Lately, I've been thinking about telling the truth in preaching. In some ways, I guess that sounds a bit crazy to most believers. But I am afraid that there are three or four areas that we preachers can slip into and undermine the truth of the Bible and our own trustworthiness. Over the next few days, I'm briefly going to look at these "threat vectors" one by one.
Unsourced Stories and Anecdotes
While some do, I have no issue with the use of stories and illustrations as teaching to tools to explain the Scriptures. Doing so follows the rich traditions of those like Jesus, Peter, Paul, and John. But their stories were true. I have heard many illustrations and stories that objectively can be proven to be stretched at best and outright fabrications at worst.
Sermons often are worse than the telephone game that first grade teachers use to show how messages can decay. We repeat what some other preacher repeated from his pastor who heard it from his seminary professor. Without a direct source to work from, these often valuable and powerful illustrations end up bearing no resemblance to reality.
We repeat as fact from the pulpit what we would condemn as gossip on the pew. What can we do to prevent this?
- Create a file system - Pastors need some place that they can file source materials for illustrations. Recording illustrations from our personal lives wouldn't be a bad idea either to avoid "misremembering" later on. I use Evernote. You may prefer paper. It really doesn't matter, as long as we can find the sources of what we present to our congregations as truth.
- Use some common sense - We hear these great illustrations and too often they sound too good to be true. We should trust our instincts and do some research. I will deal this in more detail later, but repeating urban legends does not help our cause.
- Consciously consider your standard - What are you comfortable repeating? Are you comfortable answering to God for the truthfulness and accuracy of your preaching? I have concluded that I am going to step up my standards. I would rather leave a great story out, if it seems like it's not true, rather than violate my conscience.
Check back for the other ways preachers lie and how we can fix it.