You don’t have to preach a series on the family to shape the families of your church. You don’t have to preach a parenting series to deeply influence the life and practice of parents in your church. Great marriages consist of great individuals who have died to themselves and are seeking to honor to Jesus in their private and communal life. And great families are made up of great individuals who have gladly come under the good rule and reign of Jesus and are living in step with his Holy Spirit. What we need from the pulpit today with regard to the family is not more parent-centered sermons or more relevant family-driven preaching. Rather, what we need from the pulpit today with regard to the family is what we have always needed from the pulpit: Jesus-centered, grace-driven preaching.
By Jesus-centered preaching I mean preaching that has the person and work of Jesus as its focal point and end point. A biblical sermon, regardless of the topic, should point people to Jesus as our only hope for salvation and transformation. Paul’s great ambition was to present everyone in the scope of his ministry mature in Christ (mature men, women, and children and—by implication—mature families and churches). Paul says the way he went about pursuing that great end was by proclaiming Christ, “warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom.” (Col 1:28) When Christ is presented to our spiritual senses through the preaching of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit graciously illumines our minds to see him with the eyes of faith, we are conformed to Christ’s image. We become like him as we behold him. (2 Cor 3:18) As a man becomes more like Christ, he will love his wife and children like Christ loves. He will gain ground in patience, as Jesus is patient. He will grow in wisdom and gentleness, forgiveness and compassion, integrity and faithfulness. As Jesus is proclaimed, a wife will have her soul reshaped by the Holy Spirit. Like an artist keeping one eye on the model (Jesus) and the other eye on the canvas (the wife) the Holy Spirit reproduces the character of Jesus in her life. The necessary character required for a flourishing marriage is not the fruit of the law or “four practical steps” working on the outer life, but the result of an internal life taken up with the transforming beauty of Christ.
By grace-driven preaching I mean instruction and exhortation which has for its motivation and explanation the grace of God seen in Christ. The grace of God in Christ must permeate all of our preaching. It has been said that Christian doctrine is grace and Christian ethics is gratitude. Paul’s primary method in motivating the churches to obedience was God’s kindness in Jesus, a kindness that leads us to repentance. (Rom 2:4) When Paul sought to motivate the Corinthians toward extreme generosity, he appealed to grace of our Lord Jesus who went broke to bless us. (2 Cor 8:9) When Paul addressed husbands and wives, he pointed to the love that Jesus has for his bride the church, demonstrated in how he loved her, gave himself up for her, and still today nourishes and cherishes her. (Eph 5:22–33) Grace is a greater motivator than fear and guilt. When we get grace, we will grow in our capacity to give grace. As a parent experiences the grace of God through his Fatherly care for them, it shapes their own heart toward their children. As we are parented by God—our patient, forgiving, tender and kind heavenly Father—we grow to parent like God.
Whether you are preaching a family-focused or parenting-focused sermon series, the need of the day is Jesus-centered, grace-driven preaching. It is the kind of preaching that melts the heart, forms the soul, and brings transformation to lives and relationships.
J.R. Vassar is an elder and the Lead Pastor at Church at the Cross in Grapevine, Texas.