Topical. Expositional. Textual. Devotional. Long. Short. Loud. Quiet. Humorous. Sobering. Exciting. Thought-Provoking. Encouraging. Convicting. Informational. Inspirational.
I have heard and been helped by messages that could be described by each of these adjectives. I believe that God can use many types of preachers and many different personalities, but the content of our messages says a lot about us and where we believe the life-changing power of preaching emanates from.
So, what does your preaching say about you?
Your preaching reveals what you believe to be the source of power in your hearer’s lives.
In my 31 years as a Christian, I have observed basically two main sources of “power” that preachers depend upon in their preaching: Self or Scripture.
If we use a Bible verse or passage at the beginning of our message as a springboard into a 35-minute spiritual Ted Talk or motivational speech or parental lecture, never referencing our text again, we have revealed that we believe our observations, our opinions, and our experiences have more life-changing power than the Word of God. If we never give the context of the passage, explaining and expositing the truths as God originally intended that passage when He divinely inspired it, we are guilty of manipulating Scripture for our own purposes and agendas. And, may I remind us that God does not take lightly those who would twist His Words in His Name.
If God has given you a good sense of humor, I believe it can be a great tool to connect and relate with your audience. However, if the highlight of your message is the jokes that you tell, God’s people have been deprived of the life-giving truth they need and deserve. I am thankful for the power of personal illustrations and relevant application of a Bible truth, but if people leave remembering more about you and your stories than they do God and His story, we have missed the mark in rightly dividing the Word of Truth. Be yourself, but don’t impose yourself into the text. Let God and His Word speak loudly and clearly every time you stand to preach! If people learn more about current events, American politics, and church history than they do the timeless truths of Scripture, we are mismanaging our God-given pastoral authority.
Preacher, may we constantly remind ourselves that it is the Word of God that is “quick and powerful!” It is not our experiences, our philosophies, our traditions, our preferences, or our oratory skills (praise God for that!). God’s Word delivered by God’s man in the power of God’s Spirit is what will truly and eternally change lives!
A man-centered sermon may manipulate and modify behavior for a season. A Christ-centered sermon can transform a heart for a lifetime.
So, what does your preaching say about you? What does my preaching say about me? Are we depending upon our strength or the power of the Word of God? Are we regularly teaching and preaching God’s Word in a systematic and contextual way so that Christians can grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord? Are we truly preaching the whole counsel of God? Or, are we deciding what “our” people need and crafting sermons to “fix their problems” and “meet their needs?” I once had an older preacher tell me that his mentor taught him that every message should be derived from a list of 20 topics. Then, the pastor should look at that list each week to decide what the people need and find a passage to preach on that topic. Oh, what a sad, limited view of the power and scope and sufficiency of Scripture.
God knows what His people (they aren’t our people) need far better than we ever could. Preach His Word and let His Word fix their problems, heal their hurts, and meet their needs! Let God’s Word loose in your church and watch what God does with it! As Charles Spurgeon said, “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.” God’s people don’t need us to meet their needs. They need us to introduce them to the only One who can truly meet their needs!
We would all say that we believe Scripture to be the source of power in our preaching. If we were honest, does the content of our messages match the confession of our mouths that Scripture is sufficient to encourage, equip, challenge, convict, and change the lives of those we preach to?
May our pulpits be filled with more Scripture; may our churches be filled with more prayer; and may our ministries be marked by less self. To the extent that these statements become reality, we will sense the power of God in greater measure.
I recently heard Kenny Baldwin preach a message a Baptist pastor’s fellowship. He so wisely said:
“We need to get rid of preaching that is based on opinion and not based on Scripture. If you don’t have Bible for it, you need to keep it to yourself. Our young people need to learn more about the Word of God than they do about our pet peeves, our personal preferences, and what we think about something. There’s enough Bible to preach until Jesus comes back. Too many people have been destroyed by men of God who will use the office and the pulpit to push agendas instead of preach the Word!”
May I encourage each of us to recommit ourselves to truly and humbly preaching the Word! It is enough.
Ryan Thompson has served in vocational ministry since 2000. In 2015, he became the lead pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Newport Beach, California.