Continuing our theme from yesterday, I want to state up front two things. First, I am not perfect in this regard, but I'm working on it. If you here me preach a sermon, and mess it up, call me out! Second, these are things that all people do and do often. Preaching is to important to be left to chance.
Blanket Statements and Generalizations
We love to use words like all, never, always, etc., but we must consider whether or not they are accurate. Please don't misunderstand me--there are absolutes in the Bible. I have not become a relativist. Yet, we have to make sure that the absolutes we preach are found in the Bible. This then directly leads into our carefulness in understanding the Bible. It does not contradict itself (because it is infallible), and yet there are places where it appears to. If for "good preaching", we use a text to say something that it doesn't mean, someone in the congregation may loose confidence in you (he doesn't know what he is talking about) or Bible (it contradicts itself, they think). Should preaching be good? Absolutely, but never at the expense of faithfulness to the text.
So what do we do?
- Prepare carefully- Yes, I realize in some circles that it is actually expected that a preacher doesn't prepare, and "the Lord will give them the sermon at the right time." Yet, it is from that world that I have heard preaching that is sloppy at best and heresy at worst--all from a failure to "study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed." We need to understand the text and how it relates to the rest of the Bible. The latter part is usually what causes our generalizations and absolute statements to be less than accurate.
- Think critically - Preparing isn't enough. We have to consciously think through what we plan on preaching. Are there exceptions to our points or statements? If so, do we add qualifications or do rework our point so exceptions aren't necessary. It is better that we are hypercritical on ourselves, so others don't have the warrant to be so.
- Consider your listeners - Who is hearing your sermon? Acts makes it clear that Paul understood that different audiences had more common ground with what he was preaching. Generally, we can make more presumptions during services when it's just "the regulars" rather than a mixed congregation. It may be wiser though to always assume that there are atheists, agnostics, and teetering teenagers in every service. Doing so will give our congregations a firm footing in understanding how the whole body of Scripture works together, and it will give them confidence that they can bring a lost or unchurched guest or visitor to any service.
- Do you mean it? - If you say never, do you really mean never, never ever? If you preach all, are you forgetting something? Unless you are right, these words will make your arguments less persuasive. Those who disagree with in the congregation will spend their time thinking of counter-examples.
There are no easy answers to avoiding generalizations and blanket statements. Preaching a "cleaner" sermon takes hard work and careful thought. Christ is worthy of that.