Most churches would agree that when it comes to their worship services things must be done with excellence and order. We carefully plan out an “order of service” and expect all the special numbers to be well-rehearsed. We will not tolerate a lack of preparation when it comes to the worship time. “God expects our best,” is the pastor’s attitude. I get that. I appreciate that. I commend that. I just wish we were as serious about the preaching time of our service as we are the singing time.
Let’s face it. As long as there are sermons preached there is always going to be a fair share of “bad” sermons. I’ve certainly heard my fair share of poor homilies in the pulpits of colleges, camps and churches. Some of them have been famously “bad.” I remember listening to a preacher who introduced his sermon by saying, “I didn’t have time to get to this sermon until late last night.” He literally admitted he’d only spent an hour or two in preparation! Is this okay? Should we tolerate this kind of preaching?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably heard far too many preachers who were more standup comics than heralds of the Truth; who mocked theology with lines like, “Our young folks are dying in those seminaries by degrees”; who started with a Bible passage, only to hastily and permanently depart from it. Many of these “bad preachers” take pot-shots at famous preachers of our day while they, themselves, look more like moralist speakers than Bible preachers. It angers me and saddens me to hear “preaching” that is every bit as irreverent as an unplanned worship service. God is not pleased when he sees preachers preach platitudes and not principles found in the inspired Word. We shouldn’t be pleased with it either. Our tolerance of this kind of preaching does not make any sense. Do we no longer think preaching of God’s Word is all that important?
We must only tolerate preaching that lets the Bible speak for itself. We must warn against the danger of “sky-scraper preaching” – story upon story. We must recoil when we hear “scuba diver preaching” that goes down deep, stays down long, and comes up dry! I’ve grown to develop a pretty high tolerance of pulpit pain over my lifetime but I’m not sure I should have. Perhaps it’s well past time that we began to recognize that God expects excellence not only in our worship service but also during the preaching time!
I urge those that are reading this post to choose to fill their lives with preachers that are obsessed with the Scriptures, not themselves. Listen to those who preach the text, every time! God promised to bless His Word, not a well-timed illustration or a cleverly alliterated outline. Follow those preachers who choose to preach Christ and not moralism! If the sermon could just as easily have fit into a Boy Scout meeting then it probably wasn’t a sermon to begin with. No application can or should be made without biblical explanation. When you find yourself listening 30 minutes into a sermon with a Bible in your lap that still hasn’t been cracked there’s a problem there. This isn’t godly excellence! We must insist that we put in the sacred desk only those who have a reputation for sound expository preaching!
Our blog recently posted an article about the danger of nitpicking. Although it is important for hearers to be “swift to hear and slow to judgement,” those who preach and teach must never make excuses for less than excellent exposition of God’s Word.
With all that being said, it’s important that we don’t fall into the trap of equating “excellent preaching” with “engaging preaching.” The listener has just as much of an obligation to listen to the Word as the preacher does to preach the Word. Is it possible that a sermon doesn’t pique your interest? That is certainly a possibility since we are all different and perhaps enjoy different styles of preaching. But so long as the preacher is indeed preaching with “excellence” (as defined by the careful and faithful exegesis of God’s Word) you have a responsibility to listen intently regardless.
Please understand that as I write this post I am the one most convicted! I have the unique challenge of preparing 2-3 messages every single week. The words of James 3:1 echo through my mind every time I nervously stand before a congregation to deliver a message, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” If you happen to be a preacher reading this please don’t think I’m “coming down” on you. If I’m “coming down” on you than I am certainly “coming down” on myself. We are each tasked with a tremendous burden to preach the Word! The challenge I give to you is the one I am giving to myself - Preach the Word and nothing else! Only biblical preaching is excellent preaching.
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