My sophomore year in high school was a game changer. Up to that point, I had never been required to write a formal research paper. I had written plenty of essays, book reports, and other assignments, but never a real-deal research paper.

I loved the idea of researching a topic, organizing my thoughts, and then presenting my findings. Everything about a research paper sounded great until my teacher introduced the concept of citing sources. I remember over and over she would say, “don’t forget to cite your sources!”

I didn’t understand why that was so important at the time. Why couldn’t we just write about what we learned? Who cared where the information came from?

Fast-forward to today. As I read books about ministry and theology, I have learned that footnotes are my friend. No matter the author, I want to know where he/she obtained his/her information –especially before I relay it to someone else.

Citing sources validates your message and gives credibility to your writing. It’s the same way in preaching –and I’m not just talking about just giving credit to the person who’s illustration you are repeating.

More importantly, I’m talking about citing God’s Word. The sermon should flow out of God’s Word, to the heart of the listener, turning their attention back to the Word. This only happens when the preacher preaches the Word.

While that sounds simple enough, it’s not happening often enough. Instead, too many preachers are teaching a message instead of teaching the Bible. What’s the difference? Teaching a message is like writing a research paper without citing the sources. Who knows whether the message is credible or not? It may be biblical, it may be the preacher’s opinion, or it may be a mixture of the two.

But when the sermon originates, explores, presents, and reflects on God’s Word, every listener knows the message is authoritative.

This means more than just referencing a few verses, out of context, along the way to making a point. That’s actually manipulating God’s Word to serve your own means. Instead, in responsible preaching, the message bows to the text rather than vice versa.

I know there are plenty of wonderful Christian men who preach a message instead of preaching the Bible without the intention of manipulating Scripture. They have great motives and love the Lord. If that describes you, and this is the first time you’ve considered this idea, let me share a few dangers of preaching a message rather than preaching the Word:

  • Over time, without the consistent teaching of the Word, a message can subtly change.
  • Preaching a message without the Word can lead to actions without understanding. That’s a recipe for empty moralism.
  • Without teaching the Bible, people aren’t encouraged to learn to study the Bible for themselves. They may easily remain dependent upon the pastor to study for them.

So, if you are a preacher or teacher, be sure to cite your sources! It’s more work, to be sure, but it’s the only way to ensure authority in your teaching and spiritual growth for your congregation.