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The Pleasure and Power of Preaching with Sincerity

imagePaul addressed the issue of sincerity in preaching on several occasions throughout the New Testament. One such instance is 2 Corinthians 2:17, “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” As I have reflected on this verse, it’s given me some comfort to know that the issues that plague modern Christianity also faced the apostles. I’ve also found an important value in preaching – sincerity.

Sure, there are false teachers, hucksters, and impostors in pulpits across the land today. There were in Paul’s day too. It’s nothing new. But the contrast to this trend is a revival of sincerity in the pulpit. Preaching has been defined by D. Martin-Lloyd Jones as “the communication of God’s truth through human personality.” So we preachers get to represent God’s truth through our very personality. The prayer, “hide me behind thy cross, O Lord,” doesn’t reflect an accurate understanding of what preaching is all about. God has called me to represent Him as only I can, and for you to do the same.

So sincerity is a key to effective communication. You can’t fake sincerity for obvious reasons, but you can certainly do a self-test to ask the tough questions…

  • Do I really believe what I’m saying?
  • Do I live what I’m asking others to live?
  • Am I preaching as me, or as Billy Graham?
  • Am I wearing a mask or being transparent?
  • Am I preaching at people, or having a teaching conversation?

I greatly appreciate fine oratory. Two generations ago and further back, oratorical skills were at the top of the list of qualifications for great preaching. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, if preaching can be viewed as a creative art, then we certainly ought to make it pretty for God’s glory. And words are certainly the tools of our trade, so we should study them and utilize the power of them. Nevertheless, preaching is still a conversation that takes place between a preacher and each member of his congregation. It ought to come from the heart.

One of my own heroes was W. A. Criswell, who often referred to himself (making light of what others were already pointing out) as “a holy roller with a Ph.D.” I’ve listened to hundreds of his messages over at WACriswell.org and I can tell you, this genius of a man involved his emotions in the communication process, as should we today. It’s part of sincerity – bearing all.

Sincerity is one of my own core preaching values as well as somthing I continually have to fight myself for. And it can’t be faked. So how do you bear your honest heart for a greater impact in communicating the gospel?

Believe the truth

It’s my strong opinion that those who do not trust the entire Word of God as the whole, pure, and perfect book that it is, should not be in a preaching ministry. Period. We may not understand it all, but we can certainly take God’s Word at face value if we’re going to claim to represent it.

Prepare Well

Preparation prevents faking it in the pulpit. One HUGE rule of preaching is “don’t just make stuff up!” So study, prepare, work hard. Every Sunday is a test of your dedication and commitment to the Word.

Preach With Few, If Any Notes

This adds time and energy to preparation. You not only have to compile material and arrange it in a way that makes sense, but you must commit it to memory. If I’ve studied well, the sermon flows from the heart rather than having to leap off of the page. Having said that, some of the greatest preachers in history have been those who utilize manuscripts, so this is admittedly my own angle and not prescriptive for everybody.

Make Eye Contact

See the eyes of your people when you preach to them and you’ll see a piece of their heart as well. Of course, preaching without notes helps this process a great deal, but even if you use notes, glance at them and then return your attention to those from whom you’ve asked attention.

Tell Your Story

Every sermon represents biblical and doctrinal truth, but it also says something about your life, so tell your story. Your testimony and experiences mean a great deal to your congregation. They know you more by hearing about your personal life, so let them in and they’ll trust you more and respond well when you have to apply the truth in highly convicting ways. And, humorous and painful stories create highly teachable moments with our fellow human beings.

Live It Out

Jesus embodied all of God’s truth. He “tabernacled” Himself among us. He is God wrapped in human flesh. We ought to follow in His steps and be God’s truth, wrapped in flesh. Sermons are not just taught on Sunday, but demonstrated daily as we are observed by those who listen to us. We live life in a fish bowl, to some degree, so put on a show – not the kind where you act like a believer, but where you become a trophy of God’s marvelous and powerful grace.

Love Your Listeners

One of the things I pray before every sermon is “Lord, help me love people as I preach.” It’s easier to get messy in ministry when we love people the way God does. And what we say matters to people only when we’ve loved them in saying it.

Do It All Over Again

Sincerity goes along with consistency. We must be sincere week in and week out. There must be a pattern. Sadly, one mistake can blow our testimony for a long time into the future, so we must live consistently, prepare consistently, and preach consistently.

Sincerity matters in preaching. It’s a key value, a core component of effectively representing the gospel and communicating God’s truth in this present age. In fact, we need it more than ever!

Books: People-Pleasing Pastors

People Pleasing PastorsCharles Stone has that rare gift of knowing and speaking directly to the heart of today’s shepherd-leader about the one big leadership issue we all have but rarely admit – our tendency to want to be liked. He cuts through the fluff and helps us recognize our tendency to be people pleasers and gives us a practical way back to strong, authentic leadership. Churches will be far healthier whose Pastors and leaders read this book!

From the Book’s Description

Pastors and church leaders often fall into the trap of people-pleasing. Charles Stone’s research on thousands of pastors and ministry leaders demonstrates the dangers of approval-motivated leadership. Bringing together biblical insights and neuroscience findings, Stone shows why we fall into people-pleasing patterns and what we can do to overcome these tendencies.

With practical tools for individuals and teams, Stone offers concrete resources to help you and your leadership minimize people-pleasing and have more effective ministry.

Read More About People-Pleasing Pastors

And watch the book trailer below:

Pastor, If You Could Just Dance…

Looks Like a PastorMy friend, Chris Fleury, whom I met at Saddleback Church, posted this video from Belgium’s Got Talent. For some reason, when this guy walked out on stage I thought he looked like the typical American Pastor. What he did next was rather atypical. Just watch… then try it Sunday!

Disclaimer: If you are non-charismatic, I claim no responsibility for the results…

Need help getting started? Learn to break-dance street-style!

Don’t Believe the Rumors [Audio]

Pastor, you will always have critics, and you will always have fans. At the end of the day, you need to have the guts to believe neither, but rather to allow your affirmation to flow only from the truth God has declared about you in His Word.

Change Your Culture Before Changing Your Structure

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If you want to change the trajectory of your church or organization, you need to think about how to create a new culture before you begin creating chaos.

I believe that the Pastor of a church is the leader God has chosen as overseer and shepherd of the flock. Nowhere in Scripture, or sheep farming for that matter, do we find sheep setting the agenda either as a whole or in little committees of sheep. It is also true that there has never been a good dictatorial leader anywhere in history. But sometimes, because of our extremes, we establish systems that hinder and bottleneck our growth rather than supporting and sustaining it.

A church that sees the Pastor as a temporary hired hand and allows committees or boards to have the reins has a biblically flawed structure, but many good Pastors have gone down in flames battling for a new structure instead of understanding the psychology involved in how the system became broken to begin with. In other words…

  • Trying to break the established power structures threatens people who feel in control.
  • Losing control creates fear.
  • Fear manifests itself as anger.
  • Scared, angry people rarely make a good, healthy church.

So before the leader charges in, sword drawn, to renovate the established structure of the organization, it’s important for him to slow down and focus on the culture. How do you change the culture of a church?

Decide to Love People Where They Are

Pastor, if you don’t love people, you have no right to serve them as an undershepherd. So assuming you love your congregation, love them enough to get to know them, to listen to their concerns, and to grasp why they do things the way they do. Sometimes people leave when change comes. It’s too painful and the tension pushes them away, but a loving shepherd never glories in this but rather agonizes over it.

I’ll never forget how revolutionary it was the first time I heard the phrase, “hurt peoplehurt people.” It is out of pain that most people scramble for power and say things they shouldn’t.

Introduce a Better Way, a Biblical Culture

Nowhere in the New Testament is the church ever likened to a business. It is, however, likened to a body, a flock, a family, and a fellowship. At one church I served, we all pretty much agreed we didn’t like the “business” side of the church, but since our structure at the time demanded we decide on matters congregationally, we changed the name of our monthly meetings to “Family Meetings” instead of business meetings. We gathered to talk about “family stuff” and over time, everybody came to agree it felt much better to be a family than a business.

A biblical culture in a New Testament church involves love, grace, freedom, forgiveness, allowance for each other, and a heart for others. Anytime our culture deviates from these values, problems arise. So teach from the “one another’s” of the New Testament and the overwhelming preponderance of evidence in the Bible that disciples will be known to the world around them by their love and unity, not by their grip on being right at the expense of others.

How do you introduce a better, more biblical culture? Preach the Word. Use biblical terminology. Speak of grace often and love even more.

Celebrate Positive Changes, Especially Life Change Stories

Nothing is more motivating than a story, especially a story of victory. Moving to a culture of grace will almost always draw people into a place where God can heal broken people. Others will find it easier to share their faith and still others will discover that ministry they were shaped for. Tell these stories as often as possible. What we celebrate often enough becomes our culture.

At the end of creating a new culture, structures will change easily to fit the new norm. But even if not, the rewards of a biblical culture are worth the investment.

Photo by Jaret Benson.