“…that in all things He might have preeminence in everything” (Colossians 1:18).
Let not the messenger boy think this is all about him.
I had a suspicion confirmed the other evening.
Over the years, I have made a point of memorizing scripture. At this moment, I can quote Psalms 1, 23, and 103, as well as Romans 8, and a number of shorter passages. There is nothing boastful about that. I should have retained more of what I worked to memorize through the years (which included Psalm 139, half of Hebrews and most of I Peter), but because I did not work at keeping it, have lost it from memory.
Okay. But here’s the thing.
In a worship service when I rise to preach one of these passages, I decided long ago not to appear to do what I’m doing, quoting it. So, unless it’s a short passage, I make a point of opening the Word and appear to be reading the passage along with everyone else.
The moment people become aware that “the preacher is reciting all this from memory,” it becomes a show. They quit listening to the Word and start being impressed by the preacher. And doing that seems to be a serious error.
Not long ago while having dinner with a pastor, I asked what ministers his church had used for these meetings over the years. I did not know the names he mentioned, even though some were seminary professors.
“Oh, but there was this one guy,” the pastor said, “who was really something. He memorized great portions of God’s word, the best I’ve ever seen. I imagine he must have quoted forty passages in his sermon, and the thing is, every one of them pertained to the message. Our people were really impressed.”
So much impressed, he added, that when that preacher returned to help another church in the area, “A lot of my people were absent that Sunday so they could hear him.”
“That’s how good he was.”
I don’t doubt it.
That’s the reason I don’t do it.
When people go away from church exclaiming about the man, he has failed. The messenger got in the way of the Message.
As the line goes, no one can say “I am clever” and “Jesus is Lord” at the same time.
Young ministers would do well to remember that.
“We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
Message to all the television preachers in the land: Repeat after me. We. Do. Not. Preach. Ourselves.
This is not about you.
I heard it and was offended at the time and remain so to this day. A pastor of some celebrity–but nothing solid as far as I could tell; he seemed to be all style and image–brought a sermon based on clever things his small son had done and said. We’ll call the boy Jason. The sermon was titled “The Gospel According to Jason.” The audience had to endure 30 full minutes of anecdotes about the speaker’s wonderful son who could come out with cutesy sayings and catchy remarks.
How does a preacher do this, I wondered then and have had no answer since.
A minister called by God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the nerve to get in front of a vast audience and present a full sermon based on anecdotes about his child. He did–I’ll give him this–make small parallels with the Christian life along the way. But preach the Gospel he did not. Open the Word and expound upon it, he did not.
He was preaching himself and it failed every measure of a New Testament Gospel message I could find.
Preachers must guard against building a sermon around something we experienced, saw, heard, or thought of.
Those sights or insights may provide outstanding illustrations of biblical teaching–and I appreciate that as much as anyone I know–but must not become the message itself while pushing the Holy Scriptures into a supporting role.
God’s Word must play second fiddle in no orchestra.
I suspect the need to entertain becomes a driving force in some preachers.
A rollicking response from an audience fools some preachers into believing their sermon is really connecting and “God is blessing,” as we say.
All they are doing is standup comedy.
A certain television preacher from the bayou country–where I live–comes to mind, but his name will not be mentioned here. This is not about any particular person.
It’s about you. It’s about me.
Applause and “amens” is no indication of anything other than at that particular moment, one’s hearers liked what they heard. Once they walked outside into the light of day and the cool air had cleared their minds, the congregation may have thought differently about what they heard.
I suspect in many cases they remember nothing about what they heard. Fluff does not last.
I used to believe the cardinal sin of modern preaching was to bore the people. I’ve since changed my mind. In their passion not to be accused of lulling their congregation to sleep, some preachers have opted to entertain them with quips and stories, jokes and cute anecdotes, flights of fancy and the latest doings from the Kardashian household.
Personally, I’m betting that given an alternative, the Lord in Heaven would prefer a good old-fashioned featureless, story-less, dull hour of monotone preaching to that kind of silly drivel.
God help us to preach the Word and nothing but the Word.