Five Dangerous Trends in Preaching
1. Rejection of Expository Preaching
When interviewed by Ed Stetzer in 2009, Andy Stanley made a very significant remark in terms of contemporary preaching philosophy. It was an astonishing statement that would certainly bring a deserved amount of attention in the evangelical circles. When asked “What do you think about preaching verse-by-verse messages through books of the Bible?,” Andy Stanley bluntly replied, “Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that.”
The belief that expository preaching is not biblical preaching, is not only causing confusion among preachers, but most importantly developing a spiritual “anorexia” that provokes unhealthy church growth, or no growth at all. At times, there is apparent church growth, however, is merely measured numerically, as if more people means positive results. This thinking process is wrapped around pragmatism and the philosophy that the “end justifies the means.” Andy Stanley declares that preaching verse by verse “is not how you grow people.” I assume that by that statement, he means spiritual type of growth. However, therein lays the central issue. It is not only through Scripture that people can grow spiritually, but most importantly it is only through a clear presentation, interpretation, and application of Scripture that unregenerate souls can be born again.
Expository preaching is not merely the preaching of verse by verse alone, this is only a small fraction of its practical definition. Genuine expository preaching is the method by which the original meaning of the message is interpreted grammatically, historically, and literally, and then contextually applied to the current audience in such a way that the original intent of the author is clearly understood by the contemporary audience. Therefore, let me encourage to examine your preaching style. Inadvertently, you may be doing what Stanley criticizes, namely, just preaching verse by verse, but without true interpretation, passionate deliverance and theological depth.
2. Rejection of Traditional Preaching
In a world where big tech companies push a yearly update of their flagship devices, outdoing themselves with bigger, better, and faster than last year’s model, there is a permeating philosophy of customizing everything for the customer current needs. All of the sudden, past market trends are obsoletes or become merely historical data, and new market research or focus groups tests are performed all over again. While this consumeristic mentality is damaging in so many levels, it does not even compare to the danger that it presents when it infiltrates church, particularly in the area of preaching.
There is a constant push for “upgrading” preaching. Dr. Lloyd-Jones asked, “What is preaching? Preaching is proclamation; it is the powerful presentation of the great message of the Bible with great power. The need is not for more information, but inspiration.” There is indeed a modern trend of rejecting traditional preaching in terms with its most elemental characteristic: the passionate proclamation of God’s truths despite generational views on the eternal Truth.
Traditional preaching is not traditional because it is old, or antiquated. Traditional preaching is traditional because it conforms itself to the biblical interpretation of preaching understood by the early church and well followed by the church fathers. The message is definite, clear, eternal, divine, and perfect. There are not to be any alterations to the content even if it was done for the right motives. The preacher, however, can and must be refined. He is nothing else but the messenger. His imperfections and his sinful nature at times prove to be an obstacle for the accurate proclamation of the Word. The clear communication of such truths should be the chief goal of the preacher, and he must be willing and able to have a process of honing his communication skills in such a away that his impurities do not affect the purity of the Word. This, nonetheless, has nothing to do with adjusting his message to the current trends, or contextualizing his preaching to the modern generations. God’s Truth is immortal and therefore unaffected by the passing of the centuries.
3. Rejection of Preaching Theologically
Preaching without theology is not preaching but mere moral chanting. In that case, preaching becomes a religious exercise that is well intentioned, but spiritually empty, morally uplifting but divinely voided, ethically correct but utterly incapable of changing lives. Preaching theologically is the most basic prerequisite of preaching. Preaching is not the telling about God, preaching is the telling of who God is and what His will is for this current generation in all matters of life. There is a clear trend in current evangelicalism that is pushing for a “simpler” preaching style, that is more comprehensible and less complex, that is more applicable and less informative, and that is more likable and less divisive.
However, preachers need to understand that spiritual apathy is not caused by an excess of doctrine, but precisely by the lack of it. Christian theology indeed is not only necessary for preaching, but also vital for spiritual life! Therefore, limiting theology in preaching will not only hinder spiritual growth but will stall evangelistic power for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. There are some who think that preaching is boring when is theological. However, if preaching is indeed boring is due to lack of preparation, skill, or passionate delivery from the preacher, not due to excess of theology in a sermon. Of course that does not mena that sermons should be too technical unnecessarily scholarly— that must be avoided at all cost!
However, advocates of preaching with less theology are not concerned with being too technical, they are concerned with not being tagged as “too religious.” There is a passionate aspect of preaching that preachers need if they want to be effective preachers, but is not a binomial proposition of “one or the other,” but a set of interdependence of both passion with theology. Passionate preaching coupled with theological accuracy is the type of preaching that is real, effective, accomplishing, memorable, and used by God for His divine purposes. The church will not be successful in spite of theological preaching, but will be successful only because of theological preaching.
4. Rejection of Making Biblical Preaching the Central Element in Church
Carl Lentz is the pastor of Hillsong Church in Manhattan, NY. He is known as the “hipster pastor.” In an article by Carly Hoilman in The Blaze, she claims, “Carl Lentz is the prototypical Brooklyn hipster. With his scruffy beard, artsy tattoos and cuffed shirts, Lentz, 34, embodies the young, rebellious feel of New York City’s most populated borough.” She then adds, “Lentz, the newest pastor of Hillsong Church, merges the secular with the spiritual, incorporating references to pop culture and quips and slang. Considering his tactics, it’s no wonder the house of worship is reaching major success.”
There is a preaching-identity crisis of historical proportions in the evangelical world among millennial pastors. Unmistakably, this confusion is caused by the rejection of preaching as the central-most important element in church liturgy. Millennial pastors are particularly falling for this trend, and is revolutionizing the concept of “contemporary preaching.” There is a preaching adaptation taking place in pulpits all over the world, motivated, perhaps, by fair reasons but justified with terrible theology. These pastors are asking very specific questions. How close can I get to cultural trends in order to be successful in my church? How can I make my church less church-like?
For some it is the “looks” of the church, for others is the music used, and for the rest, as pastor Lentz illustrates, may be fashion and style. Whatever it may be, preaching becomes an element that is seen as a necessary evil, but pushed down to a much less priority level and transformed so that it looks less like preaching and more like a TED Talks. In these type of churches, the attractiveness of the church is a man-made, artificial environment that is almost surreal, comfortable, appealing, and designed to a very particular demographic group, usually younger adults, or as it is popularly known, millennials. However, the lasting damage that this approach is causing is of unmeasurable proportions. What millennials, baby-boomers, or generation X need is preaching— theological, accurate, detailed, faithful Bible preaching.
This is what Paul explains in 1 Thessalonians 2:3-6, “3 For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: 4 But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. 5 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: 6 Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.” The purpose of preaching, and of Christianity, is to proclaim the Gospel as given by God, not seeking to please men, but longing to please God.
This is precisely the opposite of what modern trends are suggesting. The preaching should please men first, so that it can please God second. Or even worse, it is really irrelevant wether or not God is pleased by a determined preaching style as long as people are pleased by it. In those shameful cases, it is not longer Bible preaching taking place, but moral oratory customized for a religious event. Preaching should be the central element in church liturgy. There is nothing else that could ever supplant the foundational building block that preaching represents. Biblical preaching is the call of pastors, the need for believers, the hope of the world, the means for salvation, the goal of ministry, and the vehicle for evangelism. Therefore, there is nothing that could possibly replace the value and effect of biblical preaching.
5. Obsession for Preaching “Practically”
In a sense, preaching should always be practical in order to obtain a desired effect—there is no question about that. Preaching that is not practical and therefore applicable, is not preaching but a lecture. While lectures may be necessary under certain circumstances, when you are preaching, application is not only helpful but also necessary. However, there is a trend that makes practical application the center of the sermon. It is an addiction problem at the bottom line. The more examples, illustrations, stories and applications made during a sermon, the higher the bar will be for next week’s sermon. Naturally, people will require more and more application in the sermon as the weeks go by, and will provoke a need for application instead of a desire for explanation.
There is a trend in modern evangelicalism that pushes for the so-called “how to’s” sermons. These type of sermons are practical in nature and applicational in form while little to nothing biblical exposition. They are intended to give the congregation quick guides to have a better and happier life. They normally have to do with encouraging the discouraged, strengthening the weak, lifting the fallen, feeding the hungry, helping the helpless, restoring the needy, or accepting the rejected ones. These are sermons that have some biblical emphasis without being biblically emphatic. These sermons are designed to help people understand their value, their position and their potential in Christ. They speak mostly of grace, mercy and forgiveness. While none of this is inherently unbiblical, there is an unbalanced diet in the amount of application. By attempting to help people quickly, people are given quick answers that are not meant to work separated from the rest of Scripture.
When you give your people the “five steps for a restored marriage,” they will surely benefit from that information greatly, but the comprehension of those principles will do little without the proper explanation of the doctrine of marriage found in Scripture, and the understanding of the institution of marriage, the Founder of marriage, the illustration of marriage in the church, and the responsibility of husband and wife in marriage. The clear explanation of doctrine is the required predecessor of accurate application in a sermon. Without proper explanation of a text, what is there to apply?
I pray that a generation of expositors may lift up the name of Christ in every sermon. That the obsession for numerical growth may be replaced by a genuine longing for spiritual maturity. I pray that Scriptures change our churches, and not that our churches would want to change Scriptures.
Josué Ortiz (MDiv. DMin.) serves as missionary to Mexico City. He is the founder of the Abundant Grace Baptist Church in Mexico City. He is a graduate of Pensacola Theological Seminary and The Master’s Seminary. He is married to Rebekah and together have three children.