Some Neglected Subjects

The efforts that I have exerted in trying to get pastors of Bible believing churches to become practical in their use of the Scriptures, and in attempting to get them to speak about subjects that in a previous period were neglected, may have had some influence in turning the preaching of the pulpit around. It is incumbent on me, therefore, to do whatever I can to stop what I perceive to be an unwarranted retreat from the doctrinal teaching that is also a necessary part of the Christian’s weekly pulpit diet.

It has been a long time, for instance, since I have heard sermons on the Bible’s teaching about hell, judgment, wrath, and other such themes. “You travel in the wrong circles,” you may reply. Well, perhaps. But my circles are rather wide, and I hear a lot of preaching. I did not say that it was extinct, but I do think that preaching on these topics is being neglected. The dark side of things is taking a back seat to many of the brighter truths of Scripture. While it is wrong to neglect the latter as a previous generation did, it is also wrong to neglect the former. The biblical balance between the two must always be maintained.

The problem in the church historically has been a problem of balance. The problem is not in the Scriptures—there you will find a perfect balance in every area that is treated by its divinely inspired authors. No, the problem isn’t in the Bible; it is in the church. The history of the church could almost be written in terms of swings from one unbiblical extreme to the other. In one era love is emphasized over truth to the extent that truth is lost and love becomes nothing more than sticky sentimental nonsense. In another era, the opposite problem appears—usually as a reaction to the overemphasis of the former age: truth becomes the great concern, so great that love is stamped out in the pursuit of error. In the attempt to flush out every vestige of error hiding in the bushes, theological bloodhounds usurp the authority of the judgment angels whose appointed task is to separate the wheat from the tares. Certainly error must be dealt with—but in biblical ways; we do not have any right to invent novel ways of doing so.

The problem today seems to be a turning from the sterner teachings of the Scriptures to the more encouraging and happier ones. This is proceeding apace; preachers like to preach positively; people like to hear it. While teaching the latter, it is essential to maintain the former as well. Mount Gerazim, with its blessings, was paired in balance with Mount Ebal and its cursings; the tree of life was set over against the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God is the God of perfect balance; we must seek to approximate Him in this in all our preaching.

Along with extremes comes another problem. When a generation plummets headlong in one direction, heedless of the balancing truths in the other direction, all sorts of false ideas, imported from the outside, seemingly (but not really) saying the same thing are bought and sold as if they were the genuine biblical article. It is easy to do this because the correctives inherent in the neglected balancing truths are missing. That is why the increased concern for teaching about the image of God in man (to the exclusion of preaching about man’s sinful nature and propensities) by so many has been wedded to many false concepts gleaned from psychologists like Maslow and others concerning self-image and self-worth. In discussions of the area, the doctrine of sanctification has been eclipsed by the doctrine of justification.

“Surely I’m not guilty of an overemphasis on the happy side of the faith to the near exclusion of the grim side,” you may reply. Don’t be too sure. Check out your preaching for the past three years; you may be surprised at what you find. You may discover that the emphasis of the era in which you are living has had a greater impact on your ministry than you realize. At any rate, even if you are one of those rare, balanced persons who preaches away year after year, unaffected by the changing extremes all around him, it will not hurt you to do the examination anyway, since it will give you a greater perspective on the sort of emphases that you need to make over the next year or two. It is a good policy to plan broad sweeps of preaching anyway, so that you may stay in balance. And, even you, balanced as you may be, are a sinner who—if you are honest—must admit that you tend to ride your own hobbies to the neglect of biblical truths that balance. I dare you to try doing a three-year study without finding some!

How to Obtain a Living Wage in the Pastorate

Pastors, on the whole, are doing as well financially as they ever have. That—of course—isn’t true of all. Nor does it mean that they are doing well—the average salary is still far below par. And in many cases it is the prime source of hindering their effectiveness in the ministry. Can anything be done about it? More specifically, what can the pastor himself do about it—or should he do anything? Yes! and Yes, again!

First, you must recognize that God expects you to earn a living wage. In part, pastors themselves (by their failure to teach this, failure to speak with their elders and deacons, and failure to take action) have perpetuated the popular laymen’s myth that ministers are atypical creatures who propagate children in some other way than engaging in sexual relations and—in line with this—can feed them on transcendental pudding, fluff-duff, and air! It is time to demythologize this widespread—but heretical—article of faith!

Next, consider this: “The worker is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18). If you aren’t working, then this article doesn’t apply. In that verse, Paul alludes to Christ’s words (Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:17). Some people in your congregation may subscribe to the unscriptural philosophy, “Keep a preacher hungry and you’ll keep him humble.” More likely, as you know, that’s the way to keep him ineffective. This contra-scriptural viewpoint is usually offered as a rationalization for stinginess.

The ox passage is quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:9–14 also. But verse 14 in that chapter is especially apropos: “The Lord gave orders that those who announce the good news should live by announcing the good news.”

If you—as their official expounder of the Word—(1) allow your people to rationalize their way out of a proper understanding and application of Scripture, (2) cater to selfishness in the congregation, and (3) thereby fail not only to explain and insist upon the Lord Christ’s orders,1 but fail to heed them yourself, you are unfaithful both to Christ and to His church.

“But Paul often made tents,” you say. Yes, but (1) Paul was a missionary (not a pastor), (2) clearly claimed a salary as a “right” that he didn’t use (vss. 6, 12, 15), and (3) was a single man.2 Paul allowed churches to support him (cf. Phil. 4:15; but especially 2 Cor. 11:8, where he seems to have sought funds from other churches to carry on the work in Corinth).

It is true that when funds were not forthcoming, he would work hard with his hands (cf. 2 Thess. 3:8, “night and day”) to raise funds so he could carry on his work. If your congregation can’t (won’t?) support you—you too have the same right (Paul didn’t starve! You can’t neglect your family—1 Tim. 5:8). But if you do, it will mean curtailing your ministry somewhat as Paul’s tent-making must have done. Your congregation must recognize and accept this.

Thirdly, note that the Scriptures teach that you may earn a living wage—i.e., a good wage; one that enables you to live without great care or concern over finances. “Where?” you ask. Paul says that he often prospered greatly; his word for this is that he “abounded” in money (Phil. 4:11–13). So it is clearly not wrong for a pastor to “abound.” Paul was able to rent a house for two years in Rome while not working (Acts 28:30). This gives additional evidence of the possession of substantial funds.

The only biblical warning about money is against trying to become rich in the ministry as a lover of money (1 Tim. 3:3; 6:5–10). These verses probably refer to unscrupulous practices associated with such desire. Most ministers, with the writer of Proverbs 30:8, 9, will settle for a living wage.

“Well, what should my salary be? Suppose I muster the courage to sit down with my elders and deacons to talk over the salary problem—what should I ask for? There isn’t a scriptural guideline, is there?” Yes, there is—and you’d better be aware of it. “Well, tell me quickly; what is it?”

Your salary should be on a par with those to whom you minister. Galatians 6:6 commands your congregation, “Let him who is instructed in the Word share everything good that he has with the one who instructs him.” Pastor, you should live on the level of the community (at least the Christian community to which you minister—not far below it, as so often is the case). An average of congregational salaries should set the base (minimum) level for your salary.3

You should not be ashamed, therefore, to ask for this figure since (1) God requires it; (2) it is so easy for the congregation to give (10 families, giving a tenth, can support an eleventh family on the average level of their salaries); (3) your people need to learn the biblical teaching about this and receive God’s blessing for following it.

This base salary is a minimum, I said. The Scriptures speak of giving a substantial bonus to those pastors who do an especially good job.

The elders who manage well should be considered worthy of double pay; especially those who labor at preaching and teaching.      1 Timothy 5:17

Finally, you ask, “How do I go about obtaining a salary like this? Where do I begin?” Let me simply list some suggestions; you may flesh them out:

  1. Pray about it: Ask and you will receive.
  2. Lend this article to your elders and deacons to read.
  3. Talk to your elders and deacons about it and present a plan for moving them from where your church now is to the adoption of a scriptural salary scale.
  4. Don’t grow bitter.
  5. When candidating, discuss salary scripturally.
  6. Make it clear that salary must not be based on (a) tradition, (b) needs, etc., but (3) on the standard set in Galatians 6:6: The pastor should share and share alike.
  7. Teach your elders, your congregation, and your wealthy members. (1 Tim. 6:17–19 encourages you to teach them how to give.)

This article is not written simply to make pastors and their wives happy. It is designed to help pastors become more effective servants of Christ, not continually hampered by financial needs. There is plenty of money in the church for this sort of salary; pastor, it is your job to earn it and get it!

 

1 Christ’s orders are not only (in fact not even primarily) to the congregation; rather, they are orders to a pastor about how he is to earn his living. The verse reads (lit.), “… ordered those who announce the good news to live by announcing the good news.”

2 The other apostles, who took a salary, were married (cf. 1 Cor. 9:5).

3 We shall see later that these are times for far more salary, when we discuss 1 Timothy 5:17.

Where’s Your Edge?

Lasso any ten seminary students and ask them, “What do you plan to do when you graduate?” Chances are at least four or five will say something like this:

“Oh, I’m not quite sure. Maybe I’ll take a graduate course. Perhaps I’ll work as an assistant pastor for a while. Possibly I’ll do some youth work. I really don’t know.”

Whatever the answer, it likely is to be spoken quite casually. Many students today have very much of a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the Gospel ministry. For them it seems the ministry of the Word has become merely another profession like business, dentistry, law, etc. There is no compelling passion motivating them.

That isn’t how it used to be. Most of my fellow seminarians and I were ‘chomping at the bit’ to get out and get into the pastorate; we couldn’t wait to preach. We didn’t even consider the idea of an assistantship after graduation; most of us had already been working in that capacity while going to seminary.

“Adams is getting old and has started to reminisce,” you say. Perhaps. But even that isn’t always bad. Continuity with the past can help today’s young men gain a little perspective. And frankly, there has been a definite, discernable change in attitude that is easily detected by any observer who has lived through the last five decades. It began in the 50’s and grew throughout the 60’s, probably reaching its nadir during the Vietnam war. At that time, one suspects, there were numbers who went to seminary to escape the draft; that was when the big shift in attitude occurred. While there has been some improvement since, we have never recovered fully from the effects of that period.

The strong modern emphasis on grades rather than on competence as the goal of studying, fostered not only by public education but also by Christian schools with their near-fanatical emphasis on “academic excellence,” also has had an impact. Far too many Christian college students as well cannot tell you what they plan to do upon graduation. Many students no longer prepare for some specific life-work but simply “go to college.” Thus persists this spirit of getting good grades to get into the college or seminary of one’s choice. Then comes graduation, when one holds in his clammy little hand a transcript more-or-less filled with high grades but has no purpose in his life!

This change in attitude has had its effect on the church. Ministers, reared in such an easy-going milieu, have carried this casual approach over to their tasks in the local congregation. While zeal can be overdone so that it supercedes solid study for reasoned ministry, the problem today is not that scholarship has overtaken practical work but that there seems to be less passioned devotion to theology and exegesis. Many ministers today are too laid back about ministry, seemingly unacquainted with the drive that compelled Paul to write:

Woe is me if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)

No wonder so many who do enter the pastorate quit when the going gets mildly difficult—certainly before it gets tough! Years of learning and instruction are wasted on men who leave the ministry to sell insurance. If the apostle Paul had acted like that, he probably would have given up in Damascus when he found himself in humiliation, escaping from the city in a smelly fish basket! But he didn’t. What made the difference? What motivated Paul so that he was able and willing to go on in spite of the trials enumerated in 2 Corinthians 6 and 11? He tells us:

Therefore, since we have this ministry to perform as the result of mercy, we don’t give up. (2 Corinthians 4:1)

Ministers who must minister the Word in preaching and counseling are motivated like Paul by gratitude. They remember God’s mercy and see their calling as a gracious privilege that overwhelms them. Even the plight of the lost does not motivate men to ministry as powerfully as the amazing, unbelievable goodness of God in choosing them for this task.

Pastor, what motivates you? When Mrs. Jones objects to your prophetic viewpoint, when Mr. Smith wants to know why you won’t remarry his improperly divorced son, and when the Greens are sitting there week after week with pencil in hand, waiting to catch you in some misstatement, what keeps you faithful to the ministry of the Word? When half the congregation doesn’t seem to care about much else and yet expects you to visit every other day in each of their homes, what drives you on? Nothing will—nothing less than a sense of debt and gratitude similar to Paul’s. It was that, and that alone, that carried him from one triumphant tragedy to the next!

If you have lost your sense of mission (or never really had one) take the time to ask why. Do you really belong in the ministry? Doubtless there are many who don’t, and it is no disgrace to leave if that is the case. If, however, you know that God has called you, then spend time properly set aside for the purpose to kindle the fire you once had (or should have had). How? Reflect on God’s mercy and goodness in you and His putting you into the ministry, beginning perhaps with a consideration of 1 Timothy 1:16. When you get hold of the reality of mercy and grace that has been lavished on you, it will make the difference; it will give you an edge!

Why Not?

“Why not?”

Because.

“Because of what?”

Because I can’t.

“Can’t? You’re a Christian, you say?”

I certainly am.

“Then what do you think Paul meant in I Corinthians 10:13?

What did he say there?

“Simply this: ‘There is no trial that has overtaken you but such as is common to man. And God is faithful who will not allow you to be tested beyond what you are able to bear.'”

But you don’t understand . . .

“Do you think God does?”

Sure, but . . .

“Why the but?”

My case is different, you see.

“Thought it was ‘common’ and that you would have to bear nothing beyond the ability you have to bear it.”

Well . . .

“Moreover, in that verse he says that God will make a way out of it so that you will be able to bear it. It won’t go on forever.”

Oh! I guess you”re right. Tell me how.

“Thought you’d never ask . . .”

The Proper Use of Biblical Theology in Preaching

The various popular approaches to biblical theology affect preaching—some for good, some for ill. I would like to discuss one danger I have noticed and to suggest a corrective to it.

The general problem is that the sermons of some who become enamored with biblical theological preaching turn out to be journeys that follow the trail of a word, metaphor, theme, or concept from Genesis to Revelation. Clever interpretations and interrelationships between the Old and New Testaments are noted and ‘deep’ insights are uncovered that the average listener would never have discovered when left to his Greek text and commentaries. These biblical-theological trips are like a one-week tour of Europe: very little time can be spent at any one location. That means that little justice is given to particular passages. The big picture is held constantly before a congregation; the emphasis is on the forest, not on the trees. Such preaching tends to by-pass the telos of these passages in favor of a few, great concerns. This sort of thing perhaps is useful to hear from time to time from a pastor or a visiting preacher, but it is hardly the fare on which to feed a congregation twice a week, year after year.

Moreover, such a use of biblical theology tends to lead to purely devotional responses to preaching. Since the great object is to find how Christ is central in all of Scripture rather than how He is involved in the particular telos (purpose) of any given passage, sermons tend to be very much alike. They all elicit the response, “Christ is wonderful! Praise Him!”

That is, of course, true. He is wonderful and we shouid praise Him. And it is important to be led into an ever growing appreciation of the Lord and His work of redemption. That is not what is wrong. The problem is that in loving and pleasing the Lord it is important not only to affirm His glory but also to glorify Him by “observing all things” that He commanded. But to do that means focusing on small, particularized passages rather than running all over the Bible in a sermon, searching out variations on a few major themes. Even when the starting place happens to be a particular passage, those who preach so globally tend to use the passage merely as a springboard for such larger concerns.

“But isn’t Christ in all of Scripture? What of Luke 24:27, 44–46, for instance?”

Of course He is.

“And do not such interrelationships between Old and New Testament passages exist?”

Yes, but probably to an appreciably lesser extent than some biblical-theological preachers think.

“Well, then, why not preach as you have described?”

For several reasons, all of which boil down to one thing: it is wrong to become a biblical-theological preacher. A preacher should be a biblical theologian just as he should be a systematic theologian. But, a systematic-theological preacher?

Let’s pursue the analogy to systematic theology for a while. Perhaps doing so will point up what I am trying to say.

I know from a systematic study of the Scripture that includes James 4:2–3; 5:15–18, etc., that there are conditions for praying effectively. So when preaching on John 14:13, “I will do whatever you ask in My Name,” I know that getting answers to prayer is not so simple as John seems to be saying. So when preaching from John, I keep in mind my systematic understanding of prayer in the whole of the Bible. This does not mean, however, that in the sermon on John 14:13 I must mention all that James and many other writers had to say on the subject. After all, John himself didn’t! Evidently the Spirit, Who moved John to write as he did, did not think it necessary to go into the whole teaching about prayer either in the gospel of John or elsewhere. And, to boot, what John wrote was a record of Christ’s own teaching in the form of an address to His disciples. In that address Jesus thought it acceptable to state the truth with relatively few qualifications in the context for the purpose for which He mentioned it.

What I must do when preparing and preaching a message from John 14:13 is keep in mind a systematic knowledge of prayer (as Jesus and John certainly did) so that what I say from that passage does not contradict or preclude what James, et al say. That means that I will preach John 14:13 in a manner that is informed and influenced by the other passages, without necessarily mentioning or referring to any one of them. If I were to try to say all there is to say about prayer when preaching from any given passage, I wouldn’t have time to concentrate on the passage before me. I’d say too little about too much to have said well any one thing. Moreover, all my sermons on prayer would tend to be alike.

Now it seems to me that the use of biblical theology in preaching is something like the use of systematic theology in preaching: the preacher must know of God’s progressive revelation and take note of where any preaching portion occurs in the history of redemption. That is important for interpretation. Moreover, to be Christian every sermon should be preached from this side of the cross in the bright light of the fullness of revelation that is ours. When preaching from any portion of Scripture, proper interrelationships between various Old and New Testament passages should be kept in mind, along with themes that persist and grow as they are enlarged with more and more revelation. But when preaching it is not necessary, and usually not desirable, to mention all of these things any more than the whole teaching on prayer when preaching from John 14:13. Biblical-theological study, then, like systematic-theological study, is primarily for the sake of the preacher.

That Christ’s death and resurrection pertain to everything else that is preached is certainly true. Any sermon that would be acceptable in a Synagogue or Unitarian church is surely sub-christian. But it is also true that sermons should not always (and probably should only rarely) recount the history of redemption. Rather they ought to be moments in which a preacher presents to a congregation some particular from that history in a focused and concentrated way in order to enable them by God’s grace to love God and their neighbor better. Christ should be central in Christian preaching, but not the history of redemption as such. The cross should be central in a sermon because it bears upon everything in the Christian life as well as provides the only means of forgiveness, not because the sermon is an historical survey of redemption.

Preaching that wrongly uses the insights of biblical theology, bringing into the pulpit what belongs in the study, can be inspiring—for a while. But it will grow old fast when every sermon sounds like the last. The task of biblical theology is to keep the preacher on track. It should keep his preaching truly Christian. But preaching is not merely tracing the past history of redemption over and over again from various perspectives and under various themes. Rather it is preaching redemptively today. It is preaching in such a way that the effects of that great redemption may be experienced by God’s people as the particulars peculiar to each passage are underscored and its truths are taught and applied for the purposes for which the Holy Spirit gave it.

 

OBE?

Today you read much about the possibility of OBEs (out of body experiences). Is this something for Christians to be concerned about? Is it possible for someone to have such a near death/death experience and still live? Could his spirit leave his body momentarily and then return?

If you are wondering—read again 2 Cor. 12:2 where Paul, speaking in the third person of himself, contemplates such a possibility.

But the genuine possibility of an OBE isn’t the important thing. What is interesting is that he speaks as well of going to paradise (the third heaven) during the experience (whatever kind it was: in or out of the body). That is where Jesus told the believing thief on the cross he would be together with him at death—that very day.

So, the real question is: if you were to die today, where would your spirit be: in paradise or in gehenna (the place of punishment)? Upon death all go to hades (hades means the “unseen world” in which both places exist). But only those who have been saved enter paradise .

What Will You Do?

That’s the question that God asks. And it is one He calls upon you to consider before you answer. Here are His words:

The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own authority. My people love it like this, but what will you do at the end of it?       (HCSB, Jeremiah 5:30)

It was a day of lawlessness. The people has ignored God and His prophets as He graciously offered them peace and prosperity {everyone sitting beneath his vine and fig tree) for their love and obedience. But they knew better! Or so they thought. And things seemed to be going quite well—for the time.

They loved it like that: a society in which each one could set his own boundaries with no Word from God saying yes or no to them. It was a time much like ours—don’t you think?

But God will put up with rebellion for just so long. Then He will act. The devastation that would come is prophesied throughout the book of Jeremiah-it might be well for you to read it! And when it came over one million people were killed or exiled as the Babylonians descended upon them. For 70 years those who were exiled would not see their homeland, and in the meanwhile, they would be subject to a foreign nation, no longer free to do their own thing!

“What can I do,” you ask? You can become one of those who turns in repentance and faith to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. And you can begin to live in a way pleasing to Him. You can then help others do the same by warning them as well.

If you do not know how to be saved and change your life to conform to God’s will, read our articles on salvation in the archives. Can you afford to wait until it’s too late? What we need is a great turning to God at this time beginning with you—don’t you think?

 

Preaching Out of an Event

The first two sermons in the book of Acts were, in the fullest sense of the term, occasional. That is to say, they arose out of and were addressed to an occasion. On Pentecost the coming of the Holy Spirit, with all its outward effects, brought together a crowd of curious and interested listeners:

When this sound was heard, a crowd gathered . . .They were astounded and amazed . . . saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:6, 7, 12).

This intense interest provided the introduction to Peter’s message.

Similarly, on the second occasion, Peter spoke to a crowd that was already anxious to hear him. On this occasion it was God’s healing of the cripple at the temple gate that drew them:

So they were filled with amazement and astonishment at what had happened to him … all the people were amazed and ran together to them [Peter and John] at the portico called ‘Solomon’s.’  (Acts 3:10, 11)

And later on in the book, Paul at Lystra (and to a lesser extent, at Athens) found himself addressing audiences that had already become curious about his mission and anxious to hear what he had to say prior to the message itself.

In all of these instances, the introduction to the sermon was an event. Wouldn’t it be great if every week, when you rose to preach, you too had before you a crowd of people, already stirred to the marrow to hear what you have to say? “Sure, that would be great. But such events don’t take place every week in my congregation. In fact, few things ever happen that stir my congregation’s interest. If they did, I think I could preach with more enthusiasm, and people would listen more eagerly with better results.”

I think you are right. As a matter of fact, in my book, How to Help People Change, I compared and contrasted teaching in the counseling context with teaching in the preaching context, pointing out that

… the counselor has one great advantage over the preacher: the counselor teaches in the milieu … Teaching in the milieu, addressing the actual situations people are facing, makes a great difference.

What is that difference? The counselor, like Peter and Paul, teaches the counselee about matters that he already considers important. That is to say, a counselor teaches the counselee about something that has already captured his interest and concerns him. Like the Jews gathered on Pentecost, when the sermon begins, he already is asking such questions as, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12) He already is stirred to his roots. And if he gets the right answer, it probably won’t be long before he is asking, “What should I do?” (Acts 2:37).

In a sense the movement of an effective sermon may be described by the change in concern expressed in those two questions. From curiosity and interest at the outset, it should lead the congregation to the point where they say, “Where do we go from here?” It is a movement from desire to know God’s will to desire to do it. A good preacher always seeks to satisfy both concerns. He is interested in teaching what God requires and how to conform to His will. He moves from explanation to implementation. He will never settle for less.

“But,” you ask, “how do I bring this off? I don’t have events like Pentecost taking place every week.” That’s true. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have the starting advantage of the counselor who addresses his teaching to a present concern of the counselee. No. You begin with the most difficult task of all. You must speak week by week to people who are often apathetic, whose concerns are elsewhere, who see no immediate application of your message to their lives, etc. That is not an easy task.

How do you handle such a task? The answer at once is both simple and complex; simple in that it is easy to say and complex in that it takes time and effort to do. The answer is: you must create an event.

“Create an event? What do you mean by that? Am I to stage some happening in the congregation that will capture them? I don’t understand. You’d better explain.”

God seemed to think that this was a good way to open a sermon, because He used it so frequently in Acts to give an occasion for addressing crowds of people with the gospel. Every counselor knows how much easier it is to interest a person in a biblical passage when its message bears upon a recognized problem in his life. That is why the wise preacher creates an event for the members of his congregation at the outset. He does not presuppose that people who have been thinking all week long about something else will be interested immediately in what he is about to say. He knows that he must stir them out of their other interests, out of their lethargy, and out of their indifference. And he must get them so interested and concerned before he actually begins to preach the body of his message that, like the Jews on Pentecost, they will be asking to hear more. One way to do that is to create an event.

The ‘event’ I am talking about is not an objective event occurring in space and time. Rather this event is subjective, occurring in the mind. It is a mental milieu. Properly described, such an event will be just as real as if it were actually happening. When someone cries “Fire!” in an auditorium, the concern and the resulting action of the audience may be exactly the same whether there is an actual fire or not. Only one fact is necessary for the speaker to get action-he must be convincing. The same is true for the preacher. When Whitefield, Spurgeon, and Edwards spoke, they were so convincing, and people became so involved that they gripped the pews for fear, reached out to keep others from falling over a cliff, rushed to man lifeboats, etc. These preachers verbally created events to which their congregations responded.

That is what you to some extent must learn to do in the introductions to your sermons. Time and thought must be spent in discovering how to involve your congregation in the truth of God that you are about to proclaim. “But I am not Spurgeon or Whitefield or Edwards!” you protest. No, of course you are not, and you never will be unless you are willing to do the hard work of preparation that they did. The biggest problem is not the lack of native ability or proper training. It is simply this: many preachers do not take the time or give the thought in preparation of sermons that is necessary to create an event in the mind of the hearer. To capture the interest and arouse the concern of listeners take effort.

“But if I am willing to give the time and effort, how do I go about it?” Much more could be said in response to that good question, but for now let me simply suggest the following guidelines:

  1. Do not begin with the text; begin with the congregation as Peter and Paul did. Turn to the passage of Scripture only when you adequately have oriented the congregation to what you expect to find there and only when you sufficiently have stirred up a concern to know what God’s Word says. Acts 2:12 should precede Acts 2:17.
  2. Take enough time to create the event. Many introductions that are heading in the right direction are terminated before they can accomplish their purposes. While there is nothing worse than a poor introduction dragged out, a good idea aborted before it is born is not much better. So when you have worked hard on a good introduction to your sermon, take the necessary time to include enough detail to enable the congregation to visualize and become concerned about what you are saying. Usually it takes more than one or two sentences to bring that off. But, of course, filler, unnecessary repetition and all other dead, inoperative content must be excised.
  3. Learn how to describe events. Practice telling stories on other occasions. Work on using vivid, concrete nouns and verbs. Tape and listen to others who are adept at description. Analyze what they do to discover their techniques. Then incorporate the principles you discover into your work (don’t copy theirs). Write out introductions, choosing key words and phrases you plan to use. This sort of thing can be learned if you will only put sufficient time and effort into it.
  4. Use dialog whenever appropriate. Dialog is one way of involving the listener—it brings him up close to what is happening and makes him a participant in the conversation.
  5. Test the introduction before using it. If you cannot feel (I mean physically feel) what you are talking about in your own body, then it is not going to do the job. Keep working on it until you can describe what you are talking about in such a way that you experience the event whenever you tell it. The chill up your spine will give you assurance that you are on the track toward creating an event for the congregation. If the introduction doesn’t grip you (i.e., if it doesn’t become an event for you) it will not grip the congregation!

Why should sermons be boring or dull? Certainly those apostolic sermons were not! It is we who have made them so. Think again—every passage of Scripture is a word from God! And it is important to every member of the church. Your job is to convince him of this and show him how he may implement it in life to the honor of Christ. How dare we make God’s Word dull! There should be nothing more exciting in a Christian’s week than to hear once more what God has to say to him. What would you call it if you received a phone call from the President of the United States? Why, most of us would call that an event! Then what should one’s weekly word from God in the sermon be? Tell me.

People Listened!

Yeah, they came in goodly numbers to listen to Ezekiel. Sounds good—eh?

Not so good. Listen to why they came and what they were getting out of his messages:

My people come to you in crowds, sit in front of you, and hear your words, but they don’t obey them. . . . Yes, to them you are like a singer of love songs who has a beautiful voice and plays skillfully on an instrument. They hear your words, but they do not obey them.    (Ezekiel 33: 31,32; HCSB)

There was nothing wrong with the prophet’s preaching—the problem lay solely in his listeners! They were interested in how he preached—not in what he preached.

Today, people flock to popular preachers, some of whom preach well, and truthfully, but the listeners fail to live changed lives. The reason might be the same as it was in Ezekiel’s day.

If all those who attend popular preaching were to go out and live as they are told in the preachers’ messages—even for one week—what a difference it would make!

Truth must be mixed with faith, and faith with obedience.

Obedience is a lost concept today in some circles. All one must do to grow by grace is to listen to and contemplate the Gospel. This quasi-mystical and quazi-monastic viewpoint is dangerous. It also leads to listening to preachers “sing!”

Think about why you go to hear preaching. It may be because the preaching you hear doesn’t demand much of you. But even if it does—as in Ezekiel’s case—you must come in the right attitude. Listening to love songs won’t cut it.

What Could Be Behind It?

That’s a good question—and isn’t asked often enough when discussing the atheistic thrust of our contemporary society.

Ask yourself—why would someone go to great lengths to deny the existence of God? If what the Bible teaches is true, think of all the marvelous promises that believers have (and unbelievers don’t have) as a result of faith in Jesus Christ! A new body in which there is neither death, sickness, nor sin; power unlimited; eternal life full of joy and peace, etc., etc.

Hmmm—-there must be a pretty strong motive behind this denial of God; do you have any idea what it is?

No.

No?

Well, SCRIPTURE ITSELF TELLS US WHAT IT IS:

The wicked arrogantly thinks “There is no accountability since God does not exist.”    Psalm 10:4 (HCSB).

There you have it! In clear terms—If I can get away with it here and now (whatever sinful thing that I would like to do), there will be no one after death to answer to for[1] whatever I have done. Action without consequences—that’s what the atheist wants!

But God says this is sheer arrogance. And, of course, that’s exactly what it is—a person thinking he is so smart as to be able to contradict all the great prophets. Well, then, what? The fact that if they are right, you can get away with some things you are now hesitating (but would like} to do? Right? Think deeply.

Some day you will have to stand judgment before God—in that day your arrogance will melt like ice cast into a fire! What will you say? How will you defend yourself? What will it be like to face God unforgiven?

[1] Two prepositions that together work!

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