I came across a list of surrogate sermons by a Dwight Stevenson. This is a list worth reviewing. I used his titles and added my own descriptions. If you spot any of these in your ministry, maybe it is time for a spring clean!
1. Aesthetic artifact – an overly ornate work of art that is aiming to be a blessing to behold for generations to come, but not particularly targeted towards these listeners today.
2. Moralistic harangue – a sermon intended to merely exhort or punish our people because of their failure to live a certain way. People do appreciate this kind of sermon as a form of surrogate suffering. Like medicine, “it is a fine way of paying for sin without repenting of it.”
3. Museum lecture – a sermon that aims to be interesting and informative, tends to be dull and boring and is usually quite irrelevant.
4. Palliative prescription – a pendulum swing away from the moralistic harangue is the trap of cheap grace, easy assurance, repentance free pardon and most of all, superficial pain-relief.
5. Palace propaganda – a sermon that caters exclusively to the whims and preferences of the given church. Their ears itch and the preacher loves to scratch. Another church down the road may be hearing the exact opposite message (different socio-economic class, race, political leaning, etc.)
6. Theological lecture – a sermon that promotes a system of theology more than the message of the biblical text, and that elevates transformation by education in a surrogate seminary classroom. Of course our theology matters and preaching should be shaping it, but when preaching becomes a hand maid to our promotion of dogma, something has gone awry.
7. Argumentation and debate – a sermon that would fit in the courtroom is not necessarily helpful in the church. It is always tempting to set our sights on a theological position (or person, or book!), or a moral concern (or political issue, current event, etc.), and to go on the attack in a way that is not actually helpful for the people listening. If our preaching never challenges anything, we have a problem, because the Bible certainly does. But if our preaching breeds only counterattack, controversy and division, we have become Christ’s lawyers rather than his witnesses.
8. Eulogy – this is a platitude-ridden sugar festival of non-answers to real life realities. It may sound very spiritual, but is it more syrup than substance? Does it actually come from the text? Does it actually land in real life?
9. Ecclesiastical commercial – a sermon that feels like a message from the sponsor, and the sponsor happens to be the churches other programs. Promote them outside the sermon as a general practice.
10. Monologue and soliloquy – a sermon motivated by the preacher’s delight in hearing his own voice. There is no real concern for the reaction or the impact in the lives of the listeners. The motivation is self-concerned.
The Bible does not merely give a starting point, or illustrative material, or a stamp of approval. The Bible has to be in charge of the message – its main idea, its flow of thought, its relevance, its goals.