I studied Speech Communication in college. Essentially this means I took quite a few courses that required public speaking, generally in the form of a presentation of some kind. Near the end of my undergraduate study, I was able to teach an introduction to public speaking course in which the students had to give three speeches: informative, special occasion, and persuasive. On the first day of the informative speeches, a young woman in the class walked sheepishly to the front, began to arrange her note cards, and settled into her speech. It was apparent from her trembling hands and lack of eye contact that she was nervous. As she began her speech, her nervousness turned into something else entirely. It might have been thirty or forty-five seconds into her speech before she began to sob/scream uncontrollably. She was evidently terrified of public speaking, and her coping mechanism was to shout out her speech in between sobs. It was and is the most intense presentation I’ve yet to witness.
While this speech was laden with emotion, its presentation didn’t correspond well to its content. She wasn’t crying as she related to the content; she was terrified. Preaching should have a direct connection to the tone of its content and never be boring. Sadly, our experience shows this is not always the case. Sometimes the timeless, powerful, and effective Word of God is unfortunately presented devoid of dynamism, and instead reminds us of the unread fine print on any number of agreements we have signed. While the main point of any sermon should be the same as the main point of the biblical text, so too should the tone of text impact the tone of the sermon. Preachers should, in some sense, display the impact of the biblical text and its tone on themselves as they seek to impart its meaning to others. In order for sermons to be true to the meaning of the text, it should also be presented in line with the tone of the text. In order to present forceful sermons that honor God, and are faithful to the biblical text, four things must be done: immerse yourself in the text, submit yourself to the text, pray for the text’s application, and preach as if it matters.
Immerse yourself in the text. There are occasions when your grammatical dissection, historical analysis, and the remainder of the exegetical work takes you further away from the text. In an effort to know the text well, and to be a student of it, the analysis performed becomes a cool, detached, and lifeless endeavor. While the careful spadework of exegesis is essential, it cannot be allowed to be monotonous drudgery. Preacher, you are investigating God’s Word. You are studying the nuance of timeless communication. You are encountering the living God as you prepare. In the hours you are able to allot each week for study, you must strive for more than factual knowledge of the text. You must meet the Lord in your study as you immerse yourself in the text.
Submit yourself to the text. Through your investigative work, you should begin to see the mandates of the text. The varied application points of the text must reside in your heart. You cannot merely be an impassive mouthpiece. Allow the direction and tone of the biblical text to guide you as you prepare to preach. Submitting yourself to the text brings your heart and mind in line with God’s desired outcome. The preacher must also be wary of conveying emotions that aren’t genuine. A lack of movement in the heart of the preacher to the text could be an indication that he still has more work to do. Don’t quit on this good work and settle for your own presentation of emotion. The force of your sermon’s emotion should stem from your time in the text and reflect the tone of the text, not your own ability. This pattern of faithfulness will see us cry, shout, laugh, and dance in the midst of our weekly preaching.
See God’s design for your hearers in the text and begin to pray it might become reality. Regardless of the genre you are preaching from, the text is calling for the hearers to be transformed from their encounter with God’s Word. We aren’t merely seeking, or at least we shouldn’t be, to make better-informed disciples, as if our preaching were preparing our hearers for a heavenly IQ test. Certainly, there is an equipping element to our preaching, but we are equipping them for battle, not Bible trivia. By praying for the application of the text to be true in the lives of our hearers; we are making a conscious investment in their lives. Many weeks as I go into the Worship Center to run through my sermon, I walk up and down the aisles as I preach. Alternating between prayer and preaching, I ask God to make his word true in the lives of the families that sit throughout our church. I see their faces, and I’m asking the King of the universe to bring his Spirit to affect change in their lives. This time spent in prayer continues to bond my heart to them and causes me to delight in God’s desires for their lives.
Preach the text as if it is actually consequential not merely a perfunctory exercise. When I first began to preach in the local church, an older pastor told me my week would soon begin to feel like it ran Sunday, Monday, Sunday. I thanked him for his kind and terrifying remark but assumed he was mistaken and not a good manager of his time. I’m not sure where the days go each week, but he was right. Preaching each week, along with midweek Bible studies, meetings, hospital visits, not to mention your own life and family—all of these things combined` make it tempting to merely go through the motions on Sunday. Hopefully, you aren’t consciously making a decision to do this, but not keeping in mind the consequential nature of preaching can have dire effects. God’s Word is powerful and he can use lazy, dull, and unfaithful servants, but is that really what we want to be? Certainly, we want to be faithful to the task he has assigned to us. We aren’t peddling good advice, we are leveraging all that we are and all of our ability to present God’s glorious invitation and investment again and again. Let us be found faithful.
Matt Beasley is Staff Elder and Pastor at Ridgecrest Church in Greenville, Texas.