A main purpose of this writing space will be to share some of the “why does Waterstone do that?” answers. For the next several posts, I would like to convey Waterstone’s philosophy of preaching.
Most importantly, the Waterstone preaching team is committed to expository preaching. Haddon Robinson defines expository preaching this way [i]:
Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him or her to the hearers.
We focus relentlessly on two major implications from Robinson’s definition. First, expository preaching grounds the message in the Scripture text so that the sermon’s movements are shaped by the text and grounded in the text’s major idea(s). In other words, the text is the authority. We believe that Christ rules his church through the authority of Scripture, and thus it is vital that the concept of the message be biblical. This is why on most weekends we are preaching through a book of the Bible text-by-text.
Second, Robinson’s definition emphasizes the communication of an accessible, text-comprehensive concept. The preacher is primarily concerned not with what individual words or verses mean, but rather with what the biblical writer meant to convey to the original audience through his or her use of words and flow of thought in a text. This is not to say that every text has only one meaning, or even that the biblical author was intending to communicate only one crystal clear import for every text. Rather we believe Scripture is best understood, experienced and remembered when the preacher preaches one main biblical concept derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context.
So we are deeply committed to the practice of expository preaching.
What I want to do next is to unpack Robinson’s clause: which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher. Here we are concerned with the posture of the preacher at Waterstone—that the preacher’s bearing, comportment and attitude are rooted in the New Testament texts about preaching.[ii] What follows are the five values of Waterstone’s preaching posture.
The first value of Waterstone preaching is humility.
When we say we desire Waterstone’s preaching to be characterized by humility, we have in mind two strategies:
- To produce humility in our preaching will be to guard against the pulpit being a pedestal. Said another way, we will work to shrink the perceived gap between preacher and listener. By standing on stage, opening a Bible, using a microphone, providing keen insights etc., the preacher creates a perceived gap of spiritual authority and maturity. Put directly, just by standing on stage people think the preacher is more spiritual than he is or she is, and at the same time people think they are less spiritual than they are. People too easily discount their journey of following Jesus. Some practices that help to close this gap are vulnerability, approachability off the stage, and the recognition that gifting and training do not automatically produce formation or remove the calling to labor in the Word of God. Humility also means the preacher avoids making his or her life the primary source of illustrative material, especially those stories that make the preacher the half-hour hero. Of course, there are moments when we share stories of our own struggles, our own lessons. Here the apostle Paul is an excellent example, pointing to his weaknesses that display God’s strength, calling himself the chief of sinners to demonstrate God’s great salvation, etc. There will be times when the text conveys an authoritative “this is what God says,” yet Waterstone’s main preaching approach is that of a fellow sojourner (contra sage or answer man) who takes seriously Dallas Willard’s invitation that the life to which Jesus calls us can be lived by anyone.[iii]
- To produce humility in our preaching will be the use of a preaching team to dispense the ministry of the Word at Waterstone. This ethos of humility is attributable to our founding pastor, Nick Lillo, who was decisive at the start of Waterstone not to build the church around a personality. Thus, we have always had a preaching team. We believe the team approach increases the quality of the preaching as it relieves a lone preaching pastor from the week-to-week grind of preaching. We also believe it is healthy for the congregation to receive the Word through several voices for a wider spectrum of experience, intellect, theology and heart—all conveying truth through personality.
The preaching team meets regularly with the goal of improving the preaching ministry of Waterstone. If nothing else, using a team signifies the humility of never arriving as a master preaching who no longer has room to grow. Each week the team evaluates the craft and biblical integrity of the past week’s message. Of more value, the team time strengthens preparation in two ways. First, as the team meditates on the upcoming text to be preached, they help the assigned preacher become more focused on connecting the gospel of the kingdom to everyday life by anticipating relevant cultural questions and even skepticism. By anticipating the questions with which skeptics will wrestle—and surfacing them in a respectful, even appreciative way, we gain permission to speak beyond their skepticism and to their hearts.[iv] Second, the team pushes the preacher on exactly what she or he wants people to do with this message, both in terms of why this message is being preached (what Haddon Robinson calls “the need”) and how this message will be of value and application in the weeks ahead.
For Waterstone’s preaching ministry, we believe the pursuit of humility amplifies the message as people are drawn to the beauty of a humble voice sharing the humble Voice. As B.B. Warfield wrote of Jesus, “No impression was left by his life-manifestation more deeply imprinted upon the consciousness of his followers than that of the noble humility of his bearing.”[v]
[i] Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, 20.
[ii] My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. – 1 Corinthians 2:4-5
On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you. – 1 Thessalonians 2:4-7
Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1 Timothy 4:11-16
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. – 2 Timothy 4:1-5
[iii] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, ix. The quote is: “My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing -- by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself.”
[iv] See Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism for a deep dive into preaching to heart in our culture.
[v] B.B. Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ, 140.
I appreciate this approach. Personally, when the the preacher is honest about his/her own doubt, fear, questions and failure, it softens the space for me to explore the ideas more extensively in my own life.
I enjoy reading Philip Yancey's books also. A view from outside the confines of a denomination but seminary traineed.
This is beautiful
Thanks Larry, that was most interesting. I have always appreciated the humility and openness of the entire Waterstone team.
I appreciate these blogs, I am interested in the "why?" of how W does things. I also wanted to comment on the habit of "sharing struggles and lessons". As I listen to the sermon, it tells me that the preacher is aware of the gap between the "right" and the "real" - thank you. It is easy (in one sense - I know it isn't "easy") to preach the truth of the Word, and also easy to forget the humanity - with all of its complexity and messiness - that listeners must confront every day. Recently I have been thinking about how Jesus spent his Sabbaths, and there is the synagogue part, but also the walking among the people part. Light-hearted, trivial, funny stories are a great way to draw the congregation into the point of the sermon, but one of the things I remember most is a sermon when Nick stood on the stage and said something like "I am confronted with a pain that I don't know the answer to". It was relief for me because I was also in the same place. Nothing in my life changed for a long time, but I felt like it was okay to rest in the knowledge that God saw it, and knew that I was unable to overcome it. While baring your soul every week is probably not a good idea, it is helpful to know that you understand that your listeners are mentally measuring themselves up to what you are saying, and sometimes are failing, and can't fix that.