Avoiding Plastic Sermons
Article 4 in a Series on Preaching
by David Cook
Interact Magazine 1990
Volume 1 Number 4
I was a kid before plastic was invented. In those days toy guns felt much more like the real thing. They were made of metal.
Today is the plastic age – plastic soldiers, plastic water-pistols, plastic swords and shields. It all seems to lack the realism of days gone by.
Is it the day of the plastic sermon, the sermon which is merely a cheap imitation of the real thing?
How can you identify plastic preaching?
1. Plastic preaching is superficial in its understanding of the Bible. It is full of platitudes which, while sounding good, bear little relationship to revealed truth.
2. Plastic preaching is superficial in its understanding of life. Little effort is made to enter into the real tragedies of life and to understand them with a Christian mind.
3. Plastic preaching is unreal in that it hides the preacher. He is the uninvolved craftsman of the sermon; he is the neuter man who has forgotten that preaching is all about ‘truth through personality’! The plastic preacher is remote from his preaching and from his people.
4. Plastic preaching is the result when what we preach has not first touched our own hearts.
How can we put some reality into our preaching?
1. Spend time in the text, meditate upon it, turn it over in your mind again and again until you grasp its ‘big idea’ or its main theme. The text must deal with you first before it deals with others through you. The text must lead you to repentance and belief even though you may think it’s much more appropriate for others in your congregation.
2. Spend time with people. It may surprise you to find out they are not interested in redaction criticism or the Graf-Wellhausen theory, but rather in coping with life, with being a Christian in the 1990’s.
3. Don’t be afraid to anticipate the doubts and questions of your audience. They normally have the same doubts and questions as you do. Having anticipated these, then deal with them in a thoughtful way.
Following the terrible soccer accident which claimed 95 lives in England, Sydney’s Daily Mirror led with the headline, ‘O God, Why?’ Would our people know how to answer that question in a way that is consistent with the Christian world view, or would they either ignore the question or throw platitudes on the tragedy? Does our preaching provide answers to these commonly asked questions?
4. Don’t be afraid to share your own struggles and talk about the fact that sometimes there are no explanations for some of life’s tragedies.
5. Beware of using Biblical truth in a slick, flippant way which shows little compassion for the situation. But be sure to use the Bible – we have nothing to say to the world apart from that which God has said.
6. ‘Let me sum up by saying it is always our business to be contemporary, to deal with the people who are in front of us.’ (Lloyd-Jones).
Application in preaching is of vital importance. What will the average member of your congregation remember of your sermon on Monday morning at 10:30am?
In every sermon we need to show our people the appropriate way to repent in the light of God’s Word. See Acts 20:21!! Remember that the way INTO the Christian life – repentance and faith – is the way ON in the Christian life. Thus application calls for a faithful and thoughtful call to repentance and faith in the light of the particular truth being expounded.
J I Packer said that the most common question people ask after church these days is ‘How did the preacher go?’ ie was he bad, good, dull or interesting, whereas in the Puritan era the most common question was ‘How did you go? As you sat under the ministry of the Word what was it saying and leading you to do?’
Real preaching is preaching which changes people. This can only happen as God’s Spirit moves as the Word is preached.
Our part is to preach the Word in a faithful, thoughtful and involved way, giving ourselves to prayer that the Holy Spirit would move amongst God’s people, delivering them from superficiality in their Christian walk.
Rev David Cook, a Presbyterian Minister, served in several churches before becoming Principal of Sydney Missionary and Bible College.
© David Cook (1 July 1990)