The Woes of Lifeless Preaching

3 05 2011

The Woes of Lifeless Preaching 

It seems my blog writing is like London buses. Nothing for a long time then several come together. This particular one has been stewing in the back of my mind for a number of weeks and just needs speaking out. Remember, this is supposed to be a blog about faith and the Christian life.  It concerns the quality of preaching today. Over the last three months my circumstances have changed (I’ve retired) so my wife and I have been free to try out a variety of churches and we’ve also been to Spring Harvest, the focus of which this year was all about the Bible. The following are some of the things that have cropped up as we have listened to a variety of preachers in this time.

1. The Preacher Whispers.

This particular speaker had a rather ineffective microphone and spoke very quietly. No one has taught him that out there are people who would like to hear him, and so he has obviously never learned to project his voice. Don’t preach unless you want people to hear you and you are willing to put effort into projecting your voice!

2. The Preacher is Tired

At least this was the conclusion when listening to one particular preacher and in a measure he has my sympathy. Being a one-man ministry and doing all the pastoral work and preaching every week (which is what I think this man does) is tiring and it is difficult to maintain power in preaching. If this is you – give others space, take a rest and get renewed.   Both this man and the previous one convey that the message is not very exciting. Read sermons by Martyn Lloyd Jones and almost every time he conveys that this is THE most important message in the Bible.  If the Bible doesn’t excite us, don’t preach!

3. This Preacher is Chatty

This message came over like a chat over a cup of coffee. It was largely unstructured but most of all it lacked authority. Authority in preaching comes from a man who is given over to God, and who has the word of God burning in him, and who has spent long times in the Word and knows his Bible. The more you know it, the more authority you will have. Until you have that authority, sit down and read your Bible.

Linked with this is a failure to realise the purpose of preaching. It is, I would suggest (without resorting to ML Jones or John Stott’s books on preaching) to convey the truth of the Bible in such a manner that it is understood and it then moves people into action and change. It is the truth revealed by God in His word that will change lives and change the world.

4. This Preacher declares only Law

This preacher conveys guilt and pressure by the use of the words, “ought” and “should”, instead of conveying the possibilities in God and by the enabling of His Spirit, that have been opened up to us by the finished work of Christ on the Cross. There are imperatives in the New Testament as well as the Old, but unless we also preach the means of achieving them in Christ, we simply set people up for failure and more guilt. The wonder of the Gospel opens up the way for people to move into a new experience of being enabled by God to become the people He has designed them to be.

5. This Preacher bores with principles.

Yes, he quotes Scriptures all the way through, in fact so many you never take any of them in, but he never takes time to apply them, open them up and illustrate them. Principles thus become rules which are tedious and hard to work on. This preacher asserts that he believes the Bible implicitly, but has obviously never meditated on it because all we receive is a surface glossing over of proof texts.

6. This Preacher only tells stories.

This man has been told we live in a TV age and so realises that illustrations are all important, but along the way he has never taken in the wonder of the word itself and realised that this is the truth he is to be preaching and not merely emotive stories.  The stories may be highly emotional but unless we are left with the sense that the Scripture has been conveyed to us, its understanding opened up and applied to our daily lives, all we are left with is an emotional buzz which soon evaporates. Our will has not been impacted and changed by the truth of God’s word that He has conveyed to us.

7. This Preacher has never been taught discipline

I have no problem with 50 minute sermons if they have all the matters above taken into consideration. This particular preacher declared his intention to cover two chapters of the book of Revelation in his sermon, and no, it wasn’t a skeleton overview of the big issues of the last days, he was going to cover it all in detail, which suggests he has little knowledge of the book or of his audience. At the opposite end of this scale is the preacher (probably from a particular denomination) who has been schooled to preach the message in ten minutes. The only trouble is that he still leaves his congregation hungry. However concise, however compact you are able to be in that period of time, you are indirectly conveying that actually the Bible isn’t very important and isn’t worthy of our time and effort on a Sunday morning or evening. The result is people whose lives have not been changed y the wonder of God’s word, applied in the power of the Spirit, by God’s faithful servant who has spent time and effort to bring it.

And to summarise….

So often it seems we are being presented with a sketchy view of Scripture, together with a shallow understanding of it because preachers have failed to read and absorb the Bible, be moved by it and become utterly convinced that this is THE truth of God that saves people and transforms people, so that they have the most exciting task in the world, to present the most exciting truths in the world. Please can we return to that!

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