And so I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus—who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.
For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear. They will reject the truth and follow strange myths.
But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don't be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at bringing others to Christ. Complete the ministry God has given you. (2 Timothy 4:1-5 NLT)
Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, "So and so tells me that he was one of your students." The teacher answered devastatingly, "He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students." There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that in the Church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.
William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p.196
I have attended a lot of lectures. When I was a student at the university, most of my classes were made up of lectures. Some of them were boring. Surprisingly, a great many were interesting. But I can tell you that for the most part, I wasn't really a student. I was just attending class.
I've heard from enough other people to know that a lot of us had a similar experience in college. Oh, sure, we finally got interested enough to bear down, get serious, and change a lot of that. However, most people who have gone through college will tell you that an awful lot of the information was quickly forgotten because they just weren't into it. Do you think it's possible people treat sermons the same way?
One of the hard lessons that preachers have to learn is that not everybody just yearns to hear the next sermon. Preachers like to think that people like to hear them talk. A lot of preachers do get carried away, and truthfully, not every sermon is the best thing anyone ever heard. It's entirely possible for a preacher to have a bad, boring sermon. Maybe he didn't prepare well enough. Maybe he just had a bad day. Maybe he didn't know how to communicate what he wanted to say. A lot can go wrong with a sermon.
Good illustrations help people understand what the preacher is talking about and they also can help people apply the principles of the message. The only problem is that once a preacher uses an illustration, everybody remembers it — a good story or a joke well told can't be used again for the next 20 years. Even then, some sweet little old lady will remind the preacher that she had heard that one before!
Preachers must be able to address both the educated and the uneducated with the same sermon. They must speak to men and women, young and old, as well as rich and poor. The message must be applicable to people struggling with problems and difficulties as well as folks who are doing quite nicely at the moment.
A sermon that's "too soft" isn't much of a sermon and one that's "too hard" will offend someone. Step on toes and the preacher will probably hear about it, but it's OK to step on somebody else's toes. Sermons must be fresh, up-to-date, and full of excellent scholarship, but the preacher must be able to convert eternal truths into quick sound-bytes or risk losing the congregation to something more interesting — like the new baby or the lady with the "flowery" dress.
Having preached for more than 30 years now, I can tell you it's a real treat to discover that there is an honest-to-goodness student in the crowd. Makes you want to preach next week. So why not make your preacher's day? Commit to seek God's message no matter how good the sermon may appear to be.