We’re back, and we’re back into an online controversy — a “brew-haha,” as it was called. Pastor John, on September 30 you tweeted about coffee. You posted Hebrews 12:28, which says, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” And in light of this reverent, awe-filled vision for our worship, you posed this open question: “Can we reassess whether Sunday coffee-sipping in the sanctuary fits?”
As I mentioned last time, the tweet was loved and hated and spread all over the Internet to the point that, after a couple weeks, it had 1,000 retweets, 1,500 comments, 3,000 likes, 2.7 million views, and feature articles online from Fox News here in the States and the Daily Mail in the UK. None of which you saw, which we talked about last time, on Monday.
Now, there’s a lot behind that tweet, a whole worldview really. So, we are building out the context behind it, and you are talking about how to build and shape a church with this “reverential vibe” in everything that happens on Sunday morning. Last time, you signaled that you wanted to get into the nitty-gritty of helping church leaders move their church away from casual worship toward something better and more fitting to what Hebrews, and all of the Bible, calls for. So, get practical, and pick up the discussion for us at this point.
I argued last time that sipping coffee in the holiest hour of congregational worship does not fit with the reverence and awe that Hebrews 12:28 calls for. “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,” Hebrews says.
But I argued that sipping coffee is not the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is that people and leaders don’t have a heart that resonates with what I mean by “reverence and awe” and the holiness, the sacredness of that hour of congregational worship on Sunday morning (usually). Those realities are not prominent in their mind and heart, those reverent realities. They know those words: reverence, awe. They know the words, but the words don’t have compelling existential content, with the kind of serious joy that makes people eager for reverence and awe. They’re just words.
And I argued that you don’t solve that problem by creating external rules. You solve it by awakening internal, heartfelt reverence. So, things that are unfitting don’t get outlawed; they just fall away. I think that’s the way I tried to do it. I don’t think I ever laid down rules for 33 years of preaching.
What I’d like to do here now is to point a way, a possible way forward for pastors to lead the church gradually — say, over five to ten years. You’ve got to be patient to move from the atmosphere of a casual, chipper, coffee-sipping, entertainment-oriented gathering to a more seriously joyful, reverent, deeply satisfying encounter with God. So, maybe in this episode, Tony, we could talk just for a few minutes about the kind of preaching that would lead in that direction.
Developing a Godward Mindset
But before I say that, the pastor’s mindset overall should be that it’s fitting for one hour a week, or an hour and a half, that the people of God meet him with a kind of radical Godward focus that has weightiness to it and seriousness to it, and that this weightiness and seriousness of God-centeredness become the most satisfying experience in our people’s lives. That’s the mindset we’ve got to have: “I want to do this in a way so that they love this, they want this, they come for this. This is not tolerated — it’s desired.” That’s the mindset.
We will never out-entertain the world. I just need to settle that. We’ll never out-entertain the world, nor should we try, because we have something infinitely better, something our souls were made for.
And most of our people don’t know this. They don’t know what’s better than the fun they have in watching videos and other kinds of entertainment. They just don’t know. They’ve never tasted the real thing. Something profoundly stabilizing, strengthening, refining, and satisfying at the depths of our being is what people long for, and they don’t know what they’re longing for until they’re shown it over time.
So, here are five appeals to pastors with regard to preaching.
1. Build Bible-people.
Rivet the people’s attention on the Bible, the very words of the Bible. Deal in great realities, and show them those realities from the text. Build trust in the Bible. Build trust in yourself as a Bible man, so that people say, “We can trust him because he’s a Bible man.”
Some people will leave the church because of this orientation; it’s too frightening and threatening to submit to the Bible like this. Others are hungry for this, and they’re going to come. Over time, seek to bring into being a people whose mindset is self-consciously and happily under the Bible’s authority. Seek to create a people who measure everything by the Bible. Every thought, every emotion, every word, every action, put through the sieve of Bible teaching — and what the Bible really teaches about everything.
The way you handle the Bible and the glories you see in it will bring about this kind of congregation. They’re not their own. They belong to Christ, and his word is their life and their law. That’s what needs to come into being through your Bible-saturated preaching.
2. Make God the dominant reality.
Make the glory of God and all that he is for us in Jesus the main reality people sense over the years, as they hear you preach week in and week out: “God is the main reality here. God is big. God is weighty. God is precious. God is satisfying. God is near. Don’t mess with God. God loves us.” I mean, it’s just a massive, weighty vision of God. Make the greatness and beauty and worth of God the dominant reality.
Be amazed, pastor, be amazed at God continually — that God simply is, that he just is, without beginning. This blows the mind of every four-year-old, right? “Who made God, Daddy?” the child asks. “Nobody made God,” responds the father. “Woah.” Eyes get big. “He just always was there.” God is absolute reality. All else, from galaxies to subatomic particles, is secondary. Everything we see is secondary.
God is the primary reality. Help your people to see this and feel this, that God relates to everything in their lives, all the time, as the main thing. He is the main thing in their lives. He’s the supreme treasure, the main value, the brightest hope, the one they are all willing to live for and die for.
3. Tremble at God’s wrath.
Make sure that the ugliness of the disease of sin in us and in the world and the fury of the wrath of God against that disease are felt by your people. God’s grace, precious grace, will never be amazing — not the way it should be — if our people do not tremble at the majesty of God’s transcendent purity and holy wrath against sin. If they do not feel the fitness of the outpouring of the cup, of the fury of his wrath against sin, they will never be amazed that they’re saved.
This is one of the main contributors to the happiness of serious reverence. It’s paradoxical, I know, that you would have a high, holy, trembling view of God’s wrath be the main contributor to the happiness of the seriousness of reverence. But it is so.
The 1,500-degree fire of the building from which we have just been snatched by the firemen can still be seen. We see it. We feel it. We see the smoke. We hear the crackle. And the trembling of our unspeakably happy thankfulness is anything but casual.
4. Exalt Christ and his work.
Exalt Christ in his majesty and lowliness, in his suffering and resurrection, and in the unimaginable riches of what he purchased for us. Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Every single good that God’s elect receive, from now to eternity, is owing to the blood of Jesus Christ. Knowing that I don’t deserve this and what it cost him makes me tremble in my ecstasy.
5. Wonder over the new birth.
Finally, teach your people the miracle of their own conversion. Nobody knows from experience the glory of the miracle of new birth. We only know the wonder of the new birth from Scripture.
“Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:5–6) — nobody knows this. Nobody knows this stupendous reality from experience. We know it because God tells us it is so.
We have to teach our people that they are supernatural beings. Most people come into the sanctuary feeling very natural, right? We have to help them feel another way: “You’re a miracle. You’re a walking resurrection from the dead. You’re not merely natural anymore. This is not a moment of gathering natural people. Our faith, which is our life, is a miracle. God created it. It is trust. Our saving faith is trust in a supremely treasured Savior and Lord.”
May I venture to say that preaching like this will, over time, create in your people an eagerness to encounter God in his word in a way that will make coffee-sipping seem out of place?