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Some preaching that is considered great by many is nothing more than a motivational speech. It might be true, it might even be helpful. It may help you succeed at work. But too often all one has done is changed the title from the latest pop-psychologist’s seminar from “how to succeed” to “how to fulfill God’s purpose” where God’s purpose is defined as “succeeding in this life.”

It is almost rampant in some circles. In fact, some see this as the epitome of “relevant” preaching. The person comes and learns a skill or a mindset that will help them finally break the boundaries that keep them from that promotion. Maybe others finally decide to go back to school or change their career. Perhaps others find ways to become better planners and thus are more effective in their financial life. And then the preacher sits down. Sometimes the people shout, other times they sit there contemplating the message, but in too many cases what is missing greatly outweighs the benefits of these messages.

When a sermon is merely a motivational speech, what is missing? At least two things:

The Cross is Missing

The first thing that is missing from this kind of preaching is the cross. Sometimes the preacher may tack it on at the end, but even in those cases the cross is reduced from the pinnacle of God’s work on behalf of humanity to simply a mechanism to help me do better at work. The cross, both Jesus’ and ours, is totally missing. The idea of our sin causing the death of Christ in some way is totally absent from this message. The idea that we are to take up our cross and follow is also absent.

In short, the Gospel is missing from many of these presentations and thus no matter how eloquent or well visited, this kind of preaching is missing the real power that comes from preaching “Christ and Him Crucified.”

The Coming Kingdom is Missing

In many of these sermons, the idea of God’s coming kingdom is totally missing. Whether it be how we are to prepare for the coming kingdom, or whether it be how the coming kingdom is different from the current “kingdoms,” this aspect of true preaching is often missing from the “motivational preaching” sermons.

If you are not preaching the cross and the coming kingdom, then one must ask oneself, what are the eternal consequences of my present preaching? If someone comes to your church after hearing about a cancer diagnosis, what does your sermon about being a success have to do with that one? If someone is in the midst of despair and needs to hear a word about the coming kingdom where righteousness reigns, what does your message that mistakes American middle class values for the Gospel have to say to them?

People can get motivational speeches in any number of places, but when they come to church they have come to hear a preacher. There is a time and place for the motivational speech, but if you as a preacher use up all of your time being simply another place, then you have not done your duty. For a preacher to degenerate into a facsimile of Oprah Winfrey or Tony Robbins is to step down from the height of speaking God’s words to humanity to speaking good advice gleaned from the best human thinkers.

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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Chuck Patrick

commented on Sep 14, 2011

Ouch! THANK YOU my brother for reminding me of my calling...preaching Christ crucified, risen and coming again.....the only HOPE for the world.

Dr. Luke Kauffman

commented on Sep 14, 2011

This is one of the best articles on the crime of not preaching the Word of God by ministers of the Gospel that I have been reading. As a Homiletics prof, I am in full agreement. "Preach the Word" is our mandate!

Larry Stines

commented on Sep 14, 2011

Excellent! There is only ONE thing that can change men's hearts. Preaching the Life, Death, Resurrection, and Exaltation of Jesus Christ. For sure your audience will be smaller and you will always offend some. People were offended by the cross even when Jesus preached. Let us all resist the temptation to preach to garner crowds. Thank you for the article!

Byron Sherman

commented on Sep 14, 2011

Excellent! The title says it all. Nothing could be more truly 'motivational' than surrender to resurrected Lord! The spiritual status of our country is so pitiable because mere speakers(as you said--"mistakes American middle class values for the Gospel") think they are preachers of the word. You hit the nail on the head brother! Thanks for the encouragement.

Clayton Galloway, Sr.

commented on Sep 14, 2011

Please continue these types of articles. I am afraid we have become so enamored with the idea of "easy believe-ism" and the "prosperity gospel" that we have forgotten God's call to holiness and the cross....

Scott Maxwell

commented on Sep 14, 2011

The 'felt need' preaching is filled with 'good advice' but hardly a whiff of Good News. Jesus, all by Himself, has fixed this broken world-- and we are called to trust Him and follow Him (living that Kingdom living which is counter to this 'worlds' formula -- Jesus does a good job of confronting that in the Wilderness and setting Satan and us correct on real Kingdom living). As the first witnesses proclaimed, "We preach Christ, raised from the dead- this is our gospel." That is the only Gospel, let's not be ashamed of it.

Pastor Mickey Willard

commented on Sep 14, 2011

The cross is an afront to so many today. The Bible tells us that in the last days men will just want their ears tickled and we are seeing that with so many preachers (motivational speakers) today just so they can "keep their job". Being a pastor/preacher is a calling and not a job. I had a deacon one time tell me to preach a message on Sunday that would make him feel good and get him through the week. Unfortunately that is becoming the mindset of so many in the "pews" today. As brother Chuck said ...preaching Christ crucified, risen and coming again...the only HOPE...for the world. I would rather have a small congregation that wants the whole counsel of God than a mega-church that wants to have their ears tickled.

Steven Leapley

commented on Sep 14, 2011

I agree with this, yet I disagree....maybe I am motivational, maybe I am contemporary....but does every Sunday need to be about saving us from hell? What is the job of the preacher? His job is to learn, study, train himself, teach those under his care, and live that way to the best of his ability......Don't get me wrong, Jesus needs to be preached but the Christian life is more than just the fact that Jesus died for us it is about living a life that Jesus called us to live....what percentage of Jesus' words were about the end of time and what percentage were about living the right way..... Respectfully, Steven

Steven Chapman

commented on Sep 14, 2011

I agree with this article in that we preach can preach a 'Biblical' message minus its biblical underpinnings ... such as some "how to..." messages. To do so is to resort to either motivational speaking or a new legalism. If the underpinnings are not clearly laid, the message looses it Christian identity. That doesn't mean that every message needs to be about the cross, resurrection and salvation, but to exclude them as the context for activity makes all the difference.

Sheryln Miller

commented on Sep 14, 2011

Tell it like it T- I- Is>

Sterling Franklin

commented on Sep 14, 2011

Preach the Gospel

Edmund Chan

commented on Sep 15, 2011

True but inadequate! I read this article with sincere anticipation. The premise is true. But the conclusion is truncated. It is our shared concern that there is more exhortation than exposition in the contemporary pulpit. That's the premise. But what is missing is NOT merely the cross and the coming kingdom. We can expand it to include "Christ is missing" and the "Covenant is missing" (Walter Kaiser's premise) and yet it still begs the question. It seems to me that a huge part of the problem is that the MEANING of the text is not grappled with. Busy pastors have litlle time to grapple with exegetical studies and expository excellence! It is thus easier to exhort than to expound the Scriptures. To exhort, one doesn't necessarily have to expound but to rightly expound, one has to also exhort! May more rise up as PREACHERS of the WORD who are motivational!

Dr. Luke Kauffman

commented on Sep 15, 2011

Edmund , , , May I say that if pastors are too busy to do proper research of the Sacred Text, then they need to make themselves busy researching the Sacred Text. This is the one thing that alone is the only thing!

Philo Daniell

commented on Sep 18, 2011

You are so right its painful! had this discussion with hubby yesterday after he came back from church and told me how good it had been, but when I asked what it was it was very motivational, full of worldly examples. we disagreed as i said we need to hear the word of God and not good examples. We need the fire of God, we need men like the Finneys, Moodys etc who were not afraid to teach on sin, repentance, holiness etc

Philo Daniell

commented on Sep 18, 2011

You are so right its painful! had this discussion with hubby yesterday after he came back from church and told me how good it had been, but when I asked what it was it was very motivational, full of worldly examples. we disagreed as i said we need to hear the word of God and not good examples. We need the fire of God, we need men like the Finneys, Moodys etc who were not afraid to teach on sin, repentance, holiness etc

John E Miller

commented on Sep 21, 2011

Godly advice! Great advice! Timely advice! Criticise it to your loss.

Steven Leapley

commented on Sep 23, 2011

Mr Miller: I must disagree with your statement "criticize it to your loss." THIS is the reason why so many non believers do not turn to the church...When those of us that call ourselves 'Christians' refuse to explore and discuss.... we create a wall that I feel Jesus came to break down...

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