Church Detox Second Installment: Back to Solid Biblical Preaching

This is the second in my series on ‘detoxifying’ the church, that is, to remedy some common problems in modern evangelical churches.
One of the things that amazes me as I’ve visited different churches is the weakness or lack of preaching of the Bible from the pulpit. I’m not addressing the varying styles, such as a more quiet ‘teaching’ style or a more passionate ‘proclamational’ style. Rather, I mean the weakness in or lack of systematic preaching of the Bible from the pulpit, of explaining what the Bible says and applying it to the lives of the congregation. Sometimes I’ve been in services where the ‘preaching’ was a quotation of a Biblical passage and pretty much an extended announcement of some internal church program, such as a building program. Sometimes the ‘preaching’ started out with a Biblical passage and then the telling of a number of personal stories or even personal rants unrelated to the passage.
I think that this comes from several sources:
  • The person doing the preaching is early in his career, is still uncomfortable with preaching itself or does not know how to prepare a sermon effectively.
  • The preacher does not grasp the Biblical significance and tremendous, wonderful responsibility of preaching and teaching the Word of God to the congregation.
  • Some influence — such as an emphasis on the musical ministry as being ‘worship’ — devalues the significance of Biblical preaching and teaching to the health of the congregation and each individual believer.

Remember that the prototype for all churches — the church fellowship that exploded onto the world scene in Acts 2 — ‘devoted itself to the apostles’ teaching.’ There is no church health without solid Biblical preaching and teaching.

I myself took several months after the start of my first pastorate to become comfortable and grow in preaching. Here are some suggestions from my own experience:

  • Read and study in depth at least one quality book on Biblical preaching and teaching. My personal favorite — which I unfortunately did not read until after I graduated from seminary — is John A. Broadus’s On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons.
  • Read the published sermons of the great preachers, such as John Wesley, Charles G. Finney, and Charles Spurgeon. Ravi Zacharias once gave me the excellent suggestion back in 1982 to read a sermon a day, and I did that throughout the first few months of my first pastorate. This gives an idea of the form and variety of the Biblical sermon.
  • Listen to and watch good preachers of the Bible by visiting their churches when you are on vacation.
  • Read your own Bible thoroughly and regularly devotionally. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once made the excellent observation that if you do this, sermon outlines will regularly leap out at you. Take these down and keep these in a folder or a notebook. These ‘skeleton’ outlines can then be revised and embellished later. You will never lack for material if you keep your own heart regularly filled with the Word of God.
  • Keep in prayer for your own preaching ministry, for the wisdom of God in preparation and the power of the Spirit in delivery. It’s a fallacy that the Holy Spirit only works ‘spontaneously’, on the spur of the moment. Rather, seek for him to work through you as you abide in Christ through the whole process of preparation and delivery.
  • Record yourself from time to time and listen to your delivery. Are you using big, theological or academic words when smaller words would do? Is your tone appropriate to what you’re saying — are you ‘speaking the truth in love’?
  • Keep a consistent course through the Bible, but allow the Spirit freedom to guide you outside a series to another passage if he wills. Also be willing to vary the form of your sermons, from exposition of a single passage to a topical / doctrinal sermon or a biographical sermon from time to time.
  • Come back to the center of the Christian faith regularly, on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and salvation by grace through faith in him. Make sure that there’s a clear explanation of the gospel regularly in your services, and that no one has to attend your church for months without hearing a clear explanation of the way of salvation from the pulpit.

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