"For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified." -St Paul, 1 Cor 2:2
Like many who started off in evangelicalism and especially in youth ministry, the trap of seeing preaching/teaching/pastoring as largely a matter of helping pretty good people become slightly better people is one I fell into face first. For me, it was about "How God Wants Us To Live." The Bible was the Handbook for living and my job was to help people understand what God wanted them to do.
Oh, sure- there was something about Jesus in there. It's like He was the ticket in to the dance, but it was really all about how you moved and what you did once you were IN.
And I was constantly surprised when that moralistic do-better message failed to capture anyone's heart or move anyone to anything beyond incremental change. My efforts seemed to produce not a group of people so captured by an overwhelming love for a Savior who would lay down His all for them that they would lay down their all for Him, but rather groups of (interestingly enough) slightly guilty, slightly self-satisfied religious people who always berated themselves for not doing better and salved that guilt with the thought that at least they were doing better than those people. Who "those people" were changed over the years. First it was the Catholics, then "liberals" (anyone to the left of us), then finally as this all took on a slightly emergent sheen, "evangelicals" or "fundamentalists" (anyone to the right of us).
At the peak of my frustration with all of this, I was introduced to Tim Keller. As a recovering Calvinist, I was at first a bit leery of the Presbyterian pastor from New York. But in the same way that CS Lewis speaks so well to the secular skeptic, I think Keller speaks to those skeptical of Reformed theology- those who don't want to end up like so many of the bitter Calvinist trolls who seem to populate the corners of the internet.
At any rate, his assertion that the Bible is not about YOU, but rather about Jesus, about the story of God's redemption and Redeemer was game changing for me.
Suddenly, my role was not to tell people how to be like various Bible heroes (who really weren't all that heroic if we're going to be honest) and how to do better/more, but to do what Scripture actually did- point them to Jesus, always and only, let their hearts and minds be moved by the Good News of what God has done for them in Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to take that heart movement and alchemize it into Christ-likeness in their lives individually and communally.
Practically speaking, this means I approach texts (even head-scratching ones from the OT) with the basic questions of "How does this point us to Jesus?" and how does the Gospel answer the questions that people will be asking around this text/issue? We always end up back where we need to be: At Jesus and what He's done for us, and though we often get to what we need to do as a response, the first thing we always need to do is see how His work on our behalf is enough- how Jesus Christ crucified is the answer that leads to all the other answers.
So that means answering practical questions about things like self-image, success, money, sex with some variation of "Until you are freed from your need for success, a failure you will remain." That is, until we see that in Jesus and His righteous life and sacrificial death imputed to us we have what we need, we will always struggle. As long as we look to other things (in biblical language: idols) to save us and until we put our hope in the only One strong enough to bear it, we'll continue to live lives of either overt unhappiness or, even should we largely get what we are striving for, an undercurrent of "is this all there is"?
And thus change happens, individually and communally, not when we try harder to do better, but when we are able to lay down the need to do for ourselves what God wants to do for us in Christ, all our little self-salvation projects, and lean more and more into and onto Jesus.
The challenge, on an individual level (and speaking personally, it IS a challenge) is to live this. And on a leadership level to creatively move to this through all my counseling, preaching, teaching. To find 100 different ways to say the same thing. Honestly, I think I've got maybe 5 (some who listen to me preach regularly might think that generous). I need more.
But… I think I finally know what Paul meant when he said "I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified." My job isn't to help people understand what God wants them to do. My job is to help them see, understand and be moved by what God has already done. That's the difference between good advice and Good News. Out of that, as they follow the One who has captured their heart, God will speak and I can help them listen, process and respond appropriately- but it all flows first and foremost from the ground of how God is redeeming us and the world through the work of Jesus on our behalf.