Preaching Articles

A little while ago, a preacher called me and asked me about his idea for a sermon. He wanted me to critique his sermon idea and give him pointers on how he should proceed. Before he started talking about his idea, I asked him, “What is the scripture that you are going to use?” The preacher then told me, “I have a sermon; maybe you can help me find a scripture so that I can preach it.”

Now I do recognize that sometimes the theme of a sermon comes before you actually have a scripture. But once you have a scripture, your idea will no doubt be modified. In some places your idea will be amplified. In other places, your idea will be totally changed. In fact, your idea will have to come to struggle with the real text once you find it. In other words, you don’t have a sermon if you don’t have a scripture. Maybe a good motivational talk. Maybe a valid business lecture. You may “wreck the house.” But if you ain’t struggled with the scripture, we have something else other than a sermon ...

Let The Scripture Talk

Now, I gave the preacher a few texts that seemed to work with his theme that he was articulating, but I also encouraged him to allow the sermon to change as he seeks to understand that text. Incidentally, I got permission to use his story in this article.

This event made me think of the number of ways we preachers use the scripture in our sermons. Some preachers just sprinkle a bit of it into the sermon that has already been cooked to make it more edible. They simply “season to taste.” The text wasn’t involved in the sermon idea phase. It didn’t help the direction of the sermon in preparation. It is just sitting up on the podium as a prop next to the preacher.

Don’t Just Look For Support

Then there are those preachers who demonstrate that they have not just read the scripture looking to support their ideas, but they have actually struggled with the scripture. They are like Habakkuk who persistently asked God why. You know we Christians like to give superficial and surface answers to really hard questions. And preachers are complicit in this mindset by preaching messages where Christians don’t lose their jobs and if they do they always find a better one quickly and soon after.

In some of our sermons, Christians are always healed of their diseases if they would but pray. But no, some preachers go on and ask the tough questions like “Why do you look upon them that deal treacherously, and hold your tongue when the wicked devours the man that is more righteous than he?” (Habbakkuk 1:13)

Yes … some preachers ask hard questions that real people ask. And they struggle with the scripture. They don’t just skim the surface; they dig deep. They don’t simply toss it ... no, they hold on to the Bible just like Jacob held on to the Angel. They say, “I won’t let go until you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26)

Deep Understanding Of Scripture Drives Great Preaching

They leave time to be quiet and listen to God even when sometimes it comes in sheer silence. (1 Kings 19:12) They construct sermons out of that kind of deep preparation. They come to the preaching event with a message that demonstrates deep understanding of the scriptural witness.

They may be limping like Jacob, but they come with a real bread, hot from glory, ready to foster an experience of hope and power in the people of God. No they don’t use the Bible to prop up their ideas ... the Spirit uses the interaction with the Bible to drive the preacher deeper ...

Fed a steady diet of preaching that comes from this kind of study will grow a people with a very real belief that if they would but struggle with this ancient book and seek to understand and apply it in faithful ways that they will also be blessed beyond measure.

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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William Douglas Johnson, Sr

commented on Oct 11, 2013

Thank you for your insight. We can use these good words in preparing the Bread of Life, breaking the Bread, and then feeding the sheep. Chuck Swindoll said, "Sheep love good food." The Word is "Good Food" and on that meal, we can all enjoy watching the church grow to be giants in the Lord.

Paul Porter

commented on Oct 11, 2013

My preaching professor, Jim Shaddix, always told us to "abandon your sermon to the text." Whatever your original thoughts might have been about the sermon - once you take hold of a particular scripture, that scripture then takes holds of the sermon. If your original thoughts don't square with that text, you abandon those original thoughts in favor of the text. Preach the Word.

Alan Montgomery Hutchens

commented on Oct 11, 2013

Now, this is good preaching to preachers! Thank you for this greatly-needed article. Dr. J. Vernon McGee used to say that he wasted too much time in counseling sessions with his members until he realized that the sheep needed a steady diet of the word-by-word teaching and preaching of the Word of God. It is the Word Which is sharper than any two-edged sword. There's far too much of this "Bible-seasoned" preaching falsely so-called. Even God Himself knows that His Word is His bond. According to Psalm 138:2, He exalts His Word above even His name. Who are we pip-squeak preachers, to think that our words or concepts are as important as His? Our messages should be permeated with the Word of God. Rather than our presumptive search for assumed proof-texts in order to insure God's "Amen!" to our piddling ideas, our sermons should be our "Amen!" to what God already said. Thank you for this reminder, "Preacher" Cox!

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