The temptations of preaching

It may sound strange, but there are many carnal temptations that come with preaching. I’m not talking about temptations in the office of a pastor or missionary, but simply preaching a message, teaching sunday school, or anytime you are trusted to open the Word of God and expound from it to a group of willing listeners. One of, if not the biggest temptations I often face, is wanting to preach in such a way that would make myself look impressive and intelligent, and not preaching in a way that helps the congregation.

Book smart or street smart?

Now, I’m not saying those two ideas are mutually exclusive, because there are men of God who can preach in a way that is very helpful to the congregation while still being very scholarly and elegant. I recently sat in a chapel service at a large Bible college, and heard a message from a man who was obviously well educated. He talked about the greek words, all kind of different cultures in Rome at the time, had a very advanced vocabulary, and so on and so forth. And you know what? I was very blessed by the sermon, and learned a lot! I thoroughly enjoyed myself, saw every point he made right out of the text, and knew what he was talking about at every point of the sermon. There you have it: a wonderful blend of scholarly thoughts and display of education, while still being very simple and easy to understand. The cookies were left on the bottom shelf, so to speak.

Nor am I saying that I should strive to appear intelligent in my preaching, because that is never something we see in scripture. If I do, wonderful. If I don’t, wonderful. My appearing to be intelligent or a scholar is never the intendment of my preaching. Talent shows are a place to show off talent and ability. Preaching is a medium to edify, mature and help the hearers.

I’m also not advocating that all who preach the Word learn as little as possible, and remain uneducated. I am all for education, learning, and personal growth.We can, and should, all constantly be improving and growing in this area.

But, in my life and preaching at least, I find that if I try to preach to show my education and intelligence, I usually find myself thinking that I didn’t do so well, and no one really got a blessing out of it. My problem is that I shift my focus from helping the congregation and expounding/explaining the Word in a comprehensible manner to displaying my ability. And that paradigm shift if so very crucial!

The preacher isn’t the focus

Preaching is not about the preacher. Sure, he’ll stand and preach for a length of time, and all eyes will be on him, but he shouldn’t be trying to show off himself and his ability. It isn’t about how great and cunning he is. His job is not to use the pulpit to display himself. He should be using the pulpit to help, edify, mature and teach the congregation. Now, will God work in the preacher’s life during his time of study and preparation? Surely. But it is not about him, but him helping the congregation.

If my preaching make me look better, I haven’t done my job.

If my preaching helps you grow, I have done my job.

Keep it simple!

Anyone can take a simple subject and make it complex. That is not good preaching. Good preaching is taking a complex subject, and making it simple.

Some of the best, most wonderful sermons I have ever heard have been the simplest ones! I can remember, time and time again, sitting under my pastor’s preaching, and as he walked through the message, thinking, “Wow. That’s such a great thought, and it was sitting right there in front of me in the text. I could have figured that out if I’d studied!”

Now, is that a bit presumptuous of my studying habits? Probably. But that is the kind of thing people should be thinking during our sermons, not “Wow. I’ll never be that smart. I don’t know where he sees that in this verse.” The great preachers, the truly great ones, are not always the most educated and scholarly, nor are they the most uneducated and simple. They are the ones who teach and preach in such a way that the congregation learns the message and is able to apply it to their life.

In summary…

Since I am writing on simplicity in preaching, let me attempt to simplify this all into 2 key points:

-We don’t preach for the purpose of appearing more intelligent and scholarly (aka showing off.)

-Preaching should mature, edify, build up and help the hearer (aka serve others.)

I think the highest compliment I can pay to my pastor (or the whole pastoral team at Vision Baptist, really) is that when they have finished preaching a sermon, I have a better understanding of the text they preached, and how it applies to my life. This should be the aim of every person trusted with the opportunity to preach or teach the Bible.

Maybe I am the only one who has to fight the temptation of turning the pulpit from a place of service to a place of showing off, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few others who had this same temptation. Let us always remember that our preaching is not to boost or better public opinion of ourselves, but to serve and edify the hearers!


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