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Excerpted from his talk given at the Acts 29 Lead Pastors' Retreat in June 2011:

I wish I could tell you that most pastors are preaching the word. I can't — some are not preaching the word. So here's five things we may choose to do instead of preaching the word.

1. Entertaining

"Music, drama, and video, felt needs, topics, more stories"

None of those things are wrong — unless they displace the preaching of the word of God. Some teachers will tell you that you need to tell stories in your sermons or you will bore people. I'm not bored. If you're not bored, no one is going to be bored. Can you take hold of the word of God and take hold of a group of people and make them listen because you have something to say?

Are you bored? The greatest sin in ministry is to bore people with the Bible. Martin Lloyd Jones said, "Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire. A man who can speak about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one."

You have to get the word of God, let it grip you heart by the power of the Holy Spirit and drive over to church with something to say.

Now if a story fits in, I might tell you a story before I sit down, but don't make that your thing. If people come up to you afterwards and say, "I love that story you told," it should make you crazy. Really, that's what I am? I'm a story-teller? The Gospel is the main story that you should be telling.

2. Sharing

We hear a pastor say, "There's some things I just want to share with you today..."

Since when is the man of God some Dr. Phil and Oprah combo? You're supposed to proclaim a message. If you're not preaching, glory is not coming down. You have got to preach the glory down — people have to hear a word from God.

3. Wooing

"Careful, careful, don't offend, always comfortable, never pressured, just a pinch of truth, when they're ready to handle it"

The preaching of the gospel has become so watered down that the non-elect can't even reject it.

If you don't have people walking away from your ministry saying, "this is a hard word, who can accept it?" then you don't have a ministry like Jesus had.

I just hate this notion that we can be so clever and sophisticated that we can remove the offense from the gospel. It is foolishness to those who are perishing, it is the power of God to those who are being saved. It is the aroma of death to those who are perishing, it is the aroma of life to those who are being saved.

Listen, preacher: If you don't want to be the aroma of death to those who are perishing, you can never be the aroma of life to those who are being saved. That's why preaching is hard work.

4. Intellectualizing

"I've been thinking and researching this in the original languages..."

We're supposed to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. And preaching that stops at the shoulders is defective preaching. It has to move me — it has to call me to action — mind, emotions, and will. If you're just preaching your theological construct, you're blowing it.

Stop preaching the scaffolding around the Bible and preach the word — what God actually says.

John Calvin said, "God deigns [considers it proper] to consecrate to himself the mouths and tongues of men in order that his voice may resound in them." Your preaching is at its best when your people have forgotten that you're even standing there, and God's Spirit is moving through you. I am afraid that we've lost sight of this.

5. Abbreviating

"Twenty minute sermons"

I don't know how it works at your church, but for us it takes 5 minutes to set the rig up and another 5 or 10 minutes to take it down. If you're only preaching for 20 minutes, that gives you 5 minutes to drill. You're not going very deep, are you? It takes some time.

Romans 10:16 Jesus said, "He who hears you, hears me."

"He who hears you," Jesus said, "hears me."

Yet there's no pridefulness, is there? It's so humbling. It's a crushing weight, isn't it? I tell people the weekly message preparation is the crucible of my sanctification. Never get in a habit of getting up in the pulpit when things aren't square everywhere. That by itself will keep you going in the right direction. "He who hears you, hears me," Jesus said. I love that challenge — to be that person.

James MacDonald (D. Min. Phoenix Seminary) is the founding senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, leads the church planting ministry of Harvest Bible Fellowship, teaches the practical application of God's Word on the Walk in the Word radio broadcast, and is a gifted author and speaker.

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Chuck Sligh

commented on Sep 13, 2011

Excellent! Right on!

Tony Russo

commented on Sep 13, 2011

Thanks James. We might also add to be correct in our Scripture references. #5 should be Luke 10:16 instead of Romans 10:16 :)

Rob Shepherd

commented on Sep 13, 2011

Thanks James for your suggestions. I also think it?s worthwhile to look at how Jesus taught. He told stories and I've never read a parable that was longer than 20 minutes. I think God has gifted speakers in different ways and we need to be ourselves and be faithful to the Word.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Sep 13, 2011

Overall, some good stuff. I would like to push back on some points he made, though: 1. Entertainment. A couple of thoughts here. First, I agree our goal is not to entertain, but it's just not true that "[i]f you're not bored, no one is going to be bored." I've heard many people talk passionately about stuff that I find terribly boring. We must be passionate about our message, but we must also find fresh and creative ways to communicate our message. Second, the stories we tell must never replace the Word. But if someone expresses appreciation for a story told in a sermon, Mr. MacDonald's reaction is, "Really, that's what I am? I'm a story-teller?" Well, yes, as a matter of fact. That IS what we are. We are storytellers. Jesus was known as a storyteller, so I'm OK being thought of one, as well. In our preaching, we take the stories that we tell each other every day and place them in the context of the Gospel story, so that we can learn how to live our stories in a more Biblical way. Yes, not every preacher tells stories in this way; and yes, we must not be MERE storytellers. But let's not denigrate the art of storytelling just because some preachers do it poorly, in a way that is not Biblical.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Sep 13, 2011

2. Sharing. I just don't see that "sharing" and "proclaiming" are two mutually exclusive terms. I would've preferred if Mr. MacDonald had taken the time to define how he uses those terms, and how one is invalidated by the other. Otherwise, I think it's awfully harsh and unChristlike to judge a sermon or a preacher on one sentence he may use, without taking into account the overall context of the actual sermon preached. 3. Wooing. The Gospel is an offense because it stands in judgement of our natural, sinful thoughts and desires. We must not remove that offense. HOWEVER, we have the tendency of putting up our own stumbling blocks and thinking they are biblical, when in reality, all we're doing is following the example of the Pharisees who laid burdens on people they themselves were unwilling to bear. As important as it is not to remove the offense of the Gospel, we must be careful not to ADD to its offense, either! 5. Abbreviating. We need to learn how to evaluate this on terms of content and context, not length of sermon. I've heard a lot of one-hour sermons that were just as fluffy as a twenty-minute one. But I agree, it does take time. How much time it takes will depend on the preacher and the congregation.

Scott Delashaw

commented on Sep 13, 2011

Bro. James. Thank you for such a clear and needed article. I realize that there are settings and circumstances we preachers will find ourselves in that will call for a shorter message or possibly more stories (illustrations). However, we must avoid the modern cultural "current" that is eroding the rich and fertile ground of true gospel preaching. It is amazing to me how many pastors/preachers will read a passage of scripture and then spend twenty minutes (no more) telling stories, sharing statistics, telling jokes and doling out pop-psychology. How can we call ourselves gospel preachers, declaring the whole counsel of God, if we do not use the Word of God throughout the presentation? The five things you mentioned are right on. Thanks for an encouraging article.

Rex Chakas

commented on Sep 13, 2011

Thank you, Bro. James for your pointers/reminders. Thanks Bro. Fernando for your insights.

Jerome Washington

commented on Sep 13, 2011

Great! Please fix: Luke 10:16 instead of Romans 10:16

Joji Kaden

commented on Sep 14, 2011

What every preacher should keep in mind! Excellent. God bless you!

John E Miller

commented on Sep 21, 2011

Really good stuff. I agree entirely with all five points. Thank you brother.

Chris Ryan

commented on Sep 21, 2011

This is a great article. Thanks James for being Bold. I love your Podcast as well walk in the word!

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