Substance Over Style

In the 1st century, the church had to deal with the intellectual snobbery of the Gnostics. The Gnostics claimed special knowledge and insight into spiritual mysteries unknown to the “ordinary” Christian, and consequently viewed them with contempt. While the 21st century church doesn’t have to deal with Gnosticism, it still must deal with a form of intellectual snobbery perpetuated by none other than preachers.

This form of snobbery centers around the type or form of sermon preparation in which one engages.  The litmus test as to whether one is cheered or jeered in some circles is the answer to this question, “Do you preach topical sermons, narrative sermons, expository sermons, or textual sermons?”

Some preachers feel so strongly about the “style” of one’s sermon preparation that they besmirch those who use a different style. No, it’s not an overstatement. I’ve witnessed it on several occasions. I’ve listened to faithful proclamations of the gospel only to afterwards be critiqued with disdain because it wasn’t the “right” style. I have heard preachers summarily dismiss other preachers because they typically use the “wrong” style of sermon preparation and delivery.

All of this snobbery (and I don’t think that’s too strong a word) makes me wonder if we are more interested in being “Professional Sermonizers” than we are being “Gospel Preachers.” Friends, if the word of God is faithfully, and respectfully communicated in a way that accurately represents God, I don’t care if his sermon style was expository, topical, textual, or narrative. Style should never trump substance. I’m convinced that some of the greatest sermons I have ever heard, and that have impacted my life would not have conformed to the style that is presently in “vogue.” Likewise, some of the greatest preachers I have ever known did not typically preach in the “right” style.

I’m not saying that form is unimportant. After all, I teach a homiletics course, and I teach students how to prepare and present all these styles of preaching.  They all have their strengths and potential weaknesses. However, what I am saying is that we shouldn’t judge another preacher by the style of sermon preparation he employs. I once used the abhorrent, “running commentary” style for a lesson and when it was over, a lady responded by saying she had never heard such a clear explanation of the gospel, requested baptism, and was baptized that same hour.

Our aim should not be to create a masterpiece on paper in the “right” sermon form, but to effectively communicate God’s will.

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