Preaching Best Practices for 2022 (Part 4)
“It’s following Jesus, not just believing in Jesus, that will make your life better. It’s not enough to be an admirer.”
In Part 1 of our current series on “Preaching Best Practices for 2022,” I had a conversation with Brian Tome (Founding and Senior Pastor of Crossroads Church) to get his insights on the future of preaching and teaching. In Part 2, I sat down with Derwin Gray (Founding and Lead Pastor of Transformation Church) to discuss how he approaches series and sermon planning. Then in Part 3, Rick Warren (Founding and Lead Pastor of Saddleback Church) shared his ministry journey and approach to making preaching applicable.
PREACHING FOR LIFE CHANGE: INTERVIEW WITH Andy Stanley
In the final episode of our Preaching series, I invited my pastor Andy Stanley to join the conversation. As always, Andy has some great insights to share around how we can more effectively teach and engage the people connecting with our churches on a regular basis. We discussed:
- 4 questions for action-oriented sermons
- The distinction in believing vs. following
- Approaching preaching for the next generation
- His new book, Not In It to Win It
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Let’s face it. Church fundraising is hard, but 90% of the wealth in US households is tied up in non-cash assets. That means churches who are only accepting cash donations are missing massive giving potential. But Overflow is here to help address that challenge. Overflow is an online software that empowers donors to seamlessly give crypto and stock donations to churches and nonprofits within minutes. The average donation to churches and nonprofits is $128, but the average donation through Overflow is $9,500. Your donors want to give stock and crypto because it’s the most tax efficient way to give. Why? Because there’s no capital gains tax. So churches get the full donation and donors get the full tax deduction. As a result, churches have seen up to a 32 times return on their investment with Overflow. So let’s unlock generosity together. Visit overflow.co/unstuck. Once again, that’s overflow.co/unstuck (not .com).
Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. For those of you who prepare sermons, have you ever experienced the challenge of helping people know what to do with what they’ve heard? If you have, you’re not alone. On this week’s podcast, Tony shares a conversation with Andy Stanley, lead pastor at North Point Community Church, to explore how Andy is developing applicable teaching in a way that connects with people today. Before today’s episode, though, if you’re new to the podcast, head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’ll get resources to go along with each week’s episode, including our leader conversation guide and some bonus resources, as well as access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.
Well, this week we’re wrapping up our series on preaching and teaching, and we’ve heard from some diverse voices in Brian Tome, Derwin Gray and Rick Warren, and Tony who’s batting cleanup in this series?
Yeah, today we’re going to hear from Andy Stanley, and Andy, of course, founded the Atlanta-based North Point Ministries in 1995. And now North Point ministries consists of eight churches in the Atlanta area and also a network of 180 churches around the globe. Andy’s also the author of more than 20 books, including his latest book, which is titled “Not in It to Win It.” And we will talk about that in a moment as well. But here’s what’s most important. Andy’s also my pastor. And so I’m just privileged that he would take a moment from his time to talk specifically on this topic on preaching and teaching. And as always, Andy has some great insights to share around how we can more effectively teach and engage the folks that were connecting with our churches on a regular basis. But more importantly, how do we help those people take their next steps towards Jesus? So here’s my conversation on teaching and preaching with Andy Stanley.
Andy, thanks for joining the podcast series on teaching and preaching. And you would think that I don’t like teaching and preaching, or I don’t think it’s gonna help churches get unstuck, because we’ve never done a series on this before, but actually on that note, do you see yourself as more of a teacher, a preacher or something else? And is that intentional?
Well, first of all, you told me earlier that this was the first time you’ve done something on this, which I was surprised as well because I mean, I listen to your podcast all the time and it’s so relevant, and it never dawned on me. Hey, I wonder why he never talks about preachers and teachers, or preaching and teaching, I should say. So. Yeah, happy to be a part of the series. Through the years, people have referred to me and contrasted me, I think, with their previous church experience and called me a teacher. And I think it, again, I don’t know that I could delineate or define or differentiate very well, but that’s sort of it, and I think part of it is I have a high value of teaching. I want people to learn new things, so I’m sure I lean that way. I’m not a fan of hype. I’m not a fan of just, you know, loud for loud sake and repeat the same thing, and gin up the crowd. I mean, in fact I, to a fault, kind of downplay that a little bit. So yeah, I would guess I would lean in the direction of teaching, but I really, really, really appreciate good old fashioned, you know, right down the line preaching. I mean, it’s sometimes, it’s a little bit intimidating cause I’m like, wow, that’s amazing. I do not know how to do that. So, you know, I think there’s an inspirational factor with great preachers. There’s a walk away and learn something and you know, more toward the teaching, but we need both. So yeah. So that’s a long answer to your short question.
Yeah. Yesterday’s message I did notice a little bit of preacher coming out in you.
Oh, I got a little preachy yesterday.
We’re gonna get to that later in today’s conversation. All right. You don’t know this, but I used to subscribe to your messages on cassette tape way back when.
So I’ve been listening to you teach for many, many years. However, I’m obviously hearing many more messages now that my family is engaged in ministry at North Point. And I’ve noticed that your teaching has changed through the years. Will you explain some of the shifts that you’ve made?
Yeah. And just stop me if I go too long on this, because this is intentional, and it’s super important to me. It was probably 12 years ago that I saw a YouTube video that so concerned me about what is communicated to the average church attender, especially this generation and previous generation, and I should say the generation coming along behind us, in terms of how the Bible was referred to and how easily it’s undermined based on a traditional view of the Bible. And whenever I talk about the Bible and whenever anybody talks about the Bible in different terms, people get nervous, and we should get nervous. Okay. But the traditional approach to the Bible is easily dismantled and disregarded in academic circles. So I made an intentional shift in my language around in my preaching and teaching. It’s been almost 12 years ago. It’s hard to imagine it’s been that long ago, and I’ve been super consistent, and I’ve pushed preachers and teachers and pastors to adopt this terminology and some have, and for some, it makes them nervous. And I understand that. And essentially I said, we need to step back and leverage the people behind the scriptures, the stories of the people behind the scriptures, and bring that to the forefront rather than simply say “the Bible says…The Bible says…the Bible says.” And I never advocate people change their view of the Bible, whether they love the word inerrancy, inspiration, inspired, you know, whatever. I mean, you know, I studied under Dr. Norman Geisler, who edited the papers from the summit on biblical inerrancy in Chicago in the seventies. And so I get inerrancy. But in terms of how we front load our preaching and teaching, I made us a very significant, or I made a very intentional shift and listening to our communicators in our campuses pick up on that and it become natural in our communication. I think it was an important shift.
So here’s one nuance in your teaching that has really stood out to me even more in recent months. Rather than just teaching me what the passage says and why it’s true, you’re encouraging me to see myself in the story. So rather than just helping me attain more knowledge, you’re challenging me to consider how I need to respond. And it feels more action oriented. Is there something to this when you’re considering how you’re going to approach a message, Andy?
I’ve always tried. I’ve always intended to be application oriented. I feel like people need to know what to do with what they’ve heard. That’s kind of one of our things, you know, what do you want ’em to know? Why do they need to know it? What do you want them to do? Why do they need to do it? What do you want ’em to know? Why do they need to know it? What do you want them to do? Why do they need to do it? So I’ve leaned into that for a long, long time. But going back to what I just said, whenever we front load or contextualize a passage with the person behind the passage and a bit of their story, it actually makes it easier to find the tension point in terms of the application point. I’ve found that I don’t have to search for, oh, what should we do? Well, buried, you know, the context of every passage of scripture is, you know, James, brother of Jesus, John who outlived all of his friends, you know, Peter who was with Jesus all along the way and dealt with the guilt of betraying him at the end. I mean, all these characters, all these historical figures have a story. And oftentimes it’s their story that creates the connection point to our story. So again, it’s one of the ancillary benefits of, again, leveraging the authority of the person rather than simply the authority of, you know, the combined text that we refer to as the Bible. So that’s made it easier for me. And so maybe you’re picking up on some of that. I don’t know.
Yeah. Yeah. So, that actually leads me specifically to why I wanted to include you in this podcast series. And it gets to the distinction between believing and following that you’ve mentioned frequently in recent messages. And first of all, will you impact how, and maybe why, you talk about that distinction?
Yeah, well, you know, I’m a product and my theology’s a product of the reformation like yours is, like all Protestants are, which is a good thing. And we have so front loaded or emphasized salvation by faith alone, as opposed to works. I’m afraid we’ve forgot that we’re supposed to work. You know, it’s like, oh, so what happens is the way the term believer or believers is used in the New Testament is not the way we use it. The same with the term Christian. It’s almost a brand based on a set of beliefs. I’m a Christian because I believe blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But New Testament times, they were called disciples. A disciple is a follower, somebody who’s doing something. And as we know doing is what makes the difference. James, the brother of Jesus, makes that clear. Jesus makes that clear. The parables of the wise man and the foolish man. So, I feel like in terms of what’s happened in the church, and again, this is just one person’s perspective. So, I feel like in some ways we’ve forgotten what it means to be Christian, not become Christian. We got become Christian covered. I mean, we make sure all our kids pray the sinner’s prayer. They’re in. We baptize them, and we’re good to go. But in terms of being Christian, it’s the men and women who acted out and lived out their faith that changed the world and will continue to be the reformers and the activists and the people who change the world and impact culture today. So yes, in the past several couple of years, specifically, I’ve leaned way in, even in our congregation, to talk about, Hey, following Jesus, not believing in Jesus, following Jesus will make your life better. Following Jesus will make you better at life. It’s not enough to be an admirer. Jesus doesn’t need any more admirers. Most everyone in the United States of America admires Jesus. Most people say they believe in Jesus, whatever that means, but in terms of following and being Christian, which, you know, if you ask the question, what does it look like to follow Jesus? The New Testament comes alive. It comes too alive. You know, it’s all those one anothers the Apostle Paul outlines for us. And as I even said yesterday, in the message, you know, we get to choose whether or not we follow Jesus. We do not get to choose what following Jesus looks like, sounds like, acts like, and maybe most importantly reacts like, so I have leaned heavily into that. The old fashioned term for that, as you know, was the Lordship of Christ. You know, this is really just rehashing or rebranding what it means to recognize Jesus, not only as savior, but as the Lord of our life, as king. So yeah, there’s definitely been renewed emphasis on that in my preaching and teaching.
So with this focus on encouraging people to follow Jesus, then, I’m assuming that you must be thinking, I just can’t teach this passage. I need to help people apply what they’re hearing to their daily lives. And I think everybody listening to this podcast would agree with that, Andy, but maybe, and you alluded to this a little bit earlier, can you share some of the practical approaches that you take in your messages to help people apply the teaching to their daily lives?
Yeah, well, it really comes back to what do I want, you know, as I look at my sermon outlines and get to the end and I think I’m finished, you know, I really go back to these four questions. What is, you know, if there’s just one thing, what do I want people to know? And why is it important to know it? That’s the inspiration piece, the why. What do I want people to do? But why do they need to do it? Again, that’s the inspiration. What’s the outcome of this? So forcing myself not to say I’m finished with this message, you know, let’s move on to the next thing until I’m able to specifically answer those four questions, especially this last year, whatever want people to do and why do they need to do it? In other words, what’s either the benefit to them, the benefit to the society, the culture, or what’s the benefit just in terms of their conscience in terms of following Jesus? So that forces me back into the text and back into the message, but specifically, it’s what does this look like? And it’s sort of those concentric circles of application that, you know, people have talked about forever. What, you know, what does this look like for me? What does it look like for my family? What does this look like for my friendships? My neighborhood? My community? And then the ultimate one, this goes back to the “me-we-God-you-we” system that I introduced in communicating for change years ago. What would it look like, what would happen, if we all did this? And every once in a while, you’ll notice in my sermons. I’ll say, “Imagine, imagine if we just did this, the difference it would make right here in our community. Imagine if every Christian in America, just imagine, what would it look like?” Because the application of any of Jesus teaching, or Paul’s teaching specifically, any of the application of any of the “one anothers,” or the things from the sermon on the Mount, honestly, would make almost an immediate difference in how our nation feels and in how community feels. So again, it’s what do I do? How would this impact family? Friends? Neighborhood? Community? The nation? The world? So that’s again, and by forcing myself to think through those concentric circles, it keeps me into application mode long enough to where hopefully I stumble upon something that’s actually applicable.
Yeah. Yeah. So Andy, I’m curious, I mean, it’s just in you, it’s just part of your personality to make things better. It’s just who you are.
Have you arrived at these intentional shifts in your teaching through the years on your own? Was it feedback from others? Do you seek feedback from others on your teaching? I don’t know.
Well you know, every preacher gets it, you know, thanks to social media. We all know how we did do or didn’t do, or if people got the point or heard some other point you weren’t trying to make, you know. So, you know, and it used to be Twitter used to be super helpful with that. Now people I think are just off Twitter, so I don’t get anything from Twitter much unless it’s a complaint. But my outlines, I work as you know, we’ve talked about this. I work weeks in advance, and I have a wonderful woman I’ve known for many, many, many years who helps me with my slides, what goes up on the screen. She gets my outlines at least three weeks in advance, and then as soon as she’s kind of doctored up what it looks like, she sends those out to our lead pastors and our production team. So my outlines are floating around weeks in advance, so multiple people, now how much time they spend looking at ’em, I don’t know. And I don’t ask for specific feedback, but they know if there’s something that’s concerning, and every once in a while, they’ll be like, ugh, are you really planning to say this? Or were you just, you know, you just wanted to get it out? That’s what I get. Are you really planning to say it? Are you really planning to say it that way? And then Darcy, who helps with my slides, she’s great. She says, now, if this goes up on the screen beside you without any context, are you sure you want somebody to take a screenshot of this and post it somewhere? And I’m like, yeah, you’re right. Without context, that looks like I’m making the opposite point. So there are a lot of eyes. And as you know, too, when we went to broadcast television after Saturday Night Live, suddenly the eyes and sensitivities to, not just what I’m saying, but how I say it, that went up somewhat exponentially because we want to get that right for that audience. And only about probably half of my messages make it to television because some of ’em are so church-oriented. We’re like, Nope, that’s not relevant for that audience. And again, like most pastors between services, six or seven people come into my little green room and, you know, whatever you see, sense, my wife’s in there oftentimes, and of course she is appropriately direct, as I want her to be, in terms of, are you sure, or when you said that, or do you realize you said, and I had one of those yesterday’s second service. I’m like, ah, I can’t believe I said that, so, Hey, I wanna, like you said, I wanna make it better, and you gotta have thick skin. And at the same time, when anybody puts on a microphone, whether they’re a singer, speaker, whatever, there’s an ego thing. There’s a, you know, our insecurities are out there. I mean, you know, and I’m not immune to being defensive internally. I try to keep my mouth shut and listen, but that’s the only way to get better. And so, yeah, there’s a lot of eyes on my outlines.
I bet there are. All right. So related to this whole topic, I had a chance to preview your new book. Thank you, by the way. This is a book that needed to be written. It’s called “Not in It to Win It.” And well, before I ask my specific question, the book, I guess, wasn’t planned. So why did you decide to write it?
Yeah, “Not in It to Win It.” So last spring, spring of 2021, coming out of another round of COVID, contentious election cycle, I was, and you and I’ve talked about this a little bit. I was so frustrated with some high-profile Christian pastors and leaders who became so political. And in my opinion, just forgot what it looks like to be Christian. I mean, they, I mean, there’s just basic, you know, behavior associated with Christianity and following Jesus. And it’s like, they felt like because of what was on the line politically, what was on the line in terms of saving America, all of that went out the window. And I just, I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand how a pastor would alienate half the people in the United States and say that half over there are lost and going to hell, but I’m gonna demonize them publicly and on social media so they’ll never step foot inside my church. I’m like, wait a minute. Wait what? So anyway, and then again, you know, you follow Jesus through the gospels, you follow the apostle Paul from Greece to Jerusalem to Rome, and this is, you know, we should be better than that. So I decided to write a book about it and try to, I don’t name names, but basically go to what I feel like are the fundamental issues of where we’ve gotten off track. And I love our country. I mean, I’m so patriotic. I love our country, and I’m for political engagement. People should run for office. We should get involved, never miss an opportunity to vote, but to abandon basic tenants of Christianity in order to make a political point, especially as a Christian leader, I just think there’s no place for that. So, I wrote a short book about it, asked the publisher, Hey, think anybody wants to read this? And they’re like, let’s see. So again, it’s been out a week, so, you know, we’ll see. It’s a bit, it’s not really a rant, but it’s something I’m super passionate about. And I feel like that the scriptures, the New Testament specifically, and the Old Testament address directly. So anyway, thanks for asking.
Well, I think rants make the best podcast episodes. You’ll see if they turn into the best books as well. Yeah. So this actually gets me to this conversation about following Jesus, because you made this statement in the book, you say, “Christians have reduced our faith to faith.” What did you mean by that?
Well, again, it goes back to what we said a little bit earlier. Christianity is a set of beliefs now. It’s just doctrine. I believe Jesus died on the cross from my sin and rose from the dead. And that if I place…I mean, I believe, I believe, I believe. So you meet people who are engaging in all kinds of lifestyles that will quickly retreat to “Wait. I’m a Christian.” What do you mean you’re a Christian? And they tell you what they believe. But again, and obviously what we believe is fundamental and foundational, but being Christian is what we’re called to be. We’re not simply called to believe. In fact, there’s, you know this, there’s far more in the New Testament about how to be Christian rather than how to become a Christian. In fact, there’s not even a formula. We’ve made up a formula, and I’m okay with that. Children need to understand the basics. We all subscribe to John 3:16, and that’s become the formula. But again, follow Jesus activities. Look at his teaching. Look at how Paul contextualized that for Gentiles. And it’s not simply about belief. It’s about how we live our lives. That’s what makes the difference. And to your point earlier, no one would disagree with that. But to so camp out on, I believe all the right things, I’m good to go is to miss obviously the gospel and the teaching of Jesus. And if that was all there was to it, we probably would have never heard the gospel because some generation before us would’ve been content just to believe, and then go on about their daily lives. So it’s, you know, you know, like you, I wanna make a difference. And the way we make a difference is how we live our lives, not just what we believe.
So, Andy, I’m also, related to this, super sensitive to how churches are engaging the next generations of young adults. I mean, we’re talking specifically about Gen Z and Millennials.
Our kids, right?
Yeah. Well, that’s what I was gonna say mainly just because these are my kids now. And you mentioned in your book that the faith of the next generation is always a casualty of a culture war where the church takes a leading role in the fray. What impact do you see our current culture war having on this next generation? And should that have some influence on how pastors are approaching their teaching on Sunday mornings?
Yes. And we could talk a lot about this. Approach is everything. Every man listening to your podcast has driven home, and every woman listening to your podcast has driven home from work or school or wherever, knowing what they need to say to their spouse and what they obsess over is not the point they need to make, what they obsess over is the approach they take, because all of us who are parents know, you can tell your kids the right thing, make your point and end up apologizing because you made the point so poorly, or you made it in a way that just derailed the conversation. So approach is everything. So in terms of how we approach preaching and teaching and how we engage politically and how we engage with cultural issues, the approach is so important as we think about the next generation, and my biggest concern and, I mean, I’m, you know, I’m no social scientist, but my feedback that I get and, and I talk about this in the book, is my concern is that the generation coming along behind us, it’s not that they’re gonna not believe what we believe. They’re gonna wonder if we believe what we believe, because they have a realistic expectation that we kind of dismiss. Their realistic expectation is that we would live our lives in such a way that it reflects what we say we believe. I mean, the definition of hypocrite is somebody who says one thing and does something else. So again, when we camp out on, we believe, we believe, we believe, we believe, but here’s what we do. Here’s how we handle work. Here’s how we handle money. Here’s how we handle everything else. It’s like, well, then I’m not sure you really believe what you say you believe because the proof is in, you know, walking your talk. So we, you know, the generation coming along behind any generation is always watching for that duplicity. So if we don’t know how to be Christian, what we communicate is, Hey, here’s what we want you to believe. But there may be some doubt in your mind as to whether we truly believe it, because look at the way we live our lives. So that’s my concern. And it should always be the concern as we think about the generation coming along behind us.
Andy, you get to wrap up this series on teaching and preaching. So any final thoughts, encouragement you want to give pastors in this moment?
Yeah, when you look at your outlines and as you’re working through your content, what do you want people to know? If you don’t know, they won’t know. Why do they need to know it? Because, Hey, that’s the inspiration part? What do you want ’em to do? Because if you don’t tell ’em what you want ’em to do, who knows if they’ll figure that out? And fourthly, why do they need to do it? Why do they need to, you know, love one another? Why do they need to forgive one another? And if you can answer those four questions, if it’s super clear for you, it will be clear for your congregation. Dr. Hendricks, Howard Hendricks, used to say this in seminary. If it’s a mist in the pulpit, if it’s a mist, m-i-s-t, if it’s a mist in the pulpit, it will be a fog in the pew, his point being as the communicator, if you’re a little bit unclear, it’s just gonna become exponentially more unclear for the people who are listening, and don’t depend on your personality and the hype. If you’ve got the big charismatic personality, leverage it, but fill it up with content and be true to the scripture.
Well, as always, Andy has a lot of insights to share on this topic. Tony, what stood out to you?
Yeah, I mean, the great thing is when you interview, Andy, you don’t have to guess on what his main topic is or what his bottom line is. He always brings us back to that key takeaway and points us to our next steps. And this conversation really was no different. I do want to strongly endorse that simple model he shared at the end of our conversation. As we approach the development of our messages, we need to make sure the content addresses these specific questions: Number one, what do we want people to know? Number two, why do we need them to know it? Third, w`hat do you want them to do? And then lastly, why do they need to do it? And that is just a great framework for any message on any topic. And if we just get that right, it will dramatically improve our teaching. But more importantly, it will improve our ability to help people become more like Jesus.
Well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Well, I certainly hope that this series has been beneficial to the pastors and leaders who are listening in to our podcast every week. And according to my team, the audience has actually grown dramatically in the last few months. So if you’re new, thank you for joining us. And please pass this along to your friends in ministry as well. Next week, we’ll dive into some fresh data from our quarterly Unstuck Church Report. And, Amy, there are some surprises in the new data. So I’m looking forward to that conversation. But then in June, we’re starting a brand new series that’s solely designed to benefit you, the pastors and church leaders who are listening. I mean, we obviously have an agenda in this podcast to engage more church leaders and hopefully increase the number of churches that our team gets to serve. However, in June, we’re setting that agenda aside for a time because the entire month will be focused on your health. We want this to be a summer of renewal in your heart, your mind and your spirit. And because of that, this series will be really our gift to you, you and hopefully all your friends who you invite to check out the podcast in the coming weeks. But until then, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to learn more about how we help churches get unstuck and have a greater kingdom impact. And you can learn more at theunstuckgroup.com.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Before we wrap up today’s episode, I want to take a moment and thank this week’s sponsor, Overflow. Overflow is an online software that empowers donors to seamlessly give crypto and stock donations to churches and nonprofits within minutes. The average donation to churches and nonprofits is $128, but the average donation through overflow is $9,500. That’s $9,500. Your donors want to give stock and crypto because it’s the most tax efficient way to give. Why? There’s no capital gains tax. So churches get the full donation, and donors get the full tax deduction. As a result, churches have seen up to 32 times the return on their own investment with Overflow. With Overflow, you can unlock unprecedented generosity together. So visit overflow.co/unstuck, that’s overflow.co/unstuck (not.com). Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode, so until then, have a great week.