New Wine and Old Skin, Part III: Pastoral Preaching in Transient Communities
Editor’s note: This article is the last in a three-part series by a Chinese house church pastor in response to a preaching workshop conducted in Shanghai by a prominent American pastor. The workshop focused on how to preach the gospel, and in particular Christ, through the book of Genesis. The China Partnership is thankful to this pastor for assistance with developing a curriculum on gospel-centered preaching. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 to complete the series. The writer discussed the current context of the Chinese church and how it needs to be addressed with redemptive historical preaching in the series’ previous posts. In this article, he picks back up with a third and fourth point from the Shanghai training.
The third point addressed during the training is that only Christocentric preaching can teach believers and unbelievers at the same time, and present the full gospel in a transient population. For quite a long time, becoming a believer [in the Chinese context] has meant becoming a follower of a set of religious norms. Christian moral rules are admirable; however, conversion to such a religion requires a different mentality. Preaching moralistic teaching causes believers to despise unbelievers on the one hand, and on the other hand, it lays an unbearable burden on both believers and unbelievers.
But Christ-centered preaching enables us to escape the trap of moralistic teaching in scripture. In the process of drawing a passage to Christ, we must deal with the overlap between biblical themes and common human imperfection. We can call it a “fallen focus” according to Genesis 3 and admit the reality of man’s sins and broken relationships as we all hope for a solution to the problem of sin. In the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, we notice that everyone expects others to approve of his values and when others threaten our own values, we threaten them back. Many of us experience such kinds of real hurt in our relationships. As in the misfortune of Sodom in Genesis 18 and 19, every one of us desires to be a “righteous man,” but we also have fear of judgment for our moral defections and our insufficient abilities and characters.
When we thus find the fallen focus in Old Testament passages, we can preach to both believers and unbelievers about Christ’s work of redemption and transformation. We surely need to explain to the unbelievers what is commonly understood by believers in order to ensure the messages we convey make sense.
An urbanized society has a high population turnover rate. A transient population, made of both believers and unbelievers, does not likely receive teaching in one particular church. The church’s responsibility towards them in every possible meeting they can attend is to teach a gospel-centered message instead of segmental moral topics or theological doctrine. Therefore, redemptive historical and Christ-centered preaching can present a full gospel message to these flowing crowds, leading them to know Christ’s salvation and transformation.
[The American pastor’s] fourth point addressed a solution to bringing out the pastoral message in a sermon. Following what has been said above, when we lead a passage into the redemptive historical framework, we must find the common imperfection of man that is revealed in the scripture. These issues addressed by a fallen focus in preaching are exactly the problems among our audiences that need to be solved and put into counseling sessions. A lot of these problems are related to idol worship, such as the desire to manipulate others, the desire to be recognized, or the desire to want power and hedonism. For example, we see that the problem that needs to be fixed in Genesis 3 is our desire for power and the problem in Genesis 4 is our desire to be recognized.
In closing, preaching is not only a spiritual and mystical task for the preacher, but also a technical one which can be practiced, mastered, and taught. When we train preachers in this way, we can help to raise dedicated church workers who are loyal to Biblical truth. In this particular historic period which has its emphases on preaching the truth and reviving the pulpit, there should be measurable standards of faithfulness and professional ability for Chinese churches that are buidling their foundations. Reliable workers can only be raised generation after generation when churches keep this quality of faithfulness to the truth and steady professional ability in mind.
For a church, the most precious thing lies in the transformation of the pulpit. Our aim should be:
- A pulpit that keeps preaching Christ, yet is not boring.
- A pulpit that refutes moralistic teaching.
- A pulpit that preaches to unbelievers.
- A pulpit that displays pastoral and counseling characteristics.
- A pulpit that is missional and keeps preaching “Jesus is Christ” to a transient population.
Only the gospel can face all the problems of any generation. Only a group of people who keep preaching the gospel and establish gospel-centered churches can respond to the various challenges of this age. Only when the gospel is preached with an unprecedented intensity and strength, can God's power truly change human hearts. And only changed lives can establish contemporary urban churches that are confessional and constitutional with grace and truth.