Every wonder why the gospel grows so fast in developing nations?
I think it is because its presented in simpler terms. And this has implications for the church in America. I’ve planted three churches, each in a relatively sophisticated culture. But it is simple, colorful, teaching that seems to bring the most change to human lives.
I’m finding that very smart people want to hear more application than scholarship. In many ways, this makes my job harder. I must strive to present complicated truth in simple and “bite-sized” chunks. The whole deal is about equipping your folks to be the church on Monday, wherever they interact with others.
I work hard to keep my teaching from appearing too scholarly. I hope to come across as well read, but not perched on an intellectual pedestal. As a young church planter, I tried hiding behind intellect and superiour knowlege but gave them up for a more relational tack. I loved preaching expository sermons because I enjoyed digging deeply into the word of God. However, I soon traded expository messages for a “textual” approach. That is, I let the text dictate the outline, as you would in an expository message, but spent less time parsing verbs while bringing in lots of stories and history to aid with application.
I think a church should feel more like a family than anything else. Which drives to the core of this.
The Bible was written to be digested by semi-literate people several thousand years ago. Much of it appears as letters. I ask you, “Whoever spent 40 minutes discussing a single verb in a letter from a friend?”
Scholarship and Church Growth/Multiplication
We need scholars, but we need them to backstop pastors, and church planters, who teach practical truth to busy people. This pretty well describes what goes on in countries where churches multiply rapidly. Scholarship exists, but not at the front line. When it comes to scholarship you need to consider the Google factor. If people can easily access answers to technical questions about the Bible, they don’t require them from leaders. Our job is to equip people for daily living and to mobilize them for ministry. The best sermons I ever preached were those that instigated further study in the lives of our members.
At the frontlines of evangelism and church growth, around the world, you will hear lots of parables drawn from local culture. That worked for Jesus and it works well in the U.S.
Churches I’ve planted grew and reproduced quite rapidly in a climate of easy-to-digest Bible education. I wanted to be sure that our people could repeat the weekend teaching on Monday morning if the opportunity arose. I can remember holding back from sharing my faith, in my youth, because I could remember just two of the three points my pastor preached the day before. A narrative approach to Bible teaching equips people for ministry while an intellectual approach arms them for arguments. However, if they can’t remember the entire argument you’ve equipped them for nothing.
Another aspect of this is the reproductive angle. Ask yourself, “Could a strong ‘layperson’ learn to teach as I teach by watching me?” This is an important facet of disciplemaking. If disciplemaking and church multiplication are part of our mandate, then everything we do should contribute to those processes.
Promises from God Who is Love
In the developing world, the Bible is cherished as a book of promises made by a loving God. Promises that will get a family through a drought or help them survive a violent world. It contains instructions for restoring broken relationships and it presents the power to get past a drinking problem. It is a book of healing and a family album for the family of God. It’s this family a person joins when they are born again.
All in all, the Word of God is presented in simpler terms in places where church is growing fastest. That could be a clue for the rest of us.