How do you determine the quality of a sermon or devotional thought? I know some Christians who assess the preaching content based upon the level of humour used; others measure its success by the inclusion of illustrations and anecdotes. Some pre-judge the message based upon the preacher’s personality; others gauge the success of a preacher’s message on the number of people who respond to the invitation at the end of the service. It is my contention that all of these reasons are flawed and have done tremendous damage to the preacher, the ministry of the pulpit and the person sitting in the pew.
Personality does not determine accuracy
Truth is absolute and it cannot be viewed through the lenses of personality or style. Truth transcends all of these human attributes and descends to us on the wings of God’s Word.
There are some preachers out there who have an extremely lively, vigorous and magnetic personality. These men are naturally followed by a crowd and have the ability to hold people’s attention for any period of time. Traditionally this type of individual is at the centre of the crowd and is the perfect candidate for youth events, camps and rallies of large numbers. Men and women flock to hear this person preach because there is a real ‘buzz’ about this ‘kind’ of preaching. The preaching is generally exciting, dramatic, in-your-face, filled with humour and carries enough application that people go home feeling like they have been challenged.
Other preachers are timid and quiet who express themselves in a passive, courteous manner without all the extravagance. Rarely does this individual display animation or flamboyance. He is satisfied to present a message to the congregation in a hushed manner which barely breaks the threshold of silence. People are less inclined to follow this man based upon his personality alone but many find this quiet, conservative style preferential.
All other preachers are somewhere in between these extremes and are often a combination of both.
The purpose of this article is not to generalise or identify which personality and style is most appreciated, but to clearly demonstrate the fact that personality is not to be a measure of the preacher’s accuracy, or the quality and success of his message!
Entertainment is not excellence
Everybody enjoys a good laugh. There is nothing wrong with humour in a message. In fact Charles Spurgeon once wrote “Some Christians seemed to have invented an extra commandment; thou shalt pull a long face on Sunday.” He then went on to say “I would rather hear people laugh than I would see them asleep in the house of God.” Spurgeon was speaking of humour as a means of arousing and stirring the mind. The entertainment that is seen in today’s Christian circles is not at all what Spurgeon referred to. It is my contention that there are more stand-up comedians and Hollywood actors in churches today than there are God-fearing, Bible-preaching, Christ-exalting, Sin-exposing preachers who have studied hard, prayed hard and preached hard for the glory of God!
If you come away from the Evangelist’s message and say “Boy that was a great message, that preacher was so funny” you have entirely missed the point and wouldn’t know a good message if it hit you in the nose!
Exegesis is excellence
As you can probably tell, I am extremely passionate about protecting our pulpits from those who would misuse the office and replace the truth with entertainment. Let me now outline briefly for you what I believe to be the ingredients of a God-honouring message.
It begins with exegesis. ‘Exegesis’ is of Greek origin and it literally means ‘explanation, interpretation.’ It carries the idea of exposure and ‘getting out what is contained within something.’ It is the opposite of the word ‘Eisegesis’ which means ‘the reading of one’s own ideas into a passage.’ It carries the idea of personal interpretation which is the exact opposite of what Peter tells the believers in 2 Peter 1:20.
It is the preacher’s responsibility to obey the command given by Paul to Timothy which says ‘Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth (2 Tim.2:15). How can I ensure that the message I preach is of the highest quality? Study the Word, be diligent in your library and ensure that you divide the Word precisely and therefore present an exegetical message.
Application is crucial
It is not simply enough to present the facts of the Word without providing the people with real application. This is seen in many instances in the Bible where men of God preached from Scripture and then made very direct, real application to the audience. For instance: Nathan’s discourse with David (2 Sam. 12:1-7), Samuel’s confrontation with Saul (1 Sam. 15:14-23), Peter’s preaching at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36) and many others. Correctly exposing the truth of God’s word coupled with relevant application will ensure that God is honoured and His people fed with the bread of Heaven not the swine’s husks.
God uses our personalities
It seems necessary at this juncture to remind readers that the personality that God has given you is custom-made and should be used in connection with your ministry. The bold, flamboyant preacher should exercise his gifts accordingly on the proviso that he does so in such a way to honour and glorify God. The timid, quiet spoken pastor should not seek to express himself in a more dynamic way. He ought to exegete the Scriptures and apply them for his people faithfully and God will use his personality and style to minister to others as He sees fit.
Since when was preaching ever about the preacher? Preach the Word!