Preacher, Take Them to the Text!
It was beautiful, sunny Friday morning. I was sitting on the couch in our living room, relaxing and watching television. As I turned channels, I came across a popular Christian Television network. The upcoming program was from the ministry of a pastor whom I was familiar with. So I decided to view the broadcast.
For the next 30 minutes, I watched as the crowd hung on to his every word, responding in agreement with a hearty “Amen!” or “Say that, Preacher!” While they rejoiced, I lamented. And here is why. For the entire half hour, the preacher never pointed the people back to the text of Scripture. Instead of seeing the biblical text as the road upon which sermons ought to travel, he treated it as a launching pad, simply serving to help the message get off the ground. After takeoff, he took the sermon where he wanted it to go, which unfortunately was far from the intended meaning of the chosen passage of Scripture; and many, if not all, in the audience were unaware he – and they – had gone way off course.
This might sound homiletically simple or archaic, out of touch, maybe even legalistic to some, nevertheless, here it is: faithful preaching must be rooted in and refer back to the text of Scripture. Most of us get the beginning part of that statement. It is the latter part I am focusing on in this post. In the preaching act, we need to work to consistently reference our selected text of Scripture (Even with first person narrative sermons, I believe there is a way to do them to where Scripture remains the main character on the stage.).
One of the primary reasons why I believe directing people’s attention to the text throughout our sermons should be a regular practice in our preaching is because it affirms God’s word as being the locus of authority.
According to the Apostle Paul, we have been charged to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2). It is our sacred duty then to strive to faithfully and clearly lay out the whole counsel of God before others. No hermeneutical gymnastics or homiletical ear-tickling; just a sincere and prayerful commitment to rightly explain and apply the Bible to those listening.
Our job is not to impress people with our oratorical skills, but instead to impress upon them the oracles of our God. Should we work to carefully craft our words? Sure. But we must remember that our words in relationship to the Word are to be like mirrors that simply reflect the light of God’s truth and angle it in the direction of the hearers so that they might better see our Triune God, themselves and others. After all, God’s gospel/word, through the work of the Holy Spirit and when mixed with faith, is the only thing that changes our eternal destiny and produces spiritual maturity (Romans 1:16; James 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1).
So, as you preach, take people back to the text.
See yourself as a preacher-guide; someone who is assigned to walk with people through an exhibit of Scripture, pointing out vital information and showing them how it impacts their lives and the world around them. Certainly, no matter what you do, there will always be those who will close their Bibles (if they have them at all) or leave them open on their laps or on their iPhone/iPad screens and never look down at them again after the text is read. People are going to do what they want to do. But, listen, let it never be said that we as preacher-guides simply escorted them to the entrance but soon left them to make their way around on their own, or that we failed to do our jobs because we were extremely ill-prepared or haphazardly took them through exhibits.
But more than just guides, we are heralds of King Jesus! When we step up to the pulpit, the lectern, or the coffee table in our casual wear or suits, may God grace us to remember that we are called to faithfully and clearly proclaim the Good News of his kingdom and his edicts, so that the weight of his loving authority would come to bear on our consciences and lives, transforming us into his very image.
Along with “Hear Ye! Hear Ye!” let’s cry, “See Ye! See Ye!” Take them to the text over and over again. And when it is all said and done, may we the people of Jesus proclaim with our lips and lives, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17, ESV)