When it comes to preaching there are fewer rules than people might think. Some like to impose significant amounts of structure on the preaching event, but in reality there are few limits involved. There may be some limits imposed by the culture and heritage of a church – congregational traditions – and it is wise to think carefully before smashing through those expectations in an attempt to be creative. However, these limits vary from place to place and it is possible, once trust is established, to carefully adjust such expectations.
However, putting aside the idiosyncracies of specific congregations (and the key change monitors who might take it on themselves to preserve order!), the whole issue of limits seems to come down to two principles:
1. To have integrity as a biblical preacher, I must be constrained by the true meaning of the passage I am preaching. This is the one limit that must be in place. We commit to preaching the true meaning of the text. To the best of our ability we must strive to understand what was intended in the preaching text. We cannot preach on anything from anywhere in the Bible. Sometimes the pursuit of being “interesting” and “relevant” undermines the exegetical integrity of our ministry. We need this limit firmly in place.
2. To be effective as a biblical preacher, I have freedom in the formation of the sermon and its delivery during preaching. What shape should a sermon take? What style of delivery should be used? Matters of form are matters of freedom for the preacher. Different texts, different circumstances, different occasions, even different listeners, can all prompt different sermon shape and delivery style. At this level our goal is effectiveness in communication. We do not need unnecessary limits in place to hinder our effectiveness.
Sadly too many preachers settle into a predictable pattern where there is freedom – in form and delivery. And too many choose freedom where there is a limit – in the meaning of the text. Let’s be sure to get our limit and our no limits the right way around!