Periodically I’m asked the question whether I believe the Sunday morning sermon should be designed primarily to reach lost people or teach Christians. That question is not illegitimate considering the varying commitments in the contemporary church to being seeker sensitive, emergent, or missional.
It is interesting that the question would essentially center on what I believe rather than what is correct. Such is the influence of postmodern relativism upon the way even believers think or talk. Of course, it should not escape our attention that seeker sensitive or emergent emphases flow from said influence.
Not surprising then is the myriad of tips doled out with regard to the issue of preaching in the emerging church. The following example is representative. 1) Connect with People’s Feelings. 2) Be a Story Teller. 3) Be a Situation Learning Catalyst. 4) Participate. 5) Be Sacramental.
Two of the foundational tenets upon which life and indeed the church are built are the actuality that God is and the reality that God has spoken. Because God is and because He has spoken, it is His word that is authoritative for our lives. Tips of the above sort flow from a relativistic influence which flows from a loss of Scriptural authority with its concomitant commitment to the aforementioned verities: God is and God has spoken.
Thus, the answer to the question, “[Do you believe] the Sunday morning sermon should be designed primarily to reach lost people or teach Christians, as well as the answer to contemporary preaching tips is the same: God is and God has spoken. Because these things are true, the design of the sermon springs from the words God has spoken. We refer to those words as the text [of Scripture]. The thrust of the text will be the thrust of the sermon.
That does in fact mean that most of the time the primary emphasis in the local assembly has to do with the saints. And, biblically, the body gathers to worship and scatters to evangelize (or be missional). At the same time, we recognize that lost people will be in the service every Sunday. We must be mindful of that dynamic and preach the gospel each week as well.
The balance is this: in one sense, the whole of the bible is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If Christ is not the central theme of each sermon, then we are not preaching Christ nor are we engaging in Christian preaching. So, as the word of God itself is faithfully proclaimed, Christ will be held out as our only hope whether the hearers are saved or not; the gospel will be proclaimed throughout the message; and the word will be applied in accordance with the intention of the original authors. That’s the only way to be faithful to what truly is God’s word.
Faithfulness to God and to His word really is the issue for only God’s word has the power to change lives (Rom. 1:16f). A few preaching tips might be in order then, by way of reminder, in light of the lofty truths that God is and He has spoken.
First, be an expository preacher. Whether you are preaching on a topic or whether you are proceeding through a bible book verse by verse, as noted, the text drives the sermon. There should always be explanation, illustration, and application of the word of God to the people. Where it is necessary to provide argumentation, that is, support for an assertion, that element should be included as well.
Second, get into the habit of preaching through bible books. Such a practice will enable you to get the flow of the author in context so that God’s word might be systematically brought to bear upon the lives of the people. You may then break occasionally and preach timely topical sermons or series.
Third, make sure you are an effective bible teacher. A preacher is a herald of good news. But the news has content. Make it your goal to be described as a bible teacher who is not afraid to herald the good news of Christ in a passionate way. Make an unwavering commitment to sound exegesis in the study but don’t weary the people by being overly technical. There are times when a Greek word or phrase must be explained, for example, but avoid the practice of throwing Greek words at the congregation. Exegesis is the foundation of the message that will ultimately be delivered. What the people need is a message they can understand, identify with, and apply. They need to be intellectually challenged but not feel like they are in a seminary classroom. They need to know how this message affects their lives on Monday through Saturday.
Fourth strive for preaching that has broad appeal. You want your preaching typically to appeal to intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike at different places in the message as you consistently and constantly try to be aware of the entire audience. Don’t be afraid to address the young people with application relevant to them. But, rest assured, their parents are interested in what is being said at that point as well. You may address other groups in the same way.
Fifth, employ various elements of style in your preaching. God’s message to His people is a serious business. At the same time, don’t be afraid to use humor, for example, from time to time to make a point. Story telling is certainly appropriate as long as the story shines light on the truth of the text. The key is to bring light and heat; truth and spirit; teaching and passion. The goal is to reach the mind and the heart. These are not either/or propositions but both/and propositions.
Sixth, fulfill your responsibility as a communicator. Aristotle talked about the public speaker in terms of ethos or the speaker’s integrity, expertise, and knowledge; logos or the truth of the message and its rational supporting arguments; and pathos or making a passionate connection with the emotion or passion of the listener. In a biblical and sanctified way, that is what you must attempt to do each and every week. To use biblical terminology, your chief aim is to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; convince, rebuke, and exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2).
Preaching tips from the emerging church that do not focus on the words of God should not be surprising. The movement has been influenced by a postmodern relativism in the area of truth, a deconstruction in the realm of meaning, an overreaction to some lamentable flaws in the evangelical church, and a naturally resultant theological liberalism. Those committed to the authority of Scripture will take a different tack completely. While the above list is certainly not exhaustive, it is decidedly foundational, as it is grounded in the reality that God is and that God has spoken.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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