There seems to be an imbalance in the the way people view preaching. Some decide that preaching ought to be exciting, and so it should. Some believe preaching should be informative, and so it should. But as human nature is, we tend to become imbalanced in the way we perceive things; especially things pertaining to the Spirit.
I believe there is a Biblical balance. I believe preaching can be exciting and informative; ultimately, preaching can be the way God intended.
From the perspective of a pew-filling preacher, I would like to offer some thoughts on how preaching can become exciting for both pulpit and pew. Even if you are no Spurgeon or Chrysostom, your preaching does not have to be boring and ineffective. You and your people can look forward to the next installment of the Word! There is a simple way to ensure your messages stay fresh, exciting, and Holy-Spirit used, all the while pleasing your Lord. How do we do that? Quite literally,”Preach the Word.” The Scriptures do not say “Preach using the Word” or “Preach about the Word” or even “Preach from the Word;” the Word Itself is intended to be preached, and if you are to please your Lord (as well as the Spirit-indwelt people of the church) you must simply say what God says in the Text, and help people comprehend it.
The concept of Text-based preaching may feel like a paradigm shift. Sometimes we have a presupposition that preaching is application-based rather than Text-based. Preachers sometimes trip over an easy stumbling-block: the trap of taking a verse and using it to develop one’s own message, spring-boarding off of the Text, mostly ignoring the context, not expressing what the Lord was conveying.
Application-based preaching can be hard for the Spirit to use, because it often becomes inconsistent with the Text. The “Sword of the Spirit” becomes the “pocket-knife of the preacher;” efficacy drops directly and exponentially with how well the preaching reflects the Word. Even if the preacher has a good heart, decent talent, and much personal wisdom; the way he uses the Scriptures can demotivate people from coming to the preaching service expecting great things. The opposite is true as well. If a man has average ability and He preaches God’s Text, he can motivate people to listen expectantly and come regularly; and even regret missing a service! The Text is the Issue! “Preach The Word!”
Consider whether these observations are true.
- Application-based preaching weakens the preacher in his ability to apply Scripture. Ironic, but true. A busy preacher does not have time to study what he does not think will be a direct benefit. Satan whispers “There’s nothing in that passage that you haven’t already heard. Stop wasting your limited time studying the same old thing; just preach!” The preacher does not, therefore, spend the needed time in the Text; exploring the nuances, discovering the beautiful specifics and catching a glimpse of the personality of God; therefore his preaching lacks God’s personality. The specific treasures of God’s person, found only in the Text, are left untouched by the people of God. Not only that, but after a few months of preaching application-based messages, the application begins to repeat itself; in an effort to appear fresh and relevant, the preacher will resort to generalisms and cliche attempts at application; rather than finding the specific application within the Text itself. The Text contains more than you know, but Satan would love to convince you that you know it all. This mindset serves to weaken and deaden the preachers ability to apply the Scriptures effectively.
- Application based preaching has a proclivity towards producing malnourished Christians. It lends itself to the old adage “Give a man a fish…” while Text-based preaching may be described “Give a man a fish and teach a man to fish.” If done by preachers with great natural ability, application-based preaching is rarely regretted by the people sitting in the pew (much like children rarely regret receiving too much candy), but the fact is that the long-term affects of this type of preaching produces a sugared -up, malnourished child of God; not instructed in the Word, not understanding why he must apply the Word in such and such ways- very shallow in his Biblical understanding. He cannot connect the dots, only stand on the dots. This causes him to be ineffective in his giving of answers “To any one that asketh you a reason.” Having not received the fullness of the Text, he struggles to meditate upon it; and so the personal, practical application becomes difficult to comprehend fully. It is a crime when a Child of God comes hungry and needy to his Father’s table and leaves the same way.
- Application-based preaching lends itself to preacher-worship rather than Christ-worship. Once I listened to a well-known preacher for the first time. After listening to him for 20 minutes, I discerned that his message was not God’s message (neither was it God’s heart being expressed.) I pointed this out to a friend, and he started to yell at me! I wasn’t aware that my friend was familiar with this man, nor was I aware that this preacher was too lofty to be questioned. Apparently this preacher’s words trump God’s… He had great talent, but his preaching was based in what he wanted to say, rather than in what God is saying. He was preaching using the Word rather than preaching the Word. The inverse is also true. I listened to a preacher who had average speaking ability, and when he preached his application-based message there was only a polite and artificial response from the pew. His “candy” wasn’t sweet enough to excite the children. Application-based preaching can turn people’s gaze away from the Lord and toward a man’s ability, or lack thereof.
What do you think about these observations? Do they make any sense? What can we do toward correcting this problem? Ponder these steps…
1. Adopt God’s Perspective
The big picture is important for understanding each passage individually. Help your people see the big picture of the Scriptures whenever you preach; people will become more interested in how the message relates to the big picture, and your people will be more motivated to listen expectantly. Most people are not interested in a lonely puzzle piece, but when they see how it fits the big picture they get excited, and want to find the next piece. This is how preaching works as well, people look forward to another piece of the puzzle, when they have a sense of progression towards the big picture. Show how each passage fits the big picture, and you will help people ingest your preaching.
2. Adopt God’s Emotions.
This is not something you add on while you preach. This happens when you have spent so much time in the Text that you can understand God’s motivations in saying what He said. Shouting and punching the pulpit is not always the Lord’s emotion in that Text. Sometimes tears, sometimes frustration, sometimes sarcasm, sometimes joy; read the Text! What was God’s disposition as He inspired?
3. Adopt God’s Illustrations
Although illustrations should come from all over the place, God offers the best illustrations within the Text. We search books and the internet for relevant stories. We spend incredible amounts of time searching for something to serve as a light-giving window into our sermon, when we could return to our Text and study. Get a Strong’s concordance and search out every word, God chose these languages for a good reason! The words in the Text sometimes serve as illustration in and of themselves. Work the Text, and quite often it will be tied to a Bible story in a different place. Around 75% of the Bible is narrative, God knows how stories lengthen our attention span.
What other effect does this have? Your people will trust that you are speaking for God when you stand up, rather than expecting another message based in pastor’s limited wisdom and experiences. Repetitive illustrations immediately turn people’s minds off, and can even slam the door on an open heart. Study the Text, find God’s illustrations, and you will be more effective.
4. Adopt God’s Message
A preacher of limited natural talent can be very influential if his words become God’s own.
You can never invent a message superior to the message of the Text.
I know several preachers that I consider to be exceptional. I was excited to hear one specific man preach, he had always delivered the Word of God in an excellent way. As he chose his passage, announced his title, and declared the point of his message, I was disappointed that he had missed the main point of the Text. Mistakes happen. God can work with an imperfection. As he worked through the passage, there was a verse which was the focal point to the passage, and I wondered what he would do with this verse. When he came to that pivotal verse, he deftly skipped it. Suddenly, I realized that it was no mistake. He intentionally mis-preached that passage. That verse would have redefined his message. Even though God thought it was important, this preacher took it upon himself to veto. This preacher decreased in my estimation, not because he stammered, or because his illustrations were boring, or because he wasn’t loud enough; but because he intentionally erased God’s message and substituted his own.
There is nothing more dangerous for a church than a preacher who preaches his own message from God’s Text. There is nothing that can bring greater expectation to the pulpit ministry than a preacher that preaches God’s message from God’s Text.
In summary, God uses the weak things of the world; but His Word is from above and is not weak. He uses a weak messenger, not a weak message. If you neglect the Text of God, everything about your ministry becomes anemic; and the Work of God suffers. Instead of feeding the sincere milk of the Word, you feed chocolate milk. The children of God become malnourished and weak, and you, as the feeder of the flock, are to blame.
If the concept of Text-based preaching seems foreign, give it a try! I believe your Preaching ministry will be more fulfilling to you, less stressful in preparation, and more rewarding to your people. God hath magnified His Word above all His name. Do you want God’s glory to come from your pulpit? Or are you satisfied with your own inconsistent abilities? I charge you, preachers: “Preach The Word!”
Comments? Agree? Disagree? Clarify? I’d love to get your feedback! Feel free to comment in the section provided.