What should I say? Every pastor asks him or herself that question one way or another when preparing an individual sermon or planning a preaching calendar. Through my years of preaching, I’ve developed habits for long-range sermon planning, but I’ve also developed a conviction about the content of my preaching. I am convinced that my task as a preacher, first and foremost, is to preach Christ, and it can be summed up in these five convictions:
Conviction #1: A mini-Christ leads to mini-Christians
J.I. Packer said we have “pygmy Christians” because we have looked at God as if through the wrong end of a telescope, reducing him to “pygmy proportions.” John R.W. Stott (his friend) took it a step further saying, “We are pygmy Christians because we have a pygmy Christ,” adding that the most essential ingredient for the development of mature Christian discipleship is a genuine “vision of the authentic Jesus.” Stott’s writing on this convicted me of the central focus our preaching should be Jesus’ life, teaching, suffering, death, and resurrection.
Conviction #2: The name of Jesus.
I made a decision a few years ago to make sure I spoke the name of Jesus in every sermon. It might not necessarily be a sermon focused on Christ, but I intentionally make sure I find a way to talk about Jesus in some way shape or form, even if Christ is not the focus of the sermon. Of course there is a difference between preaching that uses the Lord’s name in vain, and preaching that lovingly, and faithfully evokes the name of Christ. So far this has never felt forced, unnecessary, or awkward. Instead, when I have prepared a sermon where it feels forced to inject the name of Jesus, the problem is always with the sermon. What is more awkward than Christian preaching seemingly completely disconnected from the person and life of Jesus Christ?
Conviction #3: My task is to teach what Jesus taught.
An overlooked part of the Great Commission was Jesus’ instructions that we are to be “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” When I teach on discipleship with pastors, students, or lay people, I often point out this part of the Great Commission and then ask, “If I came to your church this Sunday and gave you a pop quiz now on ‘everything Jesus commanded,’ how do you think most of the people in your church would do? More importantly, how would you do?” Rarely are people in the room exceedingly confident.
Conviction #4: Christ is risen every day, not just Easter Sunday.
I was grading a paper earlier this year where an adult ministry student mentioned casually how it is harder for us today to follow Jesus because, she said, “He has been dead for almost 2,000 years.” I immediately wrote in the margin of her paper, “Christ is risen! And we serve a risen Savior who has been RISEN for 2,000 years!”
Now, I know this student, and I know she believes Christ is risen, and when I pointed out this statement to her she was mortified. But I wondered how many sermons act as if Christ has been dead for 2,000 years rather than risen, and seated at the right hand of the Father?
It’s important for preachers to ask themselves from time to time, “Are there any subtle or not-so-subtle ways in which I am giving the impression that Christ was a martyr rather than a risen savior?”
Conviction #5: Jesus is not our mascot.
As David Bryant observed, in some American churches Jesus is not so much treated as our Lord but as our mascot. Houghton College, where I work and live, recently got a mascot for the first time. We are the Houghton Highlanders, and our mascot is a purple and gold lion in a Scottish kilt. Our mascot cheers at our games, inspires enthusiasm in the crowds, and makes other appearances at campus events, generally helping to foster school spirit. The mascot does not compete on the field of play or take part in campus life, but is merely there to inspire and make people cheer.
Not so with Christ. Jesus may inspire us, but He does not do it as our cheerleader. He is Savior, He is Lord, and He ought not to be relegated to the sidelines when we have to make important decisions, or to do important work. Jesus is not our mascot.
The Bottom Line:
What should you preach? You should preach Christ. Not a caricature of Christ, not a dumbed-down version of Christ, but Christ in full dimensions. You cannot do better than to make every sermon an opportunity to teach everything Jesus commanded, taught, prayed, or lived. For further reading, I recommend Dr. Stephen Seamands’ book Give Them Christ: Preaching His Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and Return.
Image attribution: TransientEternal / Thinkstock