Church planter, don’t forget your job!
God’s Spirit works through the power of his word as you preach it
No matter what phase you’re in, if you’re involved in a church plant in Japan, you are busy. You might be busy preparing to launch. You might be busy pastoring a two-year-old church with new converts. You might be working to send out another church plant from your mature church plant. Regardless, as a busy church planter, you are in danger of forgetting one of the main parts of your job as a pastor: preaching the word of God.
In all the rush of launching a church, we can shortcut the sermon process and deprive our hearers of what they most need: the gospel. A church plant without thoughtful preaching is like a meal without the main course. Don’t forget to set aside time to prepare the sermon.
The Bible on preaching
The importance of preaching leaps off the pages of the Bible. At the outset of Jesus’ ministry in Luke 4:43 he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (ESV). The eternal Father sent the eternal Son to preach the good news to mortal people.
After our preaching Savior was killed for our sins and raised for our justification, he told his followers that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). Central to the mission Jesus gave his followers was the task of preaching or “proclaiming” the way to be reconciled to God. In the book of Acts, the early Christians did just that. Peter preached in Acts 2. Those scattered after Stephen’s death “went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Philip is said to have preached the gospel (Acts 8). Paul, Barnabas, and others planted churches by first preaching the gospel to make disciples (Acts 14:21).
However, one could ask: I understand that the gospel was preached to start a church, but was preaching a part of the ongoing life of a church? Acts 2:42 lists the practices to which the church was devoted and the apostles’ teaching is first. In Acts 6, seven men are appointed to care for widows so the apostles can focus on the ministry of the word. As Paul writes to Timothy about “how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:5), he tells Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2) in the church in Ephesus and do the work of a “gospel proclaimer” or “evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). We cannot deny it—preaching is central to our mission in the pages of scripture.
Embrace the folly
You might preach in Japanese, English, Korean, Portuguese, or a Sign Language, but all of these languages will, at one time or another, feel completely inadequate to change the hard hearts that sit before you. In 1 Corinthians 1:21 Paul says, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (emphasis added). In some ESV Bibles you will find an alternate translation in the footnotes that says, “it pleased God through the folly of preaching to save those who believe.”
We have to admit that on the surface it does seem foolish to put so much time into preaching. Preaching is a sinful man standing in front of a group of sinners trying to put together syllables that will reveal the truth about the God of the universe. What folly! And yet, when someone is born again and transformed into a follower of Jesus after a stammering sinner proclaims the death of a man, nearly 2,000 years ago, on a tree in Jerusalem 9,000 kilometers away from Japan, that transformation is truly a demonstration of the Spirit and power (1 Cor. 2:4). Outside of the power of God, there is no way to explain the regeneration of a sinner through the folly of preaching a foolish message. Preaching the cross is God’s ordained way to bring people to saving faith.
So, church planter, remember your job. Hone your craft. Study your material. Buy study tools or have your mission buy them for you. Read the text in your first language and in Japanese. Memorize the text if time permits. Analyze your audience. Contrast the text with the spirit of the age. Apply the text to yourself first and then your hearers. Bring everything back to the gospel. Pray. Preach. Watch God build the church through the power of his word.