Here are some practical guidelines I use for preaching hard biblical passages and topics.
“How do you deal with preaching the hard subjects in the Bible, such as homosexuality, tithing and sexual immorality?”
This was one of the dozens of questions my panel received at a recent preaching conference luncheon at Southwestern Seminary. Here are a few practical ways I preach hard texts and topics.
1. Plan Ahead to Preach the Whole Counsel of God.
Preaching around hard passages is tempting because it is the path of least resistance. Some pastors love controversy, while others avoid it at all costs. The best pastors fear God more than their members and are committed to preaching through the Word instead of tip-toeing around it.
More than half of pastors select their sermon topic or passage a month or less in advance, according to a LifeWay Research survey. Twenty-two percent even choose just the week before. Only 20% have their sermon planned out at least six months prior, while 7% have it planned more than a year in advance.
2. Let the Text Drive Your Sermons, Not Topics.
Some pastors claim to be text-driven, expository preachers, but their sermon series end up being a virtual tap-dance around the harder passages. Other pastors chisel tithing or homosexuality into every passage.
We should preach with the assumption that the Bible’s Author knows what he is doing and submit our personal agendas to his agenda.
People prefer text-driven, biblically-based sermons. Gallup asked those who attend a place of worship at least monthly the reason for choosing that place, and they said that biblical sermons are the primary reason they choose a congregation. More than eight in 10 Protestants (83%) said messages that teach about the Bible are a major factor in their church decision.
3. Preach to All Five Generations in Your Church.
We all must fight the temptation to use only the most obvious application to the text. For example, if we have kids at home, we may find it easy to see a parenting application in every passage. If we work in an office, we should be intentional to not assume everyone has an office.
The same is true about our illustrations. We cannot expect all five generations to connect with every celebrity, song, show or movie. How many of your members who can sing the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song can also sing along with Kanye West?
We can easily eisegete our way to only serving the one or two generations with whom we have the most in common. We must be intentional about communicating the whole counsel of God to the whole family of God.
4. Don’t Be Afraid of Scaring Kids.
War. Famine. Poverty. Sexuality. It is all in there.
Our calling is to tell our children both the good news (gospel), as well as the bad news (gospel).
“Tell your children about it, and let your children tell their children, and their children the next generation. What the devouring locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten.” —Joel 1:3–4
If you think of the book of Joel as a children’s Bible story, you would be correct. If you think of Joel as a typical straight shooting, fire-and-brimstone Old Testament prophet, you would be right again.
Preaching around hard texts on Sunday mornings may seem strategic in light of the children present, but don’t forget who the real communicator in the room is—the Holy Spirit of God. We are all a rambling mess without him.
People are not only open to hearing the hard stuff, but they also expect it. They deserve it. And most importantly, the Bible’s real Author demands it.
This article originally appeared on LifeWayVoices.com.