Common Problems In Modern Preaching

Since my conversion in 1993, I’ve listened to a lot of sermons, ancient and modern, reformed and non-reformed, and I’ve noticed that every age in the church has had its own persistent problems in preaching – for instance ancient sermons commonly suffered from the spiritualizing of the meaning of every text, so that in every sermon a fish was never a fish, the moon was never the moon, a child was never a child, and so on. Puritan sermons, on the other hand commonly suffer from the over-reliance on the Ramist method and an overabundance of points and sub-points.

Modern preaching has its own problems, and while there are some commonalities, there are differences between the problems you are likely to see in reformed and non-reformed preaching. Here then are my observations on the common problems in both camps, I should stress this is just my opinion and is not intended to be exhaustive, and yes I’ve been guilty of some of these myself. I offer these lists in the hopes that they might be noted and avoided by preachers in the future!

Primary Problems in Modern Non-Reformed Preaching:

  1. The topical series rules. There is little or no use of lectio continua and hardly any expository preaching.
  2. Lack of solid exegesis. The text is a leaping off point rather than the basis of the sermon.
  3. Scripture is seldom allowed to interpret scripture
  4. Sermons require little or no understanding of the bible on the part of the listener
  5. Emphasis on entertaining or impressing the congregation rather than exhorting them. Often there is actually a twisted symbiotic relationship between the preacher and the audience – he needs their approval and approbation so he tells them things that will provoke those responses. Too many preachers are actually closer to improvisational actors/comedians.
  6. Unwillingness to say anything most Americans don’t already believe
  7. Little or no law and precious little gospel.
  8. Success is measured by how happy the audience was with the sermon rather than how convicted they were or the good fruit it produced. The goal is usually consumerist – success is making the customer happy so that they will continue to buy your product.
  9. The majority of preaching centers on what the people are supposed to be enthusiastic about, but often these days sin (except the sin of judgment) is never discussed so that people are not offended.
  10. As a result what is too often created is not the church, made up of called out, soundly converted, and assembled together saints, but a franchise that can comfortably be frequented by anyone with a spiritual bent.

Primary Problems in Modern Reformed Preaching:

  1. There is far too little emphasis on connecting with the hearers.
  2. Too many of our sermons are actually theological lectures, and our aim is usually to inform the mind rather than melt the heart.
  3. Instead of an emphasis on impressing the audience with our personality via entertainment, our emphasis is on impressing the audience with our erudition via teaching. We want them to go away thinking, “Wow! I never knew that word had such an amazing semantic range in the original Greek. What a teacher our pastor is!”
  4. We tend to make our hearers do too much of the work, and far too many of our sermons are actually unintelligible to non-Christians
  5. We often forget that our preaching should have the same end as John’s telic note in John 20:31 – ” but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
  6. We eschew Finney’s idea that conversion is the result of “the right use of means” but are sometimes stunningly unsupernatural in our own view of preaching. Instead of conversion being a supernatural work of the Spirit that must be fervently prayed for, we make it the result of the right understanding of information correctly imparted and received. Small wonder that so many of our listeners can explain theological doctrines but have no clue what Christ was really asking Peter in John 21:15-17.
  7. We often act as though it doesn’t matter how good a communicator the pastor is and don’t see being stunningly boring as a problem. Sometimes we even view being uninteresting as a badge of honor, as though boring was the opposite of ear tickling.
  8. Secretly, we also don’t want to upset our hearers, so the majority of our convicting fire is directed towards the sins found outside the church rather than within it.
  9. Often the majority of our preaching follows the via negativa, we spend our time telling people what we are against, but not what we are for.
  10. As a result what we too often create is “Fortress Church” – a dwindling and unapproachable bastion of the saints –  and then wonder why no one from the world is coming to visit us.

About Andrew Webb

I was converted out of paganism and the occult in 1993 and while I was initially Charismatic/Arminian in my theology, I became Reformed and Presbyterian through bible study and the influence of ministries like RC Sproul's. After teaching in local bible studies, and taking seminary courses part time, I began to feel called to the ministry in 1997. I was Ordained as an RE at Christ Covenant PCA in Hatboro, PA in 2000 and as a TE by Central Carolina Presbytery in 2001 when I was called to be the Organizing Pastor/Church Planter for Providence PCA Mission, Cross Creek PCA's church plant in Fayetteville, NC (home to Ft. Bragg and Pope Airforce Base). In 2005 when the Providence PCA Particularized I was blessed to be called by the congregation to be their Pastor
This entry was posted in Evangelism and Church Growth, Old School Presbyterian Churches, Pastoral Theology, Preaching, The Means of Grace and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Common Problems In Modern Preaching

  1. Pingback: Common Problems In Modern Preaching

    • Roy Kerns says:

      Excellent insights, succinctly summarized.

      A subpoint fitting under several of the 10 regarding reformed preaching. Ponder the irony of reformed pastors (hence committed to sovereign grace working in the context of church and family) not preaching to children.

    • Tom James says:

      I am sorry but this blog seems a bit arrogant. The non-reformed preachers of which I am one, you bust us repeatedly about being shallow, not allowing scripture to interpret scripture, we lack “solid exegesis”, “success is measured by how happy the church is” … REALLY? Then the only real problem with reformed preachers is they make (your camp) their messages too deep to where the congregation has to work too hard listening to a lecture. I am sorry but you slap those in the non-reformed camp and lump them all into a category of not being true to scripture or being able to preach exegetically through a book. You accuse us of preaching too little on sin and not much gospel content either. Excuse me while I go get sick. This is horrible …. and I’m guessing the only ‘kuddo’s’ you are getting are from the reformed camp, because they have their theology all together.

      • Andrew Webb says:

        Hi Tom, thank you for commenting.

        If I may, please note that I pointed out that these were common problems – problems I’ve seen again and again, not problems with every church or every sermon. I also noted that I’ve been guilty of many of these problems myself. If your church and your own sermons do not suffer from any of them, then I applaud you, you have reached a level in your preaching that most pastors and congregations haven’t.

        Finally, if you think that being stunningly boring, or forgetting that our end in preaching is to call men to faith in Christ, or ending up with congregations with theological knowledge but who have no idea what it means to love Jesus aren’t terrible problems then I have to disagree.

      • Andrew Webb says:

        BTW – Al Mohler essentially made the same points (only better – what do you expect it’s Dr. Mohler?) in a recent post lamenting the lack of scripture in modern preaching:

  2. Pingback: Ten Pitfalls In Contemporary Reformed Preaching (Andrew Webb) | mgpcpastor's blog

  3. This is an excellent post, Andy. Very convicting.

  4. Doug says:

    I’ve been to a PCA church and have been mystified as to what the preacher was saying, or rather, how did he get that from the scripture and why is he laboring this particular point anyway. I love our pastor at my EPC church and how he preaches, and even love his teaching more. I do agree that it is very easy to fall in love with theology and forget that we are about Christ. So in my travels to other reformed churches, I share some of these concerns, though I wonder how many of them passed their preaching classes in seminary.

  5. Pingback: Check out | HeadHeartHand Blog

  6. Truth2Freedom says:

    Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.

  7. Pingback: Links I like

  8. Pingback: Monetizing Your Blog and Common Problems with Modern Preaching | Scribblepreach

  9. Pingback: Notable Voices: May 15, 2014 -

  10. Dale Suslick says:

    Reblogged this on Suslick Step's and commented:
    Excellent insights. Phew! Challenging to remember we only need to do our best to deliver the mail.

  11. Pete Gogolack says:

    One problem I’ve consistently encountered with a lot of Reformed preaching is that they actually preach topical sermons verse by verse and are so minutely concerned about each verse as a single unit that they frequently take them out of context and miss the main point of the passage.

  12. Pingback: Links for Your Weekend Reading |

  13. Pingback: Saturday Shout-Outs: NCP2014, Phoenix, & Ministry Links | H.B. Charles Jr.

  14. Pingback: Updates, Links, and Deals for 5/18/2014 |

  15. Pingback: Wednesday Link List | Thinking Out Loud

  16. Pingback: Notable & Newsworthy | ACTIVE/didactic

  17. Karen says:

    I do find many of your insights about modern preaching to be generally on target with my own experience, but I’m not sure why we should prefer modern approaches to sermonizing and interpretation of Scripture (whether Reformed or non-Reformed) over ancient ones, given that the early Fathers lived closer to the apostolic era and arguably shared more of its culture and mindset. The lifetimes of the earliest of the Fathers even overlapped the lifetime of the apostles and their close associates–St. Irenaeus, for example, being the spiritual grandchild of the Apostle John). Many of them were still speaking and reading as their first language the Greek of the earliest Christian Bible.

    Meanwhile, modern Christians in the west have been heavily influenced by philosophical movements and intellectual mindsets quite far removed from this (e.g., Medieval Scholasticism, the Renaissance, Nominalism, Enlightenment Rationalism and Humanism, 19th century historical and textual “higher” criticism, etc.), not to mention also the highly polemical context of the Reformation-Counter-Reformation–a context quite far removed from that of Christ and the apostles. Thus I suspect the Fathers’ overall chances of discerning the Spirit-inspired and Christ-centered import of the Scriptures were greater than ours.

    Ancient exegetes spiritualizing parts of the OT were actually following the “typological” approach of the apostles in the NT. Did some of them take this too far? Perhaps, but I would argue this overall approach to the OT (giving it an analogical Christocentric reading, rather than a modern historical- and/or textual-critical one) is akin to the Christ-taught (John 5:39-40, Luke 24:44-45), Holy Spirit-inspired interpretations of the apostles themselves (e.g., Romans 9). And, they didn’t just spiritualize the OT texts. They also drew moral applications from the straightforward reading of many biblical texts in their own contexts, and they exhorted very directly from the material in the Gospels.

  18. Karen says:

    It also occurs to me to ask, if the verse-by-verse expository preaching of the Scriptures preferred by the Reformed is really so superior over other approaches, why do we not see this being used in the models of sermons we have in the Scriptures, particularly those of Christ and His Apostles?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s