More Ed Stetzer with Andy Stanley.
Ed: I recently interviewed Craig Groeschel and he made a point that younger adults seem to want to go deeper than the boomers did... Have you noticed any shift?
You've been at this for a long time at North Point (and before). Have you noticed any shift in the way that believers and the unchurched have responded to preaching?
Andy: I would agree with Craig only because I keep hearing people I respect say that. But I can't draw from any personal experience to say, if you mean by "deeper," that people have a longing for "keep me in the book of Romans for four months."
I think that is an expression, but I do think there's a spiritual hunger. I think there is a wonderful hunger for the Scriptures, especially the gospels right now... Generation to generation switches from Paul to Jesus, Paul to Jesus, Paul to Jesus, and if you've been around long enough, you see that it goes back and forth.
But, I think there's a huge hunger for Scripture and what does the Bible say, and for people who do what we do, that's a great thing.
Ed: One of the points that you have made is the need to help the audience, the listener, the people to see why this scripture "matters." Why is that so important? How do you do it to help people to see this matters?
Andy: I think the best way to understand that is to think about a father with his or a mother with her children. There are things as a parent that I know are extremely important for my kids to know. The problem is my kids don't know they're extremely important for my kids to know. So, for my kids to take my advice or instruction seriously, I have to do a little pre-work to help them understand the gravity of what I'm about to say. Well, the same is true when we open the Scripture with new believers, nonbelievers, or people who have been a Christian a long time, but you're about to present them with something you think, "this is a must have," a "must-understand" truth. But if we don't help people understand why it's so important before we lay it out, it just becomes more information.
As a parent, I have to do that when I really want my kids to embrace the truth or embrace an idea. The new craze right now among teenagers is texting, and so the other day I have a conversation with my two boys about texting inappropriate pictures and all that sort of stuff. Well, as I began the conversation, I began by talking about what's happening to kids who are caught. It's messing up their lives and being associated with this follows them for the rest of their life. So, I began with that before I talked to them about, have they heard of this or are kids doing this. So, again, I had to create some emotion around the topic. It would have, it's almost a waste of time to say, "Hey kids, don't do that. The end."
Well, I think with preaching, as we approach the platform or as we open God's Word, I want people to be hungry for what I'm about to say. The emotion we create at the beginning of a message causes people to "lean in" and causes people to want to take seriously what we're about to say. So, when I sit through a message or listen to a message where it's, "Hey, last week we ended at Romans 4:8. Today we pick up at verse nine," and they just jump in, I'm like, "Wait, wait, wait, wait. Make me want this."
Now, as a mature believer, I want it because it's in the Bible, but I'm kind of glad I didn't bring my three unchurched friends because you haven't made them want this. Simply saying it's in the Bible isn't enough.
It depends a little bit on the audience, but I think for all of us, we need to look at our audience like we're shepherds or we're parents and they're children, and there's all these biblical metaphors, and so consequently, to be good stewards of their time, to be good stewards of their spiritual life, I think we need to do the difficult task and the difficult work of creating some desire or some appetite for what we're about to say.
Ed: I wrote an article on this topic in Preaching Magazine called "Contextual Preaching." I basically encouraged people to begin the message in a way that connects with your audience. Some objected to it. Some said, "Well, you just need to trust the Holy Spirit." I believe I trust the Holy Spirit. But I think there's a sense that some people think, "Well, we don't need to even worry about those things."
Andy: Well, they just need to read the parables. Why would Jesus bother telling a story? He shoulda' just told 'em the truth. Why spend all the time talking about a son and his father. The son runs off. Why don't you just say, "Look, God's the Father and God will take you back if you run off." Let's move on.
I think this is one of the reasons there was some kind of semi-controversy around our conversation last time, I made the point that verse-by-verse preaching is kind of cheating. And my point was, from my perspective, it's easier to do that than to do what I do and what people who do what I do in terms of spending lots of time trying to create a context for Biblical truth. And I didn't mean, obviously, cheating like they were doing something wrong. What I really meant to say was I think it's easier. And honestly, as I work through books of the Bible in my private devotional life, there are so many times, Ed, I think, "Gosh, I wish I could just go in next Sunday and say, 'Okay, here's what I read this week and here's what I got out of it.'" It would just be so much easier and so much simpler, but then I think, you know what? For people who are where I am, for people who just can't get enough of God's Word, that would work, but for the audience I'm trying to reach, I'm going to have to create some sorta creative environment... I'm going to have to create a hunger. And that's difficult. That just takes a lot of time.
Ed: There are people out there who are convictional verse-by-verse preachers. I preach that way a majority of the time. Let's say we're going work through a text. As you said earlier, we're going to stop at Romans 4:8 and then go to Romans 4:9. How can we help when we begin that conversation at Romans 4:9 for people to engage and to see this as important? Just go up and say, "The Bible says it. Let's go." Or is there something more we can and should do?
Andy: Well, I think the good news there is there are many who teach who do a great job at what you're suggesting, and that is: the introduction is everything. The introduction is designed to make me want to listen to what you're about to say. So, the question is always: what can I say up front to make my audience interested or more interested in what I'm about to say?
There's a group of people that as soon as you open the Bible, they're interested. But there's a group of people that as soon as you open the Bible, they're going to suspect anything you say. So, I think it's looking within culture; trying to unearth the tension. That's something I talk a lot about in the book. What is the tension that this text addresses? And the more tension I can create up front, the more interested people are going be in what I have to say. That's just true of general conversation. This is why anybody who listens to the news or listens to the radio or television, what are those news readers do right before they sign off for a commercial? They say, "In a minute we're going to find out why blah, blah, blah, blah, blah," and you go, "Gosh, well, I need to stay on this station 'til they come back." Well, they've just created interest in what they are about to say.
I think good communicators do that intuitively and I think as communicators of God's Word, it's to our advantage to create that kind of interest. I think a person who's preaching chapter-by-chapter through the Bible can do that. I think it's a little more challenging because, obviously, God didn't ordain the chapters and the verses. That was added later, but we find ourselves locked into that.
Ed: Who do you listen, other communicators, preachers, teachers out there, and how do they influence you?
Andy: The group I listen to the most, we have probably 12 communicators at our three campuses here in Atlanta combined with our pastoral staff and our student communicators, and I listen to just about everything they do primarily because I feel like I need to be in a coaching role. So, that takes a lot of my listening time, which I enjoy. I listen to Craig; I listen to Perry Noble; I listen to Ed Young; I listen to Joel Osteen. I think there's so much we can learn as communicators from Joel, and, obviously, he gets criticized a lot for a lot of things, but you don't learn anything if you put on your critique hat. You have to become a student before you're a critic. So, I listen to Joel. I listen to my dad, for various reasons, but those are probably the people that I am more intentional about tuning into the most.
Ed: What advice would you give to communicators, preachers of all different kinds about how they might effectively communicate God's Word to their congregations?
Andy: I think we have to create in our schedules the time we need to study.. The more talented the person is, obviously, the more tendency they're going to have to wing it or to just lean hard on their personality or their ability just to be interesting. I think we just have to study. It's difficult. I mean, for me, the better somebody is, that means the easier they make it look, and so the tendency is to think, "Well, they don't spend a lot of time. That just seemed so easy to them." But, when you watch a professional tennis player, you think, "Gosh, I can get out there and just whack the ball over the net like that." Well, the reason they make it look so easy is because they work so hard at it.
I just think a big part of this is just making sure in our schedules we have carved out our best time to do our best work to prepare for our most important jobs which is to open God's Word and say, "Here's what God has said. Here's what we've gotta do. Here's what we need to know." So, I think a lot of this just goes back to every individual communicator finding their sweet spot in terms of studying, preparation, and being prepared for Sunday or Wednesday or Tuesday or whenever it is that they have the opportunity to stand up in front of their audience.