As I circulate within various Christian communities, and as I share a vision of what The Well might look like, I field a lot of questions. One question I hear frequently is, ‘What will the sermon be like?’ Sometimes, before answering, I will probe the questioner to see if I can determine what is prompting their question. Almost always, the question is born out of a concern that ministries like The Well sometimes water down the Word of God in order to connect with the ‘unchurched’.
I’m not in a position to speak for other ministries, although it wouldn’t surprise me if there were indeed ministries where the ‘sermon’ was largely stripped of biblical content. I suspect this after recently hearing of a ‘Seeker-sensitive’ ministry that actually did away with the sermon. That’s right, no sermon at all!
It is my firm conviction that the message isn’t the problem. The decline of church attendance in Canada in the 21st Century is not the result of some failure of the Scriptures. The decline might have something to do with some failings within the pulpit. That is to say, the decline might have something to do with the approach and manner of the preacher. I am convinced, however, that an ably delivered message saturated with biblical content is NOT the problem.
So when I’m asked the question, ‘What will the sermon be like?’, I eventually answer, ‘It will be a lot like what you normally hear from me.’ That is to say that the message will have its roots in the Scripture. The emphasis of the message will centre around Jesus Christ.
What will be different?
Informality. I won’t be wearing a preaching robe. I won’t be standing behind a pulpit. The tone of the message will be more conversational.
Vocabulary. The Well anticipates engaging folks with little or no church background. The Well anticipates engaging folks with little or no exposure to the Scriptures. Accordingly, I’ll need to tweak my vocabulary when I speak. For example, rather than throw around terms like ‘sanctification’, I’ll describe instead the process of becoming like Jesus.
I am confident that communicators of the Gospel can accommodate their language without compromising the message. Part of my thinking here relates to the principle of relevance. I regard the Bible to be hugely relevant (2 Timothy 3:16), and I cringe when I hear Christians say that they want the preacher to ‘make the Bible relevant.’ The Bible doesn’t need me to ‘make it relevant’, it already is relevant! My task is to demonstrate the relevance of the Bible and, to do this, I need to be sensible with my vocabulary. I need to take steps to ensure that my hearers understand what I am saying.
The approach of The Well may appear innovative on many fronts, but we will not innovate with God’s Word. We are working from the premise that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), and we are clinging to the notion that the Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). We absolutely will not water down the Word.
The message isn’t the problem. The message is Good News. The message is the best kind of news. The message explains how we can fill the God-shaped void in each of us. I’m so eager to get that message out. We’re taking down some traditional layers to be sure, but for The Well, the layer of God’s Word remains central.