God wants his disciples to grow in their faith. It is the desire of God that those who come to know him as Savior also begin to follow him as Lord. The Lord wants us “growing into maturity” (Ephesians 4:13) and he is never satisfied for us to remain weak, immature and stagnant.
An important part of the preaching task is helping believers put down deeper spiritual roots. Having been a pastor for many years, I’ve seen the importance of this first hand. While I love to see people give their lives to Christ, that new birth is a beginning and not the end. Preaching is a means by which we can help believers live the life on earth God saved them to live. It is the means by which we encourage those professing faith in Jesus to live out that faith in practical and meaningful ways. God uses the preaching of his word as a method by which people hear the truth in order to begin to live the truth.
Preachers are aided in the task of helping Christians grow by the abundance of scripture passages that deal with this subject. Much of the bible is aimed at current followers of the Lord, and clear exposition and application of those truths point this out. If a preacher simply deals with the whole counsel of God, the subject of spiritual growth cannot be ignored.
Like any pastor, I’ve discovered that not everyone who listens to my messages has the same eagerness to hear and do God’s word. Some are certainly excited to learn and live the truth. These people are easy to preach to. But what about those who aren’t so enthusiastic about following the Lord? What about those who know the Lord as Savior but have never grown much since then? What of those who are stagnant in faith or beaten down by problems or distracted by the world? How do we preach to them?
Let me suggest four things that will help pastors and other preachers strengthen weak Christians through their preaching.
1. Be clear. Preaching is about communicating God’s word to real people. Preach in a way that connects with your hearers. You are not preaching to theologians in most settings. Preach in a way and with language that allows people to understand what God wants and expects from them. Don’t assume weak Christians understand Old Testament history or systematic theology. Don’t confuse by complicated vocabulary or difficult to follow structure. Clarity is the friend of effective communication.
2. Be practical. The gospel is lived out in the real world, not a theoretical one. Help your hearers, particularly immature Christians, know how to live the faith in their homes, jobs, and schools. Don’t just tell them that they need to pray; teach them practical ways to pray. Don’t just tell them of their need to be witnesses for Christ; give them tools that help them to do this in their own settings. Help your hearers learn what to do and how to do it.
3. Make direct application. Application answers the question “So what?” It is the place in the sermon where clarity meets practicality. When I am preaching, it is helpful if I remember to apply the text to different types of people in different types of settings. I want to remember the lost and the deeply committed Christian. But, at my best, I will remember to apply the message to that man who rarely has a quiet time or that teenager who has one foot in the church and the other in the world or that single mom who is questioning the truthfulness of the bible. Direct application helps real people deal with the real issues that keep them from following Jesus fully.
4. Call to full discipleship. Preacher, don’t be shy about calling people to decision. Be bold, direct and passionate. This applies to calling people to trust Christ as Savior, but it also applies to calling people to a deeper walk with the Lord. God may well use your appeal as an instrument used by the Holy Spirit to lead believers to fully surrender their lives to God’s purposes. God may use your call to strike the conscience of immature Christians and to call them to full obedience and full surrender. One part of our task is to call people to follow God in our day as the prophets of old called the people to abandon idolatry and to worship the Lord fully. Like Elijah in 1 Kings 18:21 we cry out, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him.”
There are few things more satisfying in ministry than seeing immature believers fully commit themselves to the Lord. When they move from complacency to saying “yes” to God, well, that is one of the great joys of our calling.
Don’t forget the task of calling weak Christians to deeper faith in your preaching ministry. I am glad for a God who isn’t satisfied to leave us as spiritual babies and who never gives up on our spiritual potential in Christ. Preach the word!
Doug Munton is the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Illinois.