anger, Good News, Gospel, imperatives, John S. McClure, motives, nagging, positive preaching, preacher, preaching, preachy, sermon
Preaching the Good News…
For a variety of reasons, we often fail to communicate any motivating “good news” in our sermons. From my experience, there are several reasons for this.
Sometimes we cave in to the culture’s pejorative definition of “preach” – thus the need to sound “preachy.” We load sermons with hard or soft imperatives: “we must,” “we should,” or “let us,” and “we are called to….” When this happens, I am reminded of the hospital nurse, using the “nurse’s ‘we’”: “we need to take our medicine now,” “let’s sit up now and eat some lunch.”
At other times, we worry that the congregation is not doing all that it could do to support our exciting vision for church growth or social justice. We feel compelled to nag at our congregations for their failings.
At other times, we lose sight of the redemptive good news altogether. We are lost in doubt, lack of theological confidence or conviction, and can only muster a few “hints and helps for daily living” as a positive message on Sunday morning.
In the worst case scenario, we allow ourselves to become angry with something in the congregation or culture at large. We feel the need to “load up on people” week after week, dividing the sheep from the goats.
There is certainly plenty of bad news in this world, and the good news that we preach should not appear pollyannish. With this in mind, I still feel compelled from time to time to remind myself that the heart and soul of preaching is the good news of God’s redemptive grace and mercy. Whether preaching a text from the Hebrew Bible or from the New Testament, we are fundamentally in the service of a God of redemption and hope. With this in mind, I offer these suggestions:
- Preach only what inspires you. It is easy to finish several hours of exegesis only to arrive at a completely flat, moralistic, and insignificant message. Ask yourself whether your message is inspirational good news for your own life. Then proceed.
- Examine your motives. Be sure that you are not motivated in your preaching by either anger or your church administrative agenda. Are you motivated by the desire to preach a life-changing and world-changing word of grace and hope?
- Be sure that the good news you preach is faithful to the biblical text you are preaching. There is not only one good news message in the Bible. God’s grace and mercy take many different shapes. It is not always “personal salvation” or “liberation,” or whatever our doctrinal preference may be. Seek out the richness of God’s redemptive presence in the Bible.
- Although there are occasions and biblical texts that call for an imperative word from the pulpit, it is best to avoid both the hard and soft imperative voice in preaching, unless it is first grounded in the solid indicative of God’s grace. Weed out the language of “must,” “should,” “ought to,” “let us,” “we are called to,” and try using the language of identity, possibility, process, and vision. Give the strong impression in every sermon that the church is a powerful agent of grace, living more deeply into its redemptive identity every day.
- Regularly rethink your theology as it meets your congregation. Ask yourself: What do I really believe? What is God doing in our midst? Who is Jesus Christ and what is Christ’s good news for our world today?
These simple practices may help us reorient our preaching toward a redemptive purpose so that the good news that we preach on Sunday morning is really good news to our hearers.
Well said! :-)
These are important suggestions. I find (after 5 years of preaching) that I am often inspired by what others may consider flat were it to be communicated to the masses. That is to say, I love exegesis, and I have a natural slant towards shunning application. My wife is invaluable in not letting me get away with it.
My question to you would be based on #5: how often or by what indicator would you recommend rethinking one’s theology (I suppose you aren’t talking of orthodoxy but perhaps rather orthopraxy?)?
After just 5 years of preaching I can confess that #1 is the most difficult of these for me. I love exegesis and my heart is strangely warmed by it–even if it doesn’t produce remarkable application (which may just be bad exegesis). My wife doesn’t let me get away with it, though, for which I am thankful. She’s always asking me, “How does this reach the heart?”
On #5, my question would be how often should we consider rethinking theology (I assume you’re speaking orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy? If not, please explain)?
John McClure said:
Good question. I’m not asking here for an abandonment of orthodoxy. Orthopraxy might be one way to think about what is needed. The key phrase here is to regularly renew one’s theology “as it meets your congregation.” In other words, what are the most timely and important elements of Christology, soteriology, the human condition (theological anthropology), creation, sin, etc. NOW, in this moment, for my congregation and the larger community and world. I think that this should be consciously considered on at least an annual basis – and it will help the good news remain energized and timely.
So glad you value your exegesis experience. This is not always the case, and bodes well for your preaching. Just keep listening to your very smart wife! Her question is the right one.
Oh she is much smarter than I’ll ever hope to be. Thank you for clarifying the point; it makes great sense now, and I had never considered the value of asking such a question. It would seem that as culture shifts so too might the theological emphasis of our ministries, and sermons in particular.
Reblogged this on Gestating A Church and commented:
The words “must,” “ought,” and “should” just make me tired—but seeing love and grace in action makes me want to move. It’s the same way with preaching!
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