Don’t Shoot the Wheel-Nut

Today in the news there is a story of a man who got frustrated trying to loosen the wheel-nut on his car and decided to try blasting it from close range with a shotgun. The ricochet of buckshot and debris peppered him from ankle to abdomen.

While not wanting to make light of his severe injuries, I would like to draw an analogy for our thinking as preachers. Use as much force as necessary to achieve each goal in a sermon, but don’t exert excessive force that will backfire on you. Here are some examples of backfiring preaching techniques:

* Overstating the introduction. Don’t promise to solve all the problems of the world in your introduction if your message only addresses some of the problems. If the goal is modest, then strive to create a thirst for the message, but a thirst that will be quenched. It is easy to take onboard the importance of surfacing a need and then over-promise. It will backfire.

* Overbearing illustrations. Perhaps you come across a moving story, or have a powerful experience that fits with your message. Be careful it is not too powerful or you might overwhelm the message. Illustrations and stories should drive the idea forward, not overtake it. Even if it happened to you, even if it is all true, even if it agrees with the text . . . if it is too strong it may backfire.

* Over-the-top word choice. Sometimes shocking a congregation can be effective, but you must plan carefully. Just because Tony Campolo once swore at a congregation does not mean we should all try it. For effect or shock value or even for a laugh, it is tempting to go too far. Don’t. It will backfire.

Peter has responded to a comment on this post.

3 thoughts on “Don’t Shoot the Wheel-Nut

  1. Unfortunately, these suggestions and rules are valid to a point, but they sure take the heart and soul and inspiration out of a little sermon, don’t they?

    Just remember, God will put the words into your mouth when needed, so give no thought as to what to say, or something to that effect.

    Was God wrong?

  2. Thanks for reading the post and interacting with it Robert. I would like to carefully suggest that the texts you are alluding to (Matt.10:19; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:11) are all referring to a specific context. Namely, not being concerned about what to say when brought to trial under persecution. Of course, God was not wrong in the instructions given for that eventuality. While some pastors may lightheartedly joke about that context being the one they face each Sunday when they preach, we would all agree that the reality is far more grave than whatever negative vibes we may feel from members of our churches. There are brothers and sisters today around the world who are facing the extreme kinds of persecution Jesus referred to in these passages. They need not fear what to say when brought to trial for their faith.

    Meanwhile, we who have the privilege of preparing and delivering messages from God’s Word have the opportunity to wrestle with the meaning of the text, the appropriate application of the text for our listeners and the best way to present that meaning and application. I find that in being the best steward of the opportunity given to me, “the heart and soul and inspiration” of a sermon are a lot to do with the prayerful wrestling in advance of delivery. I would suggest that God is honored when we prayerfully and humbly give our preparation everything we can. My suggestions in this post and others are merely suggestions that may help some give their best in preaching. On a personal level I would be fearful of going to the other extreme: not preparing and then hoping God would somehow “inspire” something decent when I preach. I would be fearful, among other things, of taking the Word out of context and therefore misapplying it.

    I appreciate your commenting on the post and would invite you to continue to interact with the content of this site and others like it.

  3. Great point about an illustration stealing the spotlight.

    Sometimes an illustration can be such a crowd-pleasing show-stopper that it’s hard to curve it back around to the text and that which was being illustrated.

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