The Danger of Practical Preaching: Why people need more than the bottom line

Many of the largest and "most successful" churches have built their ministries on the value of practicality. As a result, Christians today have come to expect spiritual formation by numbers: 5 love languages, 7 steps to healing, 40 days of purpose. But has our demand for a practical faith paradoxically limited the Bible's effectiveness in our lives? Lee Eclov, pastor of Village Church of Lincolnshire in Illinois, shares the dangers he sees in practical preaching.

Rob, a stockbroker, thought sermons should be 20 minutes. No longer. To him, a good sermon was what others call the conclusion. "Cut to the bottom line," he said. "That's what I expect at work, and that's what I want at church."

Stan, a preacher, didn't see length as the issue, but he was determined every sermon be "practical." He preached on five principles of friendships, six secrets of managing money, and four ways to win over worry. He believed in sound doctrine, but he felt he had to give people something they could take to work on Monday morning.

These men illustrate two fallacies about biblical preaching: The Bottom Line Fallacy and the Practical Fallacy. Both reveal a misunderstanding, not merely of preaching, but of the workings of Scripture.

Rob, a stockbroker, thought sermons should be 20 minutes. No longer. To him, a good sermon was what others call the conclusion. "Cut to the bottom line," he said. "That's what I expect at work, and that's what I want at church."

Stan, a preacher, didn't see length as the issue, but he was determined every sermon be "practical." He preached on five principles of friendships, six secrets of managing money, and four ways to win over worry. He believed in sound doctrine, but he felt he had to give people something they could take to work on Monday morning.

These men illustrate two fallacies about biblical preaching: The Bottom Line Fallacy and the Practical Fallacy. Both reveal a misunderstanding, not merely of preaching, but of the workings of Scripture.

Picture a wilderness. A pioneer carves out a path, chopping away brush, felling trees, marking the way to a new outpost. As years pass, that path is traveled a thousand times till it becomes a wide, paved road. From it, other trails branch off, leading to other new outposts. Trails intersect, becoming crossroads. More outposts become towns. More trails become roads. More links are made till what was once wilderness is civilized.

Preaching is the work of spiritually civilizing the minds of Christian disciples. Preaching - especially expository preaching - cuts truth trails in the minds of our listeners. Our task is not only to display God's "point," but to instill God's logic? - how he gets to that point.

September 05, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 22 comments

Rob

September 23, 2006  9:19pm

Bottom line to bottom lines. I love yo-yos but when the string breaks, it's just a yo. Whether bottom line preaching or 2 hour lectures, I believe the call for application is the key. I am sure that the pew, or chair sitter is merely calling for help to understand and apply God's Word so that he can do what I believe all believers long to do: please their God and Savior. I see the string in any sermon as the application. Do we need to present God's Word with clear analysis and precision. Of course, but we need to help people apply the message heard as well. We as pastors some how seem to think that people can remember ever element of our message and the hard facts are that they can't. Therefore concentrate on what I was taught to be the transitional sentence, or the take home point. That is where I believe the call for bottom line stems from. Give excellant exegesis, but remember they will not remember it all. As on pastor put it, "preach less to acheive more"

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John North

September 14, 2006  7:43pm

A big Amen to this article and the discussion! However, it suggests that I can either be engaging and popular or expository and reach only a few people. It is a problem that many preachers who are committed to expository preaching are so caught up with the logic of the text that they lose their connection to their people. John Stott put the balance so well many years ago in his book "Between Two Worlds". To be effective I must be a vigorous student of the world of Scripture AND the world of my people. I must communicate both the logic of the passage AND its connection to the lives of people. If I over-commit to either side of the equation I lose my effectiveness. When an effective expositor learns to preach expository truth in the heart language of his people, then people will flock to it, because that is what people are craving for.

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Warren Lamb

September 13, 2006  8:50pm

Thanks for speaking clearly and concisely on this matter so vital to the life of the Body. Thank you also for bringing a touch of soothing balm in your confirmation of what the point of our preaching really is. I have been a bit disheartened of late from the inculcation of "pointless" sermanizing in so many of the fellowships in our area. We cannot expect people to apply "information" to a hopeless situation - the only thing that will work for them then is the pure, unadulterated Truth of God straight from His own mouth.

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Robin Gallagher

September 13, 2006  2:55pm

I was just about to launch my bible study ministry and was about to work on a few outlines when I clicked onto this article and discussion. Toni's "give it to me" reminded me that that was what I wanted and craved from preaching when I was new to the pew. Thank you for catching me just as I uncapped my pen. (The cap is going back on until Part II)

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Toni

September 13, 2006  8:08am

After attending church nearly all my adult life, I quit going to church a number of weeks ago. Although I've never seen a shrink, I felt like I was attending a "therapy" session or "self-improvement" session and learned little about Christ, G-d, or much of anything I read in the Bible. So now I spend my Sundays (and the rest of the week, too) LIVING Christ by caring/sharing/encouraging and/or enjoying time with the elderly, shut-ins, friends, and family. I do miss the concept of "church" but not the empty, G-dless sermons and the bureaucracy and politics which I truly believe G-d did NOT intend, nor the restaurant style atmosphere of overeating and attending specifically to eat with G-d as a side-dish who is often overlooked or viewed as unappetizing. Give it ALL to me. I CAN handle it–really! I don't need sugar-coated messages or cliff notes served with pastries and espressos (food seems to now be the "main event" at every "service"). But I won't get the full and true message at CHURCH because today the Church is IN AND OF this world and therefore unathentic, generic and bland. G-d warned of the lukewarm church. Here we are.

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Dana

September 13, 2006  3:54am

I'm with Tom and Paul Goddard on this - expository preaching isn't a magic Band-Aid. Good exposition isn't easy; a preacher can get so caught up in the context and the subtext and whatnot that you get the whole way through the sermon without the text! There needs to BE a point. But good preaching, whether expository or topical, will include a scriptural basis that gives a deeper understanding of its meaning and relevance.

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Bob

September 07, 2006  9:18pm

Good words ... challenging to me, for I have been one that wants the "bottom line" to be known in my preaching. Now you challenge me to concentrate on how to get to the bottom line. Thanks much!

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Bill

September 07, 2006  10:53am

An excellent article. I look forward to Part 2. There are so many factors competing to shape preaching today, it is difficult to simply "preach the word". This post, in my estimation, indicates that's what should be done. May God give all who stand in the pulpit the courage to do just that! -bill

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:mic

September 06, 2006  7:16pm

I like this article and discussion. In response, two points: 1) approaches described in this article probably contribute largely to our loss of 'mystery' when approaching and exploring the love and character of our god; 2) such approaches might not be the classic 'give-a-fish' v. 'teach-how-to-fish' but it is no less than 'teach-how-to-fish' v. 'line-up-the-pole-and-set-the-bait-then-hand-it-to-the-fisher' - in either case, it is shortchanging the recipient.

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leoskeo

September 06, 2006  4:28pm

Jesus knew the Word, He knew what was in the hearts of people and He knew the Father and was completely convinced of the necessity of His message. This combination made His communication exactly what it needed to be every time, no matter what style he used to communicate. I have been preaching for the past two plus decades here is what I have focused on in my own preparation and presentation. One ingredient to preaching is to know the Word extremely well. In doing so we can teach sound doctrine, instruct people to live, encourage can comfort people. Another ingredient is to know the hearts of people and the culture in which these people live. Many preachers' pastors today seem just a bit out of touch with where people are. This is evidenced in the "christianese" we speak as preachers, the lack of understanding of peoples struggle, the way people's learning styles have changed in the last couple decades and our insistence on one style of communication over another. We must also know the Father. Jesus relationship to the father is truly inspiring. He could honestly say, I speak for the father because of his closeness to the father. Many times I listen to preachers who know the word and even know people but their friendship with God has left them impotent in their communication. Finally one more ingredient in great communication is to truly believe what you are saying. I recently had a guest speaker in my church who handled the text well, understood people and I know he loves God but was fairly unconvincing. One person commented, "I don't think he would fight for what he just said. I am not sure he believes it deeply." Passionate preachers with know knowledge of scripture are dangerous, knowledgeable preachers with no passion are hard to believe. Thanks to you pastors who wrestle every day with God's word, honing your faith friendship with God, learning the culture in which you serve. May your tribe increase!

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