‘Tis the season when throngs of shoppers search for that perfect gift. Resources of time, energy and money are expended and extended in acquiring gifts that hopefully will convey the love of the giver behind the gift. Honestly, the whole process is alarmingly subjective.
In contrast to this seasonal subjectivity, I contend that the preacher can offer to his congregation a one-size-fits-all gift this Christmas season. What is this gift? This gift, while being audience-sensitive, is not audience-driven. Rather, it is text-driven and thereby audience-sensitive in the best possible way. Those sermons which best conform to God’s Word are text-driven, audience-sensitive sermons.
Those sermons which best conform to God’s Word are text-driven, audience-sensitive sermons.
Preacher, if you truly believe that “the power is in the Word” and that the Bible is God’s authoritative, inerrant Word, then by all means you must aim to let the text “drive” the sermon. Paying careful attention to matters of historical background, context and grammar/syntax in your preparation is paramount in producing one of the greatest gifts you can ever give your people—a bona fide, text-driven sermon.
As important as your careful study of the text is, there is one aspect of preparation that must not be neglected or assumed. The text-driven sermon must be bathed in prayer. This includes praying for your own illumination and for the illumination and orientation of your audience. The wise old Puritan, John Owen, once asserted, “He that is more frequent in his pulpit to his people than he is in his closet for his people is but a sorry watchman.”
Perhaps the lack of this kind of preparation has contributed to a current condition that is lamentable. Historian Lawrence Wittner, writing in a recent Huffington Post article, opined regarding the American obsession with shopping during the holidays. Putting his finger on the pulse of our culture and, sadly, even the pulse of a plethora of professing believers, he wrote:
“But the hard reality is that Jesus in the manger or bleeding on the cross has less appeal to many Americans than do the latest cellphones and other commercial gadgetry.”
How should a preacher respond to the subordination by many of the incarnation and cross of Christ to the crass consumerism of an increasingly deluded and thoughtless culture? One antidote is to grasp the truth that the best way to articulate the incomprehensible mystery of the incarnation and the atoning efficacy of the cross is through a sermon in which content, structure and delivery are constricted by the contours of the text. These sermons don’t impose ideas upon the text that are foreign to it. Instead, they expose the ideas that reside within the text itself. These sermons maximize the objective and minimize the subjective.
True sensitivity to your audience means attending to the text with the precision of a skillful surgeon and accessing your prayer closet with pleas for the spiritual progress of your people. When this occurs, your audience will be edified and not merely entertained. This Christmas, preach a text-driven sermon. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!