Preaching Articles

I had a short conversation with a friend and Christian brother recently that impressed on me how the stakes—the demands—have become higher in this age of smart phones, iPads, and Google. He told me of his pastor who made a strange and bold claim in a sermon.

My friend was doubtful, so right then and there he Googled the claim, and learned that it was extremely dubious, at best. He said he had since done the same with other statements, enough to really compromise the impact of his pastor's preaching ... and perhaps even his personal integrity. 

Now, probably every pastor in the world, including me of course, has failed at times in his or her research—especially since the dawn of the internet, perhaps. We can't know everything. We can't verify every source. We can only do so much. 

But we must keep in mind that almost anyone these days can do what my friend did. 

First, that's a challenge to remember that I need to be the first fact-checker of anything I say from the platform. I have always footnoted or otherwise indicated my sources when studying for and writing a sermon, which has often paid off when someone asked for the source or when, sometimes years later, I used it in an article or book. Even when for the sake of focus I've used phrases like, "I've heard it said" or "It has been reported" from the platform, I've made sure to have a citation available so anyone seeking more information could get it.

Second, I've always had as a goal to speak so compellingly throughout a message as to make it hard for a person to daydream or disengage, even for only a moment. It's a high standard, of course, but one that would these days make Googling my words a little tougher on the listener.

Finally, and most importantly in this new era of smart phones, I want to make sure that my words are always trustworthy, so that the person who does check their veracity would be reassured, as much as possible. I want my messages to build toward a response, and that goal is short-circuited if a listener begins to think, What did he just say? That can't be right!

By the time he or she goes to Google on a phone, I've probably lost not only that person's attention but also the likelihood of the kind of response I'd been praying for.

Bob Hostetler is a writer, editor and speaker from southeastern Ohio. His 30 books, which include Quit Going to Church and the novel The Bone Box, have sold over three million copies. He has coauthored a dozen books with Josh McDowell. Bob is a frequent speaker at churches, conferences and retreats. He has been a disc jockey, pastor, magazine editor, freelance book editor and, with his wife Robin, a foster parent to 10 boys (though not all at once).

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David Buffaloe

commented on May 31, 2013

I verify with google before I get in the pulpit. For instance, I had heard Billy Graham said he suspected 80 of the members in the North American Church were lost. When I heard that preached I thought I'd use it in another sermon focusing on false conversion, but when I looked for references I discovered the statement was false. What he did say was "Millions of professing Christians are only just that - "professing". They have never possessed Christ. They live lives characterized by the flesh". I'm glad I researched it. I have found highly reputable pastors - many from mega churches - make statements that were false or quote statistics that could not be proven. When I hear an illustration I want to use I google it because I want to "speak the truth in love". Good article.

Chet Gladkowski

commented on May 31, 2013

This is no different than checking out and following cross-references during the message. Technology has just extended it. I look at multiple other resources and versions, including original language resources as a way to verify what is being said. Any preacher/teacher worth their salt encourages people to actively participate in this way!

Spencer Miller

commented on May 31, 2013

While in seminary, my homelitics proffessor told us that even well-known bible commentaries could be a little off centered. And the reason for this is because it was written by man and not inspired by the Holy Spirit. However, in every sermon we are not 100 there is a little bit of someone else who has inspired us in the sermons we preach. Maybe a former or current pastor, a parent, etc.

Paul Hull

commented on May 31, 2013

Encourage your congregation to Google you. Let them know that you welcome fact checking. Be willing to go to any length to get it right, or don't use the story that sounded so sweet. James wasn't kidding when he said that those who would be teachers would be held to a higher standard. We should always distrust glurgy stories, no matter the source. I still remember a sermon from this site that told the story of the young Turkish boy who went to school every day with reassurance from his father that he would never be abandoned. When the earthquake struck he was trapped with classmates in the rubble of their school. He encouraged his classmates with stories about how his dad would come because he had promised not to abandon him. When rescuers came, he insisted on going last because his dad was there directing the rescue. After being pulled from the rubble he bade a tearful goodbye to his father and was airlifted to America for surgery. When I began to Google the story, everything began to break down. Dad never made the promise. Dad never came to the school to rescue him. He did go to America for surgery, but dad wasn't around and he was airlifted out with no knowledge whether his family was even alive. Still a nice story...but not glurge, and very dangerous to use from the pulpit.

Keith B

commented on May 31, 2013

I've always just assumed that anything I say may be checked out by someone that is listening.

Ben Clinton

commented on May 31, 2013

Pastor Ben Clinton is very disheartening to deceive a congregation with stories and instances that are incorrect.Honesty must be projected.

Michael James Monaghan

commented on May 31, 2013

might be a bit unsettling for the preacher to notice some of his hearers looking at their phones rather than looking at the speaker or their bibles . :) But it happens . If the preacher knows what's going on it may be less distressing ?. Paul commended the Bereans for checking up on him- even though he was an Apostle of the risen Christ . 'These were more noble than those at Thessalonica , in that they searched the scriptures daily , whether those things (preached) were so '.

Robert Fa’atoia-Collins

commented on May 31, 2013

Great article and its so true. However, Biblical preaching is never challenge because the Bible should always explain itself. What one verse or chapter says another book of the Bible affirms it. Jesus is the centre of the Bible and no one would challenge our preaching if the focus is Christ and Christ alone. I use google sometimes to verify my historical setting. I also use it to verify a news article that I read in the paper or watch on TV news. I never forget what my Professor said at our homiletics class; "your right arm holds the Bible and your left arm is a newspaper or a biography of a true story. That for sure would not cause any members to search or google our words during the sermon but focus on the Word of God been spoken. Thank you for the article and I don't disagree but totally agree. Blessings

Sandra Leightner

commented on Jun 1, 2013

Excellent Article !!

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