I was a teenager when I felt called to the ministry. Right away, I was given opportunities to speak at different functions.
I am so very thankful that most of those horrific “sermons” were not recorded. I had no training. No one had yet discipled me concerning how to proclaim God’s Word, yet I was given pulpits and microphones, and I didn’t know what to do.
But I did something.
I would think of a spiritual analogy that I thought was clever or funny, and I would then search for a verse to back up my creativity.
That is called putting the cart before the horse, but that is all I knew how to do. And I was good at it. I was funny. I could be entertaining. Some noted that my messages were memorable due to my analogies.
After speaking with gusto, I would meet people and these were the kind of comments I would hear:
- “Man, you were really funny today. I don’t think I have laughed that hard in a long time.”
- “I like you because you aren’t stuffy like my preacher.”
- “I loved when you told that story. I will never forget that.”
For a while, those comments were great. As I matured, they began to become shallow and discouraging.
I even started pushing back at those delivering those comments. When someone would tell me, “I loved your funny story,” I would ask them what that funny story taught them about God.
I was sure that if that funny story was memorable, they would be able to draw the lines back to the spiritual truth I was trying to convey.
I was wrong. Very wrong. Unbelievably, discouragingly wrong. I should have never asked those questions.
What I realized was that people took me more as a comedian or an entertainer than a biblical preacher.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. -1 Cor. 13:11
Preachers Need to Grow Up
I was a boy trying to do a man’s job. At some point, I had to grow up.
Too many Christian speakers are known more as comedians or entertainers rather than biblical preachers.
It’s time for these boys to grow up. Put away childish ways.
Jesus didn’t shed his blood so that his Church could be entertained.
He shed his blood so that pastors could oversee and care for the members of the local church (Acts 20:28). One way to do that is to teach them biblical truth (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9).
If you handle God’s Word, don’t do a disservice to your hearers by reducing the message to your spiritual opinions while starving them from God’s Word.
At some point, I realized that there is a difference between a Bible-driven sermon and a sermon-driven Bible.
- A Bible-driven sermon is one in which God’s Word sets the course. The preacher studies what God is saying in his Holy Word and becomes a mouthpiece for that message. Sure, he can use illustrations and stories to help convey that message but not at the sake of diluting the message.
- A sermon-driven Bible is one in which a man’s opinion sets the course. The preacher has something he wants to say in a manner in which he wants it to come across. He develops a creative packaging and then searches for a verse (sometimes out of context and not according to the original intention of why God had it written it in the first place) to support his message.
You might say, “Don’t be a legalist. God’s Word can be used anyway. Even a snippet of a verse can be used for an entire sermon.”
Maybe you are right, but understand this, you are using the same logic that Satan used when he preached a sermon to Jesus one day. If you think it is OK to take Scripture out of context without proper understanding to get your message across, realize that you use the same logic as Satan does.
If you take Scripture out of context to get your message across, realize that you use the same logic as Satan.
As Jesus continued to fight off temptation from Satan by quoting Scripture accurately (Luke 4:4; Luke 4:8; Luke 4:12), Satan joined in the party and quoted Scripture out of context and completely incorrect in relation to the totality of God’s Word (Luke 4:9-11).
So, you can use that argument if you desire, but realize that you are using the same argument that the devil himself uses.
Stop using the Bible to get your message across. Allow the Bible to use you to get God’s message across.
Allowing God’s Word to Be God’s Word
Let me show you the difference.
A preacher can claim “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13) concerning a situation in which he wants to see victory. He can claim this promise that God wants good for him, but in actuality, if you look at this verse in context, Paul is saying that he will be faithful whether he is hungry or filled. He can make it if he is poor or rich. He can make it through any of those scenarios because Christ gives him strength.
A preacher can take that verse, out of context, and apply it to his message to get across what he desires to say.
The opposite is just to take the Word at what it says for what it says. Here are some instructions that speak directly to followers of Jesus, and especially to those who say to speak on his behalf:
- Don’t tickle people’s ears by giving them messages that they want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3)
- Stop your obscene language (Col. 3:8)
- Learn how to bridle your tongue (James 1:26)
- Handle the Word correctly (2 Tim. 2:15)
- Stop preaching silly myths (1 Tim. 4:7)
- Teach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1)
- Be careful that your mouth is not defiling you (Matt. 15:11)
- Deliver sound words in faith and in love (2 Tim. 1:13)
- Do not preach a gospel contrary to the biblical message (Gal. 1:8-9)
- Avoid irreverent babble (1 Tim. 6:20)
- Don’t rely on your own wisdom (1 Cor. 2:1-2)
- Be careful that you aren’t trusting on your speech and wisdom and neglecting God’s Spirit and power (1 Cor. 2:3-5)
- Don’t secretly indulge in the sin you preach against (Rom. 2:21-23)
- Stop preaching irreverently (1 Tim. 4:7)
- Keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching you give (1 Tim. 4:16)
- Realize that you will have a stricter judgment so be careful what you teach (James 3:1)
- Don’t preach in such a way that it feeds an unhealthy craving for controversy (1 Tim. 6:4)
- Don’t let the quest for knowledge lead you from the faith (1 Tim. 6:20-21)
- Avoid irreverent babble that leads people to more and more ungodliness (2 Tim. 2:16)
- Don’t be quarrelsome to those who think differently than you but correct opponents with a spirit of gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24-25)
Do you see the difference? One is searching the Bible for a phrase, a verse, or a section to get across what someone wants to get across. The other approach is to let God speak through his living and active Word (Heb. 4:12) in the way God so desires.
And concerning how God wants preachers to preach, there are some scathing reminders that all preachers need to take into consideration.
Some of us need to repent for being silly, obscene, unhealthy, divisive, and incorrect “messengers” of the truth.
Evaluate What You Hear
I hear preaching. You hear preaching. It comes into your ears, goes into your mind, and has the possibility of changing your life’s direction.
Evaluate it. Examine it. Be careful with it.
We need more Bereans in our churches.
The Bereans were a group of Christians who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
In the spirit of Bereans, it is my job to evaluate the preaching that I allow in my ears and see if it is worthwhile to transform my mind (Rom. 12:2).
If you think through the last message you heard, did it sound like the Bible was charting the course or was Scripture simply a quote in someone’s speech?
Preachers, let’s evaluate ourselves. Did our last message come from God’s mouth or did we just try to give him an honorable mention?
Brothers and sisters, do the work required of you. We are instructed to test everything we hear and hold fast to that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21). Be careful little ears what you hear. Don’t let your itching ears seek out unhealthy preaching that is far from the truth (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
Preachers, stop using the Bible for your own agenda and let God speak.
Avoid irreverent babble that leads people to more and more ungodliness (2 Tim. 2:16).
When I became a man, I put away childish things (1 Cor. 13:11).