Why I’m not preaching a 50 Shades of anything sermon series

greys

I’ve noticed on social media several churches/pastors who are beginning new preaching series called, or based upon, 50 Shades of Grey. I’m not surprised by this. It’s common to “borrow” themes from movies or shows, and other pop-culture things en vogue. That’s been done in the teen ministry for decades.

I don’t have a problem with someone preaching a series called 50 Shades. Some of those who are I consider friends and colleagues. But, this is why I’m not preaching a series called 50 Shades…of anything.

1. I knew what I would be preaching right now a year and a half ago.

I planned what I’m preaching right now in our church long before this movie came out. I always do. I stop at the beginning of each year, get quiet, pray, listen and think. That’s how I plan. I believe if God can show me what he want’s to me preach next Sunday, He can show me what to preach 6 months from now too. Planning this way, I couldn’t keep up with cultural trends if I wanted to.

2. I don’t need to name a series after the latest popular movie (good or bad) to be relevant.

I’m not in any way saying the church doesn’t need to be relevant. I think it does though I don’t think it’s as difficult to do as some make it out to be. But, you need to hear this:

The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Word of God is always relevant. And it always has been.

Identifying with every aspect of culture does not make me relevant. What makes my preaching and teaching relevant is when I give my listeners tools to live in the current culture. They already know how to identify with it as I do. We live in it.

3. The equipping of the saints happens when Christ and His Word are the target, not what the world’s doing.

So, do I need to make sure I do my part to equip the church I pastor so they know the dangers of a movie like this? Of course I do. 50 Shades of Grey, from what I understand, is a movie (and book) that takes sexual perversion to a whole new level. It’s a continuation of what the culture of media set by Hollywood has be doing for decades.

How, then, I do equip them? By continually directed their attentions, and my own, to the person and holiness of Christ through worship and the Word. He is the One who equips.

So, if you or your pastor is planning a new sermons series “50 Shades” go for it. No problem here. Just make sure it’s taking attention away from a messed up, over-sexed culture and placing it on the awesome beauty of Christ. He is the ultimate measure, life-changer and relevant to the culture.

Why does he preach like that?

bible in hand

Every now and then the question comes up: why do you preach the way you do? The question is never about style, it’s always about content. Like, why do I preach series instead of just stand alone messages and why do I preach through books of the Bible?

The reason comes from my own conviction which comes from the Bible itself. Paul warned Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 that the day was coming when people with their ears itching would “heap” up for themselves teachers and try to persuade them to tell them what they want to hear; “suit their own passions.” But, Paul tells Timothy not to fall for that but instead preach the inspired Word of God. And by the way, it’s all inspired. I read today a blog post that explains very well why I do what I do, so let me share it with you.

This is straight from the “Grace to You” blog and is written by John MacArthur. I have copied the post titled “Preach the Word: Because It Brings Depth and Balance to Ministry”in it’s entirety because it explains as well as I ever could why I do what I do:

“One frequently overlooked benefit of consistent Bible exposition is that the preacher’s faith and practice is tested by every text. Over the long haul, everything I have ever taught has had to survive the scrutiny of the Scriptures. By God’s grace, I’ve been able to teach through every verse of the New Testament (using the Old Testament as support and examples). Both my doctrine and my life have been radically shaped by the Word of God, as they have had to stand the test of every single text.

In the big picture, preaching verse by verse, book by book brings a divine balance to ministry. It keeps the preacher from leaving things out or from getting on a hobby horse and riding it to death. It forces him to deal with topics he might not naturally be drawn to if not for the fact that the next verse he is preaching addresses them. Put simply, it requires him to teach God’s truth in the way God revealed it. And that’s the best way to teach.

Some preachers allow their audience to determine what topic they will address. As one popular pastor has written:

Adapt your style to fit your audience. . . . The ground we have in common with unbelievers is not the Bible, but our common needs, hurts, and interests as human beings. You cannot start with a text, expecting the unchurched to be fascinated by it. You must first capture their attention, and then move them to the truth of God’s Word. By starting with a topic that interests the unchurched and then showing what the Bible says about it, you can grab their attention, disarm prejudices, and create an interest in the Bible that wasn’t there before.[1]

But such a bait-and-switch approach is really just a recipe for compromise—tempting pastors to tickle the ears of their audience or water down the gospel in an effort to be more appealing. In essence, this approach says that God’s Word is irrelevant, and makes human ingenuity the key to getting sinners interested in the gospel. It is therefore an approach that should be categorically rejected. As James Heidinger writes

Evangelical pastors and theologians can learn from the mainline experience of placing relevance above truth. We must avoid the lure of novelty and soft sell, which, we are told, will make it easier for moderns to believe. Methods may change, but never the message. . . . We are called to be faithful stewards of a great and reliable theological heritage. We have truths to affirm and errors to avoid. We must not try to make these truths more appealing or user friendly by watering them down. We must guard against a trendy “theological bungee jumping” that merely entertains the watching crowd.[2]

We are called to preach the Bible consistently and accurately, fixed on the text as the revealed Word of God which, through the work of the Spirit, alone has the power to save and sanctify souls. When we do this, we can be confident that God is pleased, since our preaching will be in keeping with His Word (cf. 2 Timothy 2:154:2).”

But as for you….

2 Tim

I’ve been invited to go to Jamaica next February and guest lecture at a Bible College. The subject; pastoral theology. As I sat across the lunch table from my friend and missionary and we discussed the class, he told me to plan to spend a session discussing things that came up, or that I learned as a pastor, that were never taught in college.

Man, do I ever have some stories….

But, it immediately brought to mind a passage of Scripture that I spend a lot of time returning to. It’s like a security blanket for me as a pastor, though it’s not really an overly happy text. It’s Paul writing to his protégée Timothy. The epistle is 2nd Timothy.

The tone of the letter is not necessarily happy but it is solid, you might even say foundational.

Paul is warning Timothy of the day we’re living in. As a matter of fact, it’s the day everyone one of us who give our lives for the Gospel live in. Every one of us since the beginning of the church. Paul tells Timothy that people won’t listen to sound doctrine and that people will seek teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. He also states that people will be lovers of self, self involved, unkind….all kinds of things. You can read the list yourself.

If you do what I do, then you know how difficult it can be at times. Even exasperating.

This is why I find such comfort in Paul’s “as for you” statements.

Here’s what he says to Timothy:

Paul tells Timothy that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” That doesn’t sound like good news. All of us who have given our lives to serve others “in Christ” find that. The difficulty is when you find out who it is that’s actually doing the persecuting. (That’s the biggest surprise of ministry in my estimation.)

It seems to be intimated by Paul that this persecution will cause some to quit. I guess all of us can have that come to mind from time to time. But, here’s where Paul’s first statement reminds of our uncrackable foundation. Paul tells Timothy to continue in what he has learned and believed. (2 Tim. 3:14) That is, that God has spoken and His Word, our Scriptures, are secure and profitable.

Paul warns Timothy of those who will not want to listen to “sound teaching” but Timothy is to “preach the Word.” I have resolved that my preaching and teaching ministry will be just this. Just preach the Bible. It’s all that we all need.

The second “but as for you” is one that I have underlined and highlighted in my Bible. This is the don’t quit encouragement to Timothy.

“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill you ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5)

This should be the anthem of Gospel ministry! There’s no quit in this.

I look forward to teaching pastoral theology this winter in Jamaica. Maybe because it’s giving me a reason to remember exactly why it is that I do what I do. In the end, it’s because of Jesus. The ministry is something that causes us to reach people but it’s because of Jesus. He, the living Word, is our foundation. When we remember that, then whatever difficulties come, and many will come, our uncrackable, unbreakable, unshakable foundation will always be secure.

But as for you….