The goal of preaching is to be faithful to the text. But in order to be faithful to the text do I need to communicate it in such a way that people are able to “get it”? Would I really be faithful to the text if I stood behind the pulpit and ripped off a few Greek sentences of the original text and then sat down? I mean how much more faithful to the text can you be than just saying the original then shutting up and sitting down? Is it possible that being faithful to the text means preaching it the way Jesus would?
One of the pitfalls of verse by verse preaching through a book of the Bible is sometimes you get to a text where your congregation is not at. Let me give you an example. I do verse-by-verse preaching with our teenagers. A decent portion of our teenagers are unchurched: their parents do not attend, a fair portion does not attend on a Sunday themselves, most are just beginning to discover who Jesus is.
I have been preaching through Ephesians. As we have went through the first 3 chapters it has been relatively easy to preach on. We are looking at God’s great global purpose of redeeming broken people and a broken world. We have frequently discussed that part of this process of redemption is restoring our broken relationships with one another. The students have a context for understanding that. But when we get to talking about life within the body they have little context for understanding that.
Ephesians 4-6 is all about life within the body. So, in order to remain faithful to the text it means that I have to have ridiculously long introductions to get the students to a spot of understanding. You may not read it in a preaching manual (and I would never pretend to be qualified to write one) but I think it is perfectly acceptable to stop “preaching” and start “teaching” if you can tell that you’re hearers are totally clueless. Wouldn’t it be unfaithful to the text to just keep plodding along (of course spiritualizing it by saying stuff about the power of God in His Word) while your congregation is totally lost? Didn’t Jesus stop for questions? Didn’t he welcome interruptions?
I am not saying that we need to always preach in a dialogue. I am merely saying that we need to be certain to preach where our people are…if we don’t then we are only stoking our own ego’s…and not being faithful to the text or the God it proclaims.
Quite a bit of this can be done in the preparatory stage. It might mean a longer introduction and taking a couple more weeks on the text—but so what, the goal is being faithful to the text. So, I would encourage preachers to spend just as much time “expositing” their congregation as they do “expositing” the text. Then put those two together into a sermon. And if you get up there and realize you goofed and are preaching over their heads—then don’t just get through your notes…be humble enough to start asking questions or something to get back on the same page.
So, what do you think? Am I a heretic?