It was a Thursday afternoon, and I was sitting in our sanctuary where 30,000 people would soon be coming to one of our services. I had no idea what I was going to say to them. I could feel the pressure mounting. I sat there hoping that a sermon would come to mind. I looked around at the empty seats, hoping for some inspiration; instead, there was just more perspiration.
I wiped the sweat off my brow and looked down. "This sermon needs to be good," I told myself. There are some people who only come to church on Christmas and Easter (we call them "Creasters"). I wanted to make sure they all came back. "What could I say to get their attention? How could I make my message more appealing? Is there something creative I could do that would be a big hit and get people talking?" Still nothing.
There was a Bible on the chair in front of me. I grabbed it, but I couldn't think of a Scripture to turn to. I've spent my whole life studying this book, and I couldn't think of one passage that would "wow" the Creasters. I considered using it the way I did as kid: I would ask a question, open up the Bible, and point somewhere on the page, and whatever it said would answer my question. I just shook my head at that one.
Finally, a thought crossed my mind: "I wonder what Jesus taught whenever he had the big crowds." What I discovered changed me forever, not just as a preacher but as a follower of Christ. I found that when Jesus had large crowds, he would often preach a message that would be more likely to drive listeners away rather than encourage them to return for next week's message.
When Easter weekend came, I was so convicted that I stood up and began my sermon with an apology. I said to the congregation, "I'm sorry for sometimes selling Jesus cheap and watering down the gospel in hopes that more of you would fill these seats." I followed up with a sermon series entitled "Not a Fan." We went word-for-word though Luke 9:23—Jesus' invitation to follow him—and honestly asked ourselves, "Am I a fan or a follower of Jesus?" The dictionary defines fans as "enthusiastic admirers." Jesus was never interested in enthusiastic admirers; he wanted completely committed followers. He wants more from us than a hand raised or a prayer repeated at the end the service. He is looking for more than a prayer before a meal and a Jesus fish on the back of the car. He wants more than fans; he wants followers who take up a cross and die to themselves.
We soon realized that this was more than a message that we had created; God was orchestrating a movement in our church. He began to challenge our commitment to him. In that series, we were reminded that there is no believing without following, no salvation without surrender, no forgiveness without repentance, and no life without death. I said things in that message that for years I had quickly skipped over in fear that they would scare people off. But instead of pushing people away, this unedited, unfiltered presentation began a revival. That weekend set a new course for our congregation and provided a new lens through which I now preach.
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