"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Pastoral Ministry (Page 1 of 6)

How Preaching Serves the Process of Discipleship

How does God use a Paul to produce a Timothy? How does God use you to produce mature disciples of Jesus Christ?

Second Timothy 3 and 4 provide a glimpse at that divine process.

Paul characterizes the people of the last days (3:1-9). He then contrasts this (“You, however …,” v.10; “but as for you …,” v.14) with what Timothy has come to be (vv.10-15). That transformative process in Timothy’s life was brought about, humanly speaking, through a network of relationships that included his mother and grandmother (1:5; 3:15), the Apostle Paul (3:10-11, 14), and others (v.14). Timothy is charged with repeating this transformative process through his relationships with “faithful men” (2:2).

There is a pattern that is consistent in the process of discipleship, the purpose in Scripture, and the practice of preaching.

The Apostle Paul lays out what appears to be a progressive process through which Timothy passed.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (3:1-15)

There is a logical flow to what Paul describes. Each one must move through this process:


One must have an acquaintance with the truth of the Scriptures before one can believe and be transformed by that truth. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Jesus confirmed that one must “know the truth” before one can be set free by it (John 8:32).

Having taken in the information of the Scriptures one is then in a position for learning from it. The Scriptures stand over against other ideas, claims, and calls. It’s teaching makes a divide and invites one to see what the difference between its claims and offers and those of others.

This brings one to the point of faith. With the line of demarcation laid down one must decide on which side of the line of revelation one stands. The revelation calls for conviction – either you are in or you are out. There is a call that goes out in the sounding of the Scriptures and one must either respond to that call or ignore, deflect, deny, and reject it.

When one rests oneself upon the truth of Scripture God-given, Biblical wisdom begins to form in one’s heart. Freedom comes (John 8:32). Life begins to change. One’s discernment has changed. One’s choices are different. You have stepped onto the path of discipleship.


This doesn’t just happen. Timothy was early exposed to the truth of Scripture by his mother and grandmother (1:5; 3:15). He heard it expounded by the Apostle Paul (3:14) and modeled in his life (3:10-11). This is why Paul now holds out the purpose of the Scriptures:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (3:16)


Scripture’s purpose reflects the path of discipleship.

Teaching communicates the basic information of the Scripture passage so that the listener is familiar with the facts.

Reproof then takes the basic facts set out from Scripture and reveals how they stand in relationship to other thoughts, ideas, perceptions, and claims. The Scripture reproves the other claims to truth by setting out what is in fact true. It is only in this one learns.

But this is not far enough. Correction, therefore, aims for the commitment of the one now acquainted with the claims of Scripture and sees them rightly in relationship to other claims and ideas. It calls for faith and forms conviction. The listener has gone from not knowing the truth of Scripture and therefore not seeing how other ideas and claims stand in relationship to the reality it holds forth to the call for commitment and the forming of conviction. The listener now announces, “This is true for me!”

There is, however, still more. For the inward conviction and commitment must become outward action in obedience. In addition to informing and exposing and calling for commitment, the Scripture now guides the transformation of the listener’s life through training in new steps of obedience that become a new pattern of living.

All of this—the process of discipleship and the purpose of Scripture—is matched then by the purpose of preaching:

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (4:1-2)


Preaching announces what is true (teaching/acquaintance), thereby reproving and exposing other claims and ideas (reproof/learning) and calling for personal commitment (correction/conviction) that takes the form of new steps of obedience that become a new way of life (training/wisdom).

We each can thus say:

  • I preach because the Scriptures were given for teaching and with the goal of giving my listeners an acquaintance with the truth of God.
  • I reprove because the Scriptures were given for reproof and with the goal of my listeners learning what the truth they’ve become acquainted with means.
  • I rebuke because the Scriptures were given for the correction of the hearer and formation of convictions regarding the truth they have learned.
  • I exhort because the Scripture were given for training listeners to live out the truth they have learned and come to live in the saving wisdom of God.

Deciding What to Preach Next

Every pastor has faced the question: How am I supposed to know what to preach next?

The whole of the Bible is your text. You can’t go wrong as long as you stay within its pages. But we desire a sense of clarity and leading from God in our preaching.

Here are some steps I have taken over the years to help discern where I should go next in my preaching.

  • Pray – ask God to guide you. Not just once, but regularly, repeatedly. Add fasting to your praying.
  • Read – the Bible. Read widely. Scan the whole.
  • Remember – what have you preached recently? What have you preached over the last year? If you’ve just completed a several month series in a NT epistle, you probably want to change up the genre of Biblical literature you preach next (perhaps narrative, psalms, or from the prophets). Alternate OT and NT. Change up the length of series. Change up the genre of literature you preach. Change up the emphasis – e.g., from sanctification, comfort, salvation, theological, individual application, group/church application.
  • Observe – are there particular issues facing the congregation right now? Is there a particular vision you are wanting your church to embrace? What you preach next can address these kinds of issues.
  • Wait – start early so you have time to linger over this issue. Try setting out a tentative preaching schedule for the next twelve months.
  • Recall – what has God been dealing with you about personally? Is there a passage from which God has been dealing with you of late? You don’t want to preach your personal experience, but it is possible God has been dealing with the shepherd so He can deal with the sheep under his care. Journaling as a part of my personal disciplines helps me here. I am able to thumb through my journal and observe patterns of God’s speaking to me that I might not have seen otherwise.
  • Map – map out all the sermon series you’ve preached at your current church – don’t worry about individual messages preached between series, just map out the series you’ve preached. Ask God to give you insight. Now observe. Study. What do you see? What does that say to you? Are there sections of Scripture that you have neglected? What is the spiritual result for your congregation?
  • Calendar – how much time do you have for the next series? Where will you need to break away for other preaching – perhaps Advent?, Easter?, missions conference, etc.? Perhaps there are natural start/stop points on the calendar that you need to take into account – e.g., start of school year, start of the new year, summer vacation season.
  • Sketch – start trying to project several of the ideas that come to you. Mark out how you’ll divide the book in preaching portions. How fast or slow should you take a particular book at this time?
  • Pray more – what does it seem the Lord is saying? Do any of these ideas make you especially excited? Do any particularly motivate you?
  • Decide – sometimes you just have to go with what you want to preach, what seems most interesting to you, what you’re motivated to study. But you’ve just got to make a decision. Make your decision far enough in advance that you can do the necessary pre-study to make sure you’re approaching the book correctly and can confidently plan the series.
  • Write – give the series a name/title/theme. Write out what the series is about, where it is headed, how you’ll get there, what will be the result. Be specific. Write yourself into clarity. This takes time. Let things percolate. Come back to it again and again. Map out the basic outcomes you will look to achieve during the series; plan what you want the congregation to take away from the series. Develop a logo or graphics that will carry the theme of the series.
  • Communicate – to those who need advance knowledge, those who might join you in preaching part of this series, those writing newsletters, bulletins, doing graphics work, etc.

Remember, God wants you to know what to preach next more than you do. Rest in His assured leading. Make decisions in dependence upon Him. Then move with confidence as you begin the labors that will lead to your opening the Word of God to your people in the days ahead.

Life Changing

Over the last eighteen months or so God has changed most of the details of our earthly lives and did so through these words of Scripture …

and these conclusions drawn from them …

Lord, enable us by your Spirit to follow joyfully, faithfully and fruitfully. Amen!

Good AT and Good FOR

We all want to figure out what God wants from us. What is His will for your life? What does He require of you? What ought you to be and do?

It struck me not long ago that in pursuit of answers to these kinds of questions we each must consider not only what God has made me good at, but also what has God made me good for.

The answer to the former is found in discerning what God has done in imparting to you spiritual gifts, natural talents, and shaping experiences. Figuring out what you are good at is a matter of competency and skill. You might be good at car repair, football, sewing, computers, baking, nuclear physics, etc.

The answer to the latter is found in discovering and discerning what God has done in shaping your heart. Discovering what you are good for is a matter of calling and character. It is harder to quantify this isn’t it? In fact it might be easier to describe what you are no good for – things for which you just don’t have the heart and for which you just can’t sustain the passion.

What you are good at, we might say, is a matter of the hands. What you are good for is a matter of the heart.

Both are vital. But it seems to me that a person might be good at certain things, but also only good for doing that in a certain arena or for a certain cause or purpose. You can use gifts, talents and the like for many things. After all a great writer could compose cheap and bawdy literature that debases the human soul or she could write with style and substance that imparts life and hope to her readers.

Does it make sense to say that what you are good for has to define and direct what you are good at?

A person who has discovered what God has made them good at is a person who has direction and a future to pursue. But a person who has also discovered what he is good for finds the field of possibilities drastically narrowed—not because he doesn’t possess the skill for some matters, but because God has spoiled his heart for anything other than what He has made him for.

So are you asking more questions about what you are good at or what you are good for? Some people would settle to know what they are good at. They would love to be the best in the world (or even in their school or family or on their block) at something. But that can be an ego-driven matter. We need to know what God has made us good at, but we can’t stop there.  We must know what God has made us good for. For then we can not only do our best, we can do it for the glory of God and with all the passion and purpose for which He gave us the abilities in the first place. When we discover what we are good for we begin to move from just doing, to doing as doxology.

The longer I live I find myself asking more of the second level questions than the first level. I’m wondering if that’s the case for you too.

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