Here are five quick thoughts on what preaching is not. Are you guilty of any of these?
Running Commentary. Explaining the meaning of each verse is great. In fact, preaching is incomplete without it. However, this is not the end of the sermon! Anyone in the congregation could have saved time and read a commentary at home. If the sermon leaves you saying, “so what?” or “how should I respond?” then you have left out the crucial aspect of application. Preaching is not just sharing what God said, but also relating how we should respond.
A Secular Therapy Session. I applaud churches who identify real felt needs of the congregation and work to help them address those needs. What I do not applaud, however, is addressing needs without the truth and power of God’s Word. Without Scripture, such talk amounts to no more than a secular therapy session or episode of an afternoon talk show. The Scripture, by the way, must not be a springboard upon which the preacher dives into his own opinion. Rather, the Scripture must be the ocean into which he leads the congregation to dive –being immersed in its wisdom, guidance, standards, and life.
Social Commentary. For some preachers, the sermon does not sound so much like an afternoon talk show, but rather a talk-radio monologue in which “all that is wrong with society” is discussed. Like talk radio shows, these sermons identify plenty of problems but rarely bring about resolution. After all, what would they talk about then? Of course pastors must address current issues, but always in the proper perspective: The Bible is the standard for life and godliness, not for political and economic victory. If your sermon sounds like it came directly from the RNC playbook rather than God’s book, you are treading on dangerous ground. In case you haven’t noticed, political parties aren’t exactly bastions of truth.
House Keeping. Have you ever visited a church on a Sunday when the entire service focused on the new small group sign up or community service project? While it may have been valuable in assimilating the congregation toward action, it probably wasn’t much of a worship service –especially to the visitors. While Sunday mornings is a great time to address the entire congregation with important announcements and instructions, let’s try to keep it out of the sermon. There are plenty of other creative ways to communicate before and after the service.
Bully Pulpit. Every pastor has his issue he loves to address. For some it is the evils of drug abuse, for others the tragedy of abortion or needs of the poor. Whatever the issue, it is probably a valid concern. However, that does not mean every sermon should come back to that topic. At least three things happen when a pastor continually stresses the same issue every week: 1) it becomes a running joke with the congregation (“here he goes again, it’s the same thing every week”). 2) the congregation begins tuning the pastor out (“I’ve heard this before”). 3) the congregation’s view of the Scripture is diminished (Let’s see how he can get from Jonah to cocaine addiction this week!).