up and/or apply what the Father
has been saying through many, in any given meeting. Sometimes you'll
have such a burning word that you will have to give it. A, it will
come out of the heart of combustion in the prophetic moment.
I quit listening to the bare contents of sermons a long time ago.
What I do now is listen for what it is that people "carry." What
is their life message? What is burning in them so hot it cannot
be quenched? As God raises spiritual fathers and mothers these days,
this next generation needs to get what we "carry." Rather than a
need to control a meeting, we get to carry a fatherly release to
give permission to others in our gatherings. Rather than the meeting
being about us, it is about them, and thus, ultimately about Him.
How does the Father want to speak to us today? What is His agenda?
What does He want to say? And whom does He want to say it through?
Now, that's church!