bits from bob....

A Contrast in Preaching: Depending on Human Ability vs. Depending on God

by Robert J. Young
©, 2006, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Wayne McDill has called attention to the contrast between "do better" preaching and "trust God" preaching. This article will briefly summarize the difference in two approaches to preaching, outline practical ways to move toward preaching that reflects trust in God, explain how to connect life and preaching, and conclude with some thoughts about powerful preaching.

Two approaches to preaching. "Do Better" preaching focuses on doing better. A primary intent is to get the members of the congregation to do better. Doing better can be defined in a variety of ways-more faithful attendance, more involvement in church activities, more moral behaviors...the list is virtually endless. The focus is on changed actions. Contrast that with preaching whose aim is to get people to trust God more fully. The focus is on changed hearts that are true dependent on and responsive to God. The difference is the difference between changed lives and enhanced faith in God. The difference is between cause and effect. Because many preachers think the primary aim of preaching is reformation, modern preaching frequently includes extensive moralizing. One seldom has to listen long before hearing phrases such as "we need to...we ought must..." The real purpose of faithful proclamation is to transform lives by increased faith. Most Christians already know they need to do better-perhaps we cannot do better without trusting God. I recall Mark Twain's oft-quoted observation that what he did understand about the Bible bothered him a lot more than what he didn't understand, because he already understood more than he was doing.

Preaching for faith is far more advantageous than preaching for changed actions, because the internal change wrought by faith presents genuine opportunities for hearers to grow in the Christian life. Addressing heart issues that can change speech, attitudes, and thoughts is more effective than admonitions to do better. I can change the externals by strong willpower, but only temporarily. Genuine, lasting change comes when my heart is changed. Changed hearts make living the Christian life much easier. Preaching that addresses the real life concerns of people declares that God is adequate for every need. One observer characterized the contrast as the difference between an anthropological focus in preaching vs. a theological focus. Do we focus on human beings or on God? When the focus is on an object of uncertainty (human beings), the only possible outcome is uncertainty. We only build faith that changes lives by pointing our hearers beyond the believer to one believed in. Faith is not created by calling for faith, by criticizing the faithless, by aiming for obedience, or by aiming for guilt. Faith is created only by appealing to the credibility of God.

Preaching which reflects trust in God. How does one move toward "Trust God" preaching? Focus on things eternal rather than things temporal. While preaching may seek to address the problems of this earthly realm, the solution is beyond this world. Preach on the character of God-he is faithful, hope, rock, warrior, unchanging, king, father. Preach about his capabilities-he can act in our lives, he is worthy of trust, he can hear and answer and act. Preach about his intentions, purposes, desires, hopes, and future. Move the emphasis of your preaching away from man to God. The Bible is his record, his history, his past. When you tell the story (his-story), make certain you do not fail to tell about God. God comes into focus in such preaching. The message is not merely "do better". The message is about the God who calls us to himself and makes relationship possible when we do better and when we do not. Connecting life and preaching. If we preach for faith and change, how do we get a hearing? Will people listen to this kind of message? The hearing of faith (Gal. 3:2, 5) is more than casual attention. The challenge before the preacher is to connect life and preaching so clearly that increasing faith is the result. This connection requires that we conceptualize, visualize, rationalize, and actualize. The work of developing effective sermons demands that we consider well the process, and make the connection at every step. This is done by how we explain, how we illustrate, how we persuade, and how we make application. Consider the following.

In effective persuasion, there is a clear connection between the nature of the appeal, the goal, the purpose, and the nature of the faith. Consider each of the four points in the previous paragraph. In explanation, one appeals to the intellect, one seeks clarity in order to attain understanding. The very essence of substance of faith is addressed. Of course, supporting materials are explanatory. We can summarize this as follows:

The same can be done for other actions typical of sermonic presentation. In illustration, one appeals to the imagination, one seek connection in order to help the hearer imagine or visualize the reality. When one persuades through argumentation, the process is parallel but with unique charateristics. One appeals to reason, seeking to convince the hearer of the possibility, so that the hearer can logically accept the evidence for faith. Finally, in making applications, one appeals to the nature of life (and integrates the teaching of Scripture with the life situation), demonstrating practicality and motivating the hearer to action. The connection between faith and hope blurs as faith expresses itself in hopeful practice.

Powerful preaching. Powerful preaching is the result of the combination of several dynamics. Powerful preaching demands the right content, good illustrations, and clear applications. Persuasion comes from carefully organized argumentation. A component often overlooked or ignored is the place of language. Powerful preaching uses powerful language. In an effort to avoid the moralizing of "do better" preaching (which has a heavy emphasis on the imperative mood), the preacher will do well to consider how the moods of language contribute to the message.

Too much of the preaching heard in today's pulpits is preoccupied with the human being. Too much of contemporary preaching puts human beings at the center. If humans are at the center, where does God fit in? The God of the Bible will not fit in, because he is the wrong size to fit the crevices. The goal of preaching is not moral rectification but glorifying God. The goal of preaching is faith.

Preachers, replace ought with can. "I can...." will lead to the question, "how?" When preaching results in a hearer that by faith believes in God, responds with an intense desire to lead a Christian life, and wants to know how, the goal of preaching has been realized. Such hearers will be a blessing to the preacher as well as to the local church.


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Last updated November 7, 2006