Chapter 6

Preaching That Raises Our Sights

More of the same...complacency...playing it safe. What sort of preaching--what sort of preacher--can raise the bar for low jumpers? An interview with radio speaker and Campus Crusade associate U.S. director Crawford Loritts. When you think about challenges from the pulpit, what instructive experiences have you had?

Crawford Loritts: When I'm challenged from the pulpit, it's as if the Spirit of God grabs me by my emotional lapels and says, "You need to listen to this." I know one speaker who violates every principle of good public speaking, and yet the hand of God is on him. I think, Boy, that was disorganized, but every time that man preaches, God speaks to me.

Inherent in preaching is a sense of divine authority that distinguishes it from merely good communication. Great preachers are good communicators, but good communicators are not necessarily great preachers. And the difference is authority. My definition of preaching is it is a word from God for the people at a moment in history.

What could make a preacher ineffective in challenging hearers?

Two things. First, sin.

Second, being held hostage to the process, rather than the purpose, of ministry. I can get so caught up with what needs to be done next that I can forget why I'm doing it. The old line about "the barrenness of busyness" is true; busyness can disconnect me from a sense of what I'm all about.

Don't ever dare to stand in front of a group of people with a Bible in your hand and not expect change.

Every preacher needs to keep in mind three great axioms: (1) Don't ever dare to stand in front of a group of people with a Bible in your hand and not expect change. We must have a holy confidence—confidence in God and his Word, confidence that God is going to change lives whenever we speak from his Book. (2) Remember that the goal of all ministry is transformation. It's not about being liked. It's not about being accepted. God's ultimate goal is to change lives. (3) At the end of the day, the effectiveness of our preaching will burst forth from the holiness of our personal lives.

In 2 Corinthians 2:17, Paul says, "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the Word of God for profit." In the Greek, the word peddle refers to winemakers who had a little scam. They would dilute the wine and pass it off as if it were the real thing. Paul says no, don't violate the integrity of the truth of the Word of God. Don't become so concerned about "communication" that the pure content is diluted. Paul goes on to say, "On the contrary, we speak before God with sincerity." That tells us to be genuine in our communication, maintaining integrity. Don't be an orator who becomes an actor, who gets so enthralled by saying something in a way that people will give you a standing ovation. Don't be overly concerned with turning a phrase in a way to get the smiles and approval of people.

There is an intoxication about a platform. With increased recognition must come increased brokenness, so that you don't play with people. We have to remember we are dealing with eternal matters, with truth, with things that demand complete transparency and integrity.

Does a story come to mind?

I was one of the speakers at a large event. Beforehand, the speakers got together, and one of the speakers had brought a young preacher along as a guest. The young fellow didn't know me. Some prominent Christian leaders and speakers were there, and I thought the young fellow was going to get whiplash just looking around. His mouth was open. When I came up to him to shake his hand, he looked past me.

That evening I spoke. God moved in a powerful way, and there was a tremendous response to the message. As I was leaving the platform, this young man came up and said, "You're somebody I need to know." I don't want to be harsh, but I felt like telling him, "Two hours ago I wasn't worth the time of day."

It's easy for us to get into the affirmation of others to validate the significance of who we are and what we do. But you've got to run from that.

Exhortation is the obvious way to challenge people in a sermon. What are other ways?

Jesus told stories, yet he was very direct.

How important is the preacher's emotion?

We need to be passionate. We communicate who we are. We shouldn't handle hot truth coldly. But pace yourself. If you're a pastor, be careful that you're not always "pedal to the metal" every Sunday.

Two preachers can say the exact same thing, one with passion, the other cold as a stone, and it's the passionate preacher that stirs the heart.

That's right, because how we feel often will make something a priority to us.

How do we avoid legalism when challenging hearers?

It starts with your own understanding of grace. You have to communicate that you are in process too, that you're delivering a message from God but you also identify with the people. We cannot come across as if we are the fourth member of the Trinity. There needs to be appropriate disclosure. You need to be genuine. People need to understand that you're growing, that you need the grace of God as much as they do. As you communicate from that perspective, there is wonderful freedom. You become a conduit of God's grace.

It's not so much what we say; it's how we say it. We must put a check on our pride. Every person who has been greatly used of God has been characterized by four things:

First, brokenness. God never uses anything that comes to him together. Two people can communicate the same truth with the same amount of fervor, but one comes across condescending, judgmental, and legalistic. The other one comes across full of grace and mercy, and you want to respond. What's the difference? Nothing but grace, communicated from brokenness.

Second, uncommon communion. This is the ability to live in the presence of God and realize that preaching is coming out of that as a part of worship.

Third, servanthood. We are servants. The preaching platform is not an entitlement. It is an opportunity to serve the body of Christ.

Fourth, radical immediate obedience. We want to obey God more than anything.

What gives us moral authority to challenge hearers?

Embracing this paradox: On one hand, we realize we don't have any moral authority, but on the other, we cling to Christ. I love Arturo Azurdia's book, Spirit Empowered Preaching. He does a marvelous job of marrying the dynamic of a Spirit-filled life and the preaching moment. We have no authority in ourselves. The only authority is the signature of the supernatural written over the message God gives us.

Has challenging others from the pulpit changed from the "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" language of Winston Churchill?

In some ways it has, but not completely. In every great preacher I observe passion. That transcends every generation.

We must not be afraid to stand up and open our mouth and preach. Preach! Don't be intimidated by the voices trying to reign you in and make you like a talk show host. Will people be turned off? Absolutely. That's why Paul called it the foolishness of preaching.