How to Avoid a Preaching Rut

Editors’ note: 

For more reading on long-term faithfulness in ministry with practical wisdom from veteran pastors, see Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime from The Gospel Coalition.

In this video, Bryan Chapell talks about the realities of preaching the unchanging Word to an ever-changing church.


The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.

You know for me, and I’m not sure I’d work the same for everyone, it’s understanding that often I get into a rut because I’m in a pattern of the way that I present information. That can be because many of us are trained to preach in academic settings, and so we have an understanding of an academic presentation of material. I need to give you author, date, time, major theological issues, and make sure I define what “expiation” is.
All that’s important, and all that’s critical. But if we can also say not just what’s the information in the texts but what is the burden of the text that is why was this written, what was the situation that was going on at that time, and in particular what was the struggle of God’s people in that moment. The Holy Spirit did not just say, “Here’s some random information you ought to know.” Rather, there was something going on that required the writing of that text. We know that we need to provide the context of the text, but often we forget about the human context. What was the the fallen condition, the rebellion, the fear, the uncertainty? What was the burden of the Holy Spirit in addressing that information to those people at that time?
And having identified the burden of the text by saying, “What was the reason the prophet or the apostle wrote to those people?” then we go the next step to say “How are we like them?” And that’s moving us from what I think of as third-person messages. Third-person messages say, “Here’s what happened to them in that ancient time, here’s what Paul did, here’s how they marched around Jericho.” We’re conveying necessary and important truths, but how are we like them? If you don’t connect in this way, we get messages that say “Thomas doubted Jesus, what an awful disciple. he’d been in the seminary of Jesus for three years. He had the testimony of the women. He had the predictions of the prophets, and he still doubted Jesus. Aren’t you glad you’re not like Thomas?” Well that’s not why Thomas is there. Thomas is in the Bible because we are like Thomas, and we share doubt. We think we know all the answers until our child gets leukemia or the people in our church turn on us and we wonder if any of this real.
And that’s when we need to know there was a reason this was in the text. So much of our staying fresh and preaching with sensitivity that touches our own hearts is asking, “How are we like those people to whom the text was written?” And when we go that far, we’re actually taking the truth of God’s Word to the struggle that God intended to address. And because the struggles of our lives are so vast and complex and varied, we’ll get out of the rut by thinking situationally rather than just informationally. “How are we like them, how is their struggle our struggle?” It’s the variety of the human dilemmas that we face that ultimately will take us out of information factoid sermons into sermons that are dealing with the realities that people are facing every day with the beauty and the power and the help of God’s Word.