No, this is not a tirade against the world, the flesh and the Devil, although, if they are influencing your life, they can damage a good sermon in no time. My great concern is that we learn to recognize the hidden enemies of good preaching, enemies that constantly lurk around us in the study, in the sanctuary-and even in the prayer closet.
The first of these enemies is the preacher’s obsession with preaching “great sermons.” Like the baseball player who keeps trying for home runs, when what is really needed is a man on first, this preacher struggles week by week to knock the ball out of the park and never quite makes it. High ideals are important in pulpit ministry, but sometimes the best is the enemy of the good.
“The notion of a great sermon, either constantly or occasionally haunting the preacher, is fatal,” said Phillips Brooks in this Yale Lectures on Preaching. “The sermons of which nobody speaks…are the sermons that do the work, that make men better men, and really sink into their affections.”
To change the image, the cook does not prepare a Thanksgiving feast for every meal. A good cook just makes sure that there is nourishing, tasty food on the table each time the diners gather.
The compliments of our kind and patient people can easily become an enemy to good preaching, especially if we believe them. To be sure, there are listeners in every congregation who would compliment us no matter what we said or how we said it. This routine chatter we learn to recognize and ignore. But when we get sincere appreciation from people whom we consider to be discerning listeners, that is another story. We then say to ourselves, “I didn’t work too hard on that one, and yet they liked it!” Then the trap falls and we start to get careless in our preparation.
Not that we don’t appreciate their kind words! We do, and we wish we would merit them more often. But good preaching cannot be tied to what our people have to say about us. After all, they could be wrong; and in the final judgment, it is what the Lord thinks about our ministry that really counts. One sermon doth not make a ministry.
How often we have gone home after a service, convinced that the sermon was a failure, only to learn during the weeks that followed that the Lord used the message, poor as it was, to help several people. On the other hand, many of the “home runs” turned out to be foul balls, at least from the human standpoint. His Word never returns void, we know, but there are times when it takes a lot of faith to believe that.
Another insidious enemy is the snare of statistics. Perhaps church attendance is on the increase, lost sinners are being converted, and people are uniting with the church. Certainly this kind of “success” must prove that our preaching is drawing men and women to Christ and the local fellowship. We have arrived!
Perhaps. Except that nobody can really be sure why anybody attends church or why they make “spiritual decisions.” We like to think that these blessings come because the Holy Spirit uses our sermons, but we will not know for sure until the books are opened. Our pulpit ministry may have little or nothing to do with the increase or decrease in statistics. It may be the music that draws the people, or perhaps the children’s program or the “social status” of the members.
We dare not measure the quality of our sermons by the quantity of the statistics. If we do, we might become either too elated or too depressed; and both pride and discouragement are sins. One day our Lord gave a sermon on the Bread of Life and lost His whole congregation; and yet false prophets always seem to have a crowd.
One of the most dangerous enemies of preaching is the imitating of some preacher we admire. Every minister has a shelf of “homiletical household gods” to which he gives secret homage, such as G. Campbell Morgan, R. G. Lee, Charles Spurgeon or perhaps some popular contemporary media minister whose sermons stir him. Since we all tend to become like the idols we worship (Ps. 115:8), a certain amount of imitation is inevitable.
I recall a preacher who was so enamored of Campbell Morgan that he often said in his sermons, “O, my masters!” as Morgan used to do. His listeners could never quite figure out what he was talking about or who those “masters” were. Fortunately, he saw his folly and stopped imitating Morgan. It’s good to have homiletical heroes, but be sure you imitate the essentials in their ministry and not the accidentals.
Here is another enemy: When the preacher has “an ax to grind,” the sermon is headed for the slaughter. Many congregations wait anxiously for the first sermon after the monthly board meeting, knowing that the pastor will either consciously or unconsciously tell them how the meeting went. It is tragic when a man of God hides behind the pulpit and attacks people who have no way to fight back-until the next board meeting.
One last enemy must be mentioned: suddenness. Charles Spurgeon said, “Suddenness leads to shallowness”; and he was right. Sermons are not manufactured, they grow; and they cannot grow unless we give them time to grow. We don’t “build” sermons the way little boys build model airplanes. We nurture them; and that means taking time to meditate, pray and cultivate the seed of the Word planted in our hearts.
Yes, there are times when the days are too short and the schedule is too long. Yes, there are weeks when the pastoral demands take us out of the study more than we would like. God knows all about this and graciously compensates for it, if we have been faithful all the other times. Often it is while we are out shepherding in the field that God sends us the very message we had groped for in the study. But let’s not tempt the Lord.
I am told that the Great Wall of China was penetrated at least three times in history, and each time the enemy bribed one of the guards. All of the resources of heaven are behind the faithful preacher of the Word, so we have nothing to fear-except the enemies who bribe us and get in because we let them.
©2001 WWW This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use.
Reproduction for any other purpose is goverened by copyright laws and is strictly prohibited.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).