The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Andrés Reid leads preaching workshops in Spain. He emphasises the importance of looking for excellence, being faithful to the Bible and living lives that shine in society.
Secularism has become one of the main traits of Western societies, where anything related to the faith in God is presented as unnattractive and outdated.
In this context, how can Christians make the message of the Bible better known? What kind of preaching is needed?
Regardless of the methods that we use, “God does everything well, with excellence, so we must aim to do the same”, Andrés Reid, who leads preaching workshops in Spain, said in an interview with Spanish news website Protestante Digital.
“We should go to the Word, explain it and apply it”, he added, warning about the risk of repeating mistakes of the past, when a poor preaching led to the decline of the church.
He emphasised the importance of fidelity and stressed that “if we want the society to know Jesus better, we need to be more like Him”.
Question. Is it right to evaluate our preaching methods according to their relevance?
Answer. It is very easy to answer this question superficially, going to the extremes. One extreme would be to think that methods are not important, because the church is eternal and we respond to an eternal God that is above any human culture. That could lead us to not pay attention to methods.
But that, actually, means to keep the same ways of presenting the gospel which we received, and to repeat the same activities of that one church which first shared the message with us. Without noticing it, we end up saying that methods do matter. We agree with those ways that are more natural to us, of which we say that are the 'most biblical'... Without a deep reflection about it.
Sometimes, the questions of a person who does not know the Bible (who is maybe open to seek God) and comes to an activity or a meeting of our churches, are answered before we say a word. Just by the way we greet each other, the way we welcome someone who comes to our church for the first time, the way we do whatever we do.
The other extreme is to think that, if we have very good methods, everything is done. That is also a very superficial response, because the essence does not lie in the methods.
God does everything well, with excellence, and we should aim to do the same.
Q. When we look at the history of the church preaching, what can we learn?
A. There is much we can learn from the history of church preaching. As the famous quote says: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”.
When we look at the past, we see that the quality, vitality and spirituality of the church is directly related to the quality of the preaching, for good and for bad.
If we think of moments of the history of the church, when there was not very much spiritual vitality, such as the Medieval times, and we examine what was preached on Sundays, we see that those who went to church listened to a sermon that was not prepared, studied and developed by the priest.
The priest just read something that he had discovered in other sources. Or he developed a theoretical argumentation, usually related to a pun that only depended on the ingenuity of the priest. He also would tell anecdotes, usually from the stories of the life of the saints, and would entertain the congregation, telling jokes.
That worries me, because that led to the decline of the church for centuries. And when we look at the way many preach today, we see that the current way is very similar to the poor way of preaching of those moments of history when the vitality of the church declined.
On the other side, in times of great revivals, such as the Reformation of the 16th century, and the revivals that came after, God used expository preachers of the Word.
Luther and the rest of the Reformers were, above all, preachers who went to the Word of God to explain it and apply it to their society. That happened in all of the revivals. Then, what should we do today to reach a secular society that does not know the Bible, the revelation of God? We should go to the Word, explain it and apply it.
That is a method, not only sustained by history, but the Bible and God himself tell us that that is preaching: the explanation and application of a written message about God's revelation.
Q. Is fidelity an old-fashioned concept?
A. If we observe how we treat each other in our society, we could come to that conclusion.
I think that, related to this, there is a narrative that we tell ourselves, which is a half-truth or even a lie. It says that, the more personal autonomy we have, the more freedom and happiness we achieve. The biblical narrative clashes with that. Happiness and joy do not come by trying to have as much personal autonomy as possible.
Those who pursue this withdraw from commitments of a relationship with God and other people. At the end, that reduces their lives, deteriorates it, and does ultimately not lead to personal happiness.
It has become less common to reward fidelity. We constantly see this narrative in series and films: if you are with a person, but you are not happy in that relationship, and then you find another person who makes you happier, then you should pursue that personal autonomy, than to be faithful.
The results of this show us that, as always, what God says is what works. Personal happiness is very much related to the fidelity, because our fidelity to God and other people is based on the fact that we have a faithful God who has created us to have a yearning for a faithful love.
Q. How is this fidelity crisis affect preaching?
A. The key question here is, whose message is what we preach?
If the message is mine, I can do whatever I want when I preach. But if the message belongs to God, suddenly fidelity becomes very relevant, because if He has given me a message that I have to give to others. iAnd do it in a way people can understand it. I have the duty to be faithful to the One who issues that message.
Sometimes our problem is that we think that the Bible is not that relevant. It seems that we need to add something to the Bible, a little bit of salt and relevance. That is a big mistake.
Those who study the Bible will see that the Bible talks about everything. If we think about our dreams, our idols, our fears, our contemporary reality, we will see that the Bible talks about all these issues.
We just need to seek, study and find what it is already in the text. Preachers need to be faithful. If we think that that is old-fashioned, our own preaching will soon be old-fashioned.
Those who “marry” the spirit of this century, will be widows in the next century.
Q. How can churches make Jesus better known?
A. If we want the society to know Jesus better, we need to be more like Him. They should see Jesus in our lives, in our communities too.
At the end, we do not need to have a very good strategy, or to be great thinkers. It is important to think, to meditate, but the key is being like Jesus.
That does not mean that we need to be out of the world, having more worship services, etc; Jesus was not always there.
We need to shine when we are in the workplace, in our neighbourhood, with our family. We need to recognise that we often do not shine very much. If they do not distinguish the light, it is because it is very far away or it is weak.
We are in contact with our workmates, classmates, our neighbours, we greet them... But we do not really share our lives with them, we do not have deep relationships. On the other hand, when they know us, what they see does not shine that much. In general, we do not live lives that really shine, lives full of peace and contentment.
What attracts people are other people transformed to the image of Christ. And when others meet them, they see something different: the way they treat each other, a community they have not seen before.
They still do not know what they have, but they detect that there is authenticity. That is what we should desire and seek, and only God can give it to us. We need to look for God, in His Word, in prayer. That light needs to shine in society, in the darkness around us.
Watch this interview here (Spanish).