Hélder Favarin, evangelist and pastor in Spain, addresses some of the challenges of preaching to both Christians and non-Christians.
Today's society is questioning everything. Every crisis, such as the one we have just gone through with Covid-19 or the current war in Ukraine, awakens us and prompts us to think about what is important.
But this is also an opportunity for Christians to explain the reasons for our faith to others.
Spanish news website Protestante Digital talked to Hélder Favarin, evangelist, missionary and pastor in the Spanish city of Granada, who has a wide training and experience in the area of preaching.
Favarin explained the importance of preaching throughout history, the priority of the Word and its power to transform lives, and the need to contextualise in order to reach today's society with the message.
Favarin has just published a book on preaching, entitled Amplía: Predicar a cristianos y no cristianos desde el mismo sermón (Preaching to Christians and non-Christians from the same sermon).
Question. In recent years you have specialised in the subject of preaching, even doing a doctorate on it. One of the hallmarks of evangelicals has been the biblical exposition through preaching. Why have you written this book?
Answer. There were several reasons. It has to do with my interest as an evangelist, as a pastor and missionary. I am interested in continuing to learn and grow in this area of preaching.
A few years ago, I was able to do a doctorate in this area and focus my studies more on a field that is very present in my day to day life, but where there was also room to offer something else, which has to do with connecting our message more broadly to non-believers, combining the missional approach to our preaching.
I felt a responsibility that my studies, my experience, could give something to preaching in Spain. I often say that the number of publications we have among evangelicals in this country is not proportional to the quality of the gifts and the way God is using people here.
This is maybe the fourth book on preaching published from Spain in the last 40 years. My desire was to give something back and to stimulate conversations, so that others will be encouraged, and continue to talk about something that we as evangelicals feel is necessary.
Q. If we think of three moments, which we could define as “crisis”, “transition” and “splendour”, how is the state of preaching in evangelical churches in Spain?
A. I think the three moments depend on the circle of evangelicals we are referring to. In Spain we are experiencing a special moment. First, because of the people that God has raised up who are extraordinary in communicating the Word. Spain produces very good preachers. I feel that there is also a thirst, a desire to grow.
I see that there are some initiatives and training, such as the Taller de Predicación (Preaching Workshop), a national initiative that seeks to train preachers. And finally, I see a solid building in the theology of preaching in Spain.
Some places lack this, such as Northern Europe or North America, where secularisation has touched the church in a deeper way.
Decades ago, as evangelicals we emphasised verbal preaching very much, whether in Sunday meetings or in evangelistic initiatives. And there was a lack of social issues in day-to-day practice. So, there was a need for much reflection on that lack.
But I perceive that in some evangelical circles, in a Protestant context of many centuries, things have gone in the other direction. I have been at youth gatherings where there is a lot of talk about social impact, the environment, social causes which are very important, but there is hardly any mention of personal evangelism, verbal proclamation, the challenge to public proclamation of the gospel. That is worrisome, not because of tradition, but on biblical grounds.
So depending on where we go, we may encounter different scenarios, but we are certainly in transition. It is being reflected upon and considered, when we talk about learning, dialogue, participation, sometimes we are a bit mistaken in thinking that preaching is a monologue. Preaching is much more than that.
Q. Times are changing, what is the preacher’s challenge as he faces giving a sermon today?
A. In one of the chapters of the book I talk about contextualisation. In everything we talk, we have to think about mental “boxes” and ways.
One of the “boxes” is knowing what we mean by the Word of God and by communicating the Word of God. We have to go back to the beginning, to Genesis, and see how every time God is going to do something important, he calls people to communicate his message.
He did it with Noah, with Moses, with the prophets... When the nation of Israel was going the wrong way, He calls prophets to speak to the people on their behalf and to bring them back to God.
Ezekiel 37 is a striking example. When Ezekiel speaks to the dry bones on God's behalf they begin to come alive. God could directly make the bones come to life, but He asks a human being to speak, and when he speaks, the Word is going to generate something. This is a hallmark of the Word of God: it always does something.
John the Baptist's main task was to proclaim, to announce. Jesus tells his followers that they had to go into the villages to preach the gospel of the kingdom. The same happens with the apostles. Preaching is the main way in which growth takes place. It is true that times have changed, but this reality has not changed.
Something in the human being leads us to appreciate verbal communication. We are still in love with monologues, TED Talks are filling auditoriums. We like it, we want to hear others speaking, in a unique way, when the Word of God is expounded.
How we do it is something we need to reconsider, but its power, its necessity, the space it continues to have in our day is enormous. The verbal and public proclamation of God's Word continues to transform lives. God has promised that His Word will not return to Him empty but will fulfil the purpose for which He has sent it.
So, we need to recover the conviction that when the Word is communicated, God is doing something. He has chosen this way in His mystery, and He continues to act like this in our day. Whether we do it in front of an audience in church, or in a theatre, or in a coffee shop, is a secondary, but also an important, issue.
Q. In the book you argue that Christians and non-Christians can be preached to in the same sermon. What are the barriers to achieve this?
A. My proposal is to make this approach of preaching to both Christians and non-Christians in the same sermon. It is a humble approach, I am not saying it is the only way or the right way.
In the New Testament we don't have any examples of what preaching was like in the context of the church. We have several sermons outside, to non-believers, but we don't have any examples that make us think: "we should preach every week", or "we should preach in series", or "we should preach 30 minutes". We don't have these indications. That opens up a space of freedom for us, so that we can think about whether what we do is biblical or it is tradition.
I think we can reconsider some of the classic divisions we have in evangelical preaching in Spain. I dedicate a chapter to the sociological context in Spain. I propose the following:
1. We tend to think that we preach the Bible to believers and Christ to non-believers. I invite to reconsider a first bridge of a Christ-centred hermeneutics, that is, there is no such dichotomy: whenever we preach the Bible, we preach Christ.
Both are one hundred percent divine and human, and they are interrelated. In Luke 24 Jesus himself invites us to wear those glasses, because everything points to him.
2. Our apologetics. There is a growing interest in apologetics in Spain today, and we feel that, as the Bible says, we must give an answer to the reasons of our faith. Many people ask very good questions and there are good initiatives, such as the Forum of Apologetics or the Pontea Institute, and we tend to use apologetics for evangelistic campaigns, in universities, in bars, on social media...
But when it comes to the life of the community, of the church, it is as if we put it aside, if we leave it out, since we are already talking to believers. However, this is an unnecessary division.
Many believers have questions and they will be working on Monday, and will have to give answers of their faith as well. This way we also generate interest in non-believers who may attend a meeting, or who are listening online.
This way we will help believers to be trained for their day to day life. So let's bring apologetics back into the life of the community, where it was in the beginning as well.
3- Contextualisation. When you talk to your hairdresser, to your friends, in campaigns, we tend to be careful with language. However, when we speak in church, we take for granted many things that we imagine the audience already knows.
We use language that doesn't connect with the non-believer, and they feel disconnected when they hear the message. I believe we can rethink this situation.
I think contextualisation is the way God has always worked. He became a human being, the greatest example of contextualisation. We see Paul speaking in Acts 13 in a synagogue, quoting from the Old Testament. Later, in Acts 17, speaking in Athens to non-Jews, he does not quote the Old Testament, but quotes Greek poets.
The exercise of contextualisation is a responsibility for the communication of the Word nowadays. We must think: what does it mean to preach in this city? What does it mean to preach in a village in the interior of the country?
We have to think what are the blocks we have to remove from the ground so that the seed can fall to the ground and grow.
Q. What other positive effects do you find in this broad preaching?
A. First of all, it helps believers to be better prepared in their daily lives and encourages them to invite non-believers to listen, because they know that the preaching is accessible to all. This therefore facilitates the dialogue with the non-believer.
But we do not only speak to non-believers, we also speak to believers. We can be very profound and at the same time still connect with all kinds of people.
The challenge is to take people by the hand and not talk to them in terms, ideas or emphases that they don't understand.
I will of course talk about repentance, sin or salvation, but I will translate my terms, identifying with the culture so that people will come with me. This brings growth to both the believer and the unbeliever.
This preaching builds missional community, helps the congregation understand that we are called outward. The natural tendency is to always think of those who are already there, but God's mission pushes us outward.
Language creates culture, so by including the unbeliever in the preaching, we are generating an interest of the whole congregation to reach them with the message. This affirms the presence of people who think differently and opens the doors and windows of the church.
Furthermore, people become more aware of the relevance of the Bible in their daily lives.
Q. Anything else you would like to add, especially for preachers?
A. The privilege to proclaim is great. We need to encourage ourselves to be faithful and deep in the Word, communicating what God has wanted to communicate, understanding that we are called to serve Him in the year 2022, which requires relevance, contextualisation, understanding of the times.
In that combination of double listening, let us continue to bear fruit in the privilege of being communicators of His Word and seeing what He can do saving and sanctifying people through it.
[title] Spanish Forum of Apologetics
[text]The need to train and prepare evangelicals to respond to the challenges society faces today, is behind the newest edition of the Spanish Forum of Apologetics conference to be held in the city of Zaragoza from 6 to 8 May 2022.
The theme of the Forum will be "Identity", a topic often discussed nowadays in the scientific, political, social and educational spheres.
Hélder Favarin will be preaching on Genesis 2 and 3, chapters in which there are important aspects related to the questions that society has regarding human beings and their identity. Other speakers include Stefan Gustavsson (Sweden), Sharon Dirckx (UK), José de Segovia (Spain), and Pablo Martínez (Spain).