Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Power of Words

I once was at a conference where Bart Campolo was speaking, and in his usual provocative way, he made this outrageous statement: Sermons don’t change people, people do. Or something like that…

I mean, I got his point. He did this little exercise where he gave us 30 seconds to write down 5 sermons that changed our lives. Most people could not get past none or one. Then he asked us for 5 people who had changed our lives and everyone could think of them in a matter of seconds.

I learned more people need to hear good preaching…

OK – so point well taken… people have a huge impact. Relationships have a HUGE impact. No sane person would argue that.

But Bart was preaching a sermon when he said this stuff, and being paid to do so… and undoubtedly expecting that his little sermon would have some impact on the people he was talking to. Why else would he be up there yapping away?

The irony was delicious in my mind…

Which leads me to today’s post topic: Do words really have impact? Should the Church keep preaching?

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Is that really true?

The Bible – a book full of stories and sermons and words – says that the tongue is small but can do huge damage… or good (James 3:1-8). I think words have a lot more impact than we give them credit for.

Think about Mein Kampf. Think about the Beatles’ lyrics. Think about Karl Marx and the words he penned. Think about “I Do”. Think about the kid who spends his entire childhood hearing “you’re stupid.” Words matter.

But here’s my bigger concern: What if Christians abandon faith in the power of sermons?

There is a proclamational aspect of the Gospel that is incredibly profound. The message itself has supernatural power (Romans 1:16). I know that St. Francis said, “Preach the gospel at all times, use words when necessary”, and I get his point, too. Your life is the platform you speak from. If it doesn’t look like Jesus, at least a little, no one will listen to the words you say, no matter how powerful or true they may be.

But I think both Francis and Bart are missing something. At some point, I have to communicate to people that they are lost and in need of a savior… that they face the wrath of God if they persist in unbelief… that there is a God who loves them and, though He is blazingly holy and no one can stand in His presence, He is also infinitely merciful and will forgive through the sacrifice of Jesus the one who believes. They need to hear that they can be reconciled to God, that they can be healed, and that the imago Dei can be restored in them.

This all requires words. More than simply living a Christlike lifestyle can accomplish.

These brothers might even agree with that. Maybe they just weight things much heaver to the side of actions. And I’m all about action…

But we can’t minimize words.

Perhaps it’s not the single sermon that works change in us. I’m sure that happens from time to time, but more likely it’s the Word being preached and taught faithfully over time that has a profound cumulative effect. So profound that it changes both present state and eternity.



Blogger Aaron said...

I agree with you 100%!

Proclamation has to happen and it is very serious.

I am reminded of the early church in Acts 6 where there was discrimination happening at the "food bank."

This was a very serious matter that had to be handled. So much so they appointed 7 "deacons" to take care of this very important ministry (actions/deeds).

But I like the Apostles response.
"...We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the WORD." Acts 6:4

Yes actions are very important, even to the point of selecting godly leadership to ensure that these deeds happen, but devotion to the WORD has to be 1st and foremost in my opinion.

This doesn't mean that there has to be a dichotomy but rather us knowing where things fit.

No works can produce the gospel but the gospel can produce works.

You feel me?

July 25, 2008 at 11:07 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Man, the Acts passage is a great point! That really brings it home.

I get nervous about pendulum swiings... Some Christians see other Christians who are all about talk (sermons) and no action, so they respond by being all about action and think preaching is obsolete.

But then they write books and blog about it, proving that words really do have power...

So I like your take: We have to know where things fit. There is a time to preach and a time to act and a time to do both at the same time!

I feel you!

July 25, 2008 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

The Word of the Lord.

I hear that anytime I am in church.

God spoke the world into existence, No? He used word.

I need to hear some good words-a sermon- sometimes to get me back to where I should be. It helps its enouraging, not a substitute for faith by any means but an accompaniment. One that is very necesary to me. SO sermons can help people to realize they need to change. I am with you on this one Steve.

July 29, 2008 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Christopher B. Brooks said...

I am all about sermons. How will they hear without a preacher?...

July 30, 2008 at 10:38 AM  
Blogger KG said...

Great thoughts Steve. I have heard similar words to Bart's and also have heard Assisi quoted as if it were the scriptures. I don't know how many times I have had to correct this.

Actions are powerful and necessary. Relationship is a key to effective ministry. But words are necessary and powerful.

August 4, 2008 at 7:14 AM  
Blogger 香魚烘蛋Tata said...


June 3, 2010 at 5:13 AM  

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