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Motivational Preaching and Teaching that Inspires Christian Living: More on Moralizing

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Recently, I heard another moralistic sermon. The motivation employed through the entire sermon was duty and obligation. Allow me to moralize. We who preach and teach must study motivation. We need to learn the difference between vinegar and sugar. We have to learn why flypaper is not bitter. We must learn the difference between beating the donkey pulling the cart and dangling a carrot in front of it. (Moralizing ended.) Many preachers have excluded "hell fire and brimstone" (fear) as a motivation. This shift has led to the fallback position of motivation by guilt, which is only another version of fear and little different. A whole spectrum of motivations is available to the preacher. Preachers: study motivation and learn to use a variety of motivations. A challenge to those who preach: preach at least one sermon in the next month in which you exclude moralizing, that is, motivation by guilt, duty, demand, and obligation.

How can I know a sermon is moralistic? One way to identify such sermons is by the language used. Moralizing usually includes such words or phrases as must, should, have to, and need to. The instruction and motivation is based on guilt, duty, obligation, and responsibility. Accept this challenge: exclude moralistic language from your sermon. Have someone in the audience (a spouse, church leader, or good friend) help you by identifying any tendency toward moralizing.

Moralistic sermons lead to several problems.

  • Moralizing tends to define Christianity by certain activities rather than holistically. Moralizing leads to "checklist" Christianity.
  • Moralizing causes us to ask how little we can get by with. If we must, how much must we? How little activity will remove the guilt?
  • Moralizing, motivating by guilt, has trouble producing long-lasting results. The one who feels guilty and seeks to assuage the guilt easily falls back into the same problem.
  • Moralizing leads to a "works" approach to Christianity. Our neighbors who accuse us of "works salvation" may have learned that by listening to our preaching, especially regarding baptism. Moralizing is not the best way to develop dedicated disciples. Those who preach and motivate by moralizing seldom base the teaching on imitation and discipleship, and when such themes are included in the sermon, a mixed message results.
  • Moralizing motivates by obligation, duty, and responsibility. These are powerful motivators in certain situations, but are limited and insufficient in a regular diet.
  • Moralizing has trouble including, and seldom gets around to, motivating by "want to".

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    Last updated November 29, 2011