Deep down you know when you hear a great sermon. You also know when it’s decent.
What is it about some preachers that make them interesting while others make you feel like you are in a lecture? Do you think you are interesting to your congregation? Well, let’s find out!
I think there are three major preaching approaches. From these three, only one is an ideal approach that deserves to be pursued. Do you fall into this one category? Don’t worry if you don’t because I will explain how you can transition into the right method.
The text-centered, text-focused preacher.
This “preacher” tends to be your lecturer. I put preacher in parentheses because this person tends to create an atmosphere of a Bible teaching class and not sermon preaching. If this is you, I can guess that your “preaching” feels more like a seminary class.
Your hope is that your people will understand the historical background of a text and what all the confusing theological language means.
You place a high priority on people knowing the Bible.
This is good.
All preaching should be text-centered.
The mistake here is not the text-centered approach but the text-focused approach. The philosophy of text-focused is to “teach the bible to people,” instead of, “teaching people the Bible.” The former emphasizes the bible knowledge while the latter emphasizes people. The former holds bible knowledge as an end in itself while the latter views scripture knowledge as a means to an end.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Dangers: Although the biblical content is great, many people end up drifting away with their thoughts. They look at you and nod, but there is little comprehension. This is natural because the text-centered approach leaves the modern day audience in ancient times.
So the struggling single mother has no idea how the biblical text is relevant for her life today. The business owner is left clueless about how scripture is applicable to the way he conducts business. Quite frankly, knowledge about the struggles of the 1st-century Christians in Ephesus has little impact on your listeners besides head knowledge.
Suggestions for readjustments: If this is you, do not panic. Next time you are prepping for a sermon, consider asking the following questions:
How does this apply to my listeners?
What is the “so what” for my listeners?
How is this relevant to the stay-at-home mom, to the businessman, to the student, etc.?
Add you/we/us language. This will bring your sermon to the modern person. Avoid having they/he/she language only because that implies your conversation with the biblical characters only.
The people-centered, people-focused preacher.
This “preacher” is your motivational speaker. They usually sound like a Tony Robbins whose goal is to inspire people to live better.
The people-centered preacher is entertaining. He tells great stories. He engages people emotionally and psychologically. The antidote to people’s problems can be overcome by “trying harder” and “persevering.”
Whereas the first type of preacher (text-centered, text-focused) errs on the side of forgetting about people’s needs, this preacher errs on the side of forgetting about the Bible.
This preacher gets it half-right. Unfortunately, half-right is wrong. It’s best to be people-focused and not people-centered.
Dangers: Motivational speeches do not bring lasting change to individuals. People are not changed apart from the Word of God. The Holy Spirit uses God’s Word in preaching to produce transformation in people. You might get a feeling that people are motivated and excited about your message. They may even clap for you because you preach well. But the change doesn’t last. People leave the church service without the fuel to accomplish what you asked them to do because power comes from Scripture.
Suggestions for readjustments: Study the Bible. Seriously. Pick up a good commentary and check your notes against it to make sure your personal study is correct.
Ask questions like:
What does this text say?
What was the author trying to communicate to the people?
What would have the original audience understood after reading the letter?
These are some questions for basic bible study. If you would like to know more about bible study methods and how to discover the meaning of the original text and how it should be applied to your listeners, consider this resource.
Another suggestion is to remember that the exposition of God’s Word brings change. I believe the major reason that communicators don’t see change in the lives of listeners is that they don’t do an adequate job explaining the biblical text and drawing application from the text.
The text-centered, people-focused preacher.
This is the healthiest place to be. The preacher interprets the Scriptures well (truth-centered). The Bible is preached and the truth is made relevant to the listeners (people-focused).
I believe every preacher’s goal should be to be like the men in Nehemiah’s day, which “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8).
People walk away feeling like they understood the portion of Scripture while seeing how it applies to their life.
This preacher understands that God places a high value on people. He also understands that the means by which God works in people’s lives is through His word— the Bible.
Exposition of Scripture is a means to an end. During the sermon, God’s desire is to bring change to the lives of the listeners. A text-centered, people-focused preacher recognizes that God’s Word is alive and possesses a transforming power to deliver his audience from their struggles.
Wherever you may place yourself, keep in mind that these three types are on a continuum. No one person fits exactly in one of these categories. Think in terms of more-or-less placement. I believe every preacher’s goal should be to find the middle sweet spot.