I’ve been teaching and preaching the Word of God for many decades now. If you can guess how many decades, I’ll be happy to send you a complimentary cassette tape of one of my original messages.
My first official sermon was given about a year after I gave my life to Christ. I was glad to have the opportunity, and I shared just about everything I had learned that first year of being a Christian. The sermon included such things as my testimony, the claims of Christ, the story of Nicodemus in John 3, a little bit of Bible prophecy, and a defense of why the Scriptures are truly the inerrant Word of God.
And I said all of that in just 20 minutes or so.
I thought I had done a pretty good job. After all, it was certainly fresh material to me.
But fortunately I had a friend with me that day, an impartial observer of what had just occurred. “How do you think it went?” I asked him, confident that he would give a glowing report.
Although I don’t remember everything Geoff said in his reply, the punch lines still resonate: “That’s what you call ‘shotgun preaching,’ he said with a faint grin. “You shot at lots of things, but you didn’t really hit much of anything.”
I still probably cram too much material into my sermons, but I sincerely believe they are much better now. If I still had Geoff’s address, I probably would send him a recent CD to get his input.
My sermons now tend to be more story-oriented than in the early days. I still cover a number of Bible principles in each message, but no longer just in bullet point style. And I’m much more aware that the job of a preacher in not primarily to communicate information, but rather to change lives.
One thing I’ve wrestled with lately is the difference between a narcissistic sermon and a “selfie” sermon. You’ve probably heard some narcissistic messages, where the preacher goes on and on about himself, his family, or the church, often in a self-aggrandizing way. After he’s done, you’re still not sure what application any of the message had to what you or the rest of the audience happen to be going through.
Although a selfie sermon runs the risk of being narcissistic, it ends up being much different. By “selfie sermon,” I mean that preachers much preach to themselves before they take the stage to preach to anyone else.
Preachers who take the selfie approach avoid the hazard of becoming smug finger-pointers, with no self-awareness of how they’ve fallen short of the glory of God in their own life. They don’t share principles about marriage without first examining their own marriage in light of God’s Word. When preaching about the power of prayer, they first take an honest look at any struggles they’ve had in their own journey of faith.
Jesus quotes an interesting proverb in Luke 4:23 that may have some of the “selfie sermon” principle in mind: “Physician, heal yourself!” In other words, if you purport to be a spiritual doctor, able to bring others to better health, you better make sure you’ve first tested the medicine on your own life.
I’m sure some of my preacher friends would protest at this point, “But, Jim, my life is far from perfect. I want to hold up God’s Word as the infallible standard, certainly not my own life.”
This totally misses the point, however. Of course our lives are far from God’s perfect standard. But unless we do a painfully honest selfie sermon before preaching to others, we’re liable to give the false impression that we’ve fully mastered the scriptural truths we are proclaiming to others.
One of the reasons the Pharisees became hypocrites is that they preached Bible truths to their followers before they ever took a selfie and applied those truths to their own lives. No wonder they ended up being so pompous. No wonder people’s lives weren’t transformed by their teachings. By failing to take a selfie, they became self-absorbed without ever become self-aware.
So go ahead and take a selfie. It will give you a chance to take the log out of your own eye before you preach to others (Matthew 7:3-5). And when you’re finally ready to give your message, you’ll be certain the principles really work. You’ll find yourself speaking with new confidence and authority, and you may even find the boldness to discard your old cassette tapes.