I have lived in and owned five houses in my lifetime. Along the way, I have slowly gained some building and repair skills, such as laying wood flooring and decking, installing faucets, toilets, fans, and light fixtures. With some things involving wood, one needs to first drill a pilot hole before attempting to fasten something with a screw. It just makes the job a lot easier.
As I was sitting listening to our pastor preach his sermon yesterday, the thought of pilot holes came to mind. I think it was from the Lord because nothing he was saying had anything to do with building or fastening something with screws. Last week, he had preached on Hebrews 5, which inspired my last post on Milk. This week, I was waiting for him to explain in very practical terms how we go about maturing as believers. Honestly, I was disappointed, but not surprised. There were no practices forthcoming; he just moved onto Chapter 6.
I think this is why pilot holes came to mind. Preaching is much like drilling pilot holes. The messages are intended to make it easier to drill down into spiritual maturity. They are to serve as a guide for where we fasten our faith to Jesus and to the truth of the Scriptures. However, most pastors assume their audiences know how to drill down into greater spiritual depths. If they drill the pilot holes, they assume the rest is easier. For so many, I don’t think this is an accurate assumption. We pastors drill a lot of pilot holes, but we often fall short in equipping our charges with the skills to fasten the screws, which, like me learning building and repair skills, requires much practical experience with tools and material and a lot of trial and error.
For most pastors, the sermon is assumed to be the start of the training and the audience will do the rest. It rarely happens. What does happen most is that the audience hears a great message, tells the pastor how good it was on the way out the door, then goes about the rest of their Sunday and week, and then returns a week later for another message. What doesn’t happen often is practical application in between. Few pick up the drill and the screws and start drilling down. Most, quite frankly, do not know how to do that.
Downstream on campus, we see this played out in the same way. We preach great messages to our students (of course, I’m a little biased), but often there is little practical change in their lives. Like many of us, they nod in agreement at certain points, and they may even come up to us afterward and compliment the quality of our words, but nothing fundamentally changes in their lives. And this is on us as leaders. We are drilling the holes, but not showing them how practically to fasten their lives to Jesus and his Word.
For example, it is common to preach on showing the love of Jesus to others. But how often do we follow up by showing folks how actually to do that. I remember one former student who often talked about her involvement in a church youth group who, when asked what loving someone might look like, sat silent. She said that we should love people, but she had no idea what that really looked like in practical terms. It is also common to preach about having a personal relationship with Jesus, but I find many who do not understand what that means. Among students, the Christians would all acknowledge they have that type of relationship with him, but few spend much time in reading his Word, praying, worshipping him, or serving him in some practical ways.
And this is on us the pastors, whose role is to be equippers of the believers so they might serve the King and his Kingdom (Ephesians 4:11-12). Drilling pilot holes for the benefit of the believers in our charge is great and needed. However, if we are only drilling holes and not showing them how to make the best use of them, then we are accomplishing very little, no matter how great our messages are. What they need is practical instruction and modeling of what it looks like to drill down into maturity of the Christian life. Words alone are not enough.
©Jim Musser 2021 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.