Preaching the Word with Clarity and Confidence in Central Asia

Dear Friends and Partners,

Turstan* leads our work in one of the “-stan” countries of Central Asia. Born into a Muslim family, he came to faith in Christ as a teenager . . . one of the few believers in his country. After completing theological training, Turstan was asked to translate for our Leadership Resources team as they made their first visit to his country. Turstan jokes, “I didn’t know it was the beginning of ‘snookering me’ into LRI.”

When we asked Turstan what drew him to LRI, he responded, “Simple is genius.” What he meant is this: LRI’s training is simple but profound – it makes the Word of God accessible and understandable both to preachers and to their congregations.

One preacher told Turstan that before this training “we got stuck in our own web. The harder we worked to make things clear, the more we confused even ourselves!” Now he preaches from the Word with both clarity and confidence.

Turstan is an amazing leader. He passes on what he has learned throughout his own and surrounding countries in Central Asia. He’s on the road constantly and, in fact, asked us to pray for his young family, since, as a dad and husband, he’s gone so much. Would you take a moment to pray for them?

Turstan is one of 176 national pastors leading LRI’s training around the world. Last year these pastors teamed with LRI staff and trained almost 5,000 pastors and leaders. Many of those who participated passed the training on to thousands more.

You are a part of this Movement. By God’s grace, as you read, pray, and give, 176 pastors are launching and leading indigenous, sustainable Movements of the Word that have now spread to 47 countries. Thank you so much. Rejoice with us!

With gratitude in Christ,

Craig Parro


*Turstan’s real name has been withheld for security reasons.

PS: Our 48th country launches this month, equipping pastors in the Middle East. Due to security reasons, many pastors must be flown to a tolerant, neighboring country for training. While this adds considerable cost to training, it is an incredibly strategic opportunity to impact an entire region with the Word! Please give . . . generously!

The Foundational Convictions of Expository Ministry (Phase One)

This is the first part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below or read the transcript.

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Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran: One of the major goals of Leadership Resources’ ministry in the U.S. and abroad is to develop an expositional mindset for ministry in the pastors and leaders we train.

I’m here with Sean Martin, who is the Program Director for our training in Europe. Sean would you tell us . . . What is an expositional mindset, and why is it so important?

Sean Martin

Sean Martin: I’d be happy to, Kevin. Before I talk about an expositional mindset, let me just define expository preaching or expository ministry.

There are many definitions out there about what expository ministry is or what an expository sermon is. Quite simply, the way I like to define an expository sermon is: teaching God’s Word with God’s intent.

We believe that God is a speaking God. That’s our conviction as evangelical Christians. God speaking through His Word always has intent. God’s Word always has a purpose. And so, expository preaching and teaching is quite simply teaching God’s Word with God’s intent so that the result will be life and transformation, which is always the goal of God’s Word. So that’s how I define expository.

An expositional mindset comes from a conviction. I might be provocative in saying that expository ministry is not limited to the pulpit. Why? Let me ask you a question: Is the Word of God just as powerful between two little old ladies reading the Bible at Starbucks as it is in the pulpit? How you answer that question is foundational. I would argue that the Word of God is just as powerful between two little old ladies reading it at Starbucks as it is in the pulpit.

Has God set some apart to be pastors and preachers? Absolutely. Do we feel the Sunday sermon is paramount in the ministry of the Church? Absolutely. Do we want to see godly men filling pulpits in this country and throughout the world? Absolutely.

But what we also want to say is: “Hearing God’s Word with God’s intent is so great. Do we really only want to have it a half an hour a week on a Sunday, or do we want it all week?” I hope the answer to that question is, “Yes, we want it all the time.”

If expository ministry isn’t just limited to the pulpit, then we’ve got to ask, what does it look like during the week? I would argue that an expositional mindset is having the theological conviction that God’s Word always speaks with a goal of intent, life, and transformation. That does happen in the Sunday sermon, but it also happens in Sunday school. It also happens in a one-to-one Bible meeting. It also happens in small groups. It also happens as you teach your family the Scriptures at dinner. An expositional mindset is the conviction that we want to find as many venues as we can where the Word of God can be prayerfully spoken to other people.

We want to see expository ministry in every single part of the church. We want to see the Word of God and prayer in the driver’s seat in the church. We want to see the Word of God working itself into every ministry of the church. We want to train one another so that we can be expository disciple makers who are in the world with our neighbors, our co-workers, and our family members who are not believers, speaking God’s Word prayerfully into their lives, so that they will become disciples.

KH: How do you see the expositional mindset working itself out practically in churches? How should it work itself out?

SM: First of all I think a helpful thing to do is to read The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, because that book lays the theological and philosophical groundwork about how all ministry is about what we call “vine work.” “Vine work” is Word-based disciple making. Trellises are the structures of ministry, like buildings and meetings, that enable vine ministry to happen.

We need ministry trellises—we need some kind of a structure to do ministry. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but the trellises exist so that we can do the vine work. We want to see God’s work grow. We want see the nations become disciples of Christ. I think reading that book is very helpful because it’ll either be something new to you or a reminder of what ministry is really all about: making disciples.

The follow-up book, The Vine Project, is very helpful because one push back they received from the first book was, “You guys intentionally didn’t give us your seven steps to grow a bigger and better church.” And Colin and Tony would say, “We don’t have seven steps. We don’t have secrets. We’re just taking you back to the scriptural principles of what ministry is all about.” And people would say, “Well that’s fine, but still I go back, and where do I start? How do I start an expositional ministry in my church?”

The Vine Project works through five phases sharing how to grow a Word-focused and discipleship-oriented church.

Phase One: Sharpen Your Convictions

They call the first phase, “Sharpen Your Convictions.” It’s the why, what, who, when, and where of making disciples. Sharpening your convictions really comes back to asking ourselves questions like: Is my conviction that God’s Word brings life and transformation? Is my conviction that the Word of God needs to be in the driver’s seat of every ministry in our church?

KH: . . . making sure you have a solid foundation on a Biblical understanding of discipleship.

SM: Absolutely. It’s coming back to that foundation and asking, “What is ministry all about?” The only way you’re going to have an expository mindset for all of the ministries in your church and in your life is if you have those convictions – that the Word of God and prayer must be in the driver’s seat, and I want to build all my ministries around the Word of God and prayer. That’s how God works. As we prayerfully depend on God’s Spirit and as we teach His Word, God makes disciples. God grows disciples. God equips people for godly living. God equips people for the work of ministry. We have to sharpen our convictions.

Next time we’ll look at the 4 P’s of Disciple making ministry.

The Four “P”s of Disciple Making

This is part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below at the timestamp 07:55–10:30.

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KH: There’s something I found incredibly helpful in Phase One. It’s the four “P”s of ministry, the four “P”s of discipleship. Would you mind sharing those?

SM:  The first is the Proclamation of God’s Word in many ways.

We don’t believe that expository ministry is limited to the pulpit. We think that there are a variety of venues for expository ministry because it’s simply teaching God’s Word with God’s intent. Therefore, the first “P” is that we want to find as many venues as possible to proclaim the Word of God because that’s the means of making disciples.

The second is Prayerful Dependence on the Spirit.

As Paul reminded the church in Corinth, one waters and one sows and one reaps, but God is the one who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3). Yes, we can pray; yes, we can prepare; yes, we can teach the Word of God; but we need to prayerfully depend on the Spirit. He is the one who makes the difference. He’s the initiator. He’s the evangelist. It’s by the Spirit of God that people come to faith in Christ. And it’s by the Spirit of God working through the Word that people grow as disciples of Christ.

The third “p” is People.

Ministry is about people. So often we think of ministry as programs. So we have the Sunday service, we have Sunday School for adults, we have Sunday School for children, we have the youth group on Wednesday night, we have small groups in homes. We have all these ministries, and we think that because we have all those programs in place, we’re a godly church. There’s nothing wrong with any of those programs, but again, those programs are trellises. They’re structures we put into place so that hopefully we can do prayerful people work as we proclaim God’s Word to them. We want to see ministry about people, right? So, how do I minister to these people? Prioritize people before programs.

The fourth is Perseverance.

This is a very important thing because of our culture’s inner and outer pressure to be successful. Our culture focuses so much on growth, numbers – what is dynamic and exciting. But the reality is that most of ministry happens in the trenches. It’s slow work. People work is slow. God takes His time. It doesn’t happen overnight, and God often works in a small way. It’s small, slow, and quiet, but over a period of time, you will see that the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, does terrific work in people.

Perseverance is very important, because so often, as things are small or we’re working through difficult situations with people, we’re tempted to give up. We need to press on and persevere.

It’s worth sharing a familiar passage of Scripture that emphasizes the perseverance aspect of discipleship: “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” (2 Timothy 4:1–2, ESV; emphasis added).

Reforming Your Personal Culture (Phase Two)

This is part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below starting at 07:55.

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Kevin Halloran: Can you explain Phase Two of The Vine Project?

Sean Martin: Phase Two is about reforming your personal culture. This isn’t just a one-time thing when we become converted to Christ and we agreed with Him that we want to live under His authority, making disciples as He commanded us. Reforming your personal culture is an ongoing thing.

To give an example: some of the questions I’m always asking are:

Who am I training? Am I making any disciples? Do I even pray for people who aren’t Christians yet? When’s the last time I prayed for someone who wasn’t a believer that God would open a door to share the gospel with them? When’s the last time I prayerfully sought to make a disciple of someone by sharing the gospel with them?

Continue sharpening your convictions. Ask yourself, “Do I believe the Word of God and prayer is the basis of all ministry? Am I seeking in my week to spend as much time as possible to make disciples through the Word of God and prayer?”

If you’re a leader and you’re encouraging your congregation to be disciple makers and you’re not doing it yourself, you’re in a dangerous place.

KH: They’re never going to follow.

SM: Exactly. We need to be leading by example. If people see that the leader is a disciple maker, then they are going to be disciple-makers as well.

I’ll share another example of this: We recently had a potential missionary come to the mission board of our church and say, “I’d like to go to such and such a country and become a missionary. Would you guys support me?” One of the questions I like to ask people who are thinking about being missionaries or gospel workers is: “Are you a missionary here and now?”

Sometimes you’ll be met with a quizzical look when you ask that question. But it’s an important question. Because if your conviction now isn’t, “I want to be making disciples wherever God’s placed me,” it’s not like going through missionary training, receiving funding, and being dropped off in a country suddenly makes you a disciple-making missionary. That has to come out of your conviction about making disciples wherever you are.

KH: We can misunderstand the Great Commission that says, “Go and make disciples,” and think, “I have to go somewhere really far to make disciples.” No, it’s as you’re going in life, wherever the Lord has placed you.

SM: As you go, starting in Jerusalem, then Judea, and Samaria, and then the ends of the earth. Some of us will go to the ends of the earth, but some of us will stay here. We need both. We need people to stay here and make disciples in the workplace. For example, in a full-time ministry, I am not working in the secular workplace. So, I’m not able to make disciples of people working for XYZ Corporation. But if I’m training people to be disciple-makers, they will reach people in places that I can’t reach. And they’ll become disciple makers in that context. You’re a missionary wherever God has placed you.

Honestly Evaluating Your Disciple-Making Ministry (Phase Three)

This is part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below from 13:47–16:11.

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Sean Martin: Phase Three of The Vine Project is what we call loving honest evaluation. Loving honest evaluation is having a conversation amongst leaders about where we’re at currently. So, it’s like doing a diagnostic of your church, small group, Sunday school program, or whatever you’re doing.

How are we doing as leaders? Are we prayerfully teaching the Word of God? Are we seeing gospel growth? I’m not just talking about numbers, but are we seeing gospel growth in people? Are we seeing them grow in Christ? Is the place we meet the right place?

For example: I did a workshop some time ago with a church, and one of the things that came out of a loving honest evaluation we had with the leadership team was that the building they were meeting in wasn’t a helpful building to meet in. It was far away from any neighborhoods, it was difficult to find, there was no parking, and they soon realized they weren’t really going to make disciples there. They were always going to have the same people coming all the time because their location was an impediment to disciple making.

Sometimes it gets more personal. Sometimes the thing that comes out of loving honest evaluation is, “Maybe I’m not the actual person to lead this ministry any further. Maybe someone else needs to lead it.” Kevin, those are really hard conversations to have, but they are very important if we are going to grow in our ministries and if we are going grow as disciples of Christ ourselves. We have to have a loving honest evaluation with ourselves and with our leadership teams quite regularly.

Kevin Halloran: Anything worth doing is worth having hard conversations about.

SM: Absolutely. I think one of the reasons we avoid this is because many of us are afraid of conflict. But we need to learn to see that conflict is creative. If conflict is done with godliness and love and care, it can be a real pastoral opportunity for someone to grow and change.

If you are ever having a loving honest evaluation and you realize you need to move someone on to another ministry, it’s okay to say, “I don’t think God has called you to do this, because He hasn’t gifted you do this.” So, if you do that with sensitivity and Christian love, it can be a pastoral opportunity for someone.

Discipleship in the Church: Innovation and Implementation (Phase Four)

This is part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below from 16:12–19:11.

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The fourth phase is what we call innovate and implement.

At this point we know what we need to be doing in ministry. We need to make disciples of all the nations so that they might obey all that the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded. And the way, the means, of making disciples is the Word of God and prayer. As the Spirit of God backs the Word of God, people become disciples

Innovating and implementing is asking ourselves: Where has God placed us? Who are our neighbors? How do we make disciples of those people? And that’s going to look different depending on your context.

How we go about discipleship is different in different contexts – whether you’re a pastor leading a church, whether you’re a student working on a campus, whether you’re a youth group leader during the week, or whether you’re the person who helps lead Sunday School classes for children on Sunday morning. It’s thinking through pathways for disciple growth:

  • How can we engage people?
  • How can we evangelize people?
  • How can we establish them in the faith?
  • How can we equip them to do the work of ministry?

That cycle repeats itself. The person who is equipped now engages people, evangelizes and establishes them, then equips them, and the cycle repeats. That’s how God is building His kingdom. Be creative: think through the ways you could prayerfully meet people with the Word of God in the context God has placed you in.

I want to give you an example: Some years ago in a country I was pastoring in, we had a young man who was a student thinking about ministry. He was a surfer. He left for the summer, and we didn’t see him.

Four months later he showed up with long hair and a glowing suntan. We said to this young man, “Where were you?”

He said, “I was surfing all summer.” We thought, “Well, that’s a nice way to spend your summer!” And he said, “Actually, I wasn’t just surfing. I was making disciples. Because I can surf, I met with other surfers. All these people in the surfing community are not Christians, but because I’m a good surfer, they respected me. They let me join their surfing community. God opened doors for me to evangelize these surfers all summer, hanging out with them on the waves and having picnics on the beach at night.”

By the end of it so many people came to Christ that he said they needed a church. It was hard for him to put people in other churches. He asked us, “Would you train me to be a planter for the surfing community?” So, we trained him to be a planter, and he went back to that surfing community and planted a church.

So, there’s a situation where a guy was just innovating and implementing along the way. How can I reach surfers with the gospel? How can I get trained, so I can plant a church for surfers on the west coast? He made disciples in a creative way but did it around the Word of God and prayer.

How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making

We long to see the Word of God flow mightily through every church to every nation. For the Word to flow powerfully through a church, it must start with leadership and flow to members who labor toward gospel growth in their own lives and the lives of others. We want the Word of God and prayer to drive the church culture.

We’ve shared our love for Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s book The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Around Disciple-Making on the blog before. This new series of posts shares the transcript of a conversation between Sean Martin and Kevin Halloran through the five phases of The Vine Project.

How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making

  1. The Foundational Convictions of Expository Ministry (Phase One) | 0:00–07:54
  2. The Four “P”s of Disciple Making Ministry | 07:55–10:30
  3. Reforming Your Personal Culture (Phase Two) |10:31– 13:46
  4. Honestly Evaluating Your Disciple-Making Ministry (Phase Three)| 13:47–16:11
  5. Discipleship in the Church: Innovation and Implementation (Phase Four) | 16:12–19:11
  6. Maintaining Momentum in Disciple-Making Ministry (Phase Five) | 19:12–end

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Maintaining Momentum in Disciple-Making Ministry (Phase Five)

This is part of the series How to Shape Your Ministry Around Disciple Making. Listen below from 19:12–end.

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SM: The fifth and final part of the process is what we call maintaining momentum.

This is very important, because so often we get excited at the beginning of the school year, we launch a new ministry initiative, and maybe it runs out of steam by Christmas. We’re busy and we get tired. It’s very important to maintain momentum. Part of maintaining momentum is that constant cycle of reforming your personal convictions and doing loving honest evaluations.

How is the ministry growing? Where are we seeing gospel growth in people? Are there blockages that are stopping us? Do we need to change our tactics perhaps? Perhaps what we are doing isn’t working. We need to find another way of doing it.

Part of maintaining momentum (this might sound counterintuitive) is giving each other permission to fail. If we don’t feel there’s momentum and we realize it’s because it’s not working, it’s okay to say, “This didn’t work. Let’s fail forward. How do we learn from this? And then, how do we change it and then try a new initiative to do it?”

Another key component for maintaining momentum is what we call the Uluru Graph (as developed by Phillip Jensen).

Uluru Graph - Phillip Jensen tool for Leading Ministry

The Uluru Graph (above) contains an incline, a high long plateau, and then a decline on the other side.

When you think about the life cycle of a typical church or ministry, the first five to ten years is just starting up and growing. (That is the beginning incline).

At some point in the startup phase, you need to hit the line of viability. The line of viability is where you have enough people, enough finances, and perhaps a place to meet so that you’re a viable ministry. That can be anywhere from two years to ten years, depending on your context.

Eventually, the initial growth will wear off, and you will plateau. When you plateau, it’s important to understand that the length of that plateau will depend on your ability to reinvent yourself as a ministry – to innovate and implement. I’m not talking about being creative for the sake of being creative, but always asking ourselves, “How are we doing making disciples? Do we need to reinvent the way we do things? Do we need to keep innovating and growing?” So, I’m not talking about marrying the culture – just asking ourselves, “Are we reinventing?”

If you don’t reinvent, the plateau period will be shorter for your ministry, and eventually, you will start the long slow road of decline. Once you decline, it’s very difficult to turn around. Eventually, you will get below the line of viability, where you won’t have the finances or people anymore. And the ministry will end up dying and closing its doors. So, when you are on that plateau, you need to keep reinventing and implementing.

If you’re leading a ministry or church, it’s good to have a conversation and ask each other, “Where are we on the Uluru graph? Are we in the growing phase, or are we on that plateau? If we are on that plateau, how can we innovate and implement and keep reinventing what we’re doing so that we can maintain momentum? If we’re on the decline, where are we on the decline? What radical emergency steps do we need to take?”

If you are below the line of viability, maybe it’s time to have that hard conversation that it’s time to close the doors.

KH: One hard reality of the five-step process outlined in The Vine Project is that implementing the process takes time. You can’t just plow through it in a year or two. What encouragement would you give to a person who is a pastor at a church that just has an uphill battle of changing church culture?

SM: First, I would like to remind them of something I remind myself of that Martyn Lloyd Jones said many years ago: “Soul work is slow work.” I’ve called that to mind many times when I’ve been discouraged in ministry or I’ve been meeting with someone and feel like nothing is happening. The reality is that the truth takes time.

It’s helpful to remember that God is very patient with us. He is a careful gardener, pruning us as we go. It’s a process of years. When we were converted, it wasn’t overnight that we had all our theological “i”s dotted and our “t”s crossed and we were mature Christians. God is slowing pruning us, growing us, and transforming us in the image of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through the Word of God and prayer by the power of His Holy Spirit.

The second thing I would say to encourage people who are struggling is that, as you mentioned, this process doesn’t happen overnight. We want things to happen. I would say, realistically, depending on your context, you’re talking three to five years to see any significant change. And that’s hard for us to hear because we live in a culture where we want a quick fix. We’re looking for seven steps. Give me that secret silver bullet, that magical thing I need to do to build a bigger, better church. We need to release our minds from building a bigger, better church. We are not called to build a bigger, better church. We are called to make disciples of all the nations. Our goal is to be faithful. It’s to be faithful to God, it’s to be faithful to His Word, it’s to be faithful to people. That’s success.

It’s just like marriage. A successful marriage is a marriage where you are faithful to one another, right? I’m not talking about the basics of marital faithfulness – you’re faithful to one another in all things. Ministry is the same way. It’s about being faithful to God and His Word and His people. That’s success.

[Read our quotation summary of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent Hughes.]

The reality is that it takes most churches about five years to turn the first corner. The hard thing about that is, typically in a church, most pastors last three to five years, and then they move on. They get frustrated, or the congregation gets frustrated with them. “We’re not seeing enough change, and it’s time for you to go.” Or the pastor thinks he’s not seeing enough changes and, “It’s time for me to go.”

And I say, “Stop! Actually, this is where you just might turn the first corner.” Don’t leave after five years. After five years have an evaluation with your team and ask where you are going. Then ask what’s next?

KH: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a disciple-making church isn’t built in a day either. And trying to shortcut the process can potentially do damage to the real work in ministry.

SM: Absolutely.

KH: As we said, the fourth “P” of the four “P”s of discipleship is perseverance. So, may the Lord help us persevere, and may those who are reading persevere in the ministry of making disciples.

SM: Absolutely. And I just want to say as well, Kevin, that we need to remember that people are not projects. God has called us in ministry to shepherd His people. People take time, and every person is different. So, when you go through these phases of conviction with your church, some people will be on board with you right away. Some people will need time to be convicted and convinced that this is the way to go. And some people might stand against you. That’s just the reality of ministry. So, you’re working with people, and every person is different. It just takes time.

Learn more about The Vine Project or Vinegrowers Ministry.

Felt-Needs Preaching vs. Consecutive Exposition: What’s Best for God’s People?

I recently spoke with a pastor who describes the rationale for his church’s preaching:

“Each week we think through needs in the congregation and preach a message to meet those needs.”

This approach, what many call “felt needs” preaching, appropriately seeks to help their congregation grow spiritually and overcome issues they are facing. In this particular pastor’s case, it stems from a love for his flock and a deep knowledge of their lives—something every pastor should strive for.

Occasions exist when needs-focused preaching should be preferred, at least in the short run. For example, when a congregation has experienced a major tragedy, or if there is a serious struggle in the congregation, the pastor might want to preach to the situation.

But is preaching to felt needs the best practice for preachers over the long haul? I don’t think so, especially when contrasted with consecutive expository preaching through entire books of the Bible. Here are four reasons:

  1. God knows our needs better than we do.

The God who created us knows us better than we know ourselves. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). His Word alone meets our every spiritual need and exposes thoughts and intentions of the heart (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12). Our attempts to faithfully diagnose needs cannot compare to God’s: we need God’s Word to shine its light into our blind spots and expose our true needs.

Just as preventative medicine is better than treating a health issue after it appears, preaching through books of the Bible meets a variety of needs that the congregation and the preacher might not know they have. Otherwise, we depend on our limited knowledge to diagnose needs and prescribe solutions.

  1. Our felt needs are often not real needs or our deepest needs.

A great danger in having felt needs as your starting point in preaching is man-centeredness. Our felt needs may actually be “first-world problems” that expose our shallow, myopic state. Often what we consider “needs”—like significance, prosperity, or even health—are expelled by having a more Scriptural view of God and how He works in the world.

Sinners have the true need of a Savior who transforms hearts and lives as people repent and believe the gospel. How many sinners would say that’s a need they are conscious of? A temptation for felt-needs preaching is to give people self-help Band-Aids when they really need a heart transplant that only Christ can give.

  1. We miss deeper contours of biblical passages/books.

God gave us the Bible in book format, not random collections of verses and stories. If preachers only preach topical messages or one-off expositions, they will miss deeper contours of the passage and books of the Bible. Preaching the big message of a book helps us teach our people to read the Bible better and treat it less like a book of inspirational quotations or a self-help manual.

For example, not preaching through the big ideas of Genesis will lose the overarching story of God preserving His creation purposes to bless the world in spite of the sinfulness of humanity. That probably doesn’t meet a felt need, but it meets the real need of humanity to know that evil isn’t something that hijacks God’s sovereign plan.

This is why LRI recommends preaching the Bible as it was given: in complete books.

  1. We communicate that the Bible is primarily about meeting our needs instead of receiving the revelation of God.

The Bible does meet our needs, but it does more. The Bible is not primarily about us, it is about Jesus (Luke 24:24). Human history is not primarily about us, but about God and His actions to redeem sinful humanity through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3–14). Approaching the Bible as God’s revelation of Himself to humanity puts God in the center of our lives and not ourselves. This means approaching the Bible with the question, “How can I fix my problem?” is useful, but incomplete. When we put God in His proper place, everything else in life will certainly fall in line (Matthew 6:33).

A Better Way

Some argue that preaching to felt needs helps you immediately gain the attention of your audience. While that may be true, we don’t have to choose between meeting needs and preaching the Word. We can simultaneously preach through a book of the Bible, keep our listeners’ lives in mind, and make our message engaging for a 21st-century audience. This way, God sets the agenda, and needs are met organically.

Here are a few suggestions for preaching through books of the Bible while keeping real needs in mind:

  • Consider preaching through books that deal with issues confronting your congregation. If your congregation lacks evangelistic zeal or harbors bitterness, try preaching Jonah. If your congregation needs training on the Christian worldview, try Genesis. If your congregation lacks unity, preach Philippians.
  • When a need becomes obvious, find a biblical text (or several) addressing the issue, and preach it in an expository fashion.
  • As you consider each text you preach, think through the overlap between your congregation’s needs and the text’s main ideas. With the Spirit’s help, you should find more relevant application than at first glance. You may find the 9Marks application grid or Tim Keller’s list of people to consider as you apply Scripture helpful tools to use.
  • Just focus on preaching the Word—God has a way of responding to needs. For example, at the height of the #MeToo headlines exposing sexual abuse, Colin Smith was preaching through 2 Samuel and reached 2 Samuel 13—the story of Amnon’s rape of his sister Tamar. In preaching it, he drew powerful attention to how Scripture speaks to our deepest pains and instilled confidence in his listeners about Scripture’s sufficiency.

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