Only 30%

Several weeks ago I had a very thought provoking discussion with my brother about Pentecostal preaching.  In 1992 my parents gave Mark a new Thompson Chain reference Bible for Christmas.  It wasn’t too long after that he began to use this Bible as his primary Bible as his everyday carry.  He used it for devotional matters, he used it at Texas Bible College in the classroom, and he also used it to preach.  One of the other things he did with this Bible was underline every sermon he heard during a twenty-year period.  After retiring this Bible in 2012, he discovered something very interesting about this Bible.  He went back and looked at all of the Scriptures that he had underlined when he was listening to preachers.  He noted that during that twenty-year time period that he had heard approximately 3,500 messages.  This came from a variety of places.  Obviously the bulk of these came from the local churches where he had attended during that twenty-year time period.  There were other unique places where he had listened to preaching.  He had been in multiple chapel services at TBC, he had gone to several of the larger Pentecostal churches in the Houston area, and he had been to various conferences although he had not attended as many as I have through the years. 

What was very surprising about hearing these 3,500 sermons over the years was that after counting the verses of these messages, he discovered that only about 30% of Scripture had even been touched.  He noted that there multiple passages that had been covered over and over again by a number of preachers which were primarily the Pentecostal candy-stick messages that we generally gravitate toward.  He also discovered that there were huge areas of Scripture in his Bible that had never even been touched by a preacher where he had attended church.  In my estimation that is a failing grade and we are not serving our churches well when we do not address all regions of the Scriptures!  Furthermore I believe that some of the spiritual defects that we are seeing in our generation has to do with the failure of the pulpit to preach the whole counsel of God. 

When he told me this I was so disturbed that I went and pulled out an extra Bible I had picked up a few months ago.  I took that Bible and got a yellow highlighter and started underlining all of the passages that I had personally preached from.  I am still in the process of working at this task but I have come to realize that I too have allowed vast areas of Scripture to be neglected in my preaching.  While there is some necessity about having the mind of God and preaching it, I think sometimes that can be a great excuse that Pentecostal preachers fall back on because there is a prevailing laziness in the preacher’s study.  The man who will preach through the Bible will have to create a sense of discipline about his study, his thinking, his interaction with God in His Word, and have absolute confidence the Word can do its work.    

We must be disciplined students of the Scripture and mine out the wealth of treasure that comes from the Scriptures for those who come to hear us preach.  When you believe that preaching is worship, it takes on a seriousness and sobriety that otherwise wouldn’t be present.  This idea of preaching being a part of worship took on a new meaning for me as I overheard some of the conversation from some attendees of a recent music conference.  The conference was very well put together and the instructors had some very good advice for those involved in leading worship through the vehicle of music.  As I listened to the conversation, it appeared to me that most musicians/singers/worship leaders are obsessed with their craft and doing everything they possibly can do to improve.  I began to wonder if I am as obsessed with preaching as they are about their music.  This led me down another trail.  We can argue and pontificate all we want to about leadership, administrative mapping, organizational planning, and the need for personal life coaches but at the end of the day, the Lord builds his church with men who preach the Gospel.  Where are the conferences that key in on helping me to be a better preacher???!!!!  Not a conference that displays preaching but a conference that has men who have preached their way through the Bible and great Bible doctrines to churches that are healthy in a spiritual manner who can show me how to go about it.  The maddening pursuit of numbers is filling our churches with a lot of tares who have not been truly converted and that is the direct fault of the pulpit.  True conversion always will be demonstrated by a change in lifestyle.  Lifestyle change will always be directed by the preaching of the Word and a church that minimizes preaching will not have true converts.

This matter of writing about preaching is not a new subject with me as I have written multiple times in that past, some with a pleading note, for preachers to settle down and preach their way through the Bible.  The problem is that most Pentecostal preachers equate this kind of preaching with denominational and Spirit-limiting preaching to which I always ask, “Are not the Scriptures, God-breathed?”  If the Bible is the literal breath and inspiration of God, we never go wrong taking passages of Scripture and working through them to serve our churches.  Most topical and textual preaching hop-scotches all over the Bible so that it creates confusion and never allows for a cohesiveness to develop in the mind of people who are hearing the Word.  While this comparison is somewhat different, it can be very much alike:  The anatomy and physiology student would be greatly confused if the professor spent a day on cardiovascular, two days on gastrointestinal, and a day on muscles, and then skipped back to the endocrine system.  When learning is progressive it adds to previous concepts that were explored the day before.  Preaching that moves systematically through the Bible creates hearers who do not find themselves being blown about by every wind of false doctrine that comes down the pike.

Jonathon Edwards—Resolved:  To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same. 

The preacher who is willing to make a commitment to this kind of preaching will soon discover that his interaction with the Word of God will cause a growing, advancing, and increasing reverence and holiness in his personal life.  Robert Murray McCheyne wrote that the greatest need of the church that he pastored was his own personal holiness.  Commitment to preaching through the Bible will absolutely transform the way you view the world.  Part of the minister’s spiritual growth is coming to Scriptures that you had an opinion about what it meant only to find that your opinion had been shaped by experiences, other people, and preconceived ideas and that suddenly realizing your opinion about the passage was wrong.

The preacher who commits to this kind of preaching will also find that it is time-consuming.  It is like putting something in a slow-cooker and allowing the heat to do magic on the dish you are cooking.  Expository preaching is like that because it cannot be done in quick snatches of time.  Some men have told me they don’t have the time to put into study for this method of preaching and to those who are bi-vocational, I would agree to a certain extent.  For those men who are in “full-time” ministry (whatever that is), I would vehemently disagree.  The tradeoff you have make is to become a man who will not be button-holed in the role of an administrator, CEO, or an executive.  For those interested, Eugene Peterson, sent a death-blow to that kind of mentality in his excellent memoir he wrote several years ago entitled The Pastor.  Expository preaching requires thinking, meditation, prayer, and repeat that rinse cycle again.  Resist the urge to be in a hurry and you will find your soul being built which in turn affects those who hear you. 

I conclude with matter with a thought-provoking question that was stimulated while I was writing this blog.  If I hurry through the preparation to preach and then hurry through the act of preaching am I handling the Word of God with irreverence?  I have come to believe that it is!  When I rush through preaching and its preparation, I resort to preaching over again a tired-old text that I did not gain anything from.  It is highly doubtful that those who hear me will gain anything either.  We who handle the Word of God have to do better than a mere 30%.

Thanks for reading. . .

Philip Harrelson               


RevRobHolley said…
Excellent as always my friend. Thank you for your high regard and passion for the art of preaching. You are an inspiration!
RevRobHolley said…
Excellent as always my friend. Thank you for your honesty and passion toward the art of preaching. You are an inspiration!
Jeremy said…
My goodness. Just reading this two years later. Convicted and encouraged me so much!
Jeremy said…
MY goodness. Just reading this 2 years later. Convicted and encouraged my greatly. Thanks for writing.

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