The Missing Ingredient in Many Sermons

Erik Raymond —  August 21, 2012

So often it’s the little stuff that makes the biggest impact.

This is true in my home as I am blessed to enjoy delicious meals on a regular basis. I often ask, “What is in this?” when enjoying a new dish or a new twist on an old dish. My wife will usually give one-word answers, “Lime.” “Cardamon.”  ”Turmeric.” “Honey.” “Pesto.” I am always surprised. I am always delighted. We rarely eat bland, ordinary, lifeless meals—for this I am daily thankful.

Like cooking, preaching can become bland. It can fail to have that freshness worthy of the gospel table. There are many reasons why. One could identify a lack of preparation, lack of understanding, poor delivery, and shallowness. We would not disagree that under-cooking the homiletical meal is a problem. But there is something else that can make preaching bland: the deadly reality of not being personally wowed by the subject.

I have seen this in some otherwise terrific sermons. Guys can be exegetically sound, communicate with clarity, illustrate with profundity, and then at the end of the sermon it tastes like grandma’s meatloaf: somewhat filling but not so memorable.

On the other hand, we can probably identify a sermon that we have heard where the guy was working out of a passage with passionate engagement. And as he was doing this he was wringing out the text with personal adoration and joy. In other words, the text had gotten into him! The man went from a tour guide to a resident; a lecturer to a preacher! He goes from bland to flavor by seasoning the sermon with personal reflections of the infinite value of Christ; his beauty and unsurpassed glory.

I am convinced that this is an indispensable aspect of preaching. As leaders and examples (1 Pet. 5.4) we must model hearts that are truly moved by the Christ we proclaim (Col. 1.28-29). After all, if we aren’t moved to worship…we would anyone else? One might say, “But I am not an emotional person. I don’t get excited.” That’s fine. I am not talking here about volume but depth. Preachers cannot be content to glide along the surface of the biblical ocean telling their hearers of the great treasures that lie under the boat. Instead they are to dive down into the depths of the water, see it themselves, marvel, and then come up and exclaim, with sea-weed on their shoulders, as one who has themselves seen, “This is who God is!” “This is what Christ has done for your souls!” It is easy to be sterile when we are dry and in the boat–preachers need to get wet, get deep and come up and preach like they have seen something!

Jonathan Edwards is famous for many things, among them is his statement about the necessity of the heart being moved during the preaching of the word of God:

‘The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered….Preaching, in other words, must first of all touch the affections” (Jonathan Edwards, A Life, Marsden), p 282.

I think you see this type of devoted diving into the gospel-deeps through the Apostle Paul as he considers his own sinfulness and the grace of Christ (1 Tim. 1:12-17);  the personal nature of the gospel (Gal. 2.20); the staggering implications of loving adoption and reconciliation because of the work of Christ (Eph. 1.3-14); the irresistible power of the Holy Spirit to conquer, subdue, and arrest a sinner’s heart (2 Cor. 4.1-6). It’s everywhere. Effective preachers are those who have been personally moved by the text before they attempt to see others moved by the text.

From a guy who has to fight every single day to have my heart moved by the gospel, hear my plea: don’t be content to just give your hearers a comprehensive tour guide through a passage, connect the dots to show the glory, grandeur and greatness of God in it so they can join you in marvelling at the glorious view.

It’s a little thing, but it makes a big difference for you and the church.

Erik Raymond

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Erik has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erikraymond

12 responses to The Missing Ingredient in Many Sermons

  1. “The man went from a tour guide to a resident.”
    That was a great line!! Absolutely agree with it and consider it to be a completely valid and necessary ingredient to good preaching.
    It reminds of having a real estate person trying to sell a house that they don’t live in – they can point out the nice features of the house but it’s obvious they just don’t have an intimate awareness of what its like to really live there.
    Way too many preachers are trying to sell sermons that they haven’t lived in!!

  2. Should say as well that I have preached way too many sermons that I have not lived in as well. So I have first hand experience what that’s like and how and why it doesn’t work.

  3. Great, inspiring post!

  4. Erik, thanks for writing this. It’s a good “wake up call”, a good reminder of what I try to aspire to and too often fail to reach. Particularly right now. I’m preaching through Hosea, chapter by chapter. I’m up to chapter 5, so I’ve gone through the easy-to-get-passionate-about back-story of Hosea and Gomer, love overcoming rebellion, redemption and restoration. Now I have, in front of me, seven or eight chapters of “You people are gonna die!” It’s being tremendously difficult to get up for, knowing that it will be several chapters before the text has more than a couple of verses that speak to hope and restoration. It’s some of the most unpleasant preaching I’ve ever gone into.

    I’m taking this Sunday to talk with them about that, before I move on into ch 5. Reading your article this week, I thought to include part of what you’ve said here, because it will probably become obvious to them that I’m having having trouble finding “the WOW factor” in it all, and I want to tell them why.

    But I’m also including tomorrow an excerpt from Tullian Tchividjian’s writing this week, about being sure that we’re preaching the WHOLE spectrum of the revelation, both the grace of God AND the law of God that makes the grace a joyful message. Hopefully, they’ll understand why we have to slog through all the ugliness – - so that the Good News will be seen to be as good as it really is.

    Thanks for your help in that.

    • Enjoyed your post. Fully agree with what you said, if I could do it well. I have a question about what you think about the preaching of John MacArthur, whom I have adopted for 30 years. Where my primary preaching has come from the New Testament but usually filled with the Old testament. Sam said he was preaching Hosea, which I have never tried that book. what is your method of preaching and teaching?

      • Thanks for the comment Charles. I try to alternate between the Testaments and even the different genres and historical times of Scripture. I am convinced that biblical preaching must preach the OT as well as the new. I also believe that the OT Scriptures are thoroughly Christological (cf. Luke 24 for how Jesus uses them).

        So for example I have preached in this order in my young pastoral career:

        Colossians, Leviticus, Mark, Ruth, Ezra-Nehemiah. In between these I have brought in sermons on Genesis, Kings, Revelation, Epistles, etc. I am always mixing it up.

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