Bored with Preaching

By Bob Hiller

Somewhere along the way, I was taught that sermons should always be about Jesus. Further into my training, I learned that this doesn’t just mean that we should talk about what Jesus did a long time ago, but that what Jesus did a long time ago is for you here and now. The proclamation of the Good News (that is, the Gospel) is not simply an explanation of sacred events, but the delivering of sacred gifts, which in itself is a sacred event. Preaching is delivering Jesus to sinners and attacking those things that try to get in His way. At least it should be. At least, that is what I was taught.

But, along the way, I find that this simple idea is not necessarily the norm. If I am reading the preaching landscape correctly (and I could be wrong, I’m more than happy to be corrected here!), many other topics and purposes have trumped the delivering of Jesus to the sinner’s ear. Topics ranging from the Christian life to finances to sexuality to politics to environmental stewardship have become central themes in the pulpit. Jesus and His scriptures gets paid lip service in these sermons, but faithful practice seems to be the main thrust. In other words, sermons tend to be life-draining marching orders, not life-giving gifts.

One of the reasons this is happening, I think, is simply boredom. That is, preachers and congregants alike tend to get bored by the same “Jesus” message every week. We get far more excited about ourselves than we do about our Lord. So, preaching about “me” is going to be more exciting for the preacher and more engaging for the hearer. When we know it is going to be the same message about the same Jesus doing the same forgiving, we tend to lose interest. But, our interest (at least in this way) is not Jesus’ concern. His business is more important than our interests. He’s not going to change His message to merely to keep us engaged.

Jesus Blessing a Disciple

It’s like the UConn women’s basketball team. The lady Huskies just won their fourth straight national championship this year. This is after going undefeated this season and winning their last 75 (!) games. They won, to no one’s surprise, by beating Syracuse 82-51. They simply don’t know how to lose.

This is why I didn’t watch. Well, that and because I don’t really follow women’s college basketball. But, having a team that dominant makes the game a bit boring. Where’s the drama? Where’s the excitement? I mean, if Syracuse had kept it close, it may be worth turning on. But, once the Huskies are up by 15, everyone knows how the game is going to turn out. So, I won’t watch.

But, should the Huskies care? Of course not! They have their business to attend to. They are on the court to win, not please the casual fan. Sure, sports are a form of entertainment, but teams aren’t coached to be entertaining, but to win. So, though the dominance of the Huskies may not be great for ratings, it should not change the goal or play of the team. They don’t care that you are bored, nor should they be.

Preachers and hearers who get bored by the preaching of the Gospel need to keep in mind that preaching is not about entertainment, or even keeping interest, but about delivering Jesus.  It’s about attacking that sin you won’t let go. It’s about setting prisoners free. It’s where Jesus is about His business of giving His gifts. If that doesn’t interest you, fine. But, please step out of the way, because Jesus has business to attend to.

luther preaching

Now, I am sure there is someone reading this who is saying, “Yes, but the Bible talks about many of the things you listed earlier: Christian living, discipleship, sexuality, politics, and even environmental stewardship! Since these are Biblical themes, should they not be preached?” Of course! Absolutely, but not as an end unto themselves. And, most certainly not at the cost of preaching Christ for sinners. The Gospel of Jesus, His person and His work, is the driving force behind all preaching so that, when these themes come up, the Gospel forms and informs their place in the sermon and, thus, the life of the Christian.

See, I worry that we preachers are too bored with the Gospel and so when we come across a passage that speaks to some other theme we use that passage as an excuse not to preach Christ. But, the reality is, that all the passages of scripture have to do with Jesus. A sermon on discipleship that doesn’t begin and end with Jesus carrying His cross for the one whom He calls to follow will only leave hearers dead. A sermon on stewardship that ignores all Jesus gave up for the church ignores the way Paul, in 2 Corinthians for example, see’s Christ’s giving as the foundation for our giving (and how this is gift before it is example). Even sermons on wisdom literature (like the Proverbs), which ignore Christ as the Wisdom of God and giver of all good gifts, leave the hearer with mere morality talks. We don’t need church for morality talks. We don’t need the church for guidance on life. We need the church for Jesus. And it’s His life, His death, His resurrection for you which informs every page of scripture and every sermon from the pulpit.

We preachers have to fight to recover the word “preaching.” Sermons are not religion lectures or interesting talks on biblically informed ethics. Nor are they to be rhetorical entertainment. They are the means by which Jesus gets into our ears. They are attacks on evil, declarations of innocence for Christ’s sake, and guides in the war against Satan. They are these because they give Jesus. No matter how monotonous it may be, we must work harder than hell to keep the Gospel of Christ-for-us at the center, because hell seems to be doing a good job of fixing our eyes on anything and everything else.

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11 thoughts on “Bored with Preaching

  1. Bob, don’t you think that the whole counsel of God should be Jesus-centered, life relevant, and interesting? I’m not suggesting that you are opposed to that, but I think it can be done. The biggest problem for me isn’t knowing what to do. It’s getting it done week after week. Being creative enough to bring Jesus into real lives in preaching and life is pretty hard, but it is a thing to hold dear and work at being faithful to that task. Thanks for making me think on it again.

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    1. Don-I agree 100%. I do think it can be done. Personally,I fear I tend toward the interesting over the Christ-centeredness I am to be preaching. I think Jesus focused preaching is stunning, but I fear its redundancy, I guess. I’m still fighting the old Adam. Was it Dorthy Sayers who said, “The doctrine is the drama”? I fight to believe that! Thanks for reading!

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      1. Bob,

        “interesting over the Christ-centeredness”

        I think a preacher can make a Christ-centered sermon very interesting by digging into the text and plumbing deeper and/or additional insights out of it.

        I will give you a crude example. If you taught a Bible Study and used only the Lutheran Study Bible as your research resource, you could teach at a certain level. However, if you added a few commentaries or theology books and/or read some sermons on the text by other excellent theologians, you would probably have a whole lot more to say in your Bible Study.

        Now, I’m not saying that a sermon and a Bible Study have the same goal or purpose, but I think the principle applies equally when it comes to preparation.

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      2. Jean, again, I completely agree. i guess my “foil” in the blog is a culture that only takes an interest in itself. So sermons will focus on more practical advice and tips for living because, hey, that is about me! Such a culture doesn’t take an interest in Jesus for His sake, or Jesus for our sake for that matter. Jesus is only interesting if he can help me with my personal interests. That is why I say we need not concern ourselves with what is interesting, but with Jesus. Now, I believe nothing is truly more interesting than that. Maybe I’m not being clear enough with my point…

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  2. Hey Bob,
    Enjoyed the article. I also think a challenge in preaching Jesus is we live in an age where so many believe in a false Jesus, or one different than in scripture. This actually can create some arousal from boredom. As we push into what people think Jesus is and then show them who He really is, it can really allow them to both hear the Gospel and listen to God’s call to follow. Or they will want to kill you, but at least it isn’t boring. 🙂

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  3. Bob, I would like to share a few verses, which support Christ-centered, Law-Gospel preaching, perhaps better than any others:

    “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'”
    Luke 24:44-47 ESV

    Repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name = Law and Gospel!

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  4. Bob,

    Thanks for the post. As a Seminarian, and fledgling preacher, I can only speak from my limited reading and experience so far. What I would say is that while you’ve got a point about preaching the whole counsel of God, we can’t neglect the Two Kinds of Righteousness in our preaching. It is precisely the proclamation of the Gospel and the forgiveness we receive that pushes us to engage with the list of “sub-topics” you mentioned.

    I’d argue that we’re not preaching effectively if we’re not engaging these things. They are where the rubber meets the road in the lives of our hearers when they leave the pews. Dr. Joel Biermann’s book “A Case for Character” makes a pretty compelling argument about the role of Virtue Ethics in the Church from a Lutheran perspective.

    At the end of the day, you’re right. If Christ isn’t the center of our preaching, we’ve done something wrong. But Christ doesn’t leave us where the Gospel finds us. It pushes us towards the “New Obedience” that the Confessions and Scriptures talk about. We’ve been made “New Creations” because of the Gospel, and need to be told and pushed outward to live in that reality.

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    1. Ben B.- First, thanks for reading! I hope something of what I’ve said is true to what you are hearing at seminary. I think our seminaries are about as good as they come and would be worried if I contradicted what you are learning there. Biermann was easily my favorite prof, though, to be honest, I’m struggling a bit with his book.

      I actually think 2KR is the best paradigm for understanding the Christian life. I do wonder, however, about over emphasizing the corum mundo aspect in the sermon. After all, in the sermon we have primarily to do with God. So that this divine service, and especially the sermon, are going to be taking place in the corum deo/vertical realm. Thus, if Christ isn’t at the hub that turns the wheel, then sermons can quickly be come morality lectures. Luther is right to say that Christ is not a new Moses and, it must be added, he is certainly not a new Aristotle. As valuable as Aristotle is, he doesn’t belong in the pulpit, nor is he the one forming or informing sanctified living. That is Christ and the Spirit’s work. Aristotle is useful for ethics, but not much for preaching.

      New Obedience and being born anew in baptism means it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. So, the sermon must work death to the old Adam if the new obedience is to come about. And, of course it will, because the Spirit is not impotent.

      Let me know your thoughts. Am I off base? Really glad you took the time to read…

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