FRANKLIN , Ind. – Rather than following the mega-church model of preaching, Dr. Michael Pasquarello III, Wesleyan scholar of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., says United Methodist preachers would be truer to their tradition if they preached in the style of John Wesley, 18th-century founder of Methodism.
In a three-hour series of two lectures during the Indiana Conference Wesleyan Connexion forum at Grace United Methodist Church in Franklin, Pasquarello reviewed the preaching practiced at mega-churches today like Willow Creek Church in suburban Chicago, juxtaposed against the Christ-centered preaching of John Wesley.
More than 30 preachers and laity attended the day-long Nov. 15 event hosted by Grace’s Pastor Andy Kinsey, Indiana Conference Wesleyan Scholar.
Pasquarello said studies reveal that mega-church culture feels it knows what people need and feels it can fulfill that need.
He said, “In mega-church culture, how much and how many does not show success of the church when it comes to the spirituality of (its) members.”
He said their brand loyalty rests on a commitment model with people trying or not trying the “product.” Popular mega-churches, such as Willow Creek, “craft their presentations to be simple, professionally produced often with a self-fulfillment goal… it attracts large numbers of people – self seekers who come to a mall-like environment to get served – Christian consumers of Christianity and God.”
He said with this model, what becomes secondary is “taking up the cross and following Jesus Christ.”
What becomes popular in mega-church culture, according to Pasquarello, is a practical message following themes of raising children, marriage, employment – behavioral topics, using the Bible as a handbook of Christian living, science, economics, health, politics and romance. Also preached are topics relevant to religious consumers from prosperity to gardening, dieting to personal wealth. Such preaching is cultural rather than Christian.
This strategy claims to be the answer to so-called “dead, boring tradition.” Much of American Christian teaching (in the past century) has been done in a revivalist mode of Fenny and Norman Vincent Peal, said Pasquarello. “Its goal is a simple Gospel and moral code colored by a romanticism of inspirational preachers delivering ethical religion – topical, experiential and opinion.” Such messages are filled with illustration, stories, antidotes and human personality. The narratives of the pastor replace the narratives in the Bible.
In this method of preaching, Pasquarello said what also is lost is the confidence of the vocation of preaching and the loss of biblical literacy among pastors.
Then he asked, “What about Wesley?”
Pasquarello said Wesley is one to study as a preacher. “He has much to say about faith and reason, truth and goodness – what we know and what we do.” Wesley brought about social and political change. For Wesley, salvation is the restoration we seek.
He asked his audience, in today’s mega-church culture, “Is God necessary for preaching? Do we miss out on speaking the truth in love – it’s believable and it matters.”
Pasquarello said, unfortunately, we can become experts in technology (in preaching): and lose the spoken Word. We need to cultivate good listeners of the Word. That is part of our calling as preachers.
He said, the role of preacher and pastor need to be close together. Preachers need to look at life through the lens of the Word with illustrations from real life rather than video clips, which put distance between the Word and the listeners.
“Wesley is a study of Scripture, preaching and hearing. Preaching is a spiritual discipline.” He said preachers need to ask: “Is God involved in the preaching? How does the sermon become spiritual? Preaching is more than information download.”
He said Wesley scholar Billy Abraham points out that Wesley’s latter sermons were topical – going on to perfection, growing in grace – but Wesley is different than many of today’s topical preachers because these topical sermons were connected to the whole order of salvation and sanctification.
In the mega-church culture, preachers extract from tradition to speak to society. “Wesley goes back to the future.”
Pasquarello described preaching modeled after John Wesley as “Preaching Christ.” More simply put, where is God, Christ and the Holy Spirit in preaching?
He said, “Our approach to Scripture and preaching should be measured by and congruent with the proper subject of Scripture – the Triune God who is with us through the presence of the risen Christ and the Spirit, who creates and renews the gift of faith that works through love by which we participate in God’s own life.”
Next lecture to feature Perkins scholar
The next Wesleyan Connexion Project will be “The New Methodists” forum, featuring Elaine Heath, McCreless Associate Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology SMU in Dallas, Texas. The event will be Saturday, March 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Andrew UMC, 4703 North 50 West in West Lafayette, Ind. Cost is $40. Watch for registration through www.inumc.org.
Pasquarello said, “We preach Christ as priest, prophet and king.” He said Christ as priest continues to mediate. God addresses our ongoing need – to overcome self-will. Christ is prophet restoring knowledge and truth. That was the wholeness of Christ’s ministry. God’s wisdom incarnate and law expressed through God’s grace. Finally, Christ as King, renewed by our nature in Him. “Christ ruling in our lives is the central place of the Gospel,” he said.
The central theme of John Wesley’s standard 50 sermons is revealed in his 13 sermons about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7. “In his sermons, John Wesley shows how (God’s) law brings us to Christ,” he said. The ordering of his standard sermons is important to Wesley’s understanding of theology.
Pasquarello said Wesleyan scholar Albert Outler said that Calvinism makes God’s righteousness external, a covering. On the other hand, Wesley’s professes that righteousness is internal, leading to a holy life, proclaiming the real person you are.
Pasquarello said Wesley aims a Gospel of obedience. We are called to holiness and good works based in love. He said, we not only preach Christ’s words but also listen to His words. The role of the preacher is to impart the knowledge of God through the love of God.
For Wesley, said Pasquarello, “Christ himself takes us into God. The experience is deeply personal and social, doing all manner of good.”
In response to Pasquarello, the Rev. Dr. Derek Weber of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Indianapolis said, John Wesley lived by preaching. “I’m a preacher and always need to be about preaching. We live and die in our preaching… The ideal is the beauty of the Gospel and the beauty of faith – the aesthetics of our theology… It’s not about a sermon but a ministry of preaching and preaching Christ is central to worship – true religion and a religion of love.
For more on this subject of Christ-centered preaching in the Wesleyan tradition, read John Wesley: A Preaching Life by Michael Pasquarello III (Abingdon).
For copies of John Wesley’s Standard Sermons online, visit http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-the-standard-sermons.
“In mega-church culture, how much and how many does not show success of the church when it comes to the spirituality of (its) members.”
– Michael Pasquarello III