I love mentoring pastors because of the questions they ask. Recently, at a pastor training seminar I was conducting in Haiti, one local pastor asked me, “If I know a member of my church is committing adultery can I call her up to the front on Sunday morning, have her sit in front of the congregation and use her sin as an example?”
I asked if he had done that. He said yes. I asked how it went. He said, “Pa bon.” (Not good). This has to be the grossest example of calling out sinners instead of sin that I have ever heard of. And no matter where you preach, it's a terrible idea. I went on to explain to these very well intentioned, but very poorly trained, pastors what I have come to call “Principle Preaching.” Simply stated, principle preaching is an expository method of searching a specific section of Scripture for its highest principle and then developing a sermon that explains, elevates, elaborates, and engages the audience with an action plan.
Here are the 4 points of principle preaching, using Matthew 10:42 as example. “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (ESV)
1. Explain the highest principle of the Passage.What is Matthew 10:42 about? Chiefly that God calls us to unselfish action. Christ-likeness is the central task of the follower of Jesus, as exemplified by the simple act of giving a cup of cold water to a child who most likely cannot possibly return the favor. Explain the meaning of the passage for understanding. More cerebral preaching is appropriate here. Word studies and academic references apply but the chief concern is the prayerfully identify the highest principle of the passage. If you fail to do that all the rest is just showmanship and oratory skill. We need real power from the presence of the Holy Spirit in our preaching.
2. Elevate the highest principle of the passage.This passage is not essentially about rewards. It is about unselfish Christ-like action in the world. Elevate that principle through illustration, example, testimony, or other means for devotion. Explanation engages the mind. Devotion engages the heart.
3. Elaborate the highest principle of the passage.Now you are moving toward application but you’re not quite there yet. Elaborate the highest principle. Restate the main point with ever increasing clarity using pithy statements that are memorable. Supporting Scripture citations are very appropriate at this point, as are quotes and your clearest one liner. This is the point where you seek to stir the soul and engage the whole person in the coming instruction for application.
4. Engage the audience with an action plan.Give your people a real action plan. You just called people out for the sin of inactivity in simple actions of Christ-likeness. There are thirsty people all over the world and they now know they need to give them cold water. How specifically do they do it? Give them instruction in their daily life. Give them an opportunity for a regional or global mission trip. Give your audience a specific action plan to implement the Scripture.
Principle preaching keeps us from basing sermons off of that last counseling appointment where we learned that Mrs. Jones is having an affair or that Mr. Smith is stealing from his boss. Principle preaching allows us to seek the Holy Spirit to lead us in preaching Christ alone from the Scripture alone. If we do that we’ll call out sin directly from the Scripture rather than from the audience.