Thursday, August 07, 2014

Persuasive Preaching or Powerful Preaching?

The word persuade is defined as causing someone to do or believe something. There are many who believe that preaching must be persuasive, and to a degree it must be. However, there is a fine line between persuasion and manipulation.  There is much preaching that goes on that is nothing but rank manipulation, and I am not talking about only the religious hucksters, the religious profiteers, and the televangelists, for they are the most obvious ones; but I am also referring here to the regular pastor/preacher types.

There is tendency, indeed a temptation, that for a sermon to be successful it must elicit some type of visceral response, cause some type of emotional reaction, or cause the congregants to tell the pastor how good the sermon was or how moved they were.  There is also the temptation to "move" the congregation to get behind a particular issue or event or project that is important to the pastor.

Honestly, the need to have these kind of responses reveal a great deal about the pastor...his ego and his insecurity.  To be frank, all of us who preach want to know if our sermons are hitting the mark, if they are effective, if they are doing anyone any good; but a preoccupation with the effect of the sermon or the response to the sermon, can cause the pastor to incorporate manipulation into his sermon (its production and presentation) so as to get the response he desires.  There is also the desire to come alongside certain issues or projects that particularly appeal to us that fits in here as well.

So, should sermons be persuasive?  Of course, they should!  But they should be spiritually persuasive because they are spiritually powerful.  A spiritually powerful sermon is always persuasive, but in order to be spiritually powerful, they must be based on Scripture, kept in context, accurately handled, and, might I add, soaked in Scripture.

The Lord tells us in Jeremiah 1:12 that He stands over His word to perform it. In Isaiah 55:11 the Lord states that His word will not return to Him empty without accomplishing His desire for it.  In I Thessalonians 2:13 He tells us that His word performs its work in those who believe.  In I Peter 2:2 we learn that it is His word that causes us to grow in respect to our salvation. Notice that it is His word He stands over, not the preacher's; it is His word that does not return empty, not the preacher's; it is His word that performs its work in the heart of the believer, not the preacher's; and it is His word that causes spiritual growth, not the preacher's. So for us to be spiritually persuasive, and, therefore spiritually effective, we must use more of His word and less of our own.  It is only sermons that are spiritually persuasive that have a lasting effect.

As preachers we preach to the heart through the mind in order to bend the will.  The will once bent will remain that way, but the bending of the will comes incrementally, much like watching a blacksmith forge an iron tool as he gradually conforms it to the shape he desires.  True change that is the result of true persuasion, is change that is permanent in nature.  Only the word of God attended by the Spirit of God can effect such a lasting change.

So if you want your sermons to be truly persuasive, then base them on the word of God, having accurately handled it to get its message (not your own) out of the text. And, be patient, trusting the Lord and His word to do what only they can do.

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