How to Improve your Preaching: No side tracks

preacher-on-soapboxIn this continuation of previous article on how to improve your preaching, we present the next part. One of the key elements in how to improve your preaching is in understanding that God has placed His Word at the center of the spiritual transformation process. It is by the reading of the Word of God (not other stuff), the meditation on that Word, and the explanation of that Word (sermons) that people change their life spiritually for eternity.

Flawed Sermons

The Sin of Useless Information

The end goal of all communication between God and us is change in our life. The Bible was given so that we can understand our sinfulness and God’s remedy, and that we move from sin to righteousness. This must begin with salvation (confession, repentance, and faith in Jesus’ work on the cross). But it must also follow through to include holiness and piety, and righteous living.

In this process God has created a “new thing” the “church” which is His instrument in fulfilling this process. We must not despise or lightly esteem the church. Likewise we must not lightly esteem the Word of God which is a key element in this process. Preachers who preach without heavily using Scripture are simply not God’s messagers. Likewise preachers who do no clearly explain God’s Word are worthless or wolves in sheep’s clothing.

One of the favorite strategies of Satan is to sidetrack God’s process. If people just simply come to all the services of a normal (good) church, over time their life will be changed for the better. But Satan knows that, and in many cases his strategy is to keep people out of church so this process of God changing us into the image of Christ doesn’t happen. But with some people, “they don’t feel right” if they don’t go to church. So Satan has a different strategy for them, and that is to have church, have sermons, but make them inept at any spiritual change. The way he does that is by replacing a good focused exhortation (a biblical call to action from sin to righteous) with simple useless information.

I call this filler sermons. These sermons lack a clear call to action, they do not encourage the weary saint, they do not challenge the lazy saint, and they do not confront the sinner. They simply occupy space that could have been used to do the work of God, and instead they simply do nothing productive for eternity. They have little spiritual value, and this revolves around a lack of spiritual purpose (no call to action).

God did not give us His Word just so we can “know” facts. His purpose is to save and transform lives, so any teaching, preaching or other activity that is not directed towards that end of spiritual transformation is simply a “space filler.” We think we are getting something, but what we get is to no good spiritual end. Knowledge kills the spiritual, but true spirituality uses knowledge to bring the message of spiritual change (stop sinning, and do righteousness).

The Sin of Unapplied Principles

One of the most frustrating things (for another preacher to observe) is a preacher that takes a passage of Scripture and then he talks about it, but he “misses” the spiritual principle presented in the passage, and he “dances around” it to never truly capture the message of God nor does he apply it. Here one must be careful, but frankly, there is a lot of preaching out there that just is incorrect analysis of the text. They get something, but it is not the most obvious point of the text.

For example, a 5 point Calvinist preaching on 1TIm 4:10 will point out that Jesus only died for the elect, and that “all men” there means only the elect.

1Tim 4:10 “For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.

The point is that salvation is provided for all men (100% of the human race), but not all men are saved, only those that believe in Jesus (take action on that provided and offered promise of salvation).

The point is that many preachers preach a passage giving it a twist which is exactly the opposite of what it actually says. I know the long discourses that they use will make logic like dogs jumping through hoops, but in the end, just reading the passage contradicts the very premise of the sermon. After you read these discourses or hear these sermons, you simply read the verse again and it is obviously the opposite of what the whole sermon was about.

So as a preacher we must “religiously” try to find the correct interpretation and principles in a passage, and we must not gloss over the obvious principles, and we must not misinterpret the passage to come up with an application that simply is not obvious and clear in the passage. I am not saying that maybe in some minority of cases, there are valid applications that are minor but valid. But I am saying that if it is clear in the Bible, go to where it is clear, and preach from there, not in the passages that refer to and support the principle in an indirect or minor way.

The Sin of Lacking Authority or using Invalid Authorities

Nobody has the right to tell other people how to live except God. A preacher is no different. As a preacher I have absolutely no right to stand before people week and week and tell them how to live. My “right” is not mine, but is God’s right. When we do exactly that (stand before them and tell them how to live), WE MUST DO SO USING THE AUTHORITY OF GOD. By this I mean that what we say must be anchored in the Scripture and saturated with Bible. Otherwise it is just our opinion versus the opinion of others.

Without the authority of God (i.e. Scripture clearly presented being interpreted correctly), there is no spiritual power in a sermon. It is invalid, poor, and useless for the purposes of God. This is the problem of the preaching of our day, sermons misuse the Word of God (see above) or they lack using it at all. Satan wins here hands down.

Flawed Preachers

Those that attack God

You may be put off by this topic, but there are many preachers today that attack God in their sermons. They do this just like Satan did with Eve in the Garden. They brazenly challenge the wisdom and authority of God, and they attack God’s Word as being wrong. This says God Himself is wrong. Satan’s challenge to Eve was that God was flawed in his intelligent, wisdom, and eternal mind being above and beyond any creature’s. Simply put, Satan thinks himself to be smarter than God. He counters God at every turn, trying to take the place of God in men’s lives. In this, Satan questions God, and questions God’s discernment (ultimately His authority to dictate man’s life also).

The first way Satan attacks God is to question the authority and correctness of Scripture. Simply put, Satan says God is wrong in what he says and demands of man. Secondly, Satan attacks the “credentials” of God. He does this by placing men into God’s churches, but these men (like Satan) question God’s Word, and they pretend to be “men of God” but in actuality, they are far from it. A “man of God” is somebody that is God’s man, and he is molded and made in the image of Jesus Christ.

Satan has men that speak forth the true principles of God, but personally their lives are filled with sin and errors, and a lot of misconduct and bad attitudes. These men speaking actually good doctrine cause the world to see God through the eyes of these “servants” and thus they see God and his people as hypocrites.

Rule of thumb: When people sit under a hypocritical preacher, all they really learn is hypocrisy!

Contrary to what many think, when a preacher tells you how to live, his own personal life is intensely wound up in the message he presents. If he lives by the principles he is espousing, then his own personal life and testimony “adds spiritual weight” to what he is saying. You see a man who works hard and is successful because (1) he works works hard, and (2) he tells you that is how to do it, then this makes the greatest impact. When you see a crook tell you the same thing, “Work hard to be successful in life”, and you know he steals, lies, cheats, and does anything immoral and unscrupulous to get ahead, that man is a hypocrite, and even though his words are the same as the first man, you only “learn” (take in by other’s efforts) his hypocrisy. Morally he doesn’t make you better.

Over time, in a church with a flawed preacher, the people will eventually see how this man really lives and see really how “his soul”. When they do, they will probably follow his example more than just his words. They may be exactly like him, espousing the same good principles, but living by hypocrisy, whatever works for them.

Another rule of thumb is…

Rule of thumb: People copy more of your moral example than you professed rules and principles!

This is why Satan works with his own “men of God” that are morally corrupt. People will always go with the example of those they see before really analyzing and following the Word of God. This is sad, but it is how life seems to work.

The bottom line here is if your preacher is not living the principles he preaches, then his whole ministry is against God, and works against the purposes and methodology of God. To follow such a man, or to sit under such a man is to condemn your own soul. A preacher like this (a hypocrite) simply doesn’t think the principles and morals of God are important enough to require them in his own life: (1) he strives to live up to them, or (2) if he cannot, then he gets out of the ministry. This infectious, horrible line of thinking of the preacher very quickly infects his people, and they likewise will not demand scriptural norms and standards for the man of God before them, nor will they force him to resign. Satan has won again.

Do not twist Scripture from its true meaning.

Satan’s strategy is to make God’s true meaning sommething other by means of unsound and unbiblical logic. We saw this point above. One of the key principles here goes along with its sister principle, you do not do right by doing wrong. In other words, you break the rules in order to please God. Little white lies are just as much lies as any other lie. Doing so, even with supposed good purposes, is still wrong.

Whe we apply this to preaching, we cannot assume that the Bible teaches something (while not being able to put our finger on a very clear verse of Scripture), and therefore take some other Scripture and change (twist) its meaning for our purposes. What is clear in God’s Word is clear. Use it. If you cannot find a clear statement of something in God’s Word, probably you should drop the whole matter from your preaching.

Do not change the Priorities of God

The priorities of God are as important as what God says. The priorities of God are established by two main things: (1) how frequent, “up front”, or often something is mentioned, and (2) by key verses that position a doctrine or “thing” as being important. If you cannot establish a priority from one or both of these, then it is probably not a priority. The burden of proof is on you, and if you cannot prove it with Scripture, no other authority is acceptable.

First of all, the frequency of something carries (or should carry) great weight as to how important and frequent that doctrine or thing should be in our preaching and thinking. For example, the Bible everywhere speaks of the sin of man, the salvation of man, and the Saviour of man from his sins. Even though the actual name “Jesus” is not found everywhere, he is revealed and focused upon in all of the Old Testament via other comments and other names.

Let’s take the Calvinist doctrine, the doctrines of Grace. While they use the term “grace”, they mean their own 5 points of Calvinism. I would agree completely that salvation is a key doctrine (essential and of priority) in Scripture. While I agree with this, I do not see election/predestination being pervasive or extensive in Scripture. There are very few verses that even mention it as being anything similar to the doctrines of Grace. At that, election can be to salvation, or election to be used of God in a ministry and service before the throne of heaven. Both are captured by the same concept, so as a purist, “election” is just as clearly referring to selection for ministry as it can refer to election to salvation.

But if you look at the key verses where some minister of God is presenting the Gospel (good news) of salvation, there is never a reference to election or predestination nor of perdition in those contexts. The frequency issue would make it a major priority or not, but the total lack would mean something is really wrong with considering election as an essential and core aspect of salvation. The two don’t cross in that way in evangelism passages (which is where we would think they would come out strongest).

So when analyzing what you are going to preach, what is the most obvious and frequent? Clearly in salvation passages, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. We go back to our previous point. The obvious is clear and obvious. It is an action which each individual should decide in himself to do, and that is what he does to be saved. You cannot twist this into some other priority for people believe in or do to be saved. Nowhere is belief in election the thing that saves a person, nor is that accepted by Calvinists. But belief in Jesus is what saves.

We need to look at how Scripture treats a topic, and see if Scripture places a priority on a particular thing. Some will say everything in Scripture is important, and to a point they may be right, but the way they say this is wrong. Everything in Scripture is not of the highest priority. Everything God has to say to us is important, but when speaking of priorities, God has certain “higher priorities” (the essentials or fundamentals) and other stuff that are of lesser priority. Salvation needs to be settled before your relationship with your wife. Without salvation being settled, you will never fix the problems of a marriage.

Secondly, there are key verses that declare or set apart a particular doctrine as being of extreme higher importance. Here we can see many examples, but just a simple one, John 3:16. God’s love is so important and central in the being and thinking of God, that God sacrificed his own Son on the cross because of this love. This sets the concept of love, especially God’s love apart from all other topics as being very important and worthy of many sermons in a given year.

While every schismatic and heretic will take some obscure verse and declare that that verse sustains some particular key doctrine in their group and then declare that the verse is of extreme importance, this must be resisted and declared invalid. Here a good example is the Church of Christ and baptism. They exalt a single verse

Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

into being a requirement for salvation. In other words, you are not saved until you get wet. The fact that the Bible speaks of a spiritual baptism as well as a physical baptism in water (which the physical is an outward declaration of the spiritual) really is lost on the Church of Christ people. They insist on the condition of baptism for salvation.

While a key verse like Ephesians 2:8-9 that establishes that only through faith are we saved, and that all works are excluded from being involved in true salvation is excluded from their thinking, it should not be excluded from ours. Even in Mark 16:6, what condemns a person is his lack of faith, not his lack of getting wet. If that is the key element in salvation, then why preach water baptism? Water baptism is simply a profession of your faith, which can be done vocally without the baptism. According to the Bible, every believer should be baptized profession their salvation. But the key element here is faith, not water.

1Pet 3:21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

Again what we see is that water baptism is simply that necessary outward confession of Christ. In itself, it does not save. Peter says baptism does not save (put away sin), but is “the answer” (a valid reaction or response after salvation) of a Christian to being saved. This is a logical step AFTER a person has been saved.

So when preaching we need to focus on essential key doctrines and teachings that transform lives, and not get side tracked by other things (be they good or not).

I cannot help but to say something about “hobby-horse preaching”. For example some preachers want to bring in the issue of Bible versions into every sermon as being the most essential thing in the Bible to get across. This places an undo priority on the issue. I am a pastor, and I fully believe that every pastor should recommend a good version of the Bible, and they should use that and ask their people to use that version. But in the issue of Bible versions, the Bible is inspired, but the Bible was not given us in English, so no English Bible version has the same quality as the original documents. No translation is not endorsed by God in the holy Scriptures. God did not give us an inspired ENGLISH version. It is in Hebrew and Greek (and some Aramaic).

Preach on inspiration all you want to (but with the same priority set on it as in the Bible), but do not confuse a version in any language with the original. When you make the version issue an every sermon priority, what do you do with the other priorities that you slight in order to focus on the KJV? For example, salvation, the love of God, repentance, obeying God, sin that needs to be dealt with correctly, holiness and piety, etc. These key elements of Scripture are basically thrown in the “little importance” bin of your mind when you misfocus exalting something beyond where Scripture places it. What version of the Bible did Jesus use? He did not speak English anywhere that we can see in Scripture. So don’t answer with any English version of Scripture. In the Old Testament God gave a written book with some of his words on 2 tablets of stone (the 10 Commandments). Later Israel wanted to idolize that, and they were lost on purpose by God along with the arc of the coventant. That should show us that we are so easily prone to getting off the essentials to major on the minors. This should be religiously rejected by biblical preachers.

How to Improve your Preaching

Improving your preaching means making the plan of God succeed. This is just as much about you the preacher as it is about the church, the sermon, or the people. You are the instrument of God in God’s hands, and therefore it is important how you look at preaching, at your work, and how you do it.