Early last season, the Indianapolis Colts were being shut out by the New York Jets, but the Colts drove the ball down the field and were one yard away from a touchdown. Then, a bad ball-exchange between Colt, Frank Gore, their Pro Bowl running back and Andrew Luck, their star quarterback, translated into a costly fumble at the goal line. It reminded me that anyone can get their eye off the ball- even superstars…
And even pastors…
If we don’t keep focused on the task, we run the risk of squandered opportunities and failed objectives. Here are three mistakes pastors make when preaching exegetically.
- Word studies overshadow the study of the Word. Often in our enthusiasm of the research process, we run the risk of focusing in on little discoveries that mean much to us but little to the average believer who is trying to negotiate through life. A pastor needs the discipline of mining for Biblical understanding and deeper meaning in words and phrases. It’s fascinating to understand the cultural mores at the time of writing. It’s valuable to research the symbols and subtext. But we should never forget the omnibus of the Bible, which is spiritual transformation and redemption. It’s where the Bible meets life! There is some truth in Mark Twain’s observation: “Some people get an education after they go to college; the rest after they get out.” Our intellectual gymnastics must never overshadow the work God is doing through the power of God’s word as translated into our lives. The Word plus experience creates transformation.
- Failing to call to action. Every message that we prepare should leave our listener with a decision. We constantly call on believers to step up, step in or step out in their faith. But sometimes it’s tempting to engross ourselves in the mystery of the Word and forget the practicality of it. This may rub off on your church members as well. They may become fixated on the 70 weeks of Daniel and never be challenged to reconcile the issues they have with their spouse. In other words, the Bible must compel us to engage our faith in the practical coming and going of life and transformation.
- Looking for a clever sermon outline when the message is the story. Another way some pastors fumble at the goal line on Sunday mornings is by taking a story in the metanarrative of God’s word and trying to make it do too much. For example, attempting to understand eschatology through the instructions God gives Noah on the materials to be used in building the ark. (I know… that sounds farfetched, but I have heard that sermon. Really.) It’s tempting for us to get fixated by archetypes, symbols, allusions, and frameworks and miss the real message of the story in your chosen text. Pastors rarely cross the goal line when they are prone to “wildcat formation” analysis and “flea-flicker” interpretations.” Jesus loved the power of the story and most of the stories he told were straightforward. The subtext didn’t require a professor of mythology to interpret. Sometimes we just make it too complicated.
Remember that it is better to teach true to the structure of the text in a homiletically complex message than it is to contort the text into a sleek outline. Stay true to the text even if it does not lend itself to an emotionally dynamic message.
I’ve been blessed with so many great opportunities to teach and preach God’s word and every time I get an opportunity, I want to succeed in the task, whether it’s before five people or five hundred. I want to keep my eye on the ball and cross the goal line. The stakes are high and I know I’ve been entrusted with much. And so have you.
And for me, there will be no endzone dance, my friends.