Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… One of the most important tasks Christian leaders are given is the preaching of
God’s Word. We would all agree to this.
However, is that what’s happening in churches across Canada Sunday by Sunday? I recently had lunch with one of our pastors. He is new to our Fellowship and he helps me see our movement from a fresh perspective. While he has an overall positive view of our Fellowship… he did have a couple concerns.
He asked me to tell him what I thought the main character traits of the Fellowship were.
I quickly responded:
1. Centrality of Christ (the Cross).
2. Fidelity to God’s word (sound preaching).
3. Passion for disciple-making (evangelism and church planting).
4. Commitment to mission (local and global).
He questioned #2. He had my attention. His brief experience with our Fellowship of churches has convinced him we are “eclectic” when it comes to the preaching of God’s Word. He has not been convinced yet; that a believer would receive the same offering of a biblically rich sermon from one Fellowship church to the next. Hmm… this observation got me thinking.
A couple months back I got an email from a dear friend. The email was entitled: “Expositional
Imposters.” The premise of the email/blog was that preaching should take the point of the sermon directly from the point of a particular passage of scripture. Simple enough, many of us learned this in our first year hermeneutics class.
However, the point of the email was that some sermons which intend to be expositional, fall short. Mike Gilbert-Smith exposes some of these subtle, and not so subtle, pitfalls as preachers fail to see the actual text. I think his observations are helpful. I quote him directly:
1) The “Unfounded Sermon”: The Text Is Misunderstood
Here the preacher says things that may be true, but in no sense come from a correct interpretation of the passage. He is careless either with the content of the text (e.g. the sermon on “production, prompting, and inspiration” from the NIV of 1 Thessalonians 1:3, though each word has no parallel in the Greek) or with the context (e.g. the sermon on David and Goliath, that asks ‘who is your
Goliath, and what are the five smooth stones that you need to be prepared to use against him?’).
2) The “Springboard Sermon”: The Point of the Text is Ignored
Closely related is the sermon where the preacher becomes intrigued by something that’s a secondary implication of the text, but is not the main point. Imagine a sermon on the wedding at
Cana in John 2 that focuses primarily on the lawfulness of Christians drinking alcohol and said nothing about the display of the New Covenant glory of Christ through the sign of Jesus changing water into wine.
3) The “Doctrinal Sermon”: The Richness of the Text Is Ignored
God has deliberately spoken to us “in many ways” (Heb 1:1). Too many sermons ignore the literary genre of a passage, and preach narrative, poetry, epistle, and apocalyptic all alike as a series of propositional statements. While all sermons must convey propositional truths, they should not be reduced to them. The literary context of the passages should mean that a sermon from the Song of
Songs sounds different than one from Ephesians 5. The passage may have the same central point, but it is conveyed in a different way. The diversity of Scripture is not to be flattened in preaching.
4) The “Shortcut Sermon”: The Biblical Text Is Barely Mentioned
The opposite of the exegetical sermon, this kind of preaching shows no exegetical “working” at all.
Though the Lord has set the agenda by his Word, only the preacher is fully aware of that fact. The congregation may well end up saying, “what a wonderful sermon” rather than “what a wonderful passage of Scripture.”
Let’s keep encouraging our congregation to hear God’s voice not just ours, by frequently pointing them back to the text: “look what God says in verse five” more than “listen carefully to what I’m saying now.”
5) The “Christ-less Sermon”: The Sermon Stops Short of the Savior
Jesus castigated the Pharisees: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). How sad that even we who have come to Jesus to have life would bring a whole congregation to study a passage of Scripture and yet refuse to bring them to see what that Scripture says about Christ, turning Old Testament texts into moralistic sermons, and even preaching Christ-less, gospel-less sermons from the Gospels themselves. Imagine the horror of a sermon on Gethsemane narrative that majored on lessons on how we could handle stress in our lives.
The author goes on to identify seven more:
6. The “Exegetical Sermon”: The text remains unapplied.
7. The “Irrelevant Sermon”: The text is applied to a different congregation.
8. The “Private Sermon”: The text is applied only to the preacher
9. The “Hypocritical Sermon”: The text is applied to all but the preacher.
10. The “Misfit Sermon”: The point of the passage is misapplied to the present congregation
11. The “Passionless Sermon”: The point of the passage is spoken, not preached.
12. The “Powerless Sermon”: The point of the passage is preached without prayer.
My new pastor-friend shared a concern. It was expressed with humility; not in a prideful spirit nor judgmental attitude. I appreciated his candor. I thought it was important to let you know and address it.
Our preaching of God’s Word, His whole counsel, is so important for the health of our churches.
May this be an opportunity to quietly ask ourselves whether we are in fact making the point of our sermons the particular point of a passage from God’s Word.
Thank you for taking this to heart. All recent studies show that exposure and engagement with
God’s Word is the most fruitful way to see transformation in the lives of God’s people.
God’s Word is powerful. Let’s preach it!
Have a blessed week,