I spent my first few years in Italy. One enduring result of this is a long-term liking for Nutella. The original and best chocolate hazelnut spread! Australians might love their Vegemite and the Americans their peanut butter, but this European can’t get away from Nutella. Except when I see it in American shops, that is.
In recent years I have seen it appearing in the grocery store during my visits to the US, and have bought a jar or two. Same jar, same wrapping, same colour, but not the same taste. One ingredient is different—just the oil. One ingredient on a long list, but it makes a difference.
The same is true with preaching. One ingredient modified slightly and the whole product can taste wrong. Here are three examples of tweaks that might ruin preaching:
1. Tweaking the tone from good news. Same passage, same illustrations, same length of sermon, but if you replace the good news aspect of the message with pressure to conform, guilt for failure or legalistic righteousness, I guarantee the message won’t taste the same!
2. Tweaking “of” to “from.” This is a common one. Instead of passionately pursuing the preaching of the message of the text, many preachers choose instead to preach their message from the text. That is, they use the biblical text as a starting point, but at the end the listeners don’t feel they know the text any better than at the beginning. Don’t preach from a text, preach the text. (I think this is the hardest one to spot in a mirror—every preacher thinks they are explaining the text. Perhaps you should ask someone who knows the Bible well and be ready to listen to what they tell you!)
3. Tweaking the text to fit an outline. Some preachers don’t go near this neighbourhood; some seem to live there. It's where the text is twisted slightly to help it fit in a certain outline. Perhaps a three-point alliterated outline. Is that really what the writer was doing in the text? Was that his intended outline? If not, you may leave a sour taste for listeners who sense that you’ve done a bit of a number on the text!
These feel like relatively small adjustments, but they leave a very different impression.
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