You sit in your office beginning to prepare your sermon. Maybe you’ve done this hundreds of times. Maybe you’re just getting started in your ministry. Whatever the case may be, this time feels different, because you know that what you’re about to preach is hard. It is one that is difficult to believe, but you know that it is a message that the world needs to hear. You also know that many people find this text something that they are directly opposed to in their own worldview. What do you do? Do you skip over it and move on to something else? Or do you see it as an opportunity not just to disciple your congregation, but to address an issue in a way that presents the Christian worldview as both reasonable and desirable?
If you find yourself wanting to preach the difficult text in front of you, we thank God that you are not shying away from your calling in the difficult times. In your preparation, consider these thoughts:
1. Preach the Text
When it comes to parts of the Bible that are problematic both theologically and culturally, many preachers tend to shy away or put the objection aside and go on to other texts. In such cases, the preacher should not shy away from but lean into the text with confidence. Although we know that there will be times when a text is more controversial than others, especially to unbelievers, taking the time to address these passages directly will show both your congregation and your community that you are not afraid to engage with your surrounding culture. In a world with social media, it may feel like you cannot address difficult texts without being taken out of context and it being posted for the entire world to see. We cannot let the culture determine what we preach. The preacher is to preach the text boldly and with conviction so that even an unbelieving listener would have to thoughtfully consider what he is saying.
2. Anticipate Objections
When preaching a text that is more likely to be directly objected by the surrounding culture, the preacher must be careful to consider what objections a person could make to the Christian position on the issue. This means that much of your sermon preparation should involve reading and studying the issue your text is addressing from a non-Christian worldview. For example, when preaching a text on traditional marriage or homosexuality, the preacher would do well to research both scholarly and popular works addressing the issue from a secular worldview. In Acts 17, Paul is preaching to a Gentile audience in Athens. He is able to communicate the truth of the Gospel to them in part because he was familiar with their culture and worldview.
3. Consider the Objector
Not only should you know what the objections are to what you are teaching, you should also know who is making the objection. You should want to know why they are making the objection. You should want to consider the possible ways they could have ended up with such a worldview. For most preachers, many of the issues that are apologetically challenging are often the “hot-button” issues of the day. Thanks to polarizing news media and now the ability to share beliefs online without ever having to face your opponent in person, these issues have become more divisive than ever before. Because of this, it is so easy to be caught up in attacking a position that we simply assume what type of person is on the other side. Although it is probably impossible to know the specific backstory of every person who is in your audience, there is a way to approach this well.
C.S. Lewis writes in his monumental work Mere Christianity on the Christian virtue of “Charity.” He writes:
Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did…Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.
If we preach at a non-believing audience from an angry, combative, and condemning position, we will have lost the person upon whose ears our words fall. We must always remember that every non-Christian, and even anti-Christian, position is held in the mind and heart of a person made in the image of God, for whom Christ died, and to whom we are sent.
Preaching is never easy. It is not for the faint of heart. Yet, for the preacher, it is the task that they have been called to by Almighty God for a world in desperate need of the message that they possess. Therefore, preacher, we implore you to preach the message that you have been given with boldness and conviction. We challenge you to dig deep into the Word as you prepare, but also to consider the way a non-believing culture will respond to your message. Finally, we beg you to keep in mind that while you are preaching against a worldview, you are preaching for the person. Proclaim the message of the Gospel in a way that makes sense to mind and stirs the desires of the heart.
Kyle Hamby is Executive Ministry Resident at Rush Creek Church in Arlington, Texas, and an Enrollment Specialist at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.