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Artikelen | 23 mei 2003
Connecting through Purpose in Preaching

Door: Kim Baylis

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Introduction

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Preaching in postmodern North America has increasingly challenged, confused, and divided those who minister in a preaching capacity. In such a context, this paper will analyze the importance of defining one's purpose when preparing messages. By examining the dynamics of the North American Christian church, the arguments presented will prove the necessity of determining a sermon's purpose for its intended audience without reducing the power and authority of Scripture. On the contrary, the evidence will show how such an approach can impact the listeners in meaningful, lifelong ways.

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Definition of a sermon's "purpose"

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It is important to clarify and define the term "purpose" as it relates to a sermon. Purpose goes beyond the content of the message and answers the question of why a particular message is being preached; in other words, it assumes the truth of the message and defines what that truth will accomplish in the lives of those who hear it.[1] It is result-oriented. Haddon Robinson affirms A.W. Tozer's observation that "theological truth is useless until it is obeyed. The purpose behind all doctrine is to secure moral action."[2] The purpose of a message, then, is an articulated objective of the preacher who, by the Holy Spirit's leading, determines this at the outset of his/her sermon preparation.

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Defining a purpose for preaching is indeed biblical. As Robinson notes, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 attests to the significance of purpose in preaching.[3] Verse 17 shows that Scripture is to be used in order that believers may become equipped for every good work. The previous verse affirms the authority and inspiration of Scripture for teaching, correcting and rebuking; however verse 17 gives the purpose of why this is so. It is not enough that Scripture is authoritative (although this is an important doctrine). Rather, verse 17 shows that the receiver of Scripture has a responsibility; Scripture has a purpose for listeners and ought to be manifested in identifiable, measurable ways.

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Context of purpose in a postmodern world

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Although a broad topic, postmodernism manifests several characteristics that are important to the ministry of preaching in North America and the issue of purpose in particular. The common factor among these characteristics is the search for answers relevant to the lives of listeners.

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An example of the postmodernist's mindset is described by Kenton Anderson through a fictional character in Preaching with Conviction. The struggling pastor notes that people living in a postmodern context suffer from a lack of confidence in the world, stating that "the more we achieve, the less confident we are. The more we know, the more we'll never know."[4] He develops this idea further, asserting that postmodernism has created an atmosphere of mystery caused by the unknowns,[5] a lack of consensus caused by pluralism[6], and a faster paced lifestyle caused by technology.[7] Preaching must respond to this atmosphere of unknowns, no absolutes, and an overwhelming absence of control of the pace of one's life.

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These characteristics impact the listeners of a message in terms of their confidence in the preacher, the message, and the Bible. Churchgoers must be convinced of the relevance of a message as well as how to integrate it into his/her life. In articles aimed at strengthening churches in the midst of postmodernism, words such as "engage," "connect," "incarnational ministry," and "authenticity" reflect the need to respond to and interact with the challenges of postmodernism.[8] The attitudes of postmodernism must be incorporated into the content, delivery and experience of sermons in order to transform lives. In order to do this, the preacher must define his/her purpose for preaching each sermon.

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The necessity of purpose disputed

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Interaction with the characteristics of postmodernism as they relate to purpose in preaching is not acceptable to many in the preaching ministry. Opposing views often react to a specific aspect of postmodern preaching and exaggerate it beyond its intention. At times there is reluctance to give up the perceived "good old days" (even though they were not problem-free) of having a captive audience. At the heart of much opposition, however, is a well-intended concern over reducing or tampering with Scripture to an extent that would tarnish its integrity and, through that, the ministry of the Church.

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The issue of people's needs is often a source of contention for those who refute the necessity of result-oriented preaching. Martin Lloyd-Jones states that the pastor need not focus on the individual needs of the congregation and engage in their lives.[9] He is accurate in stating that it is neither imperative nor practical for a pastor to know every detail of each congregant;[10] however, his assumption that the pastor ought only to address the fact that all are sinners without delving deeper into individuals' lives oversimplifies the challenge to relate to people. In addition, this attitude of aloofness rejects the lives and needs of a postmodern audience. Rejecting the opportunity to connect with people creates barriers between preacher and listener and prohibits the establishment of purpose in one's preaching.

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Another opposing argument of integrating the needs and experiences of the listener into one's purpose for preaching is the concern for over-engaging into the culture. Marilyn Chandler McEntyre echoes this concern in her dissatisfaction with the oft-resulting "watering down" of Scripture and the overuse of entertainment-style tactics.[11] Admittedly, this danger exists, and one need not try to make Scripture relevant, for it is relevant. However, refusal to link the truth of Scripture into an intentional, defined goal for listeners misses the point of the power of Scripture. Relevance, though often misunderstood and misapplied, is simply good communication between preacher and listener.

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Dynamics of preaching with a result-oriented purpose

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As stated previously, preaching with a goal of transforming lives through an articulated purpose involves careful consideration of the audience. The importance of the listener, the power of Scripture, and a holistic approach are all components of preaching with a specific purpose.

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The dynamics of the preacher-listener relationship have been a subject of debate. In order to engage the listener in any given message, the preacher must connect with his/her audience in several ways. First, he/she must know the congregation, both corporately and individually. Although a preacher may not know the details of people's lives, it is significant for him/her to know the struggles of individuals, such as health, work, family problems, etc. Knowledge of such situations does not dictate the message, but it should serve as a means of engagement and effective communication. Thomas G. Long asserts that "the congregation's struggle to be human and faithful to Christ in the contemporary world [should be] the context in which the interpretation of the text take[s] place."[12] In other words, the circumstances of the listeners are integrated into the purpose of the message, rather than being a consideration during the application at the end of a message.

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Keith Willhite concurs with this approach, though with different terminology. He asserts that the method of argumentation engages and connects with listeners by addressing their unspoken, yet real arguments. [13] In the preparation of a sermon, there ought to be consideration of "audience receptivity" which asks how each aspect of the sermon will be received by its listeners.[14] The purpose of the sermon is integrated throughout the message in this approach as it continually interacts with the lives of the listeners.

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Such an approach eliminates the monologue mentality and creates an experience of interaction. This interaction has components of a dialogue, as it is inclusive of the lives of listeners and seeks to meet a specific goal of transformation. [15] Henry Eggold rightly notes that a dialogical sermon is not only concerned with truth, but also with "truth for people."[16] Truth applied to people has a specific purpose to transform and not just inform.

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At the heart of transformation is God's power through Scripture. Since Scripture is the Word of God, it is dynamic and able to transform. The preacher must listen to what God is saying through His Word to the listeners. This involves the mind and heart, for Scripture addresses issues to which listeners can relate on both of these levels.

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Relating to an issue is not enough, however. The listener must not only be engaged in the message, but he/she must also understand and be convicted to respond to it. Anderson presents a model for integrating engagement through understanding, conviction, and response through a series of questions that need to be addressed within a sermon: So what?, What's what?, Yeah, but, and Now what?[17] These four questions deal with different aspects of the sermon, but the nature of each question (especially the first and fourth) connects the listener in a purposeful way throughout the entire sermon and does not wait until the end to try to engage the audience.

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Conclusion

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A defined purpose for a message which clearly states the intended outcome of a particular message integrates the truth of Scripture into the lives of believers. The purpose of a message is not a bridge from text to audience; rather it the driving force of a message, for if no transformation occurs, then the listeners have not heard a message from God through the preacher. The purpose does not seek to "make" Scripture relevant; rather the purpose communicates a problem, issue or challenge to the listeners in such a way that the listener connects, both cognitively and emotionally, and wants to know how to respond. Although this act of obedience is the responsibility of the listener, it is first the task of the preacher to articulate how to obey through a measurable standard which the listener can apply to his/her own life. Finally, a result-oriented purpose in preaching connects listeners with truth in a way that reflects the mindset of a postmodern North American church while upholding the integrity of Scripture.

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Works Cited

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[1]Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), 108.

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[2]Ibid.

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[3]Ibid, 109; Victor Lee also uses this passage as evidence of purpose-driven preaching in "Transforming Your Ministry Through Preaching." available from http://www.pastors.com/pcom/specials/Purpose-DrivenPreaching.asp; Internet; accessed 1March 2002.

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[4]Kenton Anderson, Preaching with Conviction (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001), 19.

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[5]Ibid.

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[6]Ibid, 20.

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[7]Ibid, 21.

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[8]Victoria Moon, "Ten Commandments for Postmodern Churches;" available from http://www.pastors.com/pcom/specials/10Commandments.asp; Internet; accessed 1 March 2002.

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[9]D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 132.

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[10]Ibid, 134.

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[11]Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, "Resisting 'Relevancy,'" Christianity Today 45 (June 11, 2001): 96.

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[12]Thomas G. Long, The Witness of Preaching (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989), 79.

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[13]Keith Willhite, "Audience Relevance in Expository Preaching," Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (July-September 1992): 358.

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[14]Ibid, 359.

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[15]Henry J. Eggold, Preaching is Dialogue (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), 23.

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[16]Ibid, 15.

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[17]Anderson, 148.

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Works Consulted

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Anderson, Kenton C. Preaching With Conviction. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001.

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Aycock, Don, ed. Preaching With Purpose and Power. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1982.

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Bryson, Harold T. Building Sermons to Meet People's Needs. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1980.

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Chartier, Myron R. Preaching as Communication. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1981.

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Eggold, Henry J. Preaching is Dialogue. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980.

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Lee, Victor "Transforming Your Ministry Through Preaching." Available from http://www.pastors.com/pcom/specials/Purpose-Driven Preaching.asp; Internet; accessed 1 March 2002.

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Long, Thomas G. The Witness of Preaching. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989.

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Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn Preaching and Preachers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971.

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McEntyre, Marilyn Chandler "Resisting 'Relevancy.'" Christianity Today 45 (June 11, 2001): 96.

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Moon, Victoria "Ten Commandments for Postmodern Churches." Available from http://www.pastors.com/pcom/specials/10Commandments.asp; Internet; accessed 1 March 2002.

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Ortberg, John "Biblical Preaching is about Life Change, Not Sermon Form." Available from PreachingToday.com, 2001.

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___ "Purpose-Driven Preaching: An Interview with Rick Warren." Available from http://www.preaching.com/preaching/features/warren2.htm; Internet; accessed 2 March 2002.

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Robinson, Haddon W. Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980.

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Shelley, Marshall, ed. Changing Lives Through Preaching and Worship. Nashville: Moorings, 1995.

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Stott, John R.W. "Christian Preaching in the Contemporary World." Bibliotheca Sacra 145 (October-December 1988): 363-370.

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Troeger, Thomas H. Imagining a Sermon. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990.

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Willhite, Keith "Audience Relevance in Expository Preaching." Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (July-September 1992): 355-369.

Bron: www.preaching.org

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