How Shall We Preach: Wisely

In the last year of my undergraduate Bible studies at Harding University, a New Testament Professor of mine, Dr. Paul Pollard, pointed me to a statement Jesus made to his disciples during his last evening with them before his death.  Jesus said, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (Jn 16.12, NIV).

My professor’s point was that just because something is true does not mean everyone is ready to hear it.  Or just because something is true does not mean that now is the appropriate time to speak it.

It takes a bit of wisdom to know when to speak and when to keep silent.  The wisdom in knowing so applies as much to preaching as it applies to anything.  Of course, gaining this wisdom takes time and usually involves a few learning lessons from the school of hard knocks.  At least it did for me.  There have been a couple of times where I had to apologize for something I said, not because what I said was wrong but either because the way in which I spoke or because what I said was just the wrong time and place (in either case, causing unnecessary offense).

It is obvious that there is a great need for applied wisdom to the way we speak.  As I write this, conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh has been losing all sorts of sponsorship for calling a woman he disagreed with a “slut” on open air.  Preachers John Piper and Pat Robertson have drawn criticism for theologizing as to why deadly tornados ravished parts of Indiana and Kentucky last week (conclusions which I find to be left in wanting).  Also, we are in the midst of an election year which, according to some people, has turned into the most ugliest negative campaigning in American history.

So we need wisdom and preaching is not exempt.  That is why one value I want to uphold in my preaching is to preach wisely.

I don’t know how every preacher/pastor prepares but my preparation involves writing my sermons out as full manuscripts.  Doing this does not automatically mean that I will preach strait from a manuscript (though I sometimes do).  What it does for me is, among many things, that it allows me to read and think through what I am wanting to say so that I can consider my words and how they will be heard by the church I am preaching to.

This limits the chance for me to say something off the top of my head that I might later regret.  And I don’t know about you but to me, the more one speaks off the top of their head the more likely they are to say something they will later regret.

What are your thoughts?

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See also these previous posts:

5 responses to “How Shall We Preach: Wisely

  1. Great thoughts, Rex. I take the opposite approach to sermon preparation as you (though I do not discredit your method at all and I’ve heard you preach and think you are very gifted). For me, sermon preparation involves a mix of intense reading/immersion of the text (my main text gets read about 50+ times that week and my goal is not just to “know it” but to see it come alive in my own life), a reading of the entire book that text comes from, lots of prayer and heart, and drawing from experiences, both good and bad, that God has granted me for that week. I usually use no notes and never limit myself to a script. I do not have the personality to keep a polished sermon in my back pocket because it makes my delivery way too mechanical and impersonal.

    With that said, I open myself up for mistakes, which I do make. I do not preach aimlessly or recklessly, however. I know, for the most part, what I will say but there is room for flexibility. I will offend and have offended people. I do not apologize for this unles I said something inappropriate (which to my knowledge I have not done yet). Part of our problem is that we Christians are driven by fear from people who always get offended and are looking for a reason to be offended. I have seen way too many of my preacher friends preach as if they are on egg shells for fear of offending someone. Paul, it seems to me, had a little bit of writer’s remorse in 2 Cor. 7:8-9. It seems that he regreted writing what he did at first but then he recanted and no longer regreted wrting in the tone that he did since the result was repentance.

    I agree that we need to be wise and chose our words wisely but I refuse to apologize if somenone is offended by something I said unless it was hurtful. We get confused, too, and think that it is a sin to offend someone. The big fad these days, whether one is a Christian or not, is to shut up the opposition. If someone has an opposing view than I have, I must stop him/her and demand an apology. This, unfortunately, happens in our churches among our own brethren. When I offend someone (and it does happen) instead of apologizing, I use it as an opportunity to find out why they were offended. And “I don’t think it was right” is not an acceptable answer. I always have them show me in Scripture where I was wrong. Interestingly, this method has squelched quite a few flames because 99% of the time the person offended either needed clarity or it wound up just being a personality clash.

    Anyway, great blog. It is thought provoking. Safe preaching!

    • I’m not wedded to my method(s) as the only way. Your approach gives you time to reflect on what needs to be said and how it needs to be said. Part of my prep involves walking around the community our church meets in, praying about the passage I am preaching on in hope that what I say will be what God would have me to say.

      Also, I’m not worried about offending people for the right reasons. If someone is offended because the cross is a demonstration of weakness rather than power, so be it.

      I think the problem we see with unwise speech is when we haven’t taken the time to consider what we are going to say and then just speak off the top of our head. I also believe there is a problem when we set ourselves up to be the experts on all things spiritual, theological, etc… which some well known Christians seem to be doing these days. That is why I would never want to be on a radio/TV show where people just call me up with some random Bible verse, asking me to expound on it.

      Any ways, I hope all is well with you in western Pennsylvania. Take care and blessings upon your ministry.

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

  2. I agree on all fronts. I think, too, that we need to be wise in how we choose our words and that it is not a good idea to be an expert in all areas. I’ve seen many a Christian give a very poor rushed answer to a serious question because they feel that they have to have an immediate answer. This gets a lot of people into trouble, I fear. By the way, I see that you work on sermons sometimes from Starbucks. I like that method! It’s good to get out of the office and out where we belong.

    Hope you’re doing well, too.

  3. Pingback: How Shall We Preach: Thoughtfully | Kingdom Seeking

  4. Pingback: How Shall We Preach: Redemptively | Kingdom Seeking

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