It was a surprise and liberation to me. Years ago, through the study of men and women in Scripture, history and daily life, I realized an amazing truth: everyone is imbalanced. Look around you and you will discover that there are no exceptions to this maxim. Every effective man I admire is tremendously passionate about certain things, often to the exclusion of others.
In sovereign wisdom and delightful creativity, God made us different. When the single cell of your mother met the single cell of your father, each carrying 23 chromosomes a piece, they merged into one single cell that was you. With the threads of that chromosomal mix, God knit you together creating (scientists now tell us) over three billion characters to your unique DNA. Like the marvel of snowfall, God obviously delighted in this difference. He wanted distinction between us, not just in physical appearance, but in temperament, personality, thinking, style, etc.—in over three billion ways!
Through the centuries men have sought to stifle this difference. This has come through both legitimate and illegitimate concerns.
Human pride has been the culprit on the downside. Convinced of our own rightness (about any subject) we stifle others by holding up the excellence of our opinion and approach. The Pharisees were masters of this and their spirit transcends the ages. Seeking to push everyone into our narrow mold, we are convinced we’re doing the world a great favor.
“If everyone would just (fill in the blank) like me, we would get this job done!” We are reinforced in our thinking by those we’ve influenced. In their desire to be liked (which is also pride) they often follow lock-step. Soon, surrounded by a small army of agreeing followers, we become so confident in our way that we are unteachable about other possibilities. All of us have led and followed others from this motivation.
On the other hand, our narrowness is often driven by a very biblical and appropriate concern. For those of us who believe in the absolute reliability of God’s Word, we know that what He says is uncompromisingly narrow on certain issues. Many things allow no deviation. People’s lives and destinies are at stake in our devotion to this. We must be willing to live and die for these truths. When we meet the brick wall of God’s truth we should not climb over, but turn, stand, and speak, knowing that His stubbornness to a singular way is “is good, and acceptable, and perfect” not only for us but for everyone to whom we preach.
A great rule of hermeneutics was given to me in simplicity by a seasoned seminary professor. “When the Bible says a lot about something,” he said, “you say a lot about it. When it says little, you do the same.” This follows in another area. When the Bible is clear about either content or method of life or ministry we should be uncompromising; when its ambiguity indicates some tolerance for variation, we should follow suit.
The methodology of preaching is an important illustration.
Preaching, in my opinion, is the highest task in this present age. What could be more important than communicating the mind of God to the need of men? Those of us who have experienced the mystical pull into this task, this “stewardship of God’s grace which was entrusted to me” as Paul says, should be daily humbled by God’s calling. We should cry with Paul, “to me the very least of all saints this grace was given to preach.” The majesty of the task contrasted with the sinfulness of our lives should make us humble, but vigilant. We are stewards of an inexhaustible resource—the grace of God. The richest philanthropist in history has nothing on those of us who hold the keys to the vault of God’s grace.
What we preach should not be open to debate. Any preacher worthy of the name should “preach the Word.” If you know the Word of God you are well aware of its inherent power. It is GOD’S Word, not man’s words about God. It is “alive and powerful.” It is so sharp that it cuts going and coming and clearly defines what is of earth’s kingdom or God’s. It can pierce through the crust of man’s soul to show him the very “thoughts and motivations” of his heart. Real preaching relies on the power of God through the Word that has come from His mouth. A great preacher once said, “My job, like a good waiter in a fine restaurant, is to get the food from the kitchen to the table without messing anything up.” Properly exegeting (“rightly dividing”) the text is essential and believing in the power of the text is non-negotiable.
If a man is relying on clever speech and cute rhythms to move his hearers, he is prostituting the call—not to mention the lost joy of being caught up in the mystery of Divine communication. At the end of every message, the sole evaluation should be, “God, did I faithfully tell them what You said? Did I dilute your truth? Did I let You speak? Was the sword of your mouth unleashed from its scabbard to do its miraculous work?” A good way to gauge this is the comments of mature believers who walk away saying, “Isn’t that an incredible truth?” or “Isn’t God glorious?” versus “Man, that was really an impressive sermon!”
Further, as pastors we should give our flock the “whole counsel” of God’s Word. A balanced diet leads to healthy bodies. Sensitive to God’s Spirit, we must let Him lead us to those truths that will nourish and strengthen our people in needed areas (whether they currently see that need or not). If our calling is to raise people up to the “measure of stature of Christ” in His fullness we must realize that we will stunt their growth by a one-dimensional diet. Years of preaching should reflect this balance.
While we must be uncompromising about what we preach, how we preach is another matter. The variation in scripture and history of Spirit anointed preaching is startling.
Preachers are convictional (or should be) about truth, but that stubborn resolve can easily drift over into our beliefs about style. When we find the place of comfort and blessing in our style we assume that method is the absolute. Some grateful followers say, “I’ve never been fed like this. That last preacher…” Our homeletical chest puffs out. We make some bold statements at the local pastor’s meeting that go unchallenged that “real preaching is always _” and assume that their silence is confirmation.
We need to go back to our Bibles. We need to walk through the stylistic smorgasbord of sermons in Christian history. We need to watch a good snowfall.
“Preaching-through-a-book-verse-by-verse” preachers slam those “light-in-the-britches-topical” preachers.
“How can any flock be built up by doing short, six-week series?” Ask Spurgeon, who, if memory serves me correctly, never preached straight through a book. Those poor people.
“How can you possibly relate to the culture by doing long book series?” Ask Criswell, who preached 18 years straight from Genesis to Revelation and built one of the great churches of his day. Have a conversation with Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the master book expositor, whose record crowds left other preachers scratching their heads. Fairly relevant.
“Why would you ever preach topically?” Ask Jesus, whose primary record of preaching left for our study is a series of short parables with laser application.
“How could it really be effective to cover a lot of ground in a sermon?” Read Matthew five through seven—the manifesto of God’s new kingdom communicated perfectly by the King of preachers.
Need I go on?
There is a case for preaching through a book…and…preaching (with good exegesis) through a topic. Narrative preaching is powerful and clearly illustrated in scripture. Parabolic preaching is also predominate. Prophetic preaching moments are alongside devotional, more pastoral preaching. Short and long, one point and many, verse-by-verse (which, actually, is the hardest to document by biblical illustration but does not discount its value) and topical, they are all there.
If you REALLY want to stay true to the whole counsel of God, wouldn’t scripture seem to indicate that we not only preach all the major themes and truths, but also preach a variation of all of these styles? (But then….I’m showing my peculiar imbalance).
Here’s for truth and grace among preachers. Here’s for unswerving commitment to the truth coupled with a huge dose of humility about style. Here’s for being comfortable with what I do, but applauding (and learning from) what God has gifted others to do.
When will we rejoice when a brother feeds his flock with what God has said in the way God has uniquely designed him to say it? Where is the seasoned man who says in humility, “I really love to preach this way, but I’m so grateful for men who proclaim the Word in truth with different styles!” Oh, for men who are humble enough to recognize God’s wildly creative DNA.
You’re imbalanced. Just admit it. And so am I. If we’d let it, our diversity could create quite a snow storm.
© Bill Elliff
2ProphetU is an online magazine/website, started by Warren Wiersbe and Michael Catt, to build up the church, seek revival, and encourage pastors.