What’s So Great About Preaching?

By Pastor John Crotts

            What do you expect from a Sunday morning message? Serious preaching has fallen on tough times lately. Many churches don’t even call the sermons “sermons” any more—they are “talks.” There are several reasons for this trend.

            The first reason preaching has fallen on tough times is the siren song of relevance. You probably have no idea how much temptation comes to pastors throughout the week in Pastoral Junk Mail (and through Pastoral Spam in the e-mail box). “Successful” church leaders offer conferences on how to become relevant in your preaching or how to build a huge church.  

If a pastor is having a tough week anyway, these advertisements can be especially enticing. Sadly, very few of these programs encourage men to be disciplined to mine diamonds from the Bible and feed the souls of the congregation. Rather, they encourage pastors to study the world to adapt the hot trends and become more relevant. 

I once heard an “expert” say that if you aren’t addressing a visitor’s felt-need in a way that they perceive as helpful they will not be satisfied and probably won’t ever come back to your church. What incredible pressure to shape the sermon to what an (unbelieving!) visitor thinks is helpful.

            Another reason that preaching is on the decline is because of preachers accommodating to screens. Because people have too much screen time and read too few books, our society has been impacted. Attention spans have been shortened, minds have become dull, and desire to be entertained has replaced the desire to interact with God’s truth in a thoughtful way.  

            Instead of fighting against these damaging trends, many preachers assume what’s done is done. Instead of trying to change culture, they change the sermon. Many articles and books on preaching emphasize the need for sermons to be short. If most episodes are less than a half hour, how can we expect a sermon to be longer than that?

            Since TV viewers don’t have to concentrate more than seven or eight minutes without commercials, perhaps sermons also need to have commercials. I have even been at places that put dramas or multi-media fun into the sermons themselves at seven minute intervals.

            The content of modern messages must always be light. While I do not doubt the sincere motives of churches that aim their Sunday meetings at “seekers” or non-Christians, I think that the pattern is unbiblical and brings some negative consequences. The example revealed in Scripture is the church gathering as believers to build one another up in the Lord and to worship God together. Then throughout the week evangelism happens outside the church as the transformed lives of God’s people touch others.

            One of the consequences of targeting unbelievers on Sunday morning is that they have no spiritual capacity for truth. The Bible says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). What do you think happens to the depth of content of the “talks” at churches focusing on such people? What do you think happens to the depth of the Christians at this kind of church? One friend of mine observed that a man can live on Twinkies and Kool-Aid for a while, but he won’t be very healthy.

            Another negative effect of trying to cater the content of the messages to the wants and whims of non-Christians is a desire to always be positive. Certainly it is not wrong to be positive; the Bible is the most encouraging book in the world. But the Bible also includes some seriously negative messages for sinners who refuse to repent. It’s not too user-friendly to preach messages on sin, judgment, and hell. Yet the Lord Jesus had far more to say about hell than he did about heaven.

            Finally, postmodernism has taken away dogmatism in our culture at large. If truth is in the eye of the beholder, who is to say you are right and I am wrong? Why should I carefully listen to you explain what the Bible requires of me? The only real sin in our culture is to declare dogmatic truth, and then act like the listeners ought to accept it as such and actually obey it.  

            All of these trends have one thing in common. Modern preaching is man-centered instead of God-centered. It is focused more on man’s felt needs and desires than what God says the sermon should be. Instead of longing for crowds of shallow sheep and goats to applaud the short and sweet sermon, the pastor should seek to bring pleasure to God.

            God is very clear as to his Sunday morning expectations. In his two letters to young pastor Timothy, Paul charged, “Command and teach these things…Until I come devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching…Teach and urge these things…what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also…Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, rightly handing the word of truth…And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness…I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word . . .”

            May the Lord give us preachers who prayerfully study God’s Word and feel its weight. May they faithfully and accurately proclaim that truth for the glory of God and the good of their hearers.