My lawn looks worse than it has in a few years. Thin spots abound and bare spots appear in what was once a carpet-thick plane of bountiful blades. A sickly and yellowish color has usurped the deep, robust green. It grows unevenly and needs mowing only rarely. This is in spite of summer’s favorable weather. During 2013’s summer deluge and 2012’s heat and drought, my lawn was better than it is now. I take some solace in knowing my lawn isn’t alone. All the lawns along our end of the street look bad—measurably worse than normal.
And I know why.
David Neace moved away.
Yes, last October David Neace (the former BCM director at Anderson University) moved to Myrtle Beach to start a BCM at Coastal Carolina University. I miss him, but my lawn—and all nearby lawns—miss him, too. David is the Michael Jordan of lawn keepers. When he lived across the street, we forbade our children even to step on his pristine, Augusta National-quality patch of perfection. He labored over it. He fertilized it on time, every time. He double-mowed it in crisscross patterns. He prepped it through the winter to maximize it in the spring. And it was beautiful, earning a perennial place as champion of the neighborhood “best yard” contest.
David’s lawn affected other lawns. Looking across the street to David’s lawn forced me to consider my ways, repent, buy the better fertilizer, get out the sprinkler, sharpen the mower, and tune up the trimmer. Other neighbors followed suit and, for three summers, our end of the street approached a level that might have qualified us for a Scott’s commercial. But, David moved, no one picked up the baton of bold turf leadership, and we all feel less compelled to pursue such excellence.
That’s how influence works, and that’s how discipleship works. We come into close proximity to others who do it well and mimic them. The imitation reproduces, and soon an encouraging community emerges. Without an example to follow and a community to encourage, we falter. Paul often encouraged the churches to imitate him and his companions (1 Cor 4:16, 11:1; 1 Thess 1:6), and Hebrews 10:23-25 leads us to embrace the encouragement and accountability that a community can provide.
It’s simple, but not easy, so we’re tempted to short-circuit the process with cookie cutter programs. Yet, making disciples is much like growing green grass in a subdivision—an example and a community combine to exert peer pressure in the most positive of ways. In short, this is what the church exists to do.
In his book Write Everything Right!, marketing expert Denny Hatch tells us:
- 50% of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth-grade level.
- 45 million are functionally illiterate and read below a fifth-grade level.
- Between 46 and 51 percent of American adults have an income well below the individual threshold poverty level because of their inability to read.
- Approximately 50 percent of Americans read so poorly that they are unable to perform simple tasks such as balancing a checkbook and reading prescription drug labels.
So what does that have to do with preaching? Many of the same people who can’t read a serious book are the people who are sitting in our pews – or maybe have quit sitting in our pews. The person who can’t read also likely has a problem following a complex argument or explanation with language set at the college level.
And yet each Sunday, pastors are preaching messages filled with theological language we don’t explain, quotes from books and commentaries written for seminarians, and complex arguments set in language that makes little sense to the average person sitting in our congregations. Maybe you serve a church filled with PhD’s and seminary graduates, but most of us do not.
The statistics remind us that as preachers, our task is not only proclamation but translation – we are called to express the truth of God’s Word in language and forms that common people can understand. That may take a little longer to prepare, but it’s worth the effort.