Exhort, Educate . . . Manipulate?

Some preachers think that there are two legitimate options in preaching, but to go further would be wrong.  Legitimate would be to exhort listeners – that is, to appropriately pressure their will to obey the Lord, respond to the gospel, etc.  Legitimate would be to educate the listeners – that is, to feed information to their minds so that they know more and can therefore make better decisions.

But the next step?  Well, many people think the next step beyond the will and the mind is to address the emotions, and that, of course, would be wrong.  It must be wrong to address the emotions since that can so easily seem like manipulation.  I would agree that it can become manipulation.  I would agree that manipulation is wrong.  But I still think our preaching has to go deeper than mind and will.  How?

My sense is that manipulation occurs when I, as a preacher, utilize my ability to make a mark in the emotions that is disctinct from the content of the biblical text.  After all, the text is boss in an expository sermon, so if I am representing that text appropriately, then it should not be manipulation.  But when I resort to “techniques” – stand-alone tear-jerking stories, turns of phrase, emotional outbursts of my own, etc. – that aren’t representing the message of the text, then I am on dangerous ground.

If we remember that our role is to herald the Word of God, then we represent (re-present) the text of Scripture.  In so doing we need to represent a Word that targets the heart very often, and is seldom focused purely on exhortation or education.  We should be wary of manipulation, but not so that we ignore any textual targeting of the heart.  If we fall into the trap of performing, then manipulation creeps in so easily and we can corrupt the pure Word of God.

Preach to the will, certainly.  Preach to the mind, of course.  But be sure to preach to the heart, the Bible does!

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