You can stand up on Sunday in the pulpit and deliver a marvelous message. It can have a captivating introduction, an easy to follow format, and be delivered with ease and candor. It can have a few funny tales thrown in to lighten the mood, and a few powerful moments to drive home a point. It can be the right length. It can be on a topic that resonates with your congregation. And it can garner many warm handshakes and smiles afterward in response.
All that can be true of your message—and yet it may contain no biblical content whatsoever. Time and again you can observe preaching in today’s culture that more resembles a keynote speech at the Rotary Club than a biblical sermon. Pack with platitudes and ear-tickling wit, a sermon can be no more than an empty shell of words with nothing God-centered to stand on.
When I worked in the marketplace I became familiar with something called “Corporate-speak”. Salesmen and managers, not having anything of real value to say, would glaze over in meetings and begin to expound on “leveraging our strategic advantages to capture market share, seeing to the action items so our deliverables will be fast tracked by a key enabler. And don’t forget to own those major metrics and think outside the box on resources, so the team can add value.” Does anyone have a shovel?
Well, there’s church-speak as well. It’s more flourish-filled and interesting, but just as vaporous nonetheless. Let me suggest four areas of caution as you prepare to preach, where good content may actually be harmful to God’s message.
Good examples. Stories are a central part of many sermons. When you use an example, ask, “What Bible principle or key point from God’s Word am I illustrating with this?” An example must lead the listener to a point where he or she will be asked to emulate or avoid, based on the story. A story that does not engage the listener as an opportunity to adjust lifestyle is often useless. Even an introductory story must have something for the listener to apply to their own life. In your examples, what could you teach that, if emulated, would lead to growing tremendously Christ-like believers?
Good advice. When it comes to money, you’ve probably heard, “Give a tithe, save another 10% and live off the other 80%.” That’s good advice, and most financiers would say it’s sound fiscal thinking. Problem is, it just is not biblical. In the New Testament we see the early church as a tremendously generous group, giving beyond the tithe and sharing their possessions with all who had need. Jesus Himself told at least one person to sell everything they had and follow Him. There’s no teaching given that this thinking is to be the exception, versus the rule. We have only assumed so.
The problem with good advice is that it often requires nothing of Christ in our lives to accomplish. Living on 80% of what we live in the richest country on earth is frankly not all that challenging, for instance. Preaching should inspire the congregation to actions that are Christ-centered and God-honoring. Sometimes, these actions will go against what the world would consider to be good advice. Be careful you don’t suggest actions or attitudes that have no basis in Scripture. Instead of good advice, think of challenging advice. What could you teach that would really challenge your people toward God?
Good ideas. The modern church is littered with ideas that well-intentioned leaders have thought up, gotten organized, announced to their churches, and then, finally at the end of the process, asked God to bless them. We are always tempted to do in ministry anything except for the central things that Jesus told us to do. Before putting out that wild, audacious, out of the box idea, ask yourself, “Are we doing first the foundational things of Christ? Are we making disciples? Are we unified? Are we giving and sharing the Gospel?” Remember, God promises to bless His plans and His commands. He does not promise to bless our motives, no matter how good they may be. Does your idea help you accomplish what Jesus has told the church to do?
Good results. Finally, preaching can be filled with the idea that coming to Christ or living in Christ will result in personal peace and prosperity. Certainly, in a spiritual sense this is true. However, in the Bible we see many who came to Christ were abused, outcast, tortured and killed. In 2010, nearly 200 million believers worldwide did not have basic human rights. According to the United Nations, approximately 25 Christians a day are killed outright because of their beliefs. That’s today’s world. Of course, saying, “Following Christ could result in persecution, torture or even death” is not something that looks good on the church brochure. So we usually present life in Christ as better, versus challenging. In your teaching, are you promising prosperous results that God’s Word does not promise?
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.