In The Four Steps of Sermon Preparation I discuss Kenton C. Anderson’s method of sermon development which considers the tension of the authority of God’s Word as well as the apprehension of the listeners. In my application of this method, I have typically spent some amount of time trying to dig up the cultural and historical background of the text in order to understand “The Story.” In my search to understand “The Problem”, I have typically listed possible questions or objections my listeners may have. Recently, however, I have taken a different approach to figuring out “The Problem” that I believe has enriched my messages.
The change I have made is that instead of simply considering isolated problems that the congregation may have with the text, I try to consider the “story” of the congregation itself and the gap that may exist between the principles of God’s Word and the lifestyle of the people.
How does this work?
This Wednesday I plan to give a devotional on Acts 8:1-8 in which we learn of the great persecution that arose against the Church in Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen. The story of this scripture is that until this time the Church had, for whatever reason, a more inward than outward focus. This scripture chronicles the Church’s first step to fulfilling the worldwide mission Christ gave to his followers. While the persecution seemed like an insurmountable challenge for the Church, God used it to move the Church out of its comfort zone and onto fulfilling Christ’s commission.
My thesis (“The Point”), therefore, is that God can create ministry opportunities from our impossible problems.
With this background then, what is “The Problem” for my local congregation? (Note: “The Problem” for your congregation may vary somewhat from my congregation). As I am presenting this message as a devotional, my plan is to ask the people themselves what they consider to be the great challenges for 1) the Church in America, 2) our local congregation, and 3) us individually. However, in my mind, the following is a rough sketch of how I would answer this question on my own…
My congregation is not facing overwhelming opposition to the Gospel like the Church in Jerusalem did. However, there may be a number of issues that could discourage our church from looking at the world as our mission field. First, the struggling economy may cause many of the people to be more worried about the finances than anything else. Second, the rural location of our church may discourage some from thinking our church can have an impact on our world. Third, like the early Church, our societal values and beliefs may cause us to overlook some people as prospects for salvation. Etc.
While understanding that various individuals and families in a congregation may have different issues going on, if you were to write one “story” about your congregation, what would it be? And more importantly, how does that story relate to the story behind the scripture you will be preaching next?