Preaching This Passage or That?

There is another subtle temptation all preachers face, potentially every time they preach.  That is to preach a text other than the text they think they are preaching.

I saw this firsthand once when I listened to a series of lectures on the Pastoral Epistles from a lecturer who I could tell wished he had been given the more prestigious Romans class.  Every chance he got, he was back to Romans.  At the end of that series I didn’t feel like I knew the Pastorals much better than before, but maybe Romans!

There are several dangers in doing this sub-conscious leap from your passage to your preferred passage:

1. You will lack variety and richness in your ministry.  That is, every passage will sound like the handful of your favourites that always trump the text before you.  This does not make for a healthy and balanced diet for your church.

2. You will teach listeners that the Bible is very limited.  They will start to copy you and soon be reading one thing and seeing their pet passages instead.  Your people need the whole Bible for spiritual health.

3. You will lose integrity as a biblical interpreter.  Your listeners will sub-consciously, if not consciously, start to recognize an inability to let the preaching passage mark your life and ministry.  People typically have less respect for a pet passage preacher, or if not, they should.

4. You will miss out on the richness of the Bible.  You will flatten it out into a 2-dimensional line drawing when actually there is a depth and richness throughout the canon.  Even though you’re tempted to go elsewhere, study and preach the passage in front of you – it will be profitable!

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4 thoughts on “Preaching This Passage or That?

  1. I’m not regularly in the pulpit but recently had the opportunity to preach. In an effort to avoid falling prey to the errors you outline here I kept myself from using many cross references. When reviewing the sermon, my pastor said his biggest advice was to use more cross references!

    Do you have any hints on how to balance preaching the text and using cross references?

    • Dave, my advice is don’t use cross-references.

      That should be the default. It will keep you in your passage and help your message stay focused. If there is a need for cross-reference, then do so, as much as is needed. For instance, if your passage is building on an earlier one, you might cite it. Or if the idea in your passage seems unusual in some way, it may be worth proving from elsewhere. I can’t think of many more reasons to cross-reference. I certainly wouldn’t add it to satisfy someone who assumes there should be lots of them 🙂 If someone advised me to use them more I would be inclined to ask why, what would they add, what is the reason for the advice? Some people think a sermon has to have lots of cross referencing, or three points, or application just at the end, etc. These are all strategy decisions that should be made on a case by case basis, not given as a standard guideline.

      I was about to write more, but this is becoming too long, I’ll make it a post 🙂

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