During my first semester of college, I was running from God like crazy. I had been to church my whole life and this was the first time I was out of my parents’ house, and no-one was making me go to church on Sundays; I could do whatever I wanted.
And I was absolutely miserable.
God used three things primarily to completely change may life. One was another person who befriended me and invited me to church. The second was worship. And the third was the preaching of God’s word. After I came to the Lord, I started attending Central Baptist Church in College Station, TX. The pastor’s name was Chris Osborne, and he got up and preached from the Greek New Testament, verse by verse.
What I realized for the first time in my life was that as I was hearing the anointed, Holy Spirit-empowered, faithful preaching of the word of God, it was changing my life. Every single Sunday, he got up and exposited the Bible and I walked away convicted of my sin and desiring to turn from that sin. And I walked away loving God more because of it.
When I moved to Austin, TX in 2002 to plant The Austin Stone Community Church, even though my life had been changed by expository, text-driven preaching, I was planning on preaching topically. That’s what most pastors were doing, and their churches were growing by teaching “5 Steps to This” and “3 Principles for That.”
Why was I planning on preaching topically? Because I was told over and over again by so many people that I could never grow a church by preaching verse by verse. Voices that I trusted and loved said over and over again that there was absolutely no way that people from Austin would come and hear sermons straight from the Bible. Austin-ites are educated and hip and artistic and savvy, and so I would need to take a different approach. I was told that I needed to be creative and have sets on stage and show movie clips.
But as I looked in the Bible, I couldn’t get past verses like 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about Paul’s exhortation to the young pastor Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-2:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
I couldn’t ignore what the book of Hebrews said about the scripture, which I’ve personally found to be true:
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
The Word of God is what has power, not the words of Matt Carter. Teachings on living morally or “life lessons” or topics I deem are important will not change hearts, but the Word of God never returns void. The primary goal of preaching is not to teach you to be a moral person so that you make good decisions and live a better life here on Earth. The primary goal of preaching is for you to encounter the living God and worship Him.
So on the very first Sunday of The Austin Stone, the very first words I spoke from the pulpit were, “Open your Bibles to the book of John, chapter one. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.'”