Rules for preaching: keep it sacred
Ryan Hayden • January 6, 2023preaching ministry
In this series of posts, I'm writing up my personal rules for preaching. So far, I've covered two: - It's not about you. - It's not your job to "come up with a message."
I plan on writing eight more of these, for a total of ten. Today, I want to cover a third personal rule:
Keep it sacred.
Let me explain what I mean: as a preacher, you are tasked with bringing a message from God. You are tasked with telling people, with authority, what God's word says and how it should impact their life. You are tasked with handling the gospel. All of these are heavy things. Yours is a serious responsibility.
There is often a temptation to try to diffuse that heaviness, but to do so cheapens the act of preaching. Somethings should be heavy. If we are dealing with matters of Heaven and Hell, if we believe that unchecked sin can affect people for generations - why would we try to blunt that blow?
Let me give you four ways preachers tend to try to make heavy things light and explain how each one cheapens what you are doing:
1. Telling Jokes
I love jokes. I read books of jokes. I listen to several clean comedians with my kids. I'm grateful to God for the gift of humor. (If God doesn't have a sense of humor explain giraffes, or pugs.) Jokes are great, but they don't belong in sermons.
I'm not talking about being funny. If you have a sense of humor, it will find it's way into your message. I'm talking about the annoying habit many preachers have of starting their sermon with a series of completely unrelated jokes. I think I've ever only heard one preacher do this well, but I've heard many preachers try and fail.
Just yesterday I heard my teenage daughters complain about one of their Bible teachers (homeschool videos). They both said he was a great teacher but were annoyed because, in their words, "he tries too hard to be funny."
Jokes communicate that you aren't serious about your subject. If you aren't serious about your subject, why should people listen? If you think five minutes of your limited sermon time needs to be dedicated to dad jokes, then what does it say about what you have to say? Keep preaching sacred.
2. Talking about sports and entertainment.
Again, I'm thankful for the common grace of sports and entertainment. God is a God of stories. He put inside of us a desire to see the good guys win against the bad guys, and that same desire draws us to books, sports and films. I'm not against entertainment (although I do think most of us spend too much time on it.)
But please, I'm begging you, don't start your sermon with "How about them Cowboys?" Don't start by talking about how good the latest Spiderman movie was. Care enough about your listener's time and enough about your subject to get on with it.
In a room with 100 people, there may be only 20 anyways that share your interest in that sports team or that movie franchise. That leaves 80 people rolling their eyes.
Save the sports discussion for the fellowship hall or the work day. Keep preaching sacred.
Another thing that shows a lack of serious in preaching is...
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. As a preacher, you should have a message to deliver. That message is a serious message. It is an important message. You want to get to that message as quickly as possible.
Imagine you are driving your wife to the hospital to deliver a child. There is a sense of urgency there. You aren't going to take three detours along the way. You aren't going to pull over to show her the new restaurant coming into town. You aren't going to backtrack through a neighborhood to show her that house you lived in in third grade. You are going to GET HER TO THE HOSPITAL.
I think when we are preaching we ought to have a similar sense of urgency about delivering our message. Either it is something people need to hear or it isn't. But if it is something people need to hear, then get to the message. Don't take people on fifteen rabbit trails. Get to the message. The seriousness of your message demands that you don't ramble.
Every story should serve your point. Every detour should get you where you are trying to go. A good rule of thumb is, if you are driving towards a point, then you should only take a detour if you know how it's going to improve your point.
Too many preachers routinely take every possible detour that comes their way, and this, like telling jokes and talking about trivial things, cheapens the sacredness of your message and communicates to your audience that you aren't that serious about it.
This is not to say that you can't tell stories. You can even purposely seem like you are rambling or going off in a totally different direction. But it has to be clear very quickly that that story or change in direction is serving the main point.
4. Grammar and Deportment
As a preacher, everything about you communicates a message and everything about you should communicate that you are serious about your message. This includes how you talk, how you dress and how you carry yourself.
You need to imagine that people are always asking the question: "Can I take this person seriously?" People are looking for any possible excuse to write off what you have to say. So don't give them an easy one by the way you talk, dress and carry yourself.
I'm old enough that my doctors are starting to be significantly younger than me. If I walked into a serious doctor's appointment and the doctor was wearing an anime hoodie and sweatpants, I'd probably turn on my heels and walk right out of there. If my lawyer or my accountant couldn't speak without using bad grammar, again, I'm walking right out of there. When serious business is happening, I want the people I'm working with to take it seriously.
I think the same thing goes with our preaching. We need to carry ourselves as people who have serious business to do. How we dress, how we talk, how we care for our personal hygiene, all of it should serve our important message.
I am not a dressy guy. If you were to drop in on me on any given day, I would most likely be wearing a flannel shirt, jeans and a baseball hat. But if I'm preaching, I'm going to dress like I have something important to say.
In 1 Corinthians 9:16 Paul says:
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
Paul felt an obvious burden (necessity is laid upon me) for preaching his message. It was serious business. I think we as preachers need to recover the burden of our message.
One of the first times I ever preached in church, I remember hiding out in the bathroom right before the service, slightly sick to my stomach. It wasn't so much that I was scared of public speaking. I just felt an incredible burden to deliver the message God had given me.
I no longer have to hide before I preach, but I hope I never lose the burden and sense of seriousness about what I'm doing. If I ever do, I'll do all I can to get it back, and if I can't, then it's probably time to do something else.
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