Sunday Night Live Sermons
SEND ME. NOT HIM!
ROMANS 15:14-22 . ACTS 20:1-24
4th April 2002
PREACHING IN A MISSIONARY AGE
THE INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS ON PREACHING,
EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY APRIL 2002
I am a preacher. I communicate the Gospel. There is no higher calling. Some reporters and commentators write and say the church is being replaced by Islam and other beliefs. They talk through the top of their heads and display ignorance. The fact is Christianity is the world's fastest-growing religion, growing faster than the world's population.
Dr. David Barrett, of the Lausanne Statistical Task Force, reports that the ratio of non-Christians to Bible-believing Christians now stands at 6.8 to 1, the lowest ratio in history. The task force has amassed statistics
including world population, the number of people not Christian, the number of people who call themselves Christians, the number of evangelical
Christians, and the number of 'unreached people groups' in the world, from AD100 to 1995.
In AD100, it is estimated there were 360 non-Christians for every
Bible-believing Christian. The ratio has been getting smaller ever since: 220-1 in 1000; 69-1 in 1500; 27-1 in 1900; 21-1 in 1950; 11-1 in 1980 and 6.8-1 in 1995. The evangelical church is growing three times faster than the world's population. I wish to discuss preaching from the perspective of my twenty three year ministry at the down-town church, Wesley Mission, Sydney,
As I speak, I will outline nineteen aspects of preaching that we have found to be blessed of God in the setting of a local pastoral ministry. At Wesley Mission, Sydney, we have been through one of the greatest periods of Church growth in the history of our nation. Preaching is effective if you communicate the Gospel in a contemporary manner. Some evidences of that growth would include such things as:
- in the last fifteen years we have established 14 new congregations and 12 daughter churches, most of which are self-sufficient and no longer part of our ministry.
- we increased our annual income from $5 million p.a. to $150 million per annum, by far the largest church budget in the world.
- we have raised the funds and appointed new full-time staff at a rate of two additional staff every single week for the first thirteen years, three per week for every week of the next three years and six per week for the past 2 years.
- since 1988 we have established the Wesley Institute of Ministry and Arts with 290 students currently enrolled.
- we have built, at a cost of $100 million, buildings to house homeless people, care for dying people, provide psychiatric treatment for depressed, purchased a fourth hospital, house children and families in crisis and the like with none of this money coming from Governments.
- we have seen more than a dozen people commit their lives to Christ every single week with many people entering the ministry and missionary service. One Sunday I preached on the significance of overseas cross-cultural missionary service. I gave an appeal for men and women who would commit them-selves to full-time missionary service. Twelve people did so including a doctor and two nurses. Later the same day in a service I repeated the same message and gave the same appeal and
forty-one committed their lives to missionary service.
Later the same night I repeated the same message for the third time and two others made commitments. On that one day 55 commitments where made to full-time service in cross-cultural evangelism.
- we have increased our national coverage by television and radio, and in purchasing and running two of the most famous radio stations in
Australia. I serve as Chairman of the Board of both radio stations.
- we have conducted some of the largest services every held in Australia with 35,000 attending our Christmas Service.
- we demolished all of our church head office and worship facilities, and constructed a new Wesley church, Wesley theatre and Lyceum, college and parish areas, restaurant and four level shopping arcade, undercover car parking for 400 cars and a 38 storey office tower all leased, and we have opened the whole complex at a cost of $320 million, with 35,000 peo-ple attending the opening celebrations. We opened the whole complex debt free!
- in the last eighteen years, we have demolished and rebuilt, pur-chased and leased more than 350 buildings for the ministry of just one city church, and have increased our net asset worth by more than $250 million dollars.
And the primary reason for this amazing growth of a church has been the fact that we have concentrated on communicating the Gospel by word and deed. Here then is #1 principle of preaching from my experience: Preaching is successful if the church demonstrates that the Word of the Gospel and the deed of practical care are ministered together.
The Apostle Paul was the greatest church planter and Gospel communicator in history. How did he go about his work of planting new churches and communicating the Gospel?
He never left us a manual, but he did leave us clues in his letters and his addresses and the accounts of his travels recorded by Dr Luke in "The Acts of the Apostles."
Paul explained the characteristics of his ministry and gave a pattern for our preaching ministry today when he was closing his Letter to the Ro-mans. Here are the distinctives we must follow in communicating the
Gospel today. These distinctives indicate how we must communicate the Gospel. Note from ROMANS 15:14-19 a framework for communicating the Gos-pel.
1. THE GOSPEL STARTS WITH GRACE OF GOD. (vv. 14-15).
"I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me."
When he was Saul of Tarsus, the crusading rabbi, Paul knew little of the grace of God. He persecuted the church and sought to destroy it. When Paul met Jesus Christ on the Damascus road, he experienced the grace of God. God's grace saved him. God's grace called him and made him an apostle. "We have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for His name."
(Romans 1:5). Preaching starts with the grace of God.
Here is principle #2: Preaching must start with the grace of God. There is much shallowness in preaching today. Too many ministers think they are called to be entertainers or pop-psychologists, or else they give summaries of what new social concept the church must accept.
The focus has shifted from God to humankind. Preaching is too much us and not enough God. Too much entertainment and not enough evoking a response. For all their words the Word of God is not being clearly heard.
Dr John Piper in his book "THE SUPREMACY OF GOD IN PREACHING" (Baker p20) says "If God is not supreme in our preaching, where in this world will the people hear about the supremacy of God? The vision of a great God is the linchpin in the life of the church, both in pastoral care and missionary outreach. Our people need to hear God-entranced preaching. They need someone, at least once a week, to lift up his voice and magnify the supremacy of God."
Piper says the goal of preaching is the glory of God. "My burden is to plead for the supremacy of God in preaching -that the dominant note of preaching be the freedom of God's sovereign grace, the unifying theme be the zeal that God has for his own glory, the grand object of preaching be the infinite and inexhaustible being of God, and the pervasive atmosphere of preaching be the holiness of God. Then when preaching takes up the
ordinary things of life -family, job, leisure, friendships; or the crises of our day -AIDS, divorce, addictions, depression, abuses, poverty, hunger, and, worst of all, unreached peoples of the world, these matters are not only taken up. They are taken all the way up into God." (p.20)
The Gospel must start with the glory of God. I have conducted more than 400 small evangelistic campaigns in local churches, mainly in rural Australia. On each occasion I proclaimed the Gospel of God's grace and Christ's redemptive love. Here is principle #3 Preaching can be the work of a visiting evangelist conducting a special crusade, short or long, with one church or many, proclaiming the grace of God .
For over fifteen years I spent over 35 weekends every year conducting a small evangelistic crusade from Friday night to Sunday morning with the churches in some small rural community, returning Sunday afternoon to an evangelistic ministry in my own church and through television and radio. That was an exhausting and body-numbing approach to preaching.
It is a valid form of evangelism, but probably not as effective as the ef-fort warrants. The proclamation of the Gospel, however, must always start with the grace of God.
2. THE GOSPEL IS THE CENTRE OF OUR MINISTRY. (v.16).
"Because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit".
Paul had a "priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God". He used two different words for "minister" here. One translated "minister" is the word from which we derive the word liturgy - lietourgon. Paul used this word to describe himself. Other times he used the common term doulos to indicate a "servant" of Jesus Christ, or diakonos, a "minister." But here he chose lietourgon because he saw his preaching like that of a priest offering sacred worship to God.
His priestly offering was not a lamb but his Gentile converts: "that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit." Though he is involved in the tough, mundane business of travelling the ancient world on foot, suffering from exposure, threats,
beatings, and rejection, in his heart of hearts he sees himself in priestly garb in the Temple, lifting up the souls of men which then ascend as a sweet-smelling fragrance to Christ. They were a "spiritual sacrifice" to the glory of God.
Here is principle #4: Preaching is the presentation of the Gospel as a "priestly duty". Note that Paul does not use the expression in
connection with any liturgical practice but explicitly with "the gospel of God". He is affirming that the proclamation of the gospel is a solemn and sacred act. This insight into ministry certainly adds dignity and responsibility to our service. How we perceive ourselves greatly determines how we live our lives.
Psychologists remind us of the importance of self-image. Imagine what this priestly self-perception did for Paul. His ministry was to him
intensely sacred. The most mundane daily occurrences were holy.
However ignominious his treatment, he was garbed in imperturbable dignity as a servant of God. Everything was done to please God. All of life was a liturgy. If only we could see our service as such, our lives would be transformed. A friendly word to a homeless man becomes an offering to God. A child held and loved is a liturgy. An unemployed person treated with dignity is a gift to God. This sacred view of life was characteristic of the missionary Paul. ("ROMANS" Kent Hughes Crossways. 1991 p288).
During my early ministry in a rural, I faced an argumentative, run-down and divided church of 35 members. We decided that the best way the church could pull out of being self-centred was to become centred on
communicating the Gospel to a township of 8,000 people. Here comes principle #5: Preaching is a whole community event. We ran a one-week mission from Sunday to Sunday. We first worked hard to contact every person in the community.
In the first year of preparation we visited every family we could and 27 adults from outside the church families made commitments to Jesus Christ and were baptised. Then eleven laymen went visiting some more and 32 adults made commitments to Christ and were baptised. Then we
contacted all 8000 people in the town by mail, visit and through the newspaper and 4,500 attended in one week with 261 making commitments to Christ!
Communicating the Gospel has been the centre of our ministry. Following that, for the next 13 years, each Tuesday night I met with a small band of people for prayer. Then half the band would go out two by two to appointments previously made to "discuss faith to Christ and membership in our church." The person who came with me was learning to witness and share the Gospel message.
During this period, going out each Tuesday night, I led over 800 people to Christ in their own homes! Here is principle #6: Preaching is a weekly event, involving laymen and personal contact.
At my very first church sermon I every preached in the slums of our city, fourteen people were present. Eleven of them were my relatives or friends! Yet I gave a Gospel appeal. In the subsequent seven years I stayed at that church scores of people made commitments because the church knew I was serious about preaching for commitment and they supported that. Here is principle #7: Preaching starts with the preacher's
At Wesley Mission, Sydney, we preach for commitment to Christ every Sunday without exception, and legend has it that there has not been one Sunday in 118 years that has not seen at least one person coming for-ward in at least one of our services to commit his or her life to Christ. In our other services and through our media response to our Tele-counsellors about dozen commitments are counselled each Sunday. I never stand up to preach without praying for conversions and people making public their commitment to Christ. We pray every week that God will give us disciples not just decisions. Converted, changed, repentant lives are the objective in our preaching. Here then is principle #8: Preaching is the means of con-version.
Communicating the Gospel involves reaching hidden people groups and crossing ethnic boundaries.
Twenty-three years ago I announced I was planning to commence a Chinese service. I would preach each week at a separate time, have a Chinese interpreter, finish with Yum Cha and seek to minister to those without English. One Chinese man and his wife, Mr and Mrs Ping Hui agreed to start with me. Ping brought his brother Andrew and his wife Mabel. They brought four more.
Soon I was preaching with both Mandarin and Cantonese translators. Today we have 3,500 Asians attending and three Chinese pastors.
One day I asked why all our Chinese members seemed to be affluent, well-educated and confident. Where were the Chinese who were poor,
illiterate and lacking self-confidence? I dispatched one of our Chinese
ministers, Dr Wilfred Chee, to find out. I told him to enter Chinese restaurants by the back doors and make the acquaintance of Chinese kitchen hands, most of whom were illegal and illiterate.
We conducted a week long evangelistic outreach in Cantonese which commenced each night at 12 midnight and went until 2am. 27 Chinese men made commitments to Christ. We then sought an immigration amnesty, started early Saturday morning English classes, employment education programs to enable kitchen hands to become waiters and chefs, and estab-lished a congregation around them. Today there are more than two
hundred connected with that congregation and they have started a daughter congregation.
In the same way we identified with Chinese students in Australian at the time of the Tienamin Square massacre. Over 800 students looked to Wesley for protection from Chinese Embassy officials, and we became
involved with programs concerning immigration, visas, education, English classes, Bible studies and the like. We stood in solidarity with them in a very trying time. Most recently we have visited China and made a film of both the Three Self Patriotic Movement and the Underground Churches. We are establishing a Chinese internet web-site and three of my books have been printed in Chinese in China and used widely by the underground church. More than a million copies have been purchased.
We have Indonesian groups, Tamil and Singhalese, Tongan, Fijian, Rotuman and Samoan. I have on my staff ministers from the Pacific, Asia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, America, Samoa, Rotuma, to minister to people within their own culture.
We preach multi-culturally and are translated where appropriate. We have Bible reading, prayers and choral items in languages other than Eng-lish. Here is principle #9: Preaching requires reaching multi-culturally to people groups.
3. THE GOSPEL BRINGS GLORY TO GOD. (v.17).
"Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God". The word translated "glory" carries the idea of "boast." Paul used it seven times before in Romans. He was not bragging about his ministry. He was boasting in what the Lord had done. Pail did not serve and suffer as he did just to make a name for himself. He wanted to bring glory to Jesus Christ: "That in all things He might have the pre-eminence" (Colossians 1:18).
When we go out in faith and take risks for the Gospel, in communicating the word boldly through the media, and serving needy people in
Sydney, even though the task is too big and our money is too limited, we bring glory to God.
Yet many churches are afraid to take risks. Their main objective was what Kennon Callahan calls "protecting their place on the face of the cliff." He means that in mountain climbing, sometimes climbers find themselves on the face of a cliff where they can not find a handhold or foothold. In that predicament many people freeze. They cling for dear life. They fear any move could mean the abyss below. Many churches become frozen on the face of the cliff. They cannot find anything in their history that would save them. They cannot see anything hopeful ahead. They became preoccupied with maintenance, membership, and money. (Leadership -Spring 1991.)
That is what I call principle #10: Preaching is bringing glory to God by reaching out in faith and taking risks for God. Fourteen years ago I stood on our major city street. We had just demolished the finest church office in Australia upon which we still owed a million and a quarter dollars. Ahead of us was a two acre hole that was eight stories deep.
I said to our General Manager of Corporate Services, Richard Menteith: "Dick, if we are wrong in this and this all falls over, you and I will have the grandest burial site in all of Australia!"
Developments for the work of God always involve reaching out in faith and taking risks. Anytime I stand in a public park and preach the Gospel, every time I face a business convention, every time I speak on radio or television, I am going out on a limb, risking in faith. The press likes to
ridicule an evangelist. The journalist likes to find the dirt of immorality. The
local minister likes to repeat gossip about his colleague. The public likes to cut down tall poppies. It is risky communicating the Gospel.
Speaking in a football oval one night, the roar of motor cycle engines downed out everything else as a large number of heavily tattooed "bikies" roared into the oval. They rode their motor bikes up to the front of the plat-form. The atmosphere turned ugly. I was about the preach on Isaiah 6 "Here I am Lord. Send me." I looked at my colleague minister and thought, "Here I am Lord. Send him!" But God had called me to be the preacher. I changed my introduction, the bikies listened on their motor cycles, and when I gave the invitation, one rolled his bike forward.
Since 1963 I have been on television. We have taken risks to bring God glory through consistently communicating the Gospel on the media. Twenty three years ago I started "Turn 'Round Australia" the most widely watched Christian television program in Australia. Twenty one years ago I started broadcasting on commercial radio. Ever since I have broadcast for four hours every Sunday night on "Sunday Night Live" to the largest
audience in the country for Christian radio. I always preach the Gospel and ask people to respond to the call of Christ and speak to our
For years some network or another has telecast our "Discovering"
Series made in 150 locations around the Mediterranean Sea. Our Christmas and Easter specials are seen nation-wide in prime time.
Our videos are screened in a dozen countries in several languages. Colleges and schools, not only in English speaking countries, but in
Spanish, Italian and Korean countries also study with our videos. 36,000 people hit our web-site for sermons every day of the year. Our print magazines,
national Christian news broadcasts, press releases on social issues, are read by hundreds of thousand weekly. Here then, is principle #11: Preaching is taking the modern highways of communication to reach into every corner of the world.
4. THE GOSPEL IS EMPOWERED BY GOD. (v 18-19).
"Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from
Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ." The Holy Spirit empowered Paul to minister, and enabled him to perform mighty signs and wonders.
The miracles God gave Paul to do were "signs" in that they came from God and revealed Him to others. And they were "wonders" in that they aroused the wonder of the people. But their purpose was always to open the way for the preaching of the Gospel. The Spirit of God empowered Paul to share the Word, and to "leading the Gentiles to obey God".
This then is principle #12: Preaching is the exercise of spiritual gifts empowered by the Spirit of God. The ministry of miracles, signs and wonders are outside the New Testament purpose, unless they are
directed towards helping people accept the Gospel. Making people disciples must be the aim. So many in the ministry of signs and wonders seem more intent on confirming believers and comforting themselves than making disciples.
Nothing would convince unbelievers more than documented and verifiable miracles. At Wesley Mission, we do not claim to lengthen legs and remove tumours but by word and deed, in counselling, nursing, providing medical and psychiatric treatment we share the love of God with the lost around us. Changes in conduct and character are just as much miracles as the healing of the sick. God empowers our work through His Spirit.
This then is the important principle #13: Preaching must be by word and deed. This has been at the heart of the work of the Salvation Army for more than a century. Wesley Mission has likewise built a ministry of caring for people: the outcasts, the poor, homeless, drug addicted,
psychiatrically ill, the prisoner, the dying AIDS sufferer, the stroke and cancer sufferer, the child in crisis, the family desperately strapped for cash, the hungry, the unemployed and so on.
Today we have over 3,500 full-time staff in over 386 centres of care in the name of Christ. The communication of the Gospel is empowered by God when it is done for His glory, using the spiritual gifts of people, and is ministering to people with loving words and practical care and concern.
5. THE GOSPEL IS SPREAD ACCORDING TO GOD'S PLAN. (v20-22).
"It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's
foundation. Rather, as it is written: "Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand." This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you."
God had a plan for Paul to follow: he was not to preach where any other apostle had ministered. This is evidence that Peter had not founded the church at Rome, for this would have prevented Paul from going there. Peter did arrive in Rome until after Paul.
"From Jerusalem all around to Illyricum" (Yugoslavia) is more than 2,000 kilometres! What the tremendous achievement despite dangers and hardship. Paul "fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ" by preaching in all the strategic centres and establishing churches there. Paul was the pattern of a pioneer missionary. This is my principle #14: Preaching is taking the Gospel to peoples and places where Christ is not known.
Cross cultural missionaries are still needed, but a trained national is best. Skilling the trained national, uses the person who has the best
language skills, the closest cultural identification, prevents the brain drain to the West, gets the best result for the invested missionary dollar, avoids the problems of visas, furloughs, and closed doors, and gives encouragement and trust to the national church.
Through my Chairmanship for many years of The Overseas Council For Theological Education and Mission, we have trained national pastors in national seminaries, and given funds for theological training, professor support, building and library acquisition for a score of countries. We start at the bottom with lowly village pastors. We are committed to culturally relevant, training of nationals to evangelise their own communities.
Principle #15: Preaching must be culturally relevant, building up the local body to evangelise their own communities.
Paul had a tough and disciplined ministry and every evangelist must be tough and disciplined, especially in his commitment to a sacrificial
salary and a holy and blameless life. Many concerned with ministry and
evangelism have disgraced us all by their lack of personal discipline concerning money, pride and sex. Their falling from grace has damaged every ministry, made a mockery of our commitment to lives of purity, holiness and
simplicity, and reminded us all, that but for the grace of God "there go I." This is principle #16: Preaching is living a life of holiness disciplined by the scriptures.
No church in Australia had more involvement than Wesley Mission in supporting the socially needy in our community, nor has a reputation for speaking on economic and political issues of social justice, yet we
emphasise the priority of evangelism by living a life of holiness and disciplined by the scriptures.
It is not wrong to enter into another man's labours (John 4:38), but Paul avoided "building on someone else's foundation." This was Paul's own calling: he is not saying that this is what all Christians should do. He is well aware of differentiation of function in the service of God. Some plant and others water, and they both work together with God.
1 Cor. 3:6-9
Some lay the foundation and others build. 1 Cor. 3:10ff He is simply say-ing that his own calling is to plant the seed or to lay the foundation. Others will work later, but Paul establishes new churches, and this means going into areas where others have not been. He is to preach the gospel to those who have not heard and to go to those who have heard would be to
renounce his calling from God. ("ROMANS" Leon Morris Eerdmans 1988. p 515)
Principle #17: Preaching must build up the body of Christ and co-operate with others engaged in the ministry of growth. Everything Paul did was with the aim of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Other great missionary hearts that have followed in Paul's footsteps held the same
objective. Raymond Lull, brave missionary to Islam, lived by this famous
refrain: "I have one passion - it is He, it is He." Charles Wesley sang, "Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in Thee I find."
It was said by Alexander Whyte of his long Saturday walks with
Marcus Dods, "Whatever we started off with in our conversations, we soon made across country, somehow, to Jesus of Nazareth." Martin Luther said "We preach always Him,"; "this may seem a limited and monotonous subject, likely to be soon exhausted, but we are never at the end of it." So it was with Paul. He would travel anywhere to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Dr David Livingstone was cut out of the same mould as Paul. When Livingstone volunteered as a missionary with the London Missionary
Society and they asked him where he wanted to go he replied, "Anywhere, so long as it is forward."
We are living in times of the Gospel closing round all known groups of people. The Gospel starts with the grace of God, is the centre of our
ministry, brings glory to God, is empowered by God, and is spread according to God's plan. Nothing is more important than working together to
communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Principle #18: Preaching is working together to close around all who have not yet been evangelised.
God's only Son brought the Good News. There is no calling more
fulfilling nor with such eternal consequences than the work of ministry, in communicating the Gospel in a way that our contemporaries understand and which encourages them to respond.
One of the world's great business entrepreneurs is John Sculley, the President of the Pepsi Cola Company. He masterminded the Pepsi
Generation. Another great entrepreneur is Steve Jobs, the man who developed the Apple Computer and then the MacIntosh Computer which revolutionised the computer world. John Sculley and Steve Jobs are friends, and Steve Jobs wanted John Sculley to leave Pepsi and work for Apple.
Steve said to his friend: "You're the best person I've met. I know you are perfect for Apple and Apple deserves the best." But John Sculley
replied: "Steve, I'd love to be an adviser to you, to help you in any way, but I don't think I can come to Apple". Steve Jobs hung his head in
disappointment, and after an uncomfortable pause issued a challenged that haunted John Sculley for days: he said to John "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?" ("Odyssey" John Sculley, Harper 87. p90)
Here is principle #19: Preaching is the highest calling from God. That is a question Jesus would ask of men and women whom He would challenge to follow Him in the ministry of the Kingdom of God today: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?"
Because after the ministry of communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ, everything ? medicine, politics, law, business, sales, insurance,
professional sport, public service, nuclear physics, computer programming ? everything ? is selling sugared water! Only the communicating the Gospel gives you the radical chance to change the world.
To you believers in preaching who are here because you want to support the better communication of the Gospel, I want to encourage you to speak the word by asking: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?" If so commit yourself to communicating the Gospel!
To you colleagues in communicating I say as Luther sang:
"And though this world with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill,
God's truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever!"