Is the Bible enough? (Or: how my preaching has changed recently)

April 3, 2018

Back in late January, I was preaching a sermon in my series on the Lord’s Prayer. Attendance that morning was down—for whatever reason, but one of which was stormy weather that morning. Moreover, it was warm in the sanctuary. The thermostat read “74,” hardly a temperature conducive to giving one’s full attention even to the most engaging sermon, much less the one I had prepared for that morning. More than a few people were nodding off.

As I was delivering it, I had a thought running on a parallel track in my mind: “This sermon is a disaster! You’ve lost your audience.”

It wasn’t that bad—I listened to the recording to make sure. But this experience drove me over the edge: Literally for years I’ve had a sense that my preaching wasn’t congruent with one of my deepest convictions: that the Bible is enough for me—and for all of us.

So, for example, nearly every week when I prepare a sermon, I find an insight into the scripture that speaks to me—excites me, even—and I want to share this with my congregation. It resonates with my heart. But in the back of my mind, I tell myself, “No, no… A sermon isn’t a Bible study. That point, however much it speaks to you, would bore people. That’s too much Bible. You have to be relevant, after all.”

As if God’s Word alone isn’t relevant?

Meanwhile, every week I listen to contemporary preachers who are far better than I am whose sermons are also far more Bible-oriented than mine! One of them, a prominent megachurch pastor (now retired), preaching to multiple campuses, is rarely funny, believe it or not! He doesn’t even seem to care that he isn’t! Shouldn’t that tell me something?

Two more recent experiences have changed my outlook on preaching: First, our church has added a monthly Sunday evening service, in a small chapel that holds no more than 50 people, comfortably. I preach a separate sermon from the one I preach on Sunday morning. In the interest of time—since I can’t devote as much of it to sermon prep—I don’t prepare a manuscript. I preach a familiar text from an outline. And I hold my Bible in my hand the whole time, referring to verses mostly in sequential order. My sermons are far more extemporaneous and conversational. And they are among the best I’ve ever preached. (Sadly, I have no document of them; I haven’t recorded them.)

This is, in other words, a “Bible first” approach. I spend little time worrying about clever introductions and humorous anecdotes, for example. I feel far less pressure. And I enjoy them more, frankly. Do you suppose that my enjoyment comes through in the delivery?

Finally, let me mention my Bible studies. I do one on Wednesday evening and Sunday morning. Again, like the Sunday evening sermons, these are conversational and mostly extemporaneous. And people have responded very positively to them.

I’m not bad at teaching! It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if my sermons veered in that direction, right?

Anyway, that’s what’s going on with me these days. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

10 Responses to “Is the Bible enough? (Or: how my preaching has changed recently)”

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    One reason that the preacher you mention can preach seriously on the Bible is that he preaches through whole Chapters and even through whole books of the Bible. He spent nearly ten years preaching through Romans. I was listening to him preach through John 3 this past fall. I think there were more than a a dozen messages. They were magnificent. The congregation gets hooked on the whole story/message of the Chapter. Each week builds on the previous week and they can go online to review what they heard. This is serious preaching and I believe it produces serious response.

    I grew up Methodist, so I heard sermons on Bible passages pulled out of the Bible, without much context. Just life application sermons, really. They had there purpose, but they didn’t pull me into the Bible. I didn’t start to appreciate the wonder of the Bible until I started the “Disciple Bible Study” series. Once into that, I searched for sermons online that preached through the Book. They are there for the seeking. They make the Bible come alive!

    Keep going in the direction you are. It will be rewarded.

  2. How about the idea that a sermon isn’t entertainment. Too, that mega preachers have really done nothing in terms of progressing in the words of Jesus in service so I wouldn’t use them as a guide. Most preachers really do nothing more than give a speech. They should be pointing to what God wants us to do and who we are in reference to Him. When you do that, you can leave out all the jokes and anecdotes and simply magnify who Jesus really is through His church. Jesus might have not even been a good speaker. We don’t know one way or another but we do know of Moses and Paul. They moved people anyway or at least in spite of impediments. You have a good post and I enjoyed reading it and will ponder over it even more for the future.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thanks! The megachurch pastor I refer to is only “incidentally” megachurch—his church grew organically in response to great preaching and leadership, so he’s not like most of them (probably). I haven’t heard many… I was harmed by bad teaching in seminary. My homiletics prof warned us against offering “Bible study” in a sermon. I overreacted to that advice, I guess. And so-called “narrative preaching” was also the latest fad. Not that I know, even today, what that is, exactly, but it had something to do with story-telling rather than exposition. In fact, point-based, deductive, expository preaching was taboo. So that influenced me, too.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Also, I fear if I don’t “entertain,” my parishioners will go to the church two blocks away. See what I mean? This is what I mean when I say I didn’t trust that the Bible is enough.

  3. Nancy Drake Says:

    I agree with Grant Essex’s comments above. Also, the approach of preaching from the Bible brings to mind one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I have listened to many of his sermons from the MLJ Trust library. He was a Welsh Protestant minister and medical doctor, who turned down an opportunity to be the official physician to the royalty in England. He was influential in the Reformed wing of the British evangelical movement and his expository preaching, sometime taking months and even years, to expound a chapter of the Bible verse by verse has influenced thousands. His dry, humorous message drew the crowds and helped London heal from the war.

    Sing the Word, Preach the Word, Pray the Word, Brent.

    Nancy Drake

  4. Grant Essex Says:

    Wales was the home of the Calvinist Methodist Church of the 17th and 18th centuries, which became Presbyterian. Many saw MLJ as a Welshman out of that mold.

    I too find his preaching extraordinary.

  5. bobbob Says:

    Don’t you worry Rev B. I am sure that your attempts at preaching, reaching, and teaching just fine. The fact that you care, that you are vulnerable enough to ask, is ample demonstration that your heart is in the right place.

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