Sound biblical preaching is the foundation of Jesus’ church. Jesus commissioned His disciples to preach, Paul exhorts Timothy to preach, and God blesses the local church with the gifts of pastor-teachers. Needless to say, a church will rise and fall given the state of the pulpit. As preachers, we seek to do many things when we stand on Sunday.
We desire that the Word will take root and convert sinners. We labor to exhort members to follow the precepts of the Word. But an important aspect of preaching is leading the church in a specific direction as defined by Jesus in His Word. Here are three ways to establish text-driven leadership in a local church.
The Substance of the Text Sets the Overall Agenda for Pastoral Leadership
As we think about local church leadership, the temptation is to simply read the latest church growth book to discover the best method. While these books may be helpful, we mustn’t forget that the Bible sets the agenda for the church. Jesus builds His church through the Word. Therefore the Word establishes the trajectory.
Before you pick a book of the Bible to preach for your next sermon series, take time to evaluate the specific needs of the church and the steps to take in order to reach those goals. Commit this need to the Lord and ask Him to guide you as you plan your preaching. The good news is as you discover what the local church needs, the Lord will direct your heart in the Word. He cares more about His church than you and I do. Upon coming to a conclusion about the specific book, identity the overall point of the book and labor to cultivate a vision for the church based upon the text’s major idea.
Practically: You can develop the sermon series around that major idea. For example, at the time of writing this post, I am preaching through 1 Peter. The basic idea of the book is “we are called to embrace our exile identity so that we can live as exiles in a world that is not our home.” The sermon series is called “Embracing Exile,” and each sermon seeks to develop this major idea. The overall intention of the series is to encourage the congregation to think differently about who we are as Christians as we seek to represent Christ to a fallen world. In this process, the text is actually setting the agenda for the church. As a pastor/leader I can begin to take steps toward developing this vision during this season of church life.
The Structure of the Text is the Instrument in Developing Pastoral Leadership
In text-driven preaching, we understand that the substance of the text is intimately connected to the structure of the text. The form helps develop the meaning. The principle can also be applied when it comes to pastoral leadership. Not only does the text set the agenda (the What), the text is actually the instrument to bring transformation (the How). To simplify this point: the structure of the Text is the means by which we can discover the specific leadership steps that we need to take in order to establish change in a local church.
For example, in 1 Peter 1:3–2:3, the text at the macro-level is structured in a GROUNDS-exhortation relationship. 1 Peter 1:3–12 provides the grounds for the series of exhortations of 1 Peter 1:13-2:3. The structure follows like this: We embrace our identity as exiles (1 Pet 1:1–2); Our identity is grounded in the new life we’ve received by faith in the gospel (1 Pet 1:3–12); Therefore as exiles, we live in a way that is in accordance with our new identity (1 Pet 1:13–2:3).
Exegetically, this makes sense. But how does this relate to leadership? As a pastor/leader the structure of the text provides us the ability to lead in those specific steps that will achieve the intended goal, which is ultimately transformation of identity and action. Whether it is intentionally holding a class on church membership (Christian identity), teaching personal evangelism (we have a new identity, therefore we live in accordance with it), or one-to-one discipleship, the structure of the text is the instrument that aids the pastor/leader make specific leadership decisions for the local church.
The Spirit of the Text Drives the Tone for Pastoral Leadership
The spirit (feel, tone, emotion) of the text is based on genre. The question is “what is the author’s intended emotive design of this text?” God desires that his people not only know the What, the How, but also the Why. This “Why” is the emotive function that the author uses to convey the intended meaning. For example, the psalms could be a lament or praise song. In the epistles the author may be explaining a topic, exhorting through commands, or providing a step-by-step procedure for how to live. These are the emotive designs of the author.
In preaching and leadership we aim to “inspire” the congregation to action. Pastoral leadership is therefore served by the emotive function of the text. A pastor/leader can tap into the tone of the text in order to lead people to the intended goal. Since the spirit of the text conveys meaning, this affects the tone of our sermon and leadership.
How do we do this? As leaders, we communicate through words and actions. Therefore, the very spirit of the text drives our leadership tone. We can embody the emotive design of the text in our interactions, meetings, and counseling. Emotional intelligence, leadership disposition, and communication tone are driven by the text. We can be driven by the desperation embedded in the text, the compassionate exhortation of the text, we can lead through rejoicing that’s developed in the text. The text sets the tone for pastoral leadership.
Text-driven preaching drives text-driven leadership. The substance sets the agenda for leadership, the substance is the instrument that aids leadership, and the spirit drives the tone for leadership. If our preaching is surrendered to the text, our leadership must be derived from the text.
Michael Cooper is the Pastor of Grace Community Church in Mabank, Texas, and is a Ph.D. student in Southwestern’s School of Preaching.