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10 Ways to Half-Bake Your Sermon: Part 2
Peter Mead more from this author »
Editor's Note: This is the second part of a two-part series on biblical preaching. Read part 1 here.
Some of these may be errors you always diligently avoid. But there may be one in here that makes you or I reconsider an aspect of our preaching. Actually there may be occasions when we fall into some of these approaches, but feel it is necessary in those circumstances. That is fine, there aren’t as many rules in preaching as people may think. But it is good to step into them aware of the potential weakness of the decision, rather than as a habitual approach.
6. Impose a sermon structure instead of letting the text’s structure influence your message.
Those who are committed to preaching as a ministry governed by rules and tradition will regularly cross this line. "For it to be a sermon it must have..." tends to lead to imposition of “correct structure” on Bible texts. It is interesting how few texts genuinely offer a standard number of parallel and equally weighted points. Much more often there is a flow of thought or plot, a combination of one dominant thought with supporting elements, or whatever. Let’s be careful that we don’t abuse a text by forcing a sermonic grid onto it in an attempt to preach the text. We may be left preaching a bruised and caged specimen.
7. Preach a preferred cross-reference
I remember listening to a set of lectures on tape (remember tapes?) The cover said they were lectures on the Pastoral Epistles. The labels on the tapes said the same. Actually, the lecturer also kept referring to the Pastoral Epistles too. But the overwhelming sense I got when listening to them was that the lecturer wished he were in Romans. He went there constantly. Maybe he felt he’d missed out when a more senior lecturer got to do the prized epistle.
When you preach a text, preach it. It is inspired. It is useful. It is worth the effort to study it and understand it and preach it. Don’t take the short-cut that may or may not be there to a more familiar, a more “preachable” or a more exciting text.
8. Preach a plethora of cross-references.
Every now and then I hear a preacher who seems to be entering the “who can reference the most Bible books in thirty minutes” competition. Please don’t. There are few good reasons to cross-reference, don’t do it otherwise. (See here and here for the two main reasons in my opinion.) Every moment taken in a cross-reference is time not used in preaching your preaching text; if it doesn’t add to the preaching of this text, don’t let your time be stolen.
9. Explain it, but don’t apply it.
This is a common error among those who say they are most committed to expository preaching. They will give an in-depth explanation of the preaching passage, sometimes avoiding every item on the list so far. Carefully explained text in context with focus on historical situation, authorial intent, and perhaps some linking into the broader sweep of theological and salvation history. Solid stuff. Then they stop.
One of the reasons I use Haddon Robinson’s label of “biblical preaching” for this site, rather than “expository preaching” is because of the baggage people have with the latter term. Some people grew up listening to endless dry Bible lectures, and whenever they questioned its value they were silenced with a war cry for “faithful expository preaching!” Problem is, preaching without emphasizing the relevance to the listeners is not expository preaching, no matter how good a Bible lecture it may be.
We simply can’t abdicate our role as preachers when it comes to applicational relevance and hide behind the notion that this is the work of the Holy Spirit. This is to suggest that I can handle the illumination of the text, but will hand the baton over to the Spirit for application of the text. Sorry, it is both/and. The entire process of preparation and delivery, of explanation and application, is a process in which the Spirit is at work, and so is the preacher. We must apply what we explain.
10. Commentary it, but don’t proclaim it.
This is another one for “expositors” to keep in mind. Either due to a certain approach in training, or as learned behavior from examples observed, too many preachers preach sermon points that are actually commentary titles. “The next point in my sermon is Saul’s Contention!” Uh, no, that is the next subtitle in the commentary you are reading out to us. There is a big difference between biblical commentary and biblical proclamation.
When we proclaim a text, we look to speak it out to our listeners. Oral communication does not match written communication. We don’t speak in titles, we speak in sentences. Let me encourage you to make your points into full sentences, and why not make them contemporary rather than historical if possible? This will keep us from sounding like we are reading our personal biblical commentary, and listeners are more likely to sense that God’s Word has been proclaimed and they have heard from Him.