Last year, I had the opportunity to think through the biblical objectives for preaching in preparation for writing a prior blog for Preaching Source. This was a great exercise in critically thinking through what I must do when I stand to preach. There are some objectives that I must consider if I am to effectively “preach.” I must take a truth from the Word of God and, in a clear and concise way, communicate that truth to a listening audience in order to bring about transformation.
In light of these objectives, the preacher must consider the nature of how the truth of the text matches the delivery of that truth. It is a necessary reflection for the preacher to constantly evaluate the message of the sermon to evaluate whether or not the message of the sermon matches the message of the text. If the two do not match, there is a problem with the message that is communicated in the sermon. If the message of the sermon does not match the text, then we must ask what does it match? Could it be that the message of the sermon matches some content that the preacher wishes to communicate rather than what the text is communicating? And if the message of the sermon does not match the message of the text, what does the message of the sermon match? The message of the sermon is related to some idea that is being communicated, but if that idea is not found in the text, the preacher has failed to preach the text.
The preacher has two primary tasks in preaching. The first is exegesis. With exegesis, he is answering the principal question of what does the text mean in its original context? Second, there is the task of homiletics. This is where the preacher will deliver the meaning of the text in a culturally-relevant manner. It is imperative that these two tasks be connected in every possible way. The homiletical exercise of the delivery of a sermon must, therefore, match the hermeneutical exercise of determining the truth of the text from which that sermon is preached.
Steven Smith provides insight into this connection in his book, Recapturing the Voice of God. In this book, Smith gives credence to the crucial nature of the connection between the text and the delivery of a sermon from that text. He defines preaching in the following way. “Text-driven preaching is the interpretation and communication of a biblical text in a sermon that re-presents the substance, structure, and the spirit of the text.”Steven W. Smith, Recapturing the Voice of God: Shaping Sermons Like Scripture. (Nashville, B&H Publishing: 2015), 17.
First, the preacher must consider what will drive the sermon. In Smith’s definition, the descriptor preceding preaching, “text-driven” speaks volumes as to what is at the heart of the sermon. It is the text that drives and determines the content of the sermon. If the text ultimately governs the sermon content, then it should be obvious when the sermon is delivered that it has a discernable association with the text.
Next, multiple aspects of the sermon delivery must match that of the text. Smith identifies three components of the sermon that must be re-presented in an effort to connect the content of the delivery to the content of the text. These three components are the substance, structure and the spirit of the text. Each of these plays a vital role in the proper communication of a biblical text. When the sermon is preached, the meaning of the text will need to be delivered. The preacher will need to spend some time exegeting the text in order to clearly and concisely communicate the substance of the text. However, this is often where most preachers stop with their exegesis. But this is not the end of the exegetical process. The preacher must then exegete the structure of the text. And that structure must guide the delivery of the text. Last, the exegesis must then determine the spirit of the text. Is this text describing the wrath of God? If so, then the delivery must communicate this spirit of wrath. If the text is communicating the love of God, then the delivery will need to communicate with a spirit of love. The spirit of the delivery must coincide with the spirit of the text.
Preacher, if you are going to preach, then you are going to need to make every effort to ensure that the delivery of the message matches the text. If the relationship between the text and the delivery is made, then the truth of the text will be communicated and true “preaching” will be done. However, if there is no clear discernable connection between the delivery and the text, then one may ask if this actually preaching. Nehemiah 8:8 provides biblical insight regarding this connection. “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”Scripture reference is from the ESV translation. The purpose in this text is clear. It is so that the people understood the reading. The text is read and then the text is explained so that the people understood it. Preacher, what is it that your message matches? Is it the text or something else?
Kevin Ulmer is the Pastor of Maplewood Baptist Fellowship in Richland Hills, Texas. He is also a Ph.D. student in Preaching and the Assistant to the Associate Vice President for Institutional Research and Assessment at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.