This article was first published in Ministry Magazine (June 2008), an international journal for pastors of all faith.
One of the most dangerous temptations for a pastor comes from the pulpit itself. You may plan to communicate a biblical message; but somehow you end up being the center of attention in the sermon. Most likely, you did not plan it that way, but the important question is this: How do you make certain that the center of the message is Jesus Christ and not you?
Center of attention
Preaching loses strength when the preacher becomes the center of the sermon. Every sermon must be firmly rooted in the Bible. The Bible guides you as a navigational system does a pilot and gives you authority. After all, the only authority a preacher has is the authority of the Word of God. Paul declared, “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5, KJV).
Preach expository sermons. In preparation of the sermon, be certain that you focus on the message of the biblical passage. If you use that approach, you will have the same focus during the delivery of the sermon.
An example for us
John the Baptist was a humble preacher. He declared, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, KJV). In other words, Christ must be exalted in all our sermons; self—in contrast—must be hidden or very carefully used. Perhaps you have had a powerful experience in which the Lord worked through you, and you want to share it. Be careful, however, not to let self take the place of the Lord.
Jesus said, “ ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those that are oppressed’ ” (Luke 4:18, RSV). Jesus recognized the Father and Spirit as the Source of His power. How can we not do the same?
Avoid the overuse of the pronoun I. “I did this,” “I did that,” “When I was working here, I . . .” Tell your stories, but keep the focus on what God has done and not on yourself.
However good our style, our delivery, our diction, and organization, we must preach biblical theology to our members. Again, Christ must be the focus of the sermon, not self. Anything else is mere empty noise.
“Our task as preachers is to proclaim the whole counsel of God. We will not fulfill our calling if as preachers we fail to do biblical theology. We may get many compliments from our people for our moral lessons and our illustrations, but we are not faithfully serving our congregations if they do not understand how the whole of scripture points to Christ, and if they do not gain a better understanding from us of the storyline of the Bible. May God help us to be faithful teachers and preachers, so that every person under our charge will be presented perfect in Christ.”1
Some preachers desire affirmations, applause, “Amens,” and other responses that cause them to shout while speaking. So focused on themselves and their delivery, they are not able to preach with real power, and their messages touch only the skin of their listeners, not their hearts. They think of themselves more than they think of the thirsting souls in the church. By this act, many congregations are poorly nourished.
Ellen G. White wrote, “It is not safe to speak in praise of persons or to exalt the ability of a minister of Christ. In the day of God, very many will be weighed in the balance and found wanting because of exaltation. I would warn my brethren and sisters never to flatter persons because of their ability, for they cannot bear it. Self is easily exalted, and, in consequence, persons lose their balance.”2
As we respond to the Master’s commission to preach the gospel around the world, let’s reflect on the wonders of God’s grace. Let this grace flow through our thoughts and actions as well as in our sermons. Let our church members see a humble minister, both away from the pulpit and, especially, in it.