As hundreds of teenagers spilled into the auditorium, I was going through last-minute preparations to preach.  As I went to get my microphone, a pastor introduced himself to me and wanted to chitchat before the service began.

“So which one are you?”

“Umm…I’m not sure what you mean.”

“We come to this event every year, and there are only two types of preachers that they invite to speak.  Either they are very theologically sound or very engaging to our students.  The theologically sound ones are painfully boring and must think it is a sin to be engaging.  The guys that are very engaging often struggle in their theology and I have to clean up after them.  So, which one are you going to be?”

Honestly, I had a difficult time thinking of how I wanted to respond because I was so brokenhearted about his perspective and my fear that he was correct.

Not only do I believe that preaching should be able to be both expository and engaging at the same time, I can’t think of how it can fail to be both of those at the same time.

Let’s get our terms on the same page:

  • Expository Sermons – When preachers seek to communicate the truth of God’s Word faithfully.  They teach what the text teaches and do not try to force an agenda upon the text.
  • Engaging Sermons – When preachers seek to invigorate the listeners to understand that the topic is important and exciting.

Too often expository preachers see engaging sermons as the enemy and engaging preachers see expository sermons as the enemy.  I would pray that preachers could find the ability not to demonize one and idolize the other, but that they could find a way to make sermons both expository and engaging.

Danger Signs of Boring Expository Sermons

  1. If we are talking about the good news and our faces, expressions, and tones make it sound like the bad news.
  2. If we forget that the preaching of the Word in a church is different from the teaching of theology in a class.
  3. If we vilify any type of preaching that is engaging, winsome, or even briefly humorous.
  4. If we criticize anyone for not craving our long, boring, hard-to-understand theological discourses by claiming they are unspiritual or even lost.
  5. If we attempt theological deepness not for the Body’s edification (“I finally see the truth”) but for our personal glorification (“Wow, he sure is smart”).

Danger Signs of Heretical Engaging Sermons

  1. If we construct a sermon based off a funny, relevant, or engaging illustration and then attempt to find a Bible verse to include into our speech.
  2. If we actively demonize theology as boring while pitting it against “real life” and “authentic faith” and “true love.”
  3. If we shrink back from getting deeper in our sermons by blaming the fact that people are more biblically illiterate now.
  4. If we develop a sermon that has people remembering our stories but failing to remember God’s story.
  5. If we work harder on the packaging (title, series, graphics, theme, cultural reference copycat, etc.) than on the content (truth, doctrine, response, Gospel, etc.).

Where’s the Balance?

Something is wrong with me if I preach biblical truth and fail to exhibit authentic joy.

Don’t be someone you are not.  Don’t try to emulate someone else’s personality, but by all means, talking about Jesus should bring joy.  You can be both expository and engaging.

The degree of doctrine contained in a sermon should be proportional to the degree of delight in those who preach it and hear it.

Truth should bring joy!  Strive not to alienate one model or the other.  Work hard to preach truth in a way that people are engaged as they hear it.

In fact, not only do I see the balance is necessary and fitting, I believe we see the examples in Scripture.

  • Peter wasn’t afraid to tell a joke (Acts 2:15) and then boldly confront sin and rejection (Acts 2:23).
  • Paul wasn’t bashful about using a cultural reference (Acts 17:23, 28) to set up the preaching of biblical truth (Acts 17:30).
  • Jesus was able to keep people’s attention for three days with no access to food (Mark 8:1-2) and yet the children still enjoyed being around him (Mark 10:16).

The litmus test of truth should not be boredom.  The goal of an engaging sermon should not be distant from  doctrine.  Study the Bible until it gets a hold of your soul and you have to get it out!

Preach in such a way that they hear truth and they believe that you truthfully believe it.  

Travis Agnew is married to Amanda and the father of two sons and one daughter. He serves as the Senior Pastor of Rocky Creek Baptist Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is What God Has Joined Together.