By Scott Gibson on Jul 9, 2015
After listening to sermons all these years, I have concluded preachers either talk before the text or talk around the text but rarely talk about the text.
Occasionally I get to take a rest and not preach. Recently, I was on vacation and visited a church in another part of the country. It was Sunday morning, and I looked forward to a time of worship: singing, praying, listening to God’s Word.
The singing and praying were not unlike many of churches where I preach as guest or visit. The preaching seemed to be the same, too. That is, my experience in listening to preaching when I visit various churches has been disappointing. Yes, I know, I’m a preaching professor at a seminary. I have expectations of my students, but I also have expectations of any preacher to whom I listen.
What I’ve discovered after several years of visiting various churches and listening to preachers preach is that the text often is not exposited. That is, the text is not exposed. The idea of the text rarely is emphasized, and the text often isn’t supported in the preaching.
After listening to sermons all these years, I have concluded preachers either talk before the text or talk around the text but rarely talk about the text. What do I mean by these three categories?
Talking Before the Text
As for talking before the text, the preacher provides information about the theme as the preacher sees it presented in the preaching text. Talking before the text may give background information, but again, the background may not be germane to that preaching text.
In addition, when preaching the sermon the preacher may think he or she is making clear the text to listeners by quoting other texts. The buckshot of other texts may have some thematic bearing on the preaching text but does not necessarily mean the context of the Scripture being preached is made clear.
Preaching before the text also may include fillers—ongoing chatter with the congregation to develop rapport or worn-out techniques that one uses to begin sermons. One preacher I know begins every sermon with a joke, which usually has nothing to do with the text or the idea of the text. It is simply the way he always begins his sermons.
Talking before the text is not strategic. It distracts from the text. It rarely helps in achieving the purpose of the sermon, which is communicating clearly the thrust of the text as it intersects the lives of one’s listeners.
Talking Around the Text
Talking around the text skirts the preaching of the actual preaching text. Here the preacher may say biblical, orthodox, helpful, encouraging or insightful things; but the preacher does not actually exposit—deal with—the text.
What do I mean? Some preachers may provide listeners with a fill-in-the-blank outline. Fill-in-the-blank outlines can provide clear structure for logical thinking but often becomes evidence of a weak structure for a sermon when it does not deal with the text. In addition, listeners who are intent on filling in their outlines actually may miss things the preacher is talking about. Examined closely, some outlines become an excuse for the preacher to cover weak exegesis and flimsy homiletics. When not used with solid exegesis, outlines fail to communicate clearly the idea of the biblical text.
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