I grew up hearing preachers. I’ve heard so many sermons in my life that I’ve completely lost count of how many I've heard. Not only have I heard many preachers over my life, now I am one myself. Yet, I believe that the greatest need for the true is the recovery of true and biblical preaching. Much of what is being called preaching today is weak. Simply put preaching is a man standing before the people who proclaims and applies the truth of God’s word. Yet, much of what is being considered preaching looks more like a TED talk than anything we see in the book of Acts. Much of preaching is but as a guru on the stage espousing his own wisdom. This is not preaching, at least not in any biblical sense. Although I still have a long ways to go in my own personal growth as a preacher (My church would tell you that's an understatement), I have begun to identify four concerns I see with preaching today.
1. The Emphasis on the Preacher not the Message
The American obsession with celebrities has been imported into the church. Although, it is not a bad thing to have men of great reputation with great fame even in the church, the danger is when the focus is on the man and not the message. In many circles or churches the preacher becomes more of a cult leader as the people blindly follow unquestioningly whatever the preacher says. The emphasis in the preaching is on the man – his humor, his eloquence, his vocal dynamics, and his intelligence. Although all those things are important, we must be careful not to create idols out of the preacher.
Rather than combating this idolatrous celebrity culture that can develop, many foster this culture unknowingly in their preaching. When every illustration revolves around the preacher and when he is the hero of all his stories, the preacher may be reinforcing himself as the focus. The task of the preacher is not to draw attention to himself, but to stand before the people pointing always to God. The preacher should stand as an arrow pointing to heaven not an arrow pointing to his own ego. People should not be leaving the service impressed with the preacher, yet apathetic towards God. The goal of true preaching is for the man himself to fade into the background as he joyfully celebrates the truth of God’s word, pointing the people to the Jesus.
2. The Emphasis on Application without Exposition
Another concern I see is the separation of application and exposition. In today's age of short attention spans and 140 character tweets, people want preaching to be less like a 4-course dinner and more like a McDonald’s drive through. There is no patience for the careful exposition of God’s word. Knowing this. many preachers just simply apply while neglecting the teaching of the Bible.
Now most preachers use the Bible at some point in the sermon, but how is the preacher using it? Is he just using a verse to jump into whatever topic he wishes? Is the Bible just a diving board into the preachers own wisdom and opinions? Or, is the content of the preaching demonstrated from the Bible? Better yet, is the content of the preaching derived from the Bible? Is the preacher pointing to an authority outside of himself in the revealed word of God?
Sure people may ask for sermons that are immediately helpful apart from the Bible. They may want to hear your sermon called “5 Ways to Get Your Kids to Obey You”, but doing so on a consistent and regular basis is like giving your toddler candy for every meal. Sure, they will love you for it, but you’ll rot their teeth and spoil their stomach. As preaching strays away from the central focus of the teaching of the Bible, we will continue to propagate a generation of Christians who are biblically illiterate and spiritually anemic.
3. The Emphasis on Illustration without Purpose
Often in replace of Biblical exposition, illustration begins to take a a central focus in the sermon. The best preachers become the best story tellers. They are engaging, humorous, and easy to follow. Illustrations are incredibly important in preaching. Illustrations help people connect to the teaching of the Bible in a practical and experiential way. Yet, I’ve heard too many preachers use illustrations without purpose. I’ll hear a preacher tell a funny story about his children ridding a bike or something, and I stop, wondering what in the world did that story have to do with the text? Illustrations are great tools in a preachers tool chest. Some of the greatest preachers have been the greatest illustrators (i.e. Charles Spurgeon), but a sermon filled with illustrations with no teaching is simply all flash with no substance.
4. The Emphasis on Exposition while Ignoring Application
On the flip side some preachers concerned with the lack of bible teaching react so strongly to the wide-spread weak preaching of the day that they ignore applying the text at all. The pendulum swings to far the other direction. They get up and give an academic lecture, but never call people to repentance and obedience. Although preaching is centered on the Bible and the teaching of the Bible, preaching is not complete if we don’t help people see the relevance of God’s revealed world. We cannot simply teach them about the Grand Canyon without inviting them to go and experience the beauty of it themselves. In the same way, if we instruct people about God, but don't invite them to experience the glory of the Lord, its not preaching.
In addition, preaching should not be boring, dry, and dull. There is nothing more exciting than the redemptive love God displayed in Jesus Christ! The Gospel is anything but boring, to make it so is sinful.
A Recovery of Biblical Preaching
Preaching is an ordained means, given to us by God to help save the lost and build up the church. Perhaps the reason the church in America appears so frail is because pastors and preachers have been refusing to give people the whole counsel of God. The preacher stands before his people as the mouth piece of God. That is a huge weight and responsibility that should lead every preacher in holy terror every Sunday morning. It’s a weight I feel each week. More than ever, I believe we need a revival of true preaching. We need more pastors who shepherd their churches with the rod of God’s Word and who understand the glorious weight and responsibility of expositing and exulting over God’s glorious truth. If your not a preacher, pray for your pastor and for the weight and responsibility he carries each week, not only in caring for the flock of God but proclaiming the Word of God each week.
Do you agree with these concerns about preaching today? Are their concerns that I missed? Share your thoughts with us below in the comments.