Earlier in the week I addressed the need for ministers to take the role of preaching seriously in how we manage our time. When it comes to sermon prep we must allow ourselves time to be saturated by the word of God, giving ourselves time to see the meaning of the text clearly so that we can present it clearly. We cannot become reliant on quick sermons and a good wit to get us by, we are tasked with bringing the Word of God to His people and it is not so light a matter. We must allow the Word to sink in so that we are able to properly communicate it in a way that helps our people to see the meaning of the text and how it applies to their lives and to the glory of God.
Which then begs the questions how best do we prepare our sermons, especially as we contextualize them to our congregations. David Helm in chapter one of his book Expositional Preaching outlines for us three distant things to remember while preparing and contextualizing our sermons. Each is reminder to us to be diligent in the word and not flippantly running directly to contextualization with no regard for the text.
The first form of sermon prep we should be wary of is Impressionistic preaching. This form of preaching involves the reading of a text and assuming its meaning based solely on our current culture context with limited to no regard for its original one. This form of preaching is usually a result of sloppy study and a quick imagination. If you are an impressionistic preacher you are more concerned with the final result than the accuracy of what the text may say. Once you feel like you have a base line understanding of the text you jump head long into applications and illustrations, without a more diligent working on of the text to ensure that your applications and illustrations find their roots in the text.
We want our people to see the beauty of scripture and the teachings of God for all their beauty not simply to impress them with our cool stories or six lessons to help their marriage. We need them to see the Word of God clearly for it, coupled with the Spirit of God, is the only that that can truly change us. No matter how awesome our illustrations may be, if they don’t clearly represent the text then they are not accurately serving the church or our people. So in an effort to jump straight to application and contextualization, don’t miss the hard work of truly knowing the meaning of the text to the best of your ability.
The second form that we should be wary of is Inebriated Preaching. David helm uses the illustration of a drunk man and a lamp post, the man uses it more for its ability to hold him up than to illuminate his path. In the area o preaching and contextualization this is seen when we come to the text of scripture already knowing what we want to preach and how we want it to connect with our people. We form our argument then go to the text of scripture to help give it legs to stand on. This is very dangerous as here we are really on our wit, knowledge and cleverness to lead our people, not the Word of God or His Spirit. Our creative talents, apart form the Word, may win us a crowd, but that’s what Ted Talks are for not the pulpit. We preach the Word of God not human wisdom. If we come to our sermon prep already knowing what we are going to preach, having not look at the scriptures, this could lead our churches into some very dangerous places, most obviously would be the thought that the bible isn’t as important as the man speaking. We are not smarter than God, we do not have the power to change lives, only the Spirit of God can do that, so let us trust in Him and His Word to work, not our wisdom.
The final form to be wary of is Inspired Preaching. This is a method of sermon prep that arise out of a purely devotional approach to the scriptures. Now what I mean by this is not that preachers should not read the scriptures devotionally as a part of our spiritual growth, we should, but that our subjective (and at times wrong) interpretation should not be the guide for our preaching. Helm points out that for many this takes on the air of spirituality, except in reality it is simply trying to declare my devotional reading as inspired rather than the true meaning of the text. What God is teaching me on Monday in the book of Psalms or Hebrews may not be what he needs the church to be learning in the Book of Mark or anywhere else. We must not allow our very subjective approaches over shadow the truth of scripture especially as we prepare to bring the Word of God to His people. God’s Word is truth, mine is not. The “what does this passage say to you” approach to preaching will lead many people further from the truth than the many religions of this world.
If you are a preacher let me encourage you to dive deep into the text of scripture and let the true meaning of the word be the meaning of your sermon. Know the context, know the immediate application, and from there derive your modern application and illustrations. We can contextualize the truth without sacrificing the truth to our own wit and whim, God’s word is timeless and has been at work saving souls from cultures around the globe for two centuries, why would today be any different. His Word is. timeless while ours will fade away, so let his word be paramount.