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GUEST POST: Josh Blunt

As a church planter in the early part of this century, I had been trained well at seminary to offer a workmanlike (here read, “including explicit indication that original languages had been thoroughly exegeted”) and pleasing (here read, “relatively short in length, delightfully delivered, and winsome in tone”) message each Sunday.  I had been educated in all the nuances and catchphrases that would help me avoid the hangups likely to be on the minds of listeners in my particular tradition.

Trips to conferences at seeker-focused churches confirmed these values and added the expectation that messages should include media, drama, accessible illustrations, and LOTS of trendy coffee.  I was encouraged to see proclamation as the nutrition unchurched people desperately needed but for which they hadn’t yet acquired a taste.  I was invited to envision preachers as skilled chefs who could artfully encapsulate bitter doses of doctrine in palatable spoonfuls of oration spiced with love and grace.

Much of this came across as good, logical advice – nobody wants to bore saints or seekers when talking about something as exquisite as the gospel.  The intent was to call proclaimers to be humble, excellent workers who would never besmirch the Good News by bad delivery.  The problem, though, lay in the basic, internal posture we were asked to adopt when bringing the Word to sinful, human listeners: deferential apology.  As in, “I’m sorry I have to ruin the moment now, but this IS church, and we DO have to mention sin, hell, and the cross of Jesus from time to time.  This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you…”

This was also true in worship, in evangelism, and in outreach.  Whenever the gospel was proclaimed publicly, we tended to focus on delivery and form, searching for the least common denominator of doctrinal complexity, moral polarity, and inflammatory absolutism.  The do-or-die scramble to build the congregation numerically made tickling ears an especially tempting objective for me.  While I believe the Lord helped me avoid blatant pandering, I know I was a timorous teacher at certain junctures, speaking the right things with uncomfortable reticence.

About 4-5 years in, something happened that changed my faith in unadorned preaching and evangelism.  There were finally enough true converts in our congregation (God had sovereignly used our clumsy proclamation to win believers) that I could track the sources of feedback I received.  The recently lost-and-found WERE frustrated with me – but for cutting messages short, trimming content, and watching the clock!  Those who had demanded curt, topical homilies were cradle-to-grave types.  Denominational veterans claimed to be shielding newbies from discomfort, but the newcomers were clamoring for biblical depth and blunt confrontation.

What was happening?  God was exposing a lie that had held us captive for years.  He was proving that his Word is fully sufficient, and that true converts thirst for it like a desert thirsts for rain.  Many who had grown up in the faith had hearts that were calloused toward the Truth.  Years of comfortable church had led them to hear the Word but excuse themselves from practicing it, steadily becoming self-deceived.  They projected this hard-heartedness onto newcomers, like the kids in the old Life Cereal commercials:  “Try teaching that to Mikey the Seeker – he HATES everything… Heyyyy…  Mikey LIKES it!”  Unfortunately, some never noticed or accepted that new believers were craving pure spiritual milk and even graduating to meat ahead of them.

So, halfway through our journey, we let go of our timidity and started to change things.  I steadily lengthened my messages from 30 minutes to 45 on average and intentionally addressed longer chunks of scripture.  We gained this time by ceasing our practice of allowing questions and comments (which sometimes devolved into rebuttals) after the message.  I adopted a more expository style, decreased the use of certain video gimmicks and technology, and planned fewer strictly topical series.  We increased the use of hymnody and began more public recitation of creeds, confessions, and the Lord’s Prayer.  Our evangelism methods focused more on long term service, deep relationship, and truth telling, rather than hit-and-run PR campaigns for our brand.  In other words, we began to treat God’s Word as our delight, his commands as anything but burdensome, and the Gospel as something of which we were completely unashamed.

I’d love to tell you it magically fixed everything.  It didn’t.  It DID give us a new and infinitely more biblically-defensible set of problems, and it DID initiate a protracted season of pruning and refinement that left a far more faithful and joy-filled remnant in the end.  You’ll hear more about how that played out in our life, relationships, and governance over my next two posts.

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10 thoughts on “From Metro to Retro (2 of 4)”

  1. Priscilla Lohrmann says:

    I love this post. This explains exactly how I felt when I was first really converted. I wanted to be fed and challenged. I loved the old creeds and confessions. I started reading books by dead theologians because their ideas were -yes- relevant to me. I wanted to really know God, and I discovered that I could know him through my understanding.
    I deeply appreciate all you have said here. (Except for the bit about trendy coffee…. Good coffee is always a big plus! (: )

  2. Lois W says:

    Thank you for this. Thank you for thoughtful content, beautifully expressed. I am eager for the next parts. Will you talk about trusting the Holy Spirit?

  3. Josh Blunt says:

    Priscilla – don’t get me wrong, I love to get my Starbucks on as much as the next guy!

  4. Josh Blunt says:

    Lois – I do not explicitly deal with the Holy Spirit’s role in any of these four posts. However, I think you do all of us a great service by pointing Him out. I would say that the move from an attractional model to an ordinary means of grace paradigm is precisely about the Spirit’s tendency to attract the lost to the Lord by simple, unadorned means, rather than by human artifice or ingenuity. This shines the spotlight on the sufficiency of the Word, the sacraments, and prayer – all of which are efficacious for us through the Spirit’s work of illuminating, convicting, sealing, and interceding. I that sense, the whole series is implicitly about trusting the Spirit. Thanks for helping to highlight that!

  5. Jayne Attwood says:

    Thank you for posting this. My husband and I have left the seeker sensitive movement and are now at a reformed baptist church and loving its’ simplicity! We sing hymns and listen to scripture being exposited and we feel fed! I admire your attempts to change the culture in you existing church. All the best!

  6. Bob says:

    Good post. Well written. My only concern is that you seem to be throwing the baby out with the bath water. There are still great examples of solid churches preaching expositorial, still using “modern” music, etc and solid as a rock. Time of sermons is a mute issue. It is not better because it is 45 mins vs 30. Please be more gracious in stereo typing churches. While I believe you are right on, this type of post can fuel traditionalist(bad kind). All said I agree with your honor of deep, solid, reformed, evangelical Christian faith, thanks.

  7. Michael B. says:

    I generally dislike services that go on for too long.

    I have this fantasy where my pastor acts like an overly enthusiastic flight attendant whose been put in charge of a delayed flight. So he would start the service as saying something like this, “Look, we’ve got a lot to go over and we’re already late. You don’t want to be here; I don’t want to be here. Best way to get out of here as quickly as possible is if you take your seats and have your hymnals ready. I’m going to give an abridged version of the sermon. If you really want to read the rest I’ll put it in the newsletter”.

    Then at the end of the service he says something like: “Okay, I promised to get you out of here by 11:15AM. It’s 11:10AM. Go home and go Broncos!”.

  8. Josh Blunt says:

    I agree with the point about music, Bob – we did more hymns, but we did them with electric guitars and drums. When it came to music, we didn’t change style, just depth of content. As to the length of the sermon, I agree that length does not necessarily equal quality or depth. In our case, the length increase was more a reflection of the primacy we gave to the preaching of the Word in our service – it moved from a status of equality with music and human response/opinion to the primary focus. We didn’t change the length of the service much; we just devoted a larger percentage of the time to deeper and more fullsome engagement with the Bible. I hope that after you read the whole series, you’ll hear the note of grace ring out for church planting, genuine and Spirit-led innovation, and creativity. The only point I’m getting at is whether our faith is in our methods or in God’s. It would be an equal error to place blind faith in hymnody, creeds, and sermon length – the real shift is toward humility, patience, depth, and God’s primacy over human preference. Thanks for your comment, and for reading!

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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