By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2, NKJV).
It has been almost fifty years since I first became a Christian and a little over forty of those years have been spent in “full-time” preaching. In these years I have heard a lot of preaching good and bad. I have been privileged to hear some of the greatest preachers among us in the last half of this century. Many of these men have already finished their course. A goodly number are still active. Some are still relatively young. They have exhibited a variety of personalities and styles. All of them have had one thing in common. When they preached, they taught you something from the Scriptures.
However, over the past several years, I have noticed a marked trend away from real teaching in the sermons that I am hearing. There are notable exceptions to this, but by and large I believe that such is the case. Other people my age and older have expressed the same concern to me. Many of our younger and a few older preachers are excel-lent speakers, but mighty poor teachers. Paul told Timothy to “preach the word” and to do it with “all longsuffering and teaching.” He also told him that “a servant of the Lord must . . . be . . . able to teach” (2 Tim. 2:24).
Too many sermons that I hear are replete with anecdotes, humor, exhortation, and even an occasional rebuke, but very sparse in the exegesis and application of the Scriptures. Illustrative anecdotes and humor, if not overdone and not for their sake alone, have their place in sermons. Exhorting and rebuking are essential parts of good gospel preaching. But, unless one firmly anchors his illustrations, exhortations and rebukes to the text and sound exegesis, his preaching is devoid of any real authority and spiritual value. Someone has said that the trouble with illustrationsis that they just illustrate they don’t prove anything. One must turn to the text itself to really prove his points.
Why has this trend away from preaching that really teaches one something about the Bible developed? I am sure that I do not know all the reasons. One reason is that “people love to have it so” (cf. Jer. 5:31). To benefit from teaching, one much pay close attention, study, and think along with the teaching. This requires effort on the part of the hearer. It is much easier to be entertained by stories, quips, and one liners, or to be soothed by words that make us feel good about ourselves, than to have to follow a line of thought in a sermon that teaches. I believe television has contributed to this trend. The more popular TV preachers have mastered the art of performing for their audience. They are dynamic and dramatic. They are movers and shakers. Our young preachers have grown up with television. I think I can see the influence of the TV preachers on some of them at least in style. I often come away feeling that I have witnessed a performance rather than having engaged in a study.
Churches usually mirror to some extent the kind of preaching they receive and endure. If the trend of which I have been speaking is not checked, I fear for congregations of Christ in the next generation. Israel was destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6). For a congregation to receive and maintain knowledge there must be teaching much teaching. A congregation fed on a diet of preaching that exhorts and rebukes without the necessary teaching of the Scriptures may know what to do or not do, but they will not know why. Their faith will not rest upon a solid foundation.
Elders and other members need to wake up and demand preaching that is filled with teaching of the very text of the Bible along with sound exegesis and application. Preachers need to virtually lock themselves in their studies for an extended period each week and carefully study the Bible text. This takes time and effort. It may mean less time for recreation, socializing with brethren, and community public relations, but the time and sacrifice will be profitable to both the preacher and his hearers.
Churches need to use men in meetings who are known for their knowledge of the Scriptures and have a reason-able amount of ability to impart that knowledge to their audience rather than just getting someone with a great personality and a gift of gab and the ability to keep their audience entertained. Remember the Bible says the Lord’s servant must be “apt (able) to teach” not “apt to entertain” nor “apt to charm.”
We need to encourage more young preachers to be teachers rather than glorified cheer leaders and/or motivational speakers. After all, there can be no greater motivation than a good knowledge of what the Bible teaches.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 18 p. 21-22
September 18, 1997