Like a lot of kids growing up, I played summer league baseball. We were living in Chattanooga, Tennessee at the time, and I can still feel the intense heat reflecting off home plate as I wiped it clean each inning with my catcher’s glove. Not too many kids wanted to play catcher – especially in a hot and humid climate where at 3:00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon you were constantly battling the sweat that was always running toward your eyes – just so you could see the next pitch coming. I can still hear my coach yelling at me from the dugout: “Come on Greg, give him a good target. Give him something to shoot for. Show him where to aim.”
Today, when I hear the words “give him a good target,” I don’t think of baseball. I think of preaching. Good preaching happens when we as preachers give the Holy Spirit a good target. Good preaching happens when we give the Spirit something to shoot for. Good preaching aligns itself to the perfect aim of the Spirit as it crescendos to its intended Christological target.
Over the years I have taught preaching, I have come to realize that many beginning preachers do not know what they are aiming for in the first place. Many are like the student who said his only target for his message was to finish on time! After students preached in class, we as a class would go back to the scene of the accident, and try to determine where the sermonic wheels fell off the sermon. We called it “recreating the crash site.” And oftentimes it was brutal.
Once when we were recreating the crash site, I asked the student what I thought was a pretty straightforward question: What did you give the Spirit to work with in your message? In other words, what did you talk about in your sermon that you believe the Spirit would authenticate and bear witness to? What would the Spirit take dead aim at in your message and then pin to the hearts of your listeners?
I believe bad preaching is preaching that gives the Spirit nothing to work with, and nothing to aim at. A sermon with no biblical substance. No biblical themes like redemption, justification, or reconciliation. No solid exposition of the text. No mention of sin, no mention of righteousness, and no mention of judgment to come – which is one surefire way to quench the Spirit’s convicting ministry mentioned in John 16:7.
In other words, could one of the reasons that sermons are powerless and devoid of the vibrancy of the Spirit be because as preachers we offer up nothing for the Spirit to work with? Sure you have a tight introduction, a parallel outline, some penetrating illustrations, and a few timely applications – but has the Spirit promised to give witness to those things in a sermon? What exactly is the target the Spirit is looking to hit?
Bernard Ramm in his work The Witness of the Spirit clearly identifies the target: “The Spirit leads to Christ; He glorifies Christ; and He teaches us Christ. To repeat a theological truism: there is no pneumatology in Scripture isolated from a Christology” (29). A robust theology of preaching begins with the Incarnate Word (Christology), revealed in the written Word (Bibliology), and witnessed to by the Spirit’s power (Pneumatology). This is why any concept of preaching that doesn’t feed off the symbiotic relationship between Christ and the Spirit is a faulty construct. So the Spirit’s purpose in preaching is to give Christological witness to Jesus Christ. In preaching, the Spirit is answering to the inspired Word, authenticating its message, and powerfully giving witness to the Risen Christ!
So preaching Christ in the Spirit’s power means we are wedded to the Spirit’s purpose in preaching- which is to make much of Christ. We are giving the Spirit a target to hit in our sermons each time we preach – a big, Christological target that serves as a redemptive prism through which all of our preaching is filtered through. So when you stand to preach this Sunday, give the Spirit a big target. Give Him something to shoot for. And watch your preaching become a demonstration of the Spirit’s power! (I Corinthians 2:4).
About: Dr. Greg Heisler serves as the Senior Pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone, North Carolina. Dr. Heisler received his Master of Divinity in 1998 and his Doctor of Philosophy in Christian Preaching from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky in 2003. He previously served as Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Theological Seminary from 2004-2012. His book, Spirit-Led Preaching, was the winner of the 2007 Preachingtoday.org Book of the Year. Greg is married to his wife Laura and they have two sons, Andrew and Ben.