Evaluating Our Preaching

In a prominent IFB church with a pastor with a D.Min from well-known IFB school, the sermon begins. The pastor reads his text from Genesis 27 and within five minutes is warning against the danger of children having television sets in their rooms. In the evening service another text from Genesis is chosen and during the course of the message the pastor explains why husbands should be the primary operators of the family car. I hear this and I ask myself, "Do these men ever listen to themselves?"

I've long wondered why people sit under "Shaap Happy" preachers who rant about slapping grandma but I'm becoming concerned about the quality of preaching in some, perhaps many, of our fundamental pulpits.

When I first began to preach, I was advised to listen to my own sermons, to transcribe them, and then to evaluate myself. This evaluation consisted of a number of things. How much of the sermon was spent on things that had nothing to do with the text? Did my statements (claims) have Biblical proof (warrant)? Did the sermon have a purpose and was that purpose clear?

When I was in seminary, I wound up attending a church where the preaching exalted Christ, was doctrinally sound, was expository in nature and was virtually devoid of funny stories, personal illustrations and references to people in the congregation. I love good preaching. I still read a lot of Spurgeon and I'm hearing good stuff from other sources. But I'm wondering if part of the problem in the exodus of the younger generation is that our preaching is either solid as a rock and just as hard and dry or lacking substance.

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Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Ron, I agree with everything you said, but I think the problem has progressed much further than bad pulpiteering. Our congregations have become so biblically illiterate and so accustomed to the bad preaching that the average church has come to prefer/desire the bad preaching you decry. Righting the ship has become immeasurably more difficult because of this, in my estimation.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Ron, I agree with everything you said, but I think the problem has progressed much further than bad pulpiteering. Our congregations have become so biblically illiterate and so accustomed to the bad preaching that the average church has come to prefer/desire the bad preaching you decry. Righting the ship has become immeasurably more difficult because of this, in my estimation.

When the sword of the Word of God is not being wielded, there is no spiritual discernment at work, no conviction, no repentance. Folks leave feeling warm and fuzzy because of the exciting stories, funny anecdotes, and emotional tugs on the heartstrings, and they say "That was a wonderful message" - but I bet they can't tell you what spiritual cut of meat was being served.

Jonathan Charles's picture

Much of the blame should go to bible colleges. I'm assuming most of these guys attended a Christian college, preached these types of sermons in homiletics class and were told that they had done a good job. It is a vicious cycle: those who got poor training in homiletics get into some fundy Bible college and instill the same errors in their students. The 2 things that have taught me most about preaching are, first, understanding what an expository sermon is (content and structure of sermon comes from the text), and, second, Haddon Robinson's emphasis on having 1 homiletical prop for your message. It is important to receive the correction you need when you are young. I have heard John MacArthur tell the story a few times of preaching on 2 Samuel 7 in seminary and speaking on the danger of presumption rather that the Davidic Covenant as fulfilled by Christ. The professor, Dr. Charles Feinberg told him, " You missed the entire point of the passage, and it’s one of the greatest of all Old Testament passages. Don’t ever do that again.” [see: http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/jm-9759.htm Maybe young pastors need such correction but are not getting it.

Pastor Rob V's picture

But you have to make sure you aren't just using one because it's cute, funny etc. The illustration is supposed to be a device the pastor uses to cement what the Bible says and to be used as a memory device so the hearer can access the image of the illustration to take them back to the text. Jesus used illustrations from his culture a lot. I think we should too.

Don't be a great pastor, just be a pastor and let history judge for itself.

Charlie's picture

I would suggest that many pastors are less effective than they could be, not because they are too heavily illustrative, but because they don't take narrative and imaginative approaches seriously enough. At the worst end of the spectrum, there are some pastors who inject an anecdote to get the people's attention when they sense the congregation is losing interest. That does nothing to help preaching. Somewhat farther up on the spectrum are those pastors who view narrative and imaginative elements as ornament. So, you state a proposition, then tell a story about it or rephrase it as a word picture. Not bad, but great?

Jesus seemed to take narrative and imaginative approaches seriously as vehicles of scriptural truth. In Luke 15, for example, he does not tell parables as the icing on the cake to his sermon. His parables are the sermon! The book of Revelation is an apocalyptic vision, highly charged with metaphor and symbolism. The Scripture itself teaches us that truth can be communicated through a wide variety of forms or genres. Some preachers are adept at preaching in literary frameworks. The downside is that those who imitate them poorly are egregiously bad.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Stephen Schwenke's picture

Jonathan Charles wrote:
Much of the blame should go to bible colleges. I'm assuming most of these guys attended a Christian college, preached these types of sermons in homiletics class and were told that they had done a good job. It is a vicious cycle: those who got poor training in homiletics get into some fundy Bible college and instill the same errors in their students. The 2 things that have taught me most about preaching are, first, understanding what an expository sermon is (content and structure of sermon comes from the text), and, second, Haddon Robinson's emphasis on having 1 homiletical prop for your message. It is important to receive the correction you need when you are young. I have heard John MacArthur tell the story a few times of preaching on 2 Samuel 7 in seminary and speaking on the danger of presumption rather that the Davidic Covenant as fulfilled by Christ. The professor, Dr. Charles Feinberg told him, " You missed the entire point of the passage, and it’s one of the greatest of all Old Testament passages. Don’t ever do that again.” [see: http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/jm-9759.htm Maybe young pastors need such correction but are not getting it.

This could go both ways. There is generally more than one application to Scripture. Certainly in this example, the doctrinal/prophetic reference is to Christ fulfilling the Davidic Covenant. But what of the practical application? What of the Historical setting? I think sometimes we swing too far to either extreme. I believe when we lock ourselves into ONE type of message, or ONE exclusive interpretation, we do so at the detriment of our congregation. They are sheep. They need a "well-balanced" diet. Sometimes they need a good, heavy doctrinal message, but sometimes they need a good dose of reality (i.e. practical application.) Sometimes it is worth the time and effort to do a topical study.
If we lock ourselves into ONLY expository preaching, we lose the connection to the rest of the Bible, and sometimes end up with some really convoluted interpretations because we are NOT looking at the overall context of Scripture.
If we lock ourselves into ONLY practical application, we lose sight of the a priori of Scripture, which is DOCTRINE (see II Timothy 3:16-17.) THis turns into the "self-help" type preachers like Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen. We don't want to go that route either.

Therefore, I believe it is wise to vary the type of sermon (expository, topical, practical, doctrinal) to provide a well-balanced approach to the Scriptures. They need to the doctrine to build a solid foundation, but they also need to know how to make application personal, so that they can reflect the truths of Scripture in their daily life.

In Christ,

Pastor Steve Schwenke
Liberty Baptist Church
Amarillo, TX

TALyzenga's picture

How we preach is as much dependent on our Theology as what we preach, but sadly this is not the case in many pulpits. Although relatively young in the ministry, my experience has been that there is pressure from both peers and pew to take more control. I have been told that my preaching would be more affective with a better hymn of invitation. I have been told that talking about the original text is something only arrogant preachers do.

What does my Theology tell me? That, for the Christian, the hearing of the Word and the moving of the Spirit are what make us more like Christ. What part do I play? Preaching the Word! It is all I have in my list of obligations as a preacher. I am to illustrate, but only to bring understanding to the Word. I am to make application, but that is given to me by the Word. I am to argue, but only from the Word.

If this is the case then I have no place pulling on or playing around in someones heart. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts, rebukes, exhorts, and encourages. This is a supernatural process that I believe to many have laid in human hands.

The hardest part about this is that it lays the burden of result on the hearer and not the preacher, when the preacher has been told that it is his burden and the church believes it to be his burden. When the preacher takes up that burden he normally falls into the pattern of control. It becomes about your worship music, political view points, and the ability to be liked. It becomes about spending 70 hours on visitation and programs and 10 hours on sermons.

The end result, sermons on teenagers having tvs in the bedroom out of a passage in Genesis. The latest teen fade being the reason teens are doomed and going to hell, and a dependence on the Republican party to bring revival.

I am open to correction if I am wrong.

Preach the Word.

Tim Lyzenga

Jay's picture

At the church I used to pastor, I had a 'hard cap' on the amount of time that I could preach. Usually around 20-25 minutes, I believe, although sometimes I went over by accident. That experience was critical for me in terms of developing both my study habits and how I wrote messages. I used to study, study, study all week long for the one message, but there came a point during writing when I was forced to sit down and really evaluate what was THE thing that I wanted them to walk away with. As I wrestled with those questions, the one thing that I had to keep coming back to is "What did the sermon passage say?" I wound up throwing away a lot of the materials that I'd put together simply because it didn't fit with the main theme that the passage was addressing, and eventually I began to discern what was absolutely critical and what would wind up on the cutting room floor.

As difficult as that situation was (long story), I am grateful for the forced discipline of discerning the most important thing and then finding out what had to go so that the main point was not obscured and so that I could stay within the mandatory time limit that I was put under for preaching.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Stephen Schwenke's picture

Jay, I don't think I would last a week in a church like that! 20 minutes? I go anywhere from 40 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes, just depending on the material. Those are extremes, but typically I am in the 50 minute range.
I am not being critical of you, or anyone else who puts themselves under those restraints - just making an observation!
Maybe this is one of our failings in modern times. People are always in such a rush. There is so much input into people's minds in our modern society from radio, internet, TV, etc. it seems that the information flow is almost non-stop.
So to me, God's people need MORE preaching and teaching, not less! I figure if the average church member is willing to spend a couple of hours watching a movie, 3+ plus hours watching their favorite sport, and countless hours in other acts of entertainment, then certainly they would greatly BENEFIT by being under the preaching of the word of God for somewhere around an hour. They need that extra time in the Word to clean up the muck from the world we are so immersed in. (At least, in my humble opinion!)

Again - not criticizing, just observing!

Pastor Steve Schwenke
Liberty Baptist Church
Amarillo, TX

Daniel's picture

Jay, I think you said you went to NIU, were you there when I was? (01-06) I remember Dr Olson during a couple classes say 'so what?' in regards to why said what we did in messages. That is another good thing to ask in regards to any message one preaches/teaches.