Summary: How can we teach our congregations to balance Christian essentials with non-essentials? How can we overcome bigotry on non-essential doctrines, while still maintaining our preference.
Introduce some basic elements of balanced preaching.
In Acts 20:27 Paul informs the the church of God in Ephesus that he had preached to them the whole counsel of God. Most preachers that do not have a structured annual preaching plan are guilty of over-preaching their hobby horses. However, there are some techniques for overcoming this tendency so that we can preach the whole council of God.
We will look at the idea of preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), rather than just our favorite subjects, or a narrow and bigoted view on doctrines. We will also look at the quest for balance in style and a balance between the positive and negative.
1. Balanced in Bible Use
While a lectionary plan does give some balance to our preaching by covering about 75% of the Bible over a three year period, not every preacher uses one, and even those that do, do not necessarily use it to teach from during the sermon, and even those that do, do not necessarily preach all 3 or 4 pericopes in one sermon. How then can we bring balance to our preaching?
One way is to not just preach from the Gospels every single week. Some preachers do, but that is not the whole counsel of God. Some preachers favor the epistles of Paul; others favor certain Old Testament passages such as Psalms and Proverbs. The lectionary gives us some example on how to be balanced between different sections of the Bible. It usually contains a central gospel reading, an epistle, a Psalm and another Old Testament reading. We could ask ourselves if our preaching is about 20% from each of these four areas, and that leaves another 20% for miscellaneous topics, seasonal preaching, and other books of the Bible and so on.
If my favorite Old Testament books to preach from were Proverbs and Psalms, people might get the idea that, things always work out for good that God's word is all about health and wealth. However, if I maintain equilibrium by also preaching from two books with the opposite perspective, Ecclesiastes and Job, then people will get a more balanced approach to understanding the mind of God.
Teachers who teach a semester in school or university plan a curriculum for their subjects. Why should the weekly sermon be an unplanned, disorganized Saturday night special? Some may object that they ask God to inspire their sermons and therefore they don't need to plan. That is a lame excuse. God is not the author of confusion, and usually such a supposedly inspired non-plan turns out to be more human whim than divine order. God set Adam and Eve in the garden to dress it and keep it, not to just give the pathetic justification that however God wants the plants to grow they will grow. The same is true in the annual sermon garden. It needs careful planting, pruning, and weeding.
How would a balanced sermon plan look? A preacher might take a blank annual calendar with all 52 weeks on one large page. With pencil, 52 different topics, scriptures, styles, seasons, parts of scripture, could be written down. If you preach twice a week, do you preach the same sermon each time because they are two different crowds, or do you preach two different sermons, because they are basically the same people? That brings you to 104 different sermons. What about the mid-week study, sermon, or whatever else you may call it? If you do something different there, that brings it to 156 different messages.
Who is going to preach all those messages? If you are on vacation for some of that time, do you have trained replacements? If not, why not? If it is not possible to get someone from a neighboring church, can you train some people locally? Frankly, I would prefer to train someone locally, but that is my style. I train leaders. It may not be your style or gift and that is okay too.
Now what about other teaching/preaching slots such as the Sunday school, small groups, women's tea, men's breakfast, youth Bible Study, family campout, leadership retreat, elders meeting, deacons meeting, women's auxiliary, service team meeting, music ministry team meeting and other opportunities to give a small word from God? All these occasions are important times that need planning. If we fail to plan, we plan to fail, and our opportunities to give a word in season will be lost.
2. Balanced in Doctrine
Most of the major doctrines are those areas of Christian teaching where the churches are in general agreement. Most churches agree that the words of Jesus ought to have high priority in the life of the church. Most churches believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Most churches believe in the angels, the fall of humankind, the Bible, salvation, the church and that Jesus will return.