Our first post started with the story of my right-handed brother who grew up batting left handed. When I was old enough to ponder this anomaly, I asked him about it. “I just started wrong “, my brother replied, “and stuck with it.” It’s a little peek into the dysfunctional world of ‘Harvey’. We remain dutiful and determined, even when we’re doing it wrong.
Which leads me to preaching.
These blogs are written to help emerging preachers identify and arrest bad habits. Sadly, they are neither clinical nor academic, but drawn from a catalog of memories where I carelessly stumbled into the briar patch of these blunders. But God grants a long leash to young preachers, partly because humbling us through mistakes forces us to apply the gospel and become better preachers. So let’s continue our study of common mistakes knowing God will work graciously in any areas where we see ourselves.
More Common Mistakes
4) Rudderless Exposition
We’ve all seen it. Even worse, many of us have done it. Open the Bible, read the text, offer a couple of ceremonial comments on the passage, and then leave the textual orbit for planets My-Burden, My-Ideas, and Interesting-Things-I’ve-Thought-About-This-Topic.
True exposition uses the text as the sermon’s rudder. The text guides the sermon out of the dock into the open seas of original audience, exegesis, and contextualization. It determines the direction, the organization, and even how the message is applied.
A preacher uncoupled from the text is a rudderless ship; a vessel desperately searching for both direction and destination.
Here’s an observation about preachers: The smarter you are, the more tempted you are to go rudderless. In other words, minds that are more fertile and absorbent often have more ideas competing with the text during preparation and delivery. It’s how I explain Spurgeon, whose sermons, while being text-based, Christ-centered, and courageously-delivered, were not necessarily a great example of expository preaching.
But he’s the Prince of Preachers and I’m not. You’re not either. So grab your rudder and don’t let go until you’re done with the sermon.
5) The Hero-Factor
Let me ask you a question. When you tell stories about yourself, or maybe about your church, who is the hero? Is it God? Is it the remarkable power of the unstoppable gospel? Or are your stories Trojan horses that smuggle ‘self’ into your sermon?
Who is the hero?
The church pulpit is a steering wheel for the church. Each week the pastor stands behind it to take the church in the direction of someone. Thankfully many pastors drive toward the Person(s) of God the Father, Jesus the Savior, and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. They are the destination; God is the hero.
But sometimes our message moves towards the mountain of ME. It can happen in either phrase or fragrance, but the effect is always the same. The people walk away thinking as much about the preacher as the passage. It’s a subtle slide — the sanitizing of the illustration so you sound better; the frequency with which we speak of ourselves; the careful stack of success stories from your ministry and family exploits; the pulpit punch towards a critic; the vocabulary selected more for cleverness than for clarity. But the intent of the heart is always the same: Boost our esteem in the eyes of the people.
If that’s you, let me encourage you by confiding that I’ve done it too. But here’s some ways to make and keep God the hero when you preach.
Meditate on the incommunicable attributes of God. Pondering the ways that God is splendidly transcendent has a right-sizing effect upon our soul.
When you preach, portray your weakness rather than your strength. Tell some stories of where you got it wrong; where you were embarrassed or maybe did something stupid. You’ll be utterly astonished by the impact it can have on folks. Try it.
Confess a sin or two. After all, everyone knows you’re a sinner. Eliminate the speculation over how you sin — just tell them. It’s freeing for people to hear their pastor is a sinner who is navigating his own sanctification, just as they are.
When you go to tell an encouraging personal story, make someone else the hero. Give greater honor to less public people (1 Corinthians 12: 23-24). Honor the lay leaders for their sacrificial service. Talk about how they embody certain gospel values. Make it clear to others that you see their service and sacrifice and you consider them the heroes, not you.
Most importantly, leave people thinking about the real Hero of the Bible. There’s a story about a man who wanted to visit the churches of two famous preachers on the same day — the celebrated Dr. Jones, & a far less-educated chap named Charles Spurgeon. It was a memorable Sunday. When describing the two preachers for his wife, he wrote, “Dr. Jones is certainly a great preacher, but Mr. Spurgeon has a great Savior.”
The best preaching makes Jesus the hero.
Join us in our final post as we discover how Jesus helps humble preachers navigate the rapids of misguided humor and our feedback-fears.
More posts on preaching...