The American church seems to have become a spiritual version of the smartphone. Need directions? We have an app for that. Need a recipe? We have an app for that. Need to know how long you’ll have to wait for a table at your favorite restaurant? We have an app for that, too. Only in the church we do not have apps, we have programs. Rocky marriage? We have a program for that. Rebellious Teens? Yep, program for that. Poor people in society? We have a program for that. Is there a problem we don’t have a program for, we’ll start one (and maybe hire a pastor to run it!).
Yet for nearly two thousand years the chief activity of the church has not been programs but preaching. Somehow, in the last few decades, we have lost sight of the power of preaching and put our faith in programs, as though preaching is insufficient to bring about change. Instead of Piper’s Supremacy of Christ in Preaching, we act as though it is the Supremacy of Christ in Programs. How did Calvin aid the Holy Spirit in the transformation of Geneva? Programs? No, Preaching! Consider the big names in evangelicalism today (Chandler, Driscoll, Piper, Keller, MacAurthur, Carson, Duncan, Ryken) known for programs? No! Preaching! And yet, we still assume Chappell wrote a book entitled Christ-Centered Programs rather than Christ-Centered Preaching!
Which brings us back to the role of the church in dealing with the poor. The solution which everyone is striving for is that perfect program, that ace-in-the-hole which the church can use to help the poor. In the face of such a search, solutions of presence, prayer, personalization, and so on seem insufficient and trite. But the saddest part is that the answer to the poor has been staring us in the face all along, not in the form of a program, but the power of Preaching!
For two millennia, preaching has the been the answer to the church’s challenges and the world’s problems. Today, though we search for programs. The irony in all of this is that programs have started over the church’s history, but as a result of preaching! The church preaches compassion on the poor and the people respond to that preaching in action, in programs! Thus, if the church really wants to help the poor, really wants to address the economic problems of the inner cities, the church needs to stop looking for programs and preach the Word of God, trusting the power of the Holy Spirit to transform hearts and motivate the people in the pews to action.
Only through the power of preaching can the church address ALL the issues facing the poor, from the poor’s personal issues to societies injustice, to inaction by Christians. Let us hope that church rises to the challenge and returns in faith to powerful preaching.