Thursday, July 19, 2007

Preaching Mistake 4

This mistake is significantly deeper than the first three mistakes. In fact, it is largely responsible for the existence of the first two. This mistake is one that I made just about every week for more than 20 years. It is made in nearly every pulpit in nearly every church in North America.

It happens because of how our pastors are trained. It is also caused by a basic misunderstanding of the purpose of the sermon.

This mistake is treating the sermon as if it were a lecture.

This misunderstanding has several layers:

  • The preacher feels the need to put as much "content" into the sermon as possible.
  • The preacher believes that the criteria of academia should be used to evaluate the quality of the sermon.
  • The preacher has been trained that it is important to "show your work."
  • The preacher thinks that the primary purpose of the sermon is to transmit information to the listeners.
  • The preacher assumes that the real impact of the sermon will be felt as the listeners digest what they have heard and "put it into practice" in their daily lives.

One of the most obvious results of this misunderstanding is a sermon that is "over the head" of the listeners. Preachers have traditionally been trained by academics to produce a treatise that is robust enough for the scholastic world. In this context it is especially important to demonstrate that he has done his "homework."

But there is a deeper problem here. The purpose of a sermon is not to pass on information.

Theology is important, very important. But the purpose of the sermon is not to indoctrinate the listeners in systematic theology. It is not to increase their store of theological facts. Nor is it to help them organize those facts into a comprehensive, coherent scheme.

I am convinced that this particular mistake is one of the main reasons that so much of our preaching is ineffective.

So what do you think? Do you agree? Do you have an idea of what the purpose of the sermon should be?

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"


Peg Bowman said...

Hmmmm... OK I'll brave taking the first comment. I'm not a preacher (yet... if some folks have their way...) but I have to admit I like "teaching"-type sermons. But then I'm the type who takes copious notes and asks LOTS of questions and loves getting into long-winded theological discussions. Even my best friend's eyes will glaze over before I'm done with a topic!

For normal folks I guess the main purpose of a sermon is to help them know and understand the Persons of the Trinity better, or to understand God's point of view better... to encourage folks to grow in their relationship with God.

As a longtime adult-ed teacher I've been tempted to (as you mention) pack lots of content into a presentation, including footnotes and "further readings" and so on. Over the years I've found it far more important to discover where my trainees are in terms of experience and skill level, and then take them from where they are and move them towards meeting the goals they have set for themselves (or in some cases that I help them set for themselves). Just curious... do you think preaching is similar?

BTW also wanted to say your "Mistake #1" is one I just caught myself doing with our new in-home Bible study group. Thanks for the confirmation! I'll be implementing changes this coming week.

Pastor Rod said...


There certainly is a place for classroom-type teaching, but I would argue that it is not in the pulpit. People need to learn about the Bible and Church history and theology.

But the purpose of a sermon, for everyone including you and me, is closer to what you suggest in your second paragraph.

Interestingly, writing and reading blogs can fulfill the desire for study and discussion. At least that has been true for me.

I'm glad to hear that something I've written has had some practical benefit.

I have much more to say about preaching. I'll give you a two word hint where I'm headed: "Tim Keller."


daniel the smith said...

I *used* to like the "teaching"-type sermons. But, after growing up hearing them all your life it becomes rarer and rarer to hear something you hadn't heard before. And, you hear a bunch of stuff that you *know* is just wrong. This got me thinking and eventually I realized that... these sermons haven't actually been doing me much good all along.

The bad ones were doing me a lot of harm; it made me realize the good ones weren't actually helping me.

I'd say more but I'm really busy.