James MacDonald is the founding senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, one of the fastest growing multi-site churches in the Chicago area reaching over 13,000 lives each weekend. Through James’ leadership and by God’s grace, a church planting ministry was formed in 2002, Harvest Bible Fellowship, which has planted more than 69 churches across North America and around the world. James also teaches on Walk in the Word, a daily radio broadcast committed to “igniting passion in the people of God through the proclamation of truth.” He and his wife, Kathy, have three adult children and make their home in suburban Chicago.
Excerpted from his talk given at the Acts 29 Lead Pastors’ Retreat in June 2011:
I wish I could tell you that most pastors are preaching the Word. I can’t — some are not preaching the Word. So here are five things we may choose to do instead of preaching the Word.
“Music, drama, and video, felt needs, topics, more stories”
None of those things are wrong — unless they displace the preaching of the Word of God. Some teachers will tell you that you need to tell stories in your sermons or you will bore people. I’m not bored. If you’re not bored, no one is going to be bored. Can you take hold of the Word of God and take hold of a group of people and make them listen because you have something to say?
Are you bored? The greatest sin in ministry is to bore people with the Bible. Martin Lloyd Jones said, “Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire. A man who can speak about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit and should never be allowed to enter one.”
You have to get the Word of God, let it grip your heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, and drive over to church with something to say.
Now if a story fits in, I might tell you a story before I sit down, but don’t make that your thing. If people come up to you afterwards and say, “I love that story you told,” it should make you crazy. Really, that’s what I am? I’m a storyteller? The Gospel is the main story that you should be telling.
We hear a pastor say, “There are some things I just want to share with you today…”
Since when is the man of God some Dr. Phil and Oprah combo? You’re supposed to proclaim a message. If you’re not preaching, glory is not coming down. You have to preach the glory down — people have to hear a word from God.
“Careful, careful, don’t offend, always comfortable, never pressured, just a pinch of truth, when they’re ready to handle it”
The preaching of the gospel has become so watered down that the non-elect can’t even reject it.
If you don’t have people walking away from your ministry saying, “This is a hard word, who can accept it?” then you don’t have a ministry like Jesus had.
I just hate this notion that we can be so clever and sophisticated that we can remove the offense from the gospel. It is foolishness to those who are perishing; it is the power of God to those who are being saved. It is the aroma of death to those who are perishing; it is the aroma of life to those who are being saved.
Listen, preacher: If you don’t want to be the aroma of death to those who are perishing, you can never be the aroma of life to those who are being saved. That’s why preaching is hard work.
“I’ve been thinking and researching this in the original languages…”
We’re supposed to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And preaching that stops at the shoulders is defective preaching. It has to move me — it has to call me to action — mind, emotions, and will. If you’re just preaching your theological construct, you’re blowing it.
Stop preaching the scaffolding around the Bible and preach the Word — what God actually says.
John Calvin said, “God deigns [considers it proper] to consecrate to himself the mouths and tongues of men in order that his voice may resound in them.” Your preaching is at its best when your people have forgotten that you’re even standing there, and God’s Spirit is moving through you. I am afraid that we’ve lost sight of this.
“Twenty minute sermons”
I don’t know how it works at your church, but for us it takes 5 minutes to set the rig up and another 5 or 10 minutes to take it down. If you’re only preaching for 20 minutes, that gives you 5 minutes to drill. You’re not going very deep, are you? It takes some time.
Romans 10:16 Jesus said, “He who hears you, hears me.”
“He who hears you,” Jesus said, “hears me.”
Yet there’s no pridefulness, is there? It’s so humbling. It’s a crushing weight, isn’t it? I tell people the weekly message preparation is the crucible of my sanctification. Never get in a habit of getting up in the pulpit when things aren’t square everywhere. That by itself will keep you going in the right direction. “He who hears you, hears me,” Jesus said. I love that challenge — to be that person.