This is the first in a series of five articles from Langham Preaching, a ministry of Langham Partnership, which seeks to work in fellowship with national leaders to establish local and national preaching movements. This series highlights the five focal areas that shape the curriculum of Langham Preaching and also guide which materials are published within our imprint Langham Preaching Resources.
The purpose of Langham Preaching is to nurture indigenous movements of biblical preaching across the majority world. In order to do this, we focus on five areas of growth. The aim is for preachers to be people Christlike in Character and Confident in Conviction able to preach biblical sermons that are Faithful to the Text, Relevant to the Listener and Clear in Presentation.
These five components reflect John Stott’s conviction that allowing the biblical text to transform us into persons of godliness is more important than merely preaching well.
From experience, we probably all know that the most beautifully constructed sermon can ring hollow if the life of the preacher is empty of conviction or lacking in Christlikeness. Likewise, quite an ordinary sermon can bring the listeners to their knees when the proclamation is accompanied by a life full of the life of Jesus.
This is because, first and foremost, Christ calls us to follow Him, not to preach or teach, or to evangelise or help the poor. But, as we follow Christ, those things must follow, otherwise we are not actually following him at all. The phrase ‘the medium is the message’ is often quoted to express the reality that the preacher’s life is what communicates the Word of God primarily to one’s hearers. It is often quoted because it is true! God desires us to be like his Son, and has given us his Holy Spirit to bear the fruit of Christlikeness in our lives and to change us. If this is lacking for the preacher, then the integrity of God’s message can be undermined, even at the same time as a church experiencing numerical growth or individual believer’s understanding God’s word better. You don’t have to search hard to find examples of the long-term damage wrought by preachers with a lack of Christ-like character and sin, despite what we might consider, successful ministries in human terms.
Langham Preaching consists of two intentional teaching mediums: the seminar and small group. Larger groups of people gather annually for a three-year series of foundational seminars. Throughout the three years, these same people are scattered into small groups that meet on a regular basis to secure and build on what was learned in the seminar.
I liken this model to how my first church community lived.
In the close-knit farming community of my youth, Sunday mornings were for gathering at ‘church’ (the worship service, Sunday School, etc.) and Sunday afternoons were for visiting. Oh, how we looked forward to those visits (that’s really what we called this activity) each week — the food, the conversations that overflowed one into another and the playing of all manner of sport and games together! Special occasions were celebrated, the loss of loved ones mourned, babies and new neighbors welcomed, crops and weather discussed and projects tackled. By talking things through together problems were solved, people comforted, confidence built, relationships strengthened and intimacy created. All these years later, I can picture clearly in my mind’s eye each person, each family and each home.
I realized after I left home how these visits created space for discipleship and accountability. We learned how people lived, their needs and desires, the good and not so good of their lives. We became attentive to one another.
Likewise, it is in the small group that Langham Preaching participants are held accountable for their formation as preachers, their growth in Christlikeness. It is in the long-running and consistent small group that discipleship happens.
The participants come to the small group to learn how to preach better sermons. They work together at preparation, preach their sermons to the group, learn to receive evaluation (often sharp and intense) and then begin again. They learn how to preach better sermons and at the same time character gets strengthened!
Pedagogically speaking, the best place to learn and grow is in relationship with others. When we work and worship together, play and pray with one another, we build trust as we gather into close friendships. Trust is essential in creating safe spaces.
There are times in our personal lives when, as with sermon building, we miss the mark, fail the test and aren’t as attentive as we should be to the Jesus way. During these times, we need people of the same mind — other followers of Jesus — in our circle. We need people who will not only hold us up but will hold us accountable to a life of learning and a growing intimacy with God.
Relationship with Jesus, the Word
In the old RSV Bible, Luke 1:68 reads like this: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…. It’s just so lovely — like our Sunday afternoons. Jesus visits us. Eugene Peterson said it this way: The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood, (John 1:14 The Message). Our Saviour comes to us and visits with us. How do we visit with him?
Jesus shows us how to get to know him by modeling for us a life of prayer. We can imagine Jesus’ early years, a child of righteous and obedient parents setting the example for him (Matthew 1:19 & Luke 1:38). We all know someone, maybe even yourself, who grew up in a home where prayer was a given. My childhood book of prayers was called Little Visits with God!
We don’t have to imagine that he visited with his heavenly Father during his developing years. That intimacy is already evident when, at the age of twelve, this young man amazed the teachers in the temple with his wisdom, understanding and answers (Luke 2:40-52). Already, Jesus was aware of the fact that he was about his Father’s business.
The prayer conversations revealed to Jesus his Father’s heart and the work given to him to complete. He spoke of them with authority. Jesus emerged from both the temptation in the desert and the overwhelming distress of Gethsemane filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. We can infer from this that in times of joy, satisfaction, disappointment, rejection and threat, he could freely express himself and know the fellowship of his Father.
Prayer. Visiting with God. Fruitful conversation, abundant food, growing intimacy. A Christlike character is the character of a person steeped in prayer.
Jesus is the Word. The admonition given by our pastors each Sunday is to ‘Read, mark (honour) and inwardly digest’ the Word. Reading in this manner takes time and effort. Too often the inclination is to take short cuts: read commentaries, get someone else’s opinion, look online for sermons based on the text. Why wouldn’t we want to take the time to discover for ourselves who this Jesus is that lives in us? Who never leaves us? Who loved us enough to die for us?
Jesus knew and understood the scriptures. Jesus didn’t have a book to read at home or carry on his journeys; he only had access to the scrolls in the synagogue. And yet, he understood and quoted from every genre of what we call the Old Testament. Even the words he spoke from the cross!
A preacher Christ-like in character bears witness, in personal life and in preaching, to the transformation that can flow from struggling with (inwardly digesting) the Bible passage in the power of the Spirit.
One last word:
Jesus shared meals with people — all kinds of people. Sharing meals can invite and create intimacy — a genuine understanding. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight (Luke 24:30-31). The two disciples from Emmaus had walked miles with Jesus, all the while listening to him expound scripture. At the table, in the breaking of bread, they finally knew their companion (one who breaks bread with another).
Jesus continues to welcome us to the Table. As we, the church universal, eat the bread (He is the Bread of Life) and drink the cup (He is the True Vine) in remembrance of him, we look forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Then, we will experience intimacy with our God and Saviour as it is meant to be. Finally, we will be the people of God we were created to be.
Article By Jennifer Cuthbertson, Coordinator for Facilitator Development, Langham Preaching