By Dr. Terry Rials
January 9, 2017
Preaching to the whole congregation about all the issues affecting the life and fruitfulness of the church is essential in the modern age.
As a pastor who preaches multiple times per week, I strongly believe in the power of public proclamation. It is, after all, the manner in which the gospel was originally delivered. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God! Big things, godly things happen as a result of the preaching of God’s word. To be clear, the act of preaching is not the most important component of the worship service. The most important component of preaching is not the act of preaching (kerusso), but the thing preached (kerygma)! There is something incredibly powerful about a man of God delivering the Word of God under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The dynamic of public proclamation is difficult to reproduce in other settings, so why should one be opposed to speaking about the life and health of the church in preaching? The right messenger delivering the right message at the right time produces righteous results. With this in mind, please consider these words of encouragement as you preach to your church about the issues of church revitalization.
Preach to the whole congregation about the issues that affect the whole congregation. For most churches the Sunday morning worship experience is the largest audience the pastor speaks to weekly. It may be difficult to express the church’s struggles in the service where the most visitors are present. Pastors may have a sense that they are airing the church’s dirty laundry in front of people they are trying to impress. Perhaps we have forgotten that the audience for the church worship service is not the guests in attendance, but the Lord Himself. It has been my experience that a pastor is the most effective in his communication when he proclaims the message in truth and without filter! Guests understand that the church is not perfect. Besides the guests in attendance, what about the church members who cannot or do not attend the other services? For example, if a church member does not attend the Sunday evening or mid-week service, how do they hear about the problems facing the church? The Sunday morning worship experience may be the only time such members hear from their pastor directly.
Preach passionate messages calling people to return to the Lord. If the congregation does not hear of the need for revitalization from the pulpit, where will they hear it? Some issues of the church are not communicated effectively in print or electronic publications. Members need to hear the message of God directly from the Word of God, but they also need to hear that message from the passion in their pastor’s heart. They need to hear his passion to see the perfect will of God carried out in the church and in the Kingdom. When the prophets of the Old Testament delivered their messages, they were in the form of oracles (massa). Frequently, the Lord gave the message to the prophet and the prophet delivered the message to the people. But massa means more than the content of the message, it also communicates the manner in which the message would be delivered because massa also means “burden.” It is the overwhelming content of the message that must be laid down because the messenger can carry it no longer. The nature of the message demands a response from his hearers. The call of God to His people is that they repent of their sins and return to Him.
Preach biblically-based messages. That sounds simple enough, but pastors today tend to preach messages that are more church-centric than Bible-centric. Preaching sometimes reflects the culture; we are living in post-modernity, pastoring a church of older people, but preaching to millennials who have totally embraced consumerism. In an effort to make the message attractive and relevant to people, the temptation is to preach what people want to hear, a temptation that must be avoided at all costs! Pastors know to preach the word, but too often our messages have a very casual relationship to the text. Or is our reluctance to preach about revitalization due to the fact that we do not know what the scriptures say about revitalization? When I started working toward revitalization in my church, I only knew the Letters to the Churches in Revelation. I did not realize the plethora of scriptures that address this issue in both Testaments. 
I did not realize that the Book of Nehemiah is a handbook to leading a revitalization project, speaking to every revitalization issue including prayer, vision, brokenness, confession of sin, organizational leadership, spiritual leadership, communication, opposition, obstacles, and renewal. I did not realize that the basic issue in revitalization is rebuilding a relationship with God through revival, that it was far more than rebuilding the structures and growing the organization. Nothing revitalizers do produces revival; we can only prepare the people for the work only God can do to revitalize His people once again.
Preach interactively to engage your audience. The brilliance of Jesus’ communication skills was that He used dramatics, parables, and hyperbole to communicate to His audience. The greatest sermons are the ones that are illustrated well. The most effective ones include the unexpected activity and even audience participation. Isaiah walked around naked to convey impending doom and Ezekiel was commanded to cook food over excrement (please do not try these in your setting!). Jeremiah uses no less than eleven symbolic acts that the Lord commanded. He performed the acts and then explained the meaning. The broken clay jar illustration was very effective. Communicate your message using all the tools at your disposal! How often in scripture do you find those in the crowd shouting out a question to the speaker? The disciples needed to ask follow-up questions of Jesus and sought clarification. I think it is both prudent and biblical to allow your audience to engage you as you engage them.
Get yourself out of the way so your audience can focus on the message. The most important task is to communicate the message of God. If we become the focus, then we have failed miserably. Our job is not to gain a following, but to get God a following. Put another way, sheep were not created for shepherds; shepherds were created for the sheep. Get out of the way so God can speak. Use silence in your sermon to allow God to speak to hearts. Promote the program of God and avoid promoting ourselves. “Allow another to praise you and not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2). It is always best to redirect all praises back to God, who is the only one worthy of praise. The need for our world and for our churches is Jesus.
When I came to this church, there was plaque on the pulpit, an inscription quoting John 12:21. Each time I preached from that pulpit I was confronted by the message of that verse. I developed the habit of reading it each time I got up to preach. If you are not familiar with that passage, it tells of a group of Gentiles who approach Phillip and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” The task of preaching toward revitalization is allowing your church to see Jesus in the words of your message. The hope for the church you serve is getting Jesus back on the throne of your people’s hearts. We can bring our sins to Jesus and find forgiveness. We can bring our wounds to Jesus and find His healing. We can bring our brokenness to Jesus and discover His joy! Preach about the work of Christ in establishing, healing, and preserving His church. Preach so your people may know the incredible power of God in restoring life to the church you serve.
 Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones is a perfect text to preach for revitalization. Haggai contains a message of returning to the work God calls us to do. In the New Testament, the admonition of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane speaks to the prayerlessness of our generation. The Second and Third Missionary journeys of Paul illustrate the need to strengthen existing churches. Ephesians calls us to love, just as Jesus taught. Galatians addresses errant theology that leads to church problems. The Corinthian Correspondence answers specific instances in the fellowship of the church, including theological issues, ecclesiological issues, and moral issues. Jude urges believers to contend for the faith, to reject immorality, and to submit to spiritual authorities, all huge issues for the church today. Hebrews offers encouragement for those who are about to give up. There are many, many other scriptures that address revitalization.
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