In today's world of journalism it is not always easy to discern what is news and what is entertainment. It is not always easy to determine when news stations are trying to attract viewers or trying to report facts. Perhaps this is most hilariously displayed when a news company has a reporter live on the scene of a breaking story but has little to report. The reporter begins to just ramble, filling the air with noise. "You can see these cars parked over here with people walking around them. We have helicopters flying overhead. Police have a presence here and have taped off the area. It looks like people are talking on their cell phones, calling other people."
During these times the news company is trying to deliver compelling news with no news to report. The result is silly. As preachers, we may never preach a sermon that sounds quite like that, but it is easy to do the exact same thing. Putting the cart before the horse, sometimes a preacher desperately tries to create a sermon that will be compelling but he avoids the news staring him in the face, the news that is right there in the Bible.
Most preachers will confess that to preach a sermon is to preach the Bible. "[P]reach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2). It is possible, however, for a preacher to believe and sound like he is preaching the Bible while largely avoiding the Bible altogether, consciously or not. On the our last blog we talked about the need for sermons to be driven and shaped by the Bible. This week we will look closer at what it means to be driven by the Bible.
To be driven by the Bible means sermon creation begins with the Bible. That sounds painfully obvious, but you probably know how easy it is to create a sermon (or sermon series!) while hardly dealing with the Bible at all. To be driven by the Bible means that before you frantically think about attracting listeners, you must discover what the Bible says. Then you can say what the Bible says in clear and compelling ways. Dr. Edmund Clowney says, "Don't let the pulpit drive you to the Word. Let the Word drive you to the pulpit".
Beginning with the Bible must be done whether you are preaching through a book of the Bible or a topical series. Either way, as you discover biblical truth you discover what to preach. "The meaning of the passage is the message of the sermon" (Bryan Chapell). This does not mean the Bible will tell you exactly how to deliver the truth, but it will give you the truth to deliver (we will talk about how the Bible shapes delivery in the next blog).
The opposite of being driven by the Bible is being driven by...you. One sure fire way to know if you are driving your sermons rather than the Bible is to see if the majority of your sermon is written before you handle the biblical texts in any significant way. If your sermon is practically written and the main thing to do is find biblical references with which to salt and pepper it, then the creation of the sermon was probably not driven by the Bible.
Using Scripture like salt and pepper is dangerous for listeners for at least 2 main reasons:
Firstly, that is not how Christians approach life. We do not make conclusions about God and then go to the Bible to support them. Rather, we start with the Bible for revelation of who God is and what He has done for us in Jesus. Your listeners should not look to you, their preacher, as the origin of truth about God. They should see you as a news runner, someone there to deliver God's news on His behalf. You're just rediscovering the news (the Bible) and reporting it with a clear and compelling delivery. News runners are driven by whatever the news is.
This does not mean as a pastor you can never chose a topic to preach on beforehand. There are times you know your church needs you to address a certain issue or topic. In those times, you can still be driven by the Bible. If a tragedy rocks your congregation and it would be helpful to devote a sermon to bringing grace and peace to the situation, to be driven by the Bible is to simply ask, "What does the Bible have to say about this reality we are in? What it says, I will say."
Secondly, using biblical texts like salt and pepper can give the preacher and listeners the impression that the sermon is rooted in the Bible, when it may not be at all. A quick biblical reference every 10 minutes can make all the time in between sound like it was rooted, somehow, in a biblical text. A quick reference to a biblical text, without explaining or using context, is an easy way to make the Bible say almost anything you want, whether you are trying to do that or not.
Let's say you are making a point about "sex". It is easy to find a verse or passage dealing with sex and plug it in your sermon. When the verse is briefly quoted, listeners hear something about sex and might naturally think, "Well, I guess this verse applies and supports my pastor's thoughts. He wouldn't use it if it didn't, right?" This is dangerous because no context or explanation of the verse is given. When preparing sermons, we ought to spend time explaining how we made the conclusions we did about the biblical texts. In this way the Bible becomes the filet mignon of the sermon.
Many preachers do not intend to misuse the Bible in preaching, but it happens all the time. It is worthwhile to ask whether your preaching is driven by biblical texts or not. If it is, your sermons will have 3 major effects. First, your listeners will learn how to approach life. They will learn that they do not approach the discovery of true reality with their mind or heart, but with the Bible. Second, listeners will learn to read the Bible properly. They will learn to read it in context. Lastly, listeners will learn to trust that you seek to disappear in preaching. You're just a news runner delivering the Good News on God's behalf.
On the blog next we will talk about how the Bible not only provides the truth to deliver, but even helps shape delivery.