Preaching Articles

To illustrate is to shed light on a subject. Illustrations are like windows in a house: They let the light in, but they can also let in voyeurs, seeking to eye the forbidden.

Voyeurism is not just the vice of those who want to see what they should not see. It is also the vice of those who want to show what they should not show.

There is no place for voyeurism in the pulpit. Sermon illustrations should be like letting sunlight into a window, not like putting a spotlight on a stage.

Here are 10 guidelines for avoiding indecent exposure in the pulpit.

1. Thou shalt not embarrass thy neighbor.

When I got married, Crystal gave me blanket permission to use anything I thought was appropriate or helpful. She had one qualification: “Don’t embarrass me.”

I strive to keep this one commandment. So should you. Don’t say anything that will embarrass your family and friends. Don’t criticize, settle scores or take shots from the pulpit.

Affirm, don’t embarrass.

2. Think twice.

Many inappropriate things are said in preaching spontaneously. We just don’t think about it before we say it. This is why you should write out your messages. And as much as you can, stick to the script.

If you stray from what you prepared, and it includes a personal reference you have not thought through, think twice.

3. Do not boast.

You should not use illustrations about what you drive, where you live, what designers you wear, how much money you have, who you know or anything else that conveys you have it going on.

Don’t use the pulpit to brag about material things!

4. Ask permission.

A simple way to stay out trouble is to ask permission before you mention someone from the pulpit.

Get permission first, and you won’t have to get forgiveness later.

5. Do not use illustrations from counseling sessions.

Church members do not confide in pastors (or other members) because they fear their private business will broadcast. “Please don’t talk about me from the pulpit,” they plead.

Your people should trust their discussions with you are confidential. You undermine this confidence when you use counseling conversations as pulpit material.

6. Spare us the details.

Once or twice a year, I permit unplanned testimonies in worship. But I remind volunteers they cannot tell it all.

It just seems the more details they try to give, the more the testimony goes astray. The same thing happens in preaching. The more details about a situation, conversation or experience you give, chances are you will over-speak. The devil is in the details.

So only say what is necessary to get your point across.

7. Don’t play the hero.

Avoid illustrations in which you are the star. You don’t want people to think more highly of you than they ought. A surefire way to produce misguided hero-worship is to tell stories that feature you as the hero — the one who prayed or forgave or sacrificed or exhibited patience or led someone to Christ. Be the villain.

Let Jesus be the hero.

8. Good for the soul, bad for the reputation.

If there is something you need to confess, tell it to the Lord—not to your congregation! Beware: in the attempt to prove you are human you can suggest you are not spiritually qualified to preach.

Even if it is something buried in the past of your pre-Christian days, still be careful. You want to invite prodigals home, not make the far country seem desirable.

9. Make sure you are over it before you talk about it.

When we have gone through hurts and pains and sorrows, we want to share the lessons we have learned with our people. Let those lessons sit a while. Make sure you pass the class first.

Don’t vomit your hurt feelings, open wounds or unhealed offenses on your congregation.

10. Remember it’s not about you.

The best way to avoid indecent exposure in the pulpit is to stay focused on the fact that the message is not about you. Your people should learn more about Christ from your sermons than they learn about you. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves,” said the Apostle Paul, “but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Christ’s sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).

What else would you recommend to avoid indecent exposure in the pulpit?

H.B. Charles, Jr. is the Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, where he has served since the fall of 2008. He is primarily responsible for preaching-teaching, vision casting, and leadership development – along with all the other tasks that are a part of pastoral ministry.

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Dennis Cocks

commented on Feb 22, 2013

Another excellent article (Randy Acorn's the other)! Every point is spot on, but I especially liked #2. I am a manuscript preacher and it is refreshing to read someone who doesn't think we who preach from a manuscript are somehow not really preaching.

Lafern Cobb

commented on Feb 22, 2013

This is a good article, things learned about 30 years ago, but still good.....but what is shocking are the comments from David...certainly this man still isn't leading the youth? There is no struggling with pornography! That is like saying someone is struggling with meth.....or cocaine....or adultery. Not trying to take away from this article, but this is disturbing. Our Youth Pastors are a young married couple (35 years old). Our Youth Department is wonderful and all youth are ministered too. This person/man should not lead the youth, but should absolutely be in church where he can get the love, support and help he needs from his Pastor, leaders, and church family. God bless you David as the church goes through this.

Joe Mckeever

commented on Feb 22, 2013

Good stuff, my friend. I always enjoy what you write.

Brad Bess

commented on Feb 22, 2013

Thank you for sharing! Wisdom we should adhere too. God bless!

Leslie Rice

commented on Feb 22, 2013

Very good information. I just wish that more preachers/leaders could read it.

David Buffaloe

commented on Feb 22, 2013

Lafern, I should have said "past struggles". I'm sure your Youth Pastors walk on water. Now, are your Youth being taught to be missional? Not ministered to, but missional? As I read your post I feel that you are struggling with pride, but perhaps I misread.

April Rogers

commented on Feb 22, 2013

Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I used my son's name once in a sermon that I saw afterward was embarrassing to him. He didn't express that to me but when I thought about it afterward, I knew that it was. As a general rule I try to make it a point not to use people's name's conversationally; so I try to follow suit when preaching. I am new in the preaching ministry, and I welcome good advice from seasoned saints!

Lafern Cobb

commented on Feb 22, 2013

Good evening David, sorry for the late answer. I was out all day. First, I am not "struggling" with pride. I am extremely proud of our young couple who are now our Youth Pastors. I like to think of it as a Godly pride. We have watched this young couple grow physically and spiritually for 20 years. We have had the privilege of watching God lead them. They now have teenagers of their own. So no, there is no struggling.....I feel totally blessed to have this young couple on our Pastors staff. I wish all churches were blessed with such a Spirit filled couple who are able to lead our youth. And yes, one young 13 year old lady has already preached her first sermon and feels a call to the ministry and several feel called to the mission field. But I hope some of them feel called to stay with us. As we age, we will need even more love and support. No struggling, no pride, just a humble thank you to the Lord for blessing our church with such fine examples for our Youth. Oh, and also our youth counsel at youth copy an ad, we are trying to keep good going. Even after your strange remarks, I still wish you the best with your problem. Our goal is to reach the whole Gospel to the whole world, and as quickly as possible.

Bala Samson

commented on Feb 23, 2013

Wonderful article and very useful for every preacher. Thanks a ton for such stuff.

Jerome Mcpherson

commented on Feb 23, 2013

I certainly appreciated your comments and its very enlightening. You mention a number of things that I never thought of. Another thing to avoid is naming churches when you referring to their doctrine from the pulpit.

Roland T

commented on Feb 23, 2013

Thank you very much for these useful recommendations. It's all about Christ!

Anthony Jones

commented on Feb 25, 2013

Great article, being a pastor I can certainly agree on several points that has assisted me in the pulpit. Another point is not to handle individual problems for example, if you have problem with one of the members, try not to handle it from the pulpit, unless you're truly led bt God to do so. Sometimes this cna add fuel to a fire that you may want to go out.

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