Preaching Insights from Locker Room Speeches

 |  January 26, 2018

Every good sports movie mandates an inspirational locker room speech. A team of underdogs faces their biggest obstacle yet. Victory appears to be slipping from their grasp, but then the coach waltzes in and delivers an animated monologue that draws every player’s gaze and galvanizes the team. Think of Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper” or Herb Brooks’ pregame speech before the U.S. men’s hockey team accomplished the Olympic “Miracle on Ice.”

As a sports fan, I’m a sucker for a good locker room speech. Perhaps one of my favorites as a child was Coach Gordon Bombay’s brief but inspirational words to his junior hockey team in the Disney movie “D2: The Mighty Ducks.” Tasked with coaching Team USA, Bombay has to wrangle and unify players from all over the country to work together as a team. During the intermission just before the final period of one of their games, Bombay asks players “Who are you?” to which players respond with their names and the cities/states from which they hail. He concludes, “We are Team USA, gathered from all across America, and we’re going to stick together. Do you know why? Because we are ducks … and ducks fly together. Just when you think they’re about to break apart, ducks fly together … And when everyone says it can’t be done, ducks fly together!”

But in real life game situations, the best locker room speeches are not merely inspirational; they’re also instructional. Coaches remind players of the basics of the game—the skills and fundamentals they already know—and lay out the game plan so the team is unified around common objectives. What’s interesting though is that a coach rarely addresses individual players in these scenarios. If he does, it is always linked to how that player affects the entire team. For example, a basketball coach may single out a player to improve his defense or to take more shots, but it’s in the context of how that affects other players on the team as well as the team as a whole. In football, a coach may draw up specific plays involving a key player or two, but it’s always in conjunction with how the individual’s performance coordinates with his teammates responsibilities and helps the team to win. But, most often, these locker room speeches focus on the team working together as a unit.

Expository preaching can be like a locker room huddle. Sure, there are differences. For example, a sermon addresses eternal matters while a sporting event is just a game. Additionally, pastors can’t simply rely on a rah-rah, emotional speech; there has to be substance to the message. But the analogy applies in that every Sunday a pastor speaks to a team of individuals, a congregation of Christians, a body of believers. Every week, the church gathers to hear from the Word of God, and the pastor must seek to unify, encourage, instruct, and inspire these Christians to work with one another to achieve a common goal or set of objectives presented in the Scriptures (see Ephesians 4:11-16 and 2 Timothy 4:2).

However, I’m afraid that too often, sports coaches get it right where evangelical pastors get it wrong. Rather than deliver messages that encourage and equip church members to live out the Scriptures corporately, much of the preaching I hear today is solely focused on individuals, coaching people up on their own personal games. Sure, we could pick on seeker-sensitive, self-help sermons at this point, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how evangelical, expository preachers often neglect the congregational nature of the Christian life in their sermons. We tell people there are no “Lone Ranger Christians,” but we typically preach “Lone Ranger sermons.” We do a bang up job of explaining the Scriptures and applying it to the individual Christian’s life (as we should), but we fail to explain and apply how that passage addresses the corporate nature of the Christian life—how their life together in the church should look and how they fulfill the mission of God together. In short, our sermons are all about the “me” and absent of the “we.”

Ironically, this misses the whole objective of expository preaching. The Bible itself is a congregationally shaped book. It is written about God’s people, to God’s people, for God’s people. Because expositional preaching exposes God’s Word to His people and helps them live out the truths found in the Bible, it too must be congregationally shaped. And I’m not just referring to passages that instruct the church on matters of ecclesiology. Every passage of Scripture has both individual and congregational implications, and so must every expositional sermon.

What about your preaching? Are your sermons solely aimed at explaining how the Bible applies to the individual Christian, or do they also promote a congregationally shaped view of the Christian life? Do your church members see applications from the text that guide their personal walk with the Lord as well as applications that instruct them on their role in the body of Christ?

When you preach a passage related to forgiveness, do you explain how forgiveness plays out in your local church and demonstrates the gospel to a watching world? When you preach on temptation, do you show how temptations toward gossip, pride, and immorality impact the congregation? When you preach on the Lord’s Prayer, do you emphasize it’s congregational nature—“Our Father … Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”?

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about jettisoning the individual aspects of the Christian life in our sermons. But I am advocating for an increased emphasis on the congregational aspects. We are saved into a family, and the church is God’s primary tool for transforming the world. God’s Word gives life to His people, so as we preach it, we must allow it to shape and define our congregations. It should instruct us on how and why the Lord organizes us together in local faith families for the spread of the gospel. It should help us understand how our life together, defined by love, is one of the key ways we display the glory of Christ to the world (John 13:35).

As you sit down to prepare your next message, take some time to think through how the text applies to your congregation as a whole. As you begin to add this focus to your sermons, you will be “equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph. 4:12-13).

Keith Collier serves as pastor of First Baptist Church in Groesbeck, Texas.

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