Try to preach with authority, and you won’t have it. Authority comes instead from one bedrock conviction.
(This is an interview by Brian Larson editor of Preaching Today a ministry of Christianity Today. He recently published it on their site.
Editorial note from Brian Larson: On my commute home from work, I used to drive by a big-box, home-improvement store called Handy Andy, but eventually that store went out of business, and it was with delight that I one day realized a church steeple was being added to the structure. The new owner was Harvest Bible Chapel, pastored by James MacDonald. Their church in the Chicago suburb of Rolling Meadows was growing quickly, and they needed lots and lots of space. One reason for that growth has unquestionably been MacDonald’s preaching. How would I describe his preaching? Let’s put it this way: he’s not shy, and the only time he sticks a wet finger up in the air to see which way the wind is blowing is when he’s on the golf course. When the editors of PreachingToday.com began a series of articles on the theme of preaching with authority, we knew that James was one person we needed to talk to. James MacDonald is author of When Life Is Hard (Moody, 2010), and radio speaker for Walk in the Word, which is broadcast regularly on Moody Radio.
PreachingToday.com: Many would say our culture is anti-authority and that people today don’t respond to an authoritative style of preaching. To me, you are the epitome of someone who preaches with authority, and yet you’re having great results. How do you explain that?
James MacDonald: One of the pillars of Harvest Bible Chapel from the very beginning was preaching the authority of God’s Word without apology. That’s very different from the phrase “preaching with authority.” I would never refer to myself as preaching with an authoritative style. But I know why you’re saying that, and that’s coming from the unapologetic proclamation of the Word. The prophets used to say, “Thus saith the Lord.” God says this.
I try not to spend any time in my message preparation thinking about what people want to hear or what questions the culture is asking. I just don’t spend any time on that at all. I have believed now for 21-plus years that if you try with all of your heart to say some things that God wants said—God has some things he wants said; that’s why he wrote a Book—God would get some people over here to hear it. Twenty-one years later, with a little over 13,000 people in weekly attendance, that’s happening. It’s been a steady journey. It hasn’t been explosive growth. It hasn’t been a ton of transfer growth from other churches. Like all churches, we’ve seen some of that, but mainly it’s just been a ton of people coming to know Christ.
The most common thing people would say about the teaching of Christ, after they had listened to him, was that he teaches as one who has authority. Of course, his teachings are filled with Old Testament quotes, and he is the Word of God, so every Word that proceeds from his mouth is the Word of God. That’s certainly not true about any of us, least of all me. The disciples on the road to Emmaus said, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he walked on the road with us and expounded to us from the Scriptures all the things concerning himself?” So Jesus was a Bible preacher. He had great authority because he didn’t apologize for God’s Word. He didn’t back down from anything that God’s Word said.
I just preached two weeks ago on Revelation 6. The message had one point: Repent; the wrath is coming. That’s not very seeker-friendly, but I believe that people are hungry for truth—truth that is openly expressed without reservation or prevarication. Paul said, “By the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God,” and that’s what I believe. Paul said, “My preaching was not with persuasive words of human wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” A lot of preaching today leaves people with faith in the wisdom of men. “Wasn’t that a clever talk? Wasn’t he an eloquent speaker?” It glorifies the messenger. Instead, when we just try to say what God wants said and get out of the way, that glorifies the message and the source of the message, which is, of course, God himself.
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