To those sitting in the pews, preaching can look relatively effortless–especially when it is done well. But do not be fooled. Preaching exhausts the body and the soul in ways that are incommensurate with its duration. I could work in the yard all day in 90 degrees of heat and (somehow) feel less exhausted than preaching two services. But, it is not just the physical/spiritual toll that preaching takes. What makes it hard is the complexity of the task.
Preaching is hard work.
To those sitting in the pews, preaching can look relatively effortless–especially when it is done well. But do not be fooled. Preaching exhausts the body and the soul in ways that are incommensurate with its duration. I could work in the yard all day in 90 degrees of heat and (somehow) feel less exhausted than preaching two services.
But, it is not just the physical/spiritual toll that preaching takes. What makes it hard is the complexity of the task. Just standing up and talking for 30 minutes (and making any sense at all) is tough enough for most folks. But, on top of this, preachers have to navigate a complicated passage, balance sensitive doctrines, weave together a coherent message, apply the message to people’s lives, and do all of this in a manner that is compelling, engaging, winsome and never boring or dull.
No wonder James said, “Not many of you should become teachers” (Jas 3:1)!
Indeed, because of the complexities of preaching there are a number of pitfalls that all preachers (especially aspiring ones) risk falling into. I thought it might be helpful to highlight some of these possible pitfalls that I have noticed over the years:
Pitfall #1: Confusing “expository” preaching with offering a running commentary.
Somewhere along the way, some pastors have become convinced that the “expository” part of preaching means that a sermon must sound like a commentary. In other words it must be a strictly chronological, running list of observations about the text.
However, such a move unfortunately confuses two different genres. While preaching should certainly be about the text, it differs from a commentary in meaningful ways. Primarily, sermons have an exhortational component to them that commentaries often lack.
Sermons speak not just to the mind (though they do speak to the mind), but also to the heart. They are concerned not just with truth, but with pressing that truth into the lives of the listeners.
Pitfall #2: Thinking that more illustrations are always better.
There is little doubt that illustrations are a critical part of an effective sermon. In fact, we often remember the illustrations more than the sermon itself. But, that doesn’t mean (as some often think) that the more illustrations the better. Sometimes less is more.
C.H. Spurgeon, the master illustrator, said that a sermon without illustrations is like a house without windows. But, he adds, you don’t want a house that is only windows!
To read more on this point, see my prior article here.
Pitfall #3: Assuming that preaching Christ means preaching justification.
There is little doubt that justification is one of the most precious doctrines we believe. It was at the center of the Reformation. And it is central to our understanding of salvation.
But–and this is a key point–preaching justification is not the only way to preach Christ. Preaching justification is one way to preach Christ; it highlights his salvific sacrifice. In other words, it highlights his priestly office.
But, Christ has other offices: prophet and king. A preacher can preach aspects of those offices and still preach Christ.
If one fails to grasp this point, then every sermon is bent back around to justification no matter what the text says. And this creates a situation where every sermon ends up sounding the same.