The longer I’ve been in pastoral ministry the greater the pressure to “spice up” my sermons. After preaching to the same people every week, we eventually run out of our best illustrations and stories, so there’s a feeling at times that our sermons have gone stale and need that extra kick.
I heard about an ice cream shop recently that created new flavors with all types of crazy ingredients, such as mealworms, grass, and pig’s blood. These were seasonal gimmicks to attract customers in Seattle to eat ice cream in October (Halloween). Now, I love ice cream and am open to unique flavors, but I think they jumped the shark. Sure, the stunt probably drew in a host of people wanting to say they tried these insane concoctions and post it on Instagram, but I’m curious how many actually liked it enough to return for a second scoop.
Every pastor wants to keep his sermons fresh, to hold his audience’s attention, but is every approach equally valid? Some preachers are tempted to resort to gimmicks, such as driving vehicles on stage, zip-lining across the sanctuary, or preaching from a king-size bed. They create a buzz but jump the shark past the biblical text.
Certainly, there’s room for creativity in preaching, but there’s a big difference between creativity and gimmickry. We must be careful that our preaching isn’t based on the faulty assumption that Scripture is not enough to grab our attention. So how do we walk the line between adding cinnamon or pig’s blood? One tried-and-true test is that if church-goers leave only remembering the gimmick and not the glory of God, that’s a problem. Yes, it might pique their appetite, but does it leave them savoring the Savior?
Preaching week in and week out to the same people has its challenges, but it also holds many blessings. One of the blessings is the ability to infuse spiritual growth in members and spiritual health in the church through the regular weekly rhythms of gathering around God’s Word.
Recently, doctors discovered my dad suffered from a condition that slowed the rhythm of his heart. The doctor remarked how surprised he was that my dad hadn’t already had a massive heart attack. The solution was not a defibrillator, which shocks the heart back into rhythm. The solution was a pacemaker, which regulates your heart rhythms so blood pumps through your veins at a steady pace and strengthens your body. Your body won’t function properly if your heart is out of rhythm. The same is true with the spiritual rhythms God has given us, including faithful, text-driven preaching.
I’m reminded of the ministry of Barnabas and Saul to the fledgling church in Antioch: “For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers” (Acts 11:26). They didn’t resort to gimmicks; they simply gathered around the word of God on a regular basis. Steady, faithful preaching and discipleship are what turned this infant church into a launchpad for world missions.
Never underestimate the power of a steady rhythm of preaching. Sometimes we’re looking for the home-run sermon, but vibrant Christianity thrives in the steady patterns of worship prescribed by God. The weekly activity of preaching and teaching in the church is like an IV dripping spiritual life into the bloodstream. In one sermon, we may not see much happen, but the continual pattern of submitting ourselves to the Word will eventually produce an overflowing spiritual harvest.
God often does more through a steady diet of his word than through one grand meal. Stick to preaching the word in season and out of season with patience and perseverance (2 Tim. 4:2). Use creative illustrations that enhance and support biblical truths rather than distract from Jesus. Always ask yourself, “Why am I adding this? What do I hope to accomplish? Do I want people remarking how creative I am or how glorious Christ is?” Don’t try to steal the Lord’s spotlight.
Keith Collier serves as pastor of First Baptist Church in Groesbeck, Texas.