Ravi Zacharias and Francis Chan believe that if church leaders are going to help the next generation build a genuine faith instead of walking away from it, it’s crucial that pastors prioritize expository preaching. At the same time, it is just as essential for leaders to communicate truth in love and with compassion.
“We are not answering a question, we are answering a questioner,” said Zacharias. “Our challenge is to make them realize that while our worldview may be different, the imperative of our worldview is to love those who oppose and love those who stand against us.”
Don’t Neglect the Word
During a Q&A session at the recent 2019 Church Leaders Conference, Zacharias and Chan answered a series of questions. One came from a pastor in the audience who quoted statistics showing it’s becoming unusual for those in younger generations to accept Jesus’ divinity. The man asked what he could do as a pastor to help young people believe in Jesus as the Son of God instead of seeing Him merely as a moral teacher.
Zacharias responded that “in our preaching one way or the other, we have to be bringing in the teachings of Jesus and why those teachings are true and why He is indeed who He claims to be.” Something worth remembering is that even Jesus’ closest followers had trouble grasping His identity and purpose. As an example, Zacharias brought up Matthew 16 where Peter says to Jesus: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus praises Peter and tells him he is the rock on which Jesus will build His church. But immediately after that, Peter fails by rebuking Jesus for saying He will go to the cross. To this Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Zacharias said, “Even those who recognized His deity had a difficulty in understanding the total message and the mission.” Peter was also present during Jesus’ transfiguration. Even though he saw Jesus revealed in all His glory, he still didn’t “get it.” He wanted to stay there on the mountaintop.
However, later in 1 Peter 3, Peter exhorts believers to set Christ apart as Lord in their hearts and to be prepared to give an answer for the hope they have. This shows, said Zacharias, that even though Peter had incredible experiences with Jesus, he did not rely on those experiences for his faith, but instead relied on God’s word. Zacharias concluded, “Expository preaching is the most powerful way to present who Jesus Christ really is.”
Chan agreed and emphasized that we need to remember it is the Holy Spirit who enables people to believe. In the Matthew 16 passage, when Jesus praises Peter, He says God is the one who revealed the truth to him. As pastors preach, they need to recognize that God is the true author of faith. Chan said, “Apologetics has its place and then there’s a stopping point to it and we go, ‘Oh God, please, please.’” It’s also helpful to remember it’s not natural for people to accept that Jesus is divine. So, said Chan, we need to plead with God that He will bring about that belief in people. And we can take comfort from Jesus’ promise that His sheep will hear His voice and respond to Him.
Love Must Lead
Both Chan and Zacharias highlighted the importance of kindness and compassion as believers speak the truth. Zacharias noted that when people challenge our beliefs in a way that is intimidating, it can be tempting for us to lose our tempers and “fight back.” But instead, we must communicate that we love and care about people, not only in how we answer but also in how available we are to answer. If we cannot treat people with kindness, there is no point trying to tell them about the good news of the gospel. Something Zacharias’s mother used to say is, “Once you’ve cut off a person’s nose, there’s no point giving them a rose to smell.”
Chan stressed that as Jesus’ followers, we are to be known by our love for one another, adding, “This is where we’re losing it.” He described how significant it was for him to feel loved by Zacharias when he first met him. Chan said that he is not an apologist, and until he met Zacharias, it was totally foreign to him to feel accepted by a Christian scholar, instead of feeling like he fell short because of his lack of knowledge. As Christians, he said, we need to ask ourselves what we are doing to pursue loving one another the way that Jesus wants us to love.
It’s Worth Watching the Rest
Zacharias and Chan had a number of other insights regarding the challenges facing the church, such as the difficulty of pursuing Christ in an affluent culture and the problem of disunity among believers. It could be, said Zacharias at one point, that “the greatest need for the hour is that we be one in our belief and in our passion and in our propagation.”
What do you think?