Tag Archives: Preaching
I have often heard of preachers who, it was said, never kept their sermons. They would throw them out after each presentation for the purpose of then being forced to put new material together on a given topic or text each time they spoke. While there can be value in such an approach, and there is certainly value in the reason behind it, allow me to give the reason why I have never thrown away my sermons.
I began preaching full-time at the age of 21. Even though I had been speaking for a number of years already and spent 3 years in preaching school, I was by no means polished and complete as a preacher (as a side note, I’m still not). As a general rule, I have always tried to write my own sermons. While I will on occasion take titles, ideas, and such from other sources, I work hard to ensure that the style and presentation of the substance is my own.
In spite of that fact, I can honestly say that it is rare for me to preach the same sermon more than once. I will, from time to time, take a sermon I have prepared for an event elsewhere and preach it here at my home congregation. I will also occasionally take an old sermon, repurpose and retool it, and preach it again a few years after the first occasion. However, by the time I am done with it you would hardly recognize it side-by-side with the original.
So, why keep all of my sermons and articles? One main reason: evidence of growth.
For a preacher, sometimes the evidence for whether we are growing the way we should is hard to come by (at least for me). We see the growth in our families, fellow preachers, and brethren in our congregations. However, even though we study constantly, it is sometimes very difficult to measure our own personal growth in areas like preparation, presentation, style, and use of substance. Brethren can see, to some degree, the growth of the preacher in his grasp of the Scriptures. However, there are not many who will approach you at the back of the building and state, “I just want you to know that your ability to exegete and communicate the Scriptures has improved exponentially over the last _____ years!”
That is why I keep my sermons. There are many of my sermons from years gone by that I would not preach today. It is not because there is anything doctrinally amiss in them, but because I would approach those same topics/passages very differently today than I did then. Understanding in various aspects of Scripture has grown, and the style with which those things are presented has evolved over time.
Sometimes there are sermons I pull out and cringe over the approach that was taken, or the argument that was made from a passage that really did not support it. But that is actually a positive, not a negative. It shows that over time the efforts to continue to grow and develop have been fruitful.
It is for this reason that I would encourage you to keep your work. Whether you are a preacher, Bible class teacher, or just a student of the Bible who writes notes, articles, and food for thought from the Scriptures. As time goes by you have something tangible to which you can turn to see where you have been and how far you have come.
Are we growing as we should? Have we taken the time to check?
In First Corinthians 1:17-29 the apostle Paul writes about the preaching of the Gospel. Four times in those verses he uses the word “foolishness” in regard to its proclamation and message. The word translated as “foolishness” comes from the Greek term moria, meaning: “stupid, foolish, nonsense.” Paul states throughout this text that the world considers the preaching of the Gospel to be “stupid.”
That being the case, it is easy to see why people in the world might consider my chosen profession as the stupidest job on earth. I spend my days and weeks preaching and teaching the doctrines of a man some call a myth, a legend, or a hoax. I actually stand up in public and talk about a man being raised from the dead and expect people to believe it. I live my life in devotion to a Being I cannot see, have never heard with my own ears, who lives in a place to which I have never been.
On top of that, I work in a profession that is the earthly definition of a “dead-end job.” I do not spend my Sundays preaching to the richest and most powerful people in the world. I spend every day working with those who are common people, struggling to make it through each day, week, month, and year. There is no view toward advancement in my profession, for there is no ladder of success. The level I am at now, at the age of 31, is the greatest level I will ever attain. There are no promotions to be had, only more of the same though the places may, at times, change. I do not have retirement accounts, insurance, much of a savings account, a new car, new house, or new much of anything else; and the amount of possessions I currently have are likely to be about all I will ever have. To the world’s view, I am voluntarily working the stupidest job on earth.
Fortunately, that’s only one side of the picture. Paul would also talk about that same Gospel that, to those that are lost, is stupid being that which, to the saved, “is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18; Rom. 1:16). You see, by obedience to the Gospel and the profession I have chosen, I have the opportunity to tell the greatest true story ever told. I get to help people see the unseen, hear that which they’ve never heard, and glimpse a very real place that their physical eyes will never behold. I may not have insurance, but I have assurance (2 Tim. 1:12); I may have no retirement on earth, but I have the greatest retirement home man has ever seen awaiting me in Heaven (John 14:1-3); I have little savings, yet I hold the greatest treasure (Mat. 6:19-21); and though few on this earth may ever know my name, the greatest Being in existence knows me by name (Luke 12:28-30).
May God continue to bless those who preach and teach his word and through belief and obedience accept his salvation. Paul concluded his thought by writing: “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'” (1 Cor. 1:30-31). To God be the glory.
At the very outset, I must admit that today’s thoughts were spurred by my own musings after reading the very humble article written this morning by a preacher friend of mine that can be found here. It caused me to evaluate my own work and also the things I have seen in many of the preachers that I have observed and to which I have talked over the years. Consider 5 of the greatest dangers preachers face in their everyday work.
Pride. If you have preached for very long you have felt the heightened sense of worth that comes when everyone is talking about how good the sermon was that you preached last Sunday, or you get rave reviews for the article you posted last week. Every preacher likes having people appreciate his work. Every preacher likes to know that the things he is presenting are useful and are impacting the lives of others. However, there is always the danger present that preachers will begin preaching and writing so that they will receive those accolades. It is sometimes easy to forget we are simply hired hands on the farm of the Lord (Luke 8:4-15; 1 Cor. 3:6-9), not the sole proprietors of our own fields. Therefore, when all is going well: when people are being converted, returning to the Lord, and lauding us for our efforts, we must remain rooted in the understanding of who and what we are. Lest we begin to preach and teach with those reactions as our focus and fail to preach the whole counsel of God.
Frustration. On the opposite end of the spectrum from pride is this great danger. As great of a danger as the high side of preaching is, the low side can be equally as deadly. Just about every preacher I know has admitted, at one time or another, to having felt the Elijah complex (1 Kin. 19:10). It is easy to feel that way when one has spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how to help people and guide them into truth by the preaching and teaching of the Gospel, only to have them wholly reject it. Often those rejections come with false statements about the preacher’s love, care, concern, or others aspects of his life personally or professionally. It is in these moments when some preachers give up, deciding they cannot wage the battles and looking elsewhere. However, an analysis of the prophets reminds us that, though most men may turn from truth, God’s preachers are never alone. He is always with them, and there are always others that are striving for the same thing and struggling through the same issues. Preachers must remember that our job is always to be consistent in preaching the Word (2 Tim. 4:2). The highs and lows will come and we must be prepared to deal with them (Mat. 10:11-14).
Laziness. Preachers have often been told (sometimes with sincerity, other times in jest) that the preacher only works one day per week. Anyone who has lived the life of a preacher or has spent time close to a preacher of the Gospel knows how fallacious that statement is. In fact, it is probably a good thing for most congregations that preachers do not get paid by the hour, because the clock never stops at 40. Even so, laziness is a great danger for preachers. Not a laziness born of not putting in the hours, but of not utilizing the hours well. It can be very tempting for preachers who have 4, 5, or 6 teaching and preaching engagements each week to begin to rely on the work of others instead of their own studies. With the volume of commentaries out there, some preachers take the easy road and simply quote from one after another. Never actually taking the time to do the work to make the knowledge their own, but rehashing what another has said. This is highly dangerous when said commentators take positions indefensible by Scripture, but the unprepared preacher has presented said teaching without a second thought.
An additional danger in this realm is the laziness of staying within the congregation. The complacency of having a good dispersal of members in all age groups, and trying to fulfill expectations within the congregation, keeps some preachers from ever truly venturing out with the Gospel to those in the community. If we are not careful, we can spend all our time preaching to those who already believe the truth and fail to put the Gospel in the hands of the lost.
Always talking and never listening. When someone makes their living speaking to others, sometimes it is difficult to be the one to do the listening. Preachers have to be careful not to jump to conclusions when someone comes to them with a problem, or to automatically lump people into categories because they have “one size fits all” answers to many issues. Every person is different, with different styles of learning, life histories, and needs of understanding and help. The only way the preacher can truly assist anyone is by learning how to actually listen to what is being said, not what they thought they were going to hear.
This also holds true in the realm of listening to others preach or teach. It is easy for preachers to sit and listen to another, spending the whole time thinking about what they would say, how they would approach the topic, or what verses they would utilize in making a point. In doing so, they never learn anything new, but only reiterate in their own minds what they already feel they know or those things in which they already feel competent. This keeps the preacher from growing and can lead to his spiritual demise if it is not remedied.
Arrogance. Sometimes it is easy for us as preachers to get into the mode of preaching to “you sinners” and leaving ourselves out of the equation. As preachers, we are not greater than those around us. We are flawed, face temptations and struggles, and need help on a regular basis. Additionally, there are sometimes things that, with all of our studies and efforts, we have overlooked; and some kind brother or sister makes a statement or asks a question that brings that to light. When we should be honest and grateful, sometimes we can arrogantly look down on others, their knowledge and their flaws, while we try to keep ours in the shadows. The condescension that breeds is ungodly and sinful. As preachers of the Gospel, we are to be humble and willing to confess our faults (Jam. 5:16). If I struggle in an area, I need to be honest enough to help the congregation see that these things affect all of us, not just them. It does not mean I need to present a personal saga before the congregation, but I should never be excluding myself from the application of principles of Scripture either. The congregation knows and sees my flaws and short-comings, it goes a long way toward my reputation with them, and my relationship with God, if they see that I know it and am working on it as well.
These things are not written to bash preachers, but to remind us to be aware of the dangers we face and to be cautious of our actions and responses; for above all we answer to God for all that we do (2 Cor. 5:10; Jam. 3:1). I also recognize that many who will read this are not preachers, but are ones who have family and close friends that do take on that noble task. I want you to know the challenges they face; be there to help, encourage, and strengthen them; and sometimes give them the proverbial swift kick in the pants. May God bless you as you proclaim his word, and hold up the hands of those that do the same.
“I crossed the world to tell lost souls
About the greatest of all goals.
To preach the message of Christ the Lord,
To help their lives to his example mold.
I spent my days in diligent study,
To ensure God’s Word I did not muddy.
Because I wanted to say what was right
I studied intently both day and night.
When I was not studying and preaching God’s Word
I was spending time caring for the people of the Lord.
Doing my best to see to their needs,
Never wanting others to question my deeds.
Sadly, there was one thing I forgot,
Though at the time it did not seem a possible plot.
For in all of my efforts to lead others to life,
I failed to remember my kids and my wife.
And now as I look back over the years,
I have found the pain of the preacher’s greatest fear.
That in my zeal to proclaim God’s Word,
I failed to keep my family with the Lord.”
Preachers face many challeges in life,
For there is always another question or strife.
But we must not forget in the midst of the war
That saving our families is our primary chore.
Lord, help me always to make time for my wife,
To train my kids and prepare them for life,
To lead them down the narrow way,
And not give them excuse to depart from the way.
Preachers must be mindful of the struggles of time on a daily basis. Let us keep our priorities straight, for there is no excuse for one ignoring the souls of one’s family.
In our culture, we are used to hearing cries of discrimination in all facets and venues of life. It does not seem to matter what supposed wrong has occurred, someone is going to blast the horn of discrimination somewhere along the way. It has gotten to the point that I am not even sure we understand what the word means anymore.
Webster defines it as, “To distinguish; to observe the difference between; to separate; to select from others; to make a distinction between; to mark with notes of difference.” Therefore, discrimination is to make a distinction, or to distinguish (rightly or wrongly) between various things. We often view it from a negative perspective and such it often times can be. It is also the case that sometimes it is present without intent because it has not been considered appropriately.
There is an area religiously where I believe this holds true, and it is in the approaches of preachers when it comes to genders. I have often seen it be the case that preachers will preach on topics of need and interest, but will direct the studies, in large part or whole, toward a single gender. Consider some areas where I believe preachers often show gender discrimination in preaching.
Gender Discrimination against Women
Modesty. It has often been the case that when sermons are preached on the topic of modesty most, if not all, of the lesson is geared toward the women. While it is true that women need to hear and understand the impact their modesty, or lack thereof, has on the men around them, not to mention their own personal relationship with God, such should not be done to the exclusion of the men. Men need to learn the lessons of modesty as much as women. Whether it regards shirtless exposure of the upper body in public, pants hanging halfway down the rear end, or the shirt that is so short that every time a man bends over he exposes himself to those behind him: men need to understand the importance and necessity of modesty. God clothed both Adam and Eve after their sin in the garden (Gen. 3:21), obviously they both needed the lesson on how to dress. The preacher’s refusal or neglect to do so is unduly singling out the women to the neglect of the men.
Submission. Men are quick to point out the necessity of submission by their wives. Preachers have often emphasized, and correctly so, the importance of the godly wife’s submission to her husband as the head of the household (Eph.5:23). But what is often left unsaid is that the husband has the same level of responsibility to submit to Christ (1 Cor. 11:3). Therefore, the man has an equal role of submission to the laws and ordinances of his Lord as the woman does to the leadership of the man. This includes maintaining both physical and spiritual headship in the home (Gen. 18:19), submitting to the responsibilities of training and teaching his children (Eph. 6:4), and taking upon his shoulders the responsibility of provider for the family (Gen. 3:17-19; 1 Tim. 5:8). Submission is a topic that needs to be preached to men just as much as women, let us not discriminate.
Gender Discrimination against Men
Sexual sin. We live in a sex-crazed society. The sexual warfare being waged against our families involves women just as much as men, but often times the preaching on such issues is geared solely toward the men. We preach to men about adultery, yet I know of almost as many Christian wives who have cheated on their husbands as the reverse; and many is the occasion that a Christian man has cheated on his spouse with a Christian woman. We harp on David for committing adultery, yet we rarely ever focus on the married woman with him who cheated on her husband (2 Sam. 11:1-4). The dangers and temptations of adultery go both ways.
In like manner, we preach to men on the dangers of pornography. The dangers are undeniably vast and the effects grievous on the family and the church. Unfortunately, preachers have often portrayed men as the only observers of pornography, which is statistically false, and have absolutely ignored the steamy romance novels and soap operas that have been similar bait geared toward women for decades. These avenues can cause just as much “mental adultery” and are just as harmful to the soul and the marriage. Preachers need to be sure they preach about the sexual pitfalls for both men and women, not simply approach one side.
Work and Family. We live in a society with a large percentage of “deadbeat dads.” Men who are more than happy to direct their lives however they please with no thought or consideration for their families. But let’s be honest, our society has a lot of “deadbeat moms” too. There are many mothers who are far more enamored with the careers of the world than the responsibilities of the home. They would rather have the 30k in the bank instead of the 30 hours with the family. They would rather be out with the girls than home with their husbands, and they would rather be successful by society’s standards than faithful by God’s. Preachers need to be as honest and fair about the responsibilities of the mother in the home as they are the father. For too long, preachers have been trying to defend the woman’s right to work in the world instead of the woman’s right to work in the home (Tit 2:5). God’s standard will not allow us to call on dads to fulfill their responsibilities and neglect the requirements for mom.
Preachers have an amazingly difficult responsibility: to faithfully proclaim the whole counsel of God for all people everywhere. It is easy to get caught up in categories, to look at the statistics of the day, and to speak only to those to whom the topic “most applies.” Such an approach is not good enough. We cannot discriminate and fulfill our responsibilities. Let us speak the oracles of God, teach the precepts of righteousness, and present God’s Word for everyone.
It never ceases to amaze me to see the attitudes of some people, and even some preachers, when it comes to an understanding of the purpose of preaching. There are those who seem to believe the preacher is nothing more than a “religious entertainer,” whose main purpose is to tell enough jokes from the pulpit that the people will feel jovial as they leave. Others find the preacher to be a paid storyteller, his main purpose is to tell stories that the majority of the people will relate to that they might leave content with their own lives.
Amidst all these opinions on the purpose of preaching, the Bible lays forth, very plainly, what God considers to be the true purpose of preaching. In Nehemiah 8 the people have come together upon concluding their rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem. They request that the book of the Law be brought before them by Ezra and read before the congregation. It is then we read, “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:8). This single sentence describes, in a very complete sense, the purpose of preaching as God defines it. The purpose is threefold.
Read from the law of God. The focus of preaching should come from the Word of God. If God’s Law is not read, then it is impossible for biblical preaching to have occurred. There is no adequate substitute in the pulpit for the Word of God. Some preachers use flashy thoughts, funny stories, and interesting tidbits as the center of their lessons, and then put a couple of Scriptures around those points so as to have a “spiritual application.” That may be motivational speaking, but it is not preaching. Preaching is using God’s Word as the center of any lesson presented and using the thoughts, stories, and tidbits as a means to bring understanding of what was read to the audience. The speaker must present God’s Word distinctly, meaning to declare clearly or distinguish, not cover it up so an individual cannot find God’s Word in the midst of all the other chatter.
Give the sense of it. The word translated “sense” means, “insight and understanding.” To simply read the Scriptures is not sufficient. The preacher must have a working understanding of what he is reading. Adequate time and preparation must be given to ensure, not only the reading of the appropriate Scripture, but the ability of the speaker to give the sense of it to the congregation as well. If the preacher does not know, or is unsure of the way a passage of Scripture is appropriately used, he should refrain from using it until his understanding is adequately improved. Many problems have arisen over the years by preachers speaking about passages they don’t understand, because they have not studied them properly, and then making applications that misuse the passage in question and take it out of its context. Philip’s question: “Understandest thou what thou readest” (Acts 8:30), should be a question every preacher examines in his own mind before using a Scripture in a sermon.
Cause them to understand it. The most well-prepared and ingenious sermon ever proclaimed can be found to be utterly worthless if those listening do not understand what is stated. All the education a man can obtain is useless in preaching if he cannot convey to the listeners an understanding of the Scripture under consideration. For this exact reason, Paul did not come before the Corinthians with excellent speeches, but preaching only Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2:1‑2). The understanding of the hearer is just as important as the understanding of the speaker.
The purpose of preaching is very simple: read it, know it, and cause others to understand it. Preaching is the most powerful tool in spreading the Gospel, but it must be used properly. True Bible preaching will never be mistaken for a “social club” talk, but will evince itself by the preparation and communication of the speaker.
Paul told Timothy, “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:4-8). He admonishes Timothy to ensure that he is keeping his focus on what is important and not swerving into contentions of no value.
The term translated in the KJV “vain jangling” comes from the Greek word mataiologia meaning “empty talking.” Paul talks about these empty talkers in verse seven when he writes that they want to be teachers of the law, but do not know what they are talking about. These are individuals who want to speak with authority in giving the interpretation of the Scriptures, but they have not studied them and do not know what they mean. Unfortunately, there are many “empty talkers” in the world today, and more than a few in the church. Individuals who want to be the authority on principles and lessons pertaining to the Scriptures, but have never put in the effort to study them and understand what they mean. Instead, they simply interpret them however they feel sounds good, or however someone else told them it should be interpreted. Some preachers fall into this pitfall when they simply recount what someone else wrote or said about a passage instead of studying it for themselves. They state it as a matter of authority when oftentimes it is nothing more than empty talking because they don’t know whether their words are true or not, but they profess them because someone they trust said it.
Paul does not ridicule the empty talker’s intelligence or say that they are too simple to understand the Scriptures. He does, however, put a stipulation on an individual’s ability to understand the Scriptures. He says that the law must be handled lawfully (properly). It is much the same as the admonition in 2 Timothy 2:15 to rightly divide the word of truth.
Anyone can understand the Scriptures; they were given for that very purpose. But in order to do so, one must use them correctly. The approach of the Bereans (Acts 17:11) in searching the Scriptures daily is necessary to using it lawfully. It is also necessary that an individual approach the Scriptures with the desire to learn and understand, not to simply find controversies or areas that we can use to look and sound knowledgeable; but with a desire to know what God has said that we may do it. The Bible is its own best interpreter. If one wants to know what God said and what he meant by it, one must first go to the source itself for the answer.
We must discourage the practice of “empty talking” in the church. Preachers and teachers need to study the things that they teach with such authority for themselves out of the Scriptures, not relying on what Brother So-and-so said about it. Because as scholarly as Brother So-and-so was, he could be wrong, seeing he is but a fallible man. Preachers and teachers then need to be adamant about the necessity of listeners not taking their word for things, but studying them for themselves that they may understand them fully. Many of the problems with understanding the Scriptures in congregations could be alleviated if we would simply get rid of empty talking. Nevertheless, may we work diligently to present God’s Word with knowledge and conviction, studying and meditating upon it daily “that thy profiting may appear to all” (1 Tim. 4:15).