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« Hand in Hand: Going deeper in your relationship with Jesus Christ | Main | The New Ten Commandments »

Before You Preach That Sermon

The unrelenting pressure for fresh ideas, powerful thoughts and effective ways to communicate the gospel consumes the preacher’s life.  Only those in the creative professions understand how formidable the task of continually reinventing one’s self can be.  In delivering two or three sermons or Bible lessons every week, the outflow of information often exceeds the inflow of inspiration.  This quest becomes especially challenging when a preacher already suffers from a sense of ineffectiveness. 

At this point, a radical departure from the norm gets very tempting.  Something shocking or innovative seems like a great way to inject pizzazz into a potentially boring sermon.  Beware!  The result may be far different than anticipated.  It may be unwise, troubling, or even disastrous.  Before succumbing to preaching a troublesome message due to the pressure of a deadline, the desperate desire to break out of a rut, or an attempt to provoke, ask yourself these questions:

Are you undermining your own belief system?  At the risk of oversimplification, our Apostolic message is based on the broad outlines of the exposition of scriptural truth, the proclamation of the Gospel and the obedience of the faith.  If you preach a message that contradicts these general themes, you could find yourself in an untenable position.  Strict Calvinism, for example, profoundly affects the proclamation of the Gospel.  Generally speaking, that doctrine holds that each person is predestined to be saved or lost.  This eliminates personal choice and free moral agency, and thus has fundamental implications for missionary work and a passion for the lost.  Mormons believe that those who have died can still be saved if someone will be baptized for them by proxy, even hundreds of years after he or she has passed away.  Don’t preach a message so radical that it can be turned on its head to defeat the very purpose for preaching it in the first place. 

Can you defend it scripturally?  The Apostle Paul taught Timothy to “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15.  Many phrases or axioms found in human dialogue sound pleasing to the carnal mind, i.e. “To thine own self be true,” or “live and let live.”  Yet, a close study of the scriptures reveal such sayings to be diametrically opposed to the Bible.  Do not impose your ideas on the Scripture; rather, impose the Scriptures on your ideas.  A message that cannot be defended by the Scriptures will come back to haunt you.

Is it based on an apocryphal account or a specious story?  Recently, a young boy who spun a fantastic story about a near death experience later confessed that he made it all up.  It was probably too late for some who immediately jumped on the phony account to spice up a sermon.  If you use an illustration that turns out to be false, it makes your entire premise suspect, and makes you a liar in the minds of some.  When a story comes down the pike that sounds too good to be true…well, you know!  At the very least, it deserves to be vetted before it finds its way into your last minute sermon prep.

Is it offensive?  Too many preachers ignore their internal editing system and unleash statements or references that insult or offend the very people they are trying to reach.  Calling out denominations by name, referring to specific events that are sensitive or embarrassing to individuals or groups, or airing political views in a context that is inappropriate threatens to bring down unmitigated disaster on a preacher’s message, or, worse, his or her entire ministry.  If confrontation is necessary, do it in a way that causes the least amount of harm.  A sermon is not the place for such an action.

Does it require a dubious or illogical interpretation of a scripture?  In the four hundred years that have elapsed from the King James Bible to our times, the English language has undergone tremendous change.  Many words have passed out of usage, and many terms have new meanings that are nearly opposite of their 1611 version.  We must not confuse people by playing with the language because it sounds like a cool twist of phraseology.  If you are uncertain how a scripture should be interpreted, do further research or call up a knowledgeable theologian to get clarification.  Again, to go forward with a questionable interpretation of the text undermines your credibility.

Are you preaching it only for an emotional effect?  Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost.  He also told Peter to “feed my sheep.”  These purposes remain the core motivation behind all sermons.   Any use of the pulpit that ventures outside of these basic parameters is ministerial malpractice.  Comic relief, melodramatic monologues, advancing a personal agenda or an attempt to influence an audience for political reasons actually corrupt the pulpit. 

Preacher, to mount the pulpit and expound on the sacred text of the Scriptures is laden with eternal consequences.  It is not in your purview to distort, take lightly, toy with or otherwise subvert the privilege you have to preach to human beings with souls that will live forever.  The Bible is not Wikipedia.  You cannot devise your own message—whether arbitrarily or in collaboration with others—that does not have the edification of souls as its sole reason for delivering it. 

The Apostle Paul’s concise statement is conclusive:  “Preach the Word!”




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