Our entire culture is becoming more casual.

Here in New Orleans, fewer and fewer restaurants insist on diners dressing up.

The local churches of our denomination where every man wears suit-and-tie I can count on one hand.


There was a time when pastors apologetically introduced a personal reference into the sermon. I can hear them now: "Please pardon this personal reference."

No more.

The fact is the collective ears of the congregation perk up when the preacher begins a story, particularly one that happened to him. Hearers who had been drifting off come awake when they hear, "The other day I walked out of Wal-mart and..." They know this will be something they can identify with.

Formerly, stories were told to illustrate points of the message. These days, stories help to define the message, connect the preacher with his audience, redirect listeners, introduce new insights, and a hundred other benefits.

In modern preaching, stories often carry the freight.

My pastor, Mike Miller, says, "Terms like transparency, confessional, and dialogical are in vogue. Preaching is not as much a man behind a pulpit speaking 'to' people as a man talking 'with' people." He says, "The structure is more inductive than deductive. Pastors share their own spiritual struggles, showing themselves as fellow pilgrims on the journey."


My friends disagree. Some point out that sermons are getting shorter -- 20 to 25 minutes -- while others insist that 45 minutes to an hour has become the norm.

Some say preaching has become more topical and that expository preaching is a thing of yesteryear. The next email states the opposite.

I suppose it depends on who you've been hearing.

Pastor Mike said, "When I was in seminary (early 1990s), the preachers held in high esteem were Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, Jerry Vines, and W.A. Criswell. These days, the trend has moved to guys like Rick Warren, Matt Chandler, Andy Stanley, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and Tim Keller."

Mike adds, "What's interesting is that with the exception of one or two, they are all preaching theologically rich, lengthy, expository sermons."


Randy Hales said, "For me, [preaching has gone from] a formal stylized three points and a poem to more story-telling and using props and other attention retaining techniques."

"At the same time," he says, "I see a strong emphasis toward a recommitment to exegetical preaching as well, so go figure!"

Go figure indeed.

Don Mabry points out that very few pastors any more keep files of illustrative materials and stories. (I suspect they do, but not in those green metal cabinets that used to dominate church offices.)

Several friends have colleagues in the ministry who do all their research online, and some preach entire messages they find there. (That was bound to happen. Twenty years ago, lazy preachers were lifting sermons from books, so it only makes sense that they would find them online today.)

A few pastors I know are involving their staffs in sermon planning. The different perspectives help the preacher to see what he might have overlooked and, from all reports, end up making the messages stronger. In the old days, sermon-building was as lonely a craft as was the preaching of them.

Have we arrived at the Promised Land in the building and preaching of sermons?

Not in this lifetime.

So long as new generations come onto the scene with their unique lingo and slang, their technical inventions and gadgets, their peculiar way of dressing and acting and buying and learning, the task of reaching them with the gospel of Jesus Christ will be to find the language and the methodologies to accomplish that.

I told Pastor Mike, "Twenty years from now, you will be writing the article on how preaching has evolved since the ancient days of 2012. I can't wait to read it!"

Dr. Joe McKeever is a preacher, cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt. Used with permission.

Publication date: March 20, 2012