Sunday, December 20, 2009

Seriousness in Preaching (updated)

Much preaching today is offhanded, informal, and filled with throw-way humor that is distracting and pointless. One should preach as "an oracle of God" and in God's strength (1 Peter 4:11). The congregation of needy souls is not there to be entertained. Therefore:

1. Never preach without an awareness of sin, the Cross, repentance, and the power of the Holy Spirit. I heard a sermon recently that mentioned none of them. It grieved me deeply.

2. Preach as if it were your last sermon. It might be. This is the way Stevie Ray Vaughn played the blues. There is an apt analogue.

3. Preach as if God were your ultimate and primary audience. God is.

4. Preach as if you were to hear your whole sermon again at the Last Judgment. You will.

5. Exhort, do not entertain. Do not fear biblical exhortation, which may be sharp and painful. On that, see the chapter on lukewarmness in Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Or, better, yet read Jesus' exhortation to the Church as Laodicia in Revelation 3.

6. Pray before, during, and after the sermon.

7. Preach the sermon to yourself before, during, and after you preach it to others.

8. Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable--from Scripture.

9. Beware of humor in preaching. In the US, as Jean Baudrillard said, the "laugh track is always on." Turn it off in the pulpit. Any humor should have a purpose, not be gratuitous, and not be in service of self. See A. W. Tozer's classic essay, "The Use and Abuse of Humor."

10. Ruthlessly eliminate all fluff, bovine excrement, and other extraneous matter from sermons. Distill it down to truth on fire. See Jeremiah 20:9.

11. Eliminate trivial references to popular culture, since they typically only debase the discourse.

One could go on, but that is enough to indict and convict most pulpits in the land of make believe. Can you add other principles?


Anonymous said...

Many more could be added to your list of 10. I suggest two more:

11. In the sermon make at least one relavent comment regarding at least one historical figure found in Church history, that has already died. Messages should be historically grounded, not planted in mid-air.

12. Suggest one good book, either recent or old, that could assist others in ongoing dialogue with the topic. Continuing passion for sermon topics should be encouraged.

pennoyer said...

Excellent principles. Here are two more:

* Sermons should generally be expository, or - failing that - the topics should be planned out for a whole year. Yes, you can always make changes in an emergency. But this will help to ensure you preach "the whole counsel of God" and do not get stuck going round and round on some kind of hobby horse.

* The redemption accomplished on the cross is so wide-ranging and rich, that rare indeed should be the sermon that does not explore or apply some fresh aspect of that redemption.


Jim Pemberton said...

You might make some explanation for #3. What could we preach to God as though he needed us to preach anything to him? Rather, we preach to men the truth that will resonate with the affirmation of the Holy Spirit in those who are so indwelt.

Here's two to add:

* We must preach with the goal to elucidate the truth of the scriptures in the lives of men. Otherwise we will obfuscate the truth of scriptures to the death of men.

* We must preach to positively influence the attitudes of men toward God beyond merely the behavior of men in this world lest build a culture of legalism instead of a desire for Christ and his righteousness.

Brent Christian said...

As Tim Keller has said, "If we are going to preach the gospel we must confront the idols of the heart." (my paraphrase)

We must first confront the idols of our own hearts (people pleasing, fear of man, lust for power, pride, love of comfort, etc) with the gospel, and then we will be prepared to confront the idols of the people God has entrusted to us.

I think if we skip confrontation of idols we will fall into an entertainment mentality and our worship will feel more like the Tonight Show then a time of humble transformative gospel-centered worship.

pennoyer said...

A late entry on preaching: The book Why Johnny Can't Preach: The Media have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon looks like it would be very valuable. See the review at