“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”--2 Timothy 4:1-2
I don’t have a message. That may sound odd coming from a pastor, but it’s the absolute truth. Now, do not misunderstand, I have been given a message to preach—but it is not my message. I am not the originator of it. I do not own it. I have no authority to change it. As a teacher of God’s Word, my call is to preach God’s message contained in His Book. Anything and everything He has written is far superior to anything I may come up with.
The work of the preacher is hard work. Good sermons don’t just happen. Text-driven sermons take time and effort. That said, preaching the text of Scripture and not my own ideas will keep me from wandering off the straight and narrow. If I tell you what I think and not what God’s Word says, I have no more authority than anybody else the flock here may encounter. However, if I accurately explain what God has said, there is authority in what I preach.
I am not sure where preaching went off the rails. A brief perusing of church history quickly informs us that the Word of God has often been under attack, even from the inside. However, the method of preaching we see today even in conservative congregations is usually lacking the most important ingredient—a text. It has become common for a pastor to read a text (often just a verse or even a phrase) and then talk for 30 minutes or more without ever returning to his text. No background information is given. No context is explained. There is no explanation of how the verse (or verses) fit into the Bible’s “big picture”. The verse, in essence, just becomes a “jumping off point” for whatever the preacher wants to say. In preaching terms, the text becomes a “springboard” from which a pastor jumps from the Bible into his own ideas, never to return.
There is a great need for churches to require Biblical preaching from their elders. If congregations aren’t learning something from the Bible in every service, then they are not learning that which is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The preacher’s personal experiences do not assure such completeness. The preacher’s unique alliteration does not assure such equipping. The preacher’s personal “convictions” and even what could be deemed “good advice” has not been given as our means of training. God has given us His Word to mature our churches. It must be the centerpiece of every pulpit.
Of course, few (if any) pastors see themselves as doing anything but preaching God’s Word. However, this is often based on nothing more than what they’ve seen from the previous generation of pastors. Like it or not, the “old paths” in any group generally does not look back 2000 (or even 200) years. The “old paths” is what we’ve seen Momma and Daddy—or perhaps Grandma and Grandpa doing. And, young pastors generally imitate what they’ve seen out of older pastors. This is multiplied several times over when that older pastor is, perhaps, Daddy or Granddaddy. The model for good preaching, however, is not what we have always seen done. We find our instructions for preaching in God’s Word.
How then can young preachers guard against such a method? That is, how can a young preacher guard against the most common pulpit error of our day—reading a passage and then launching into a 30-minute diatribe of our own thoughts and ideas (often unrelated to the actual meaning of the supposed text)? The antidote is far simpler than one might think. Paul told Timothy, “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Earlier he had written to him, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Young preacher, here you go—read a portion of Scripture (a text). Explain it as contextually accurately as you possibly can, leaving no stone unturned. Then, explain to the congregation how it applies to us today. Preach a text—not an idea. Do not sit around brainstorming all week for a topic and then do a word search for verses that (seemingly) support whatever topic you came up. If that’s your normal method, you are not a Bible preacher—don’t fool yourself. That is a pulpit ministry propped up on your own ideas. If you cannot find a section of Scripture—a whole passage—that clearly lays out the subject you’d like to preach, you need to find another subject. And whatever you do, do not blame the Holy Spirit for such poor preparation in the pulpit.
The apostle Paul took much time training Timothy. He was in every sense of the word discipling Timothy to be a Bible preacher. His instruction to Timothy here is clear—“devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching”…”preach the word.” This “method” (if you want to call it that) has not changed. Young man, forget what you have seen modeled and learn to preach a text—not an idea. Step into the pulpit…open up the Bible…read a portion of Scripture…and then explain it to the congregation. How much better off will a congregation be after a decade of Biblical preaching from texts than the same amount of time spent listening to sermons dreamed up by a clever preacher? God’s Word has the power to change lives—not your ideas. God’s Word has been given to equip His saints—not your cleverness. God’s Word has been given to guide His churches—not the ear tickling that is so common in the modern pulpit.
Topical preaching is easy. You can think up a topic and string a few verses together in a few minutes. However, I will warn you, it will take more diligence than you think to properly preach a text (2 Timothy 2:15). It takes effort. It takes time. It takes study. But, it is clearly God’s way. And, it pays great dividends over time. Listen, the Bible is not a book full of one-liners that you are given the liberty to use to prop up your own ideas. The Bible is a book full of smaller books—all full of context. It is simply improper to read a verse and then never explain it’s original, contextual, intended meaning. Such an approach to the pulpit gives the congregation the idea that you preached that verse, when you simply did not. Young man, save yourself many regrets. Commit today to “preach the word”--take a text and stick with it throughout the sermon. Nothing we, as preachers, have to say is better than what God has already said. Preaching the Word to your congregation is worthwhile because He will always use it to accomplish His purpose (Isaiah 55:11). So, take a text and hide behind it—because it is what God has given to equip the people He has given you to lead.
Todd Bryant is the Lead Elder at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Northport, AL. He has pastored there since 1998. For more more information on the church and links to audio sermons and apps for electronic devices, visit www.sovereigngrace.net