This week I am reviewing a workshop I went to last Friday, featuring Bob Russell, formerly the preaching minister of the large mega-church Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY (attendance around 18,000 per weekend).
When it came time for the second half of the “forum” the focus moved ore toward preaching. Most of us had come under the impression that preaching was the theme, and so when the Q&A started, it focused heavily on preaching.
I asked the first question. I asked Bob: “In looking back over the past fifty years, how have you seen preaching change, and are you able to see any trends that might point to what preaching would look like in fifty years hence?” Russell deftly (and probably wisely) deferred on the second part. But he made several interesting comments on the first.
1. When he was beginning in ministry, preaching had to be loud to be good. (I found that during my years in east Tennessee. Unless the preacher yelled, it wasn’t really a very good sermon). But over the years, preaching has become softer and more accessible His specific words were that preaching has moved from a more “dogmatic” approach to more of a “teaching” approach.
2. He also talked about the difference in illustrating sermons and I found what he said here, perhaps one of the most helpful things of the day. When he was beginning in ministry, he said the preacher would teach a point and then illustrate the point. That was inadequate. Now Russell highly recommends teaching a point, applying it and then illustrating the application. It is not usually the truth that needs as much illustrating as the application. Or at least people can more easily see what to do with the truth if they can see how to apply it lived out in the lives of others.
I really appreciated the way that Russell said he does this. He has a doctrinal or biblical point. And then he comes up with one sentence applications of the truth. He lists out as many one-line applications as he can. And in that process, he usually can come with a real life illustration of that application in his own life or in the lives of those around him. I found this to be probably the most useful “tool” of the day.
3. Bob also commented on the need to make the application “to Monday and not to Sunday”. By that he means, look for applications that don’t necessarily have to do with public worship and Sunday “Christianly” things. Look for the application in the work-a-day worlds of our people. Recently he preached on the different kinds of consciences. (a lax conscience, a seared or hard conscience, a sensitive conscience, a defiled conscience, a pure conscience, etc.) And when he came to applying having a sensitive conscience, the temptation was to apply it to being overly sensitive to things that happen on Sundays (types of music, men not wearing suits, the type of grape juice used, etc.).
Russell commented that that sort of application focus is MUCH less helpful than thinking through how a sensitive conscience might react to things in the workplace, the community, the home.
4. Later in the Q&A time Bob added another way in which preaching has changed over the past 40-50 years. Back when he began in ministry and for many years people were most impressed by numbers. If you had numbers, you were doing things right. (I think we saw a reflection of that in Bob’s comment differentiating Driscoll and McClaren that I commented on in the Day 2 post. But today, Russell noted, people are more impressed with changed lives. They recognize that any circus can gather a crowd (my words, not his). But the power of Christianity is in changed lives. And THAT excites people today more than numbers (as it should).
Tomorrow I will finish up this summary of Bob Russell’s presentation to preachers by finishing up the Q&A.