Paul addressed the issue of sincerity in preaching on several occasions throughout the New Testament. One such instance is 2 Corinthians 2:17, "For we are not as many are who peddle the word of God. Instead, being sent by God, we sincerely speak in Christ in the sight of God."
As I have reflected on this verse, it's given me some comfort to know that the issues that plague modern Christianity also faced the apostles. I've also found an important value in preaching—sincerity.
Sure, there are false teachers, hucksters, and impostors in pulpits across the land today. There were in Paul's day too. It's nothing new. But the contrast to this trend is a revival of sincerity in the pulpit. Preaching has been defined by D. Martin-Lloyd Jones as "the communication of God's truth through human personality." So we preachers get to represent God's truth through our very personality. The prayer, "hide me behind thy cross, O Lord," doesn't reflect an accurate understanding of what preaching is all about. God has called me to represent Him as only I can, and for you to do the same.
Sincerity is a key to effective communication. You can't fake sincerity for obvious reasons, but you can certainly do a self-test to ask the tough questions:
- Do I really believe what I'm saying?
- Do I live what I'm asking others to live?
- Am I preaching as me, or as Billy Graham?
- Am I wearing a mask or being transparent?
- Am I preaching at people, or having a teaching conversation?
I greatly appreciate fine oratory. Two generations ago and further back, oratorical skills were at the top of the list of qualifications for great preaching. There's nothing wrong with this. In fact, if preaching can be viewed as a creative art, then we certainly ought to make it pretty for God's glory. Words are certainly the tools of our trade, so we should study them and utilize the power of them. Nevertheless, preaching is still a conversation that takes place between a preacher and each member of his congregation. It ought to come from the heart.
One of my own heroes was W. A. Criswell, who often referred to himself (making light of what others were already pointing out) as "a holy roller with a Ph.D." I've listened to hundreds of his messages over at WACriswell.org and I can tell you, this genius of a man involved his emotions in the communication process, as should we today. It's part of sincerity—bearing all.
Sincerity is one of my own core preaching values as well as something I continually have to fight myself for. And it can't be faked. So how do you bear your honest heart for a greater impact in communicating the gospel?
1. Believe the truth. It's my strong opinion that those who do not trust the entire Word of God as the whole, pure, and perfect book that it is, should not be in a preaching ministry. Period. We may not understand it all, but we can certainly take God's Word at face value if we're going to claim to represent it.
2. Prepare well. Preparation prevents faking it in the pulpit. One HUGE rule of preaching is "don't just make stuff up!" So study, prepare, work hard. Every Sunday is a test of your dedication and commitment to the Word.
3. Preach with few, if any notes. This adds time and energy to preparation. You not only have to compile material and arrange it in a way that makes sense, but you must commit it to memory. If I've studied well, the sermon flows from the heart rather than having to leap off of the page. Having said that, some of the greatest preachers in history have been those who utilize manuscripts, so this is admittedly my own angle and not prescriptive for everybody.
4. Make eye contact. See the eyes of your people when you preach to them and you'll see a piece of their heart as well. Of course, preaching without notes helps this process a great deal, but even if you use notes, glance at them and then return your attention to those from whom you've asked attention.
5. Tell your story. Every sermon represents biblical and doctrinal truth, but it also says something about your life, so tell your story. Your testimony and experiences mean a great deal to your congregation. They know you more by hearing about your personal life, so let them in and they'll trust you more and respond well when you have to apply the truth in highly convicting ways. And, humorous and painful stories create highly teachable moments with our fellow human beings.
6. Live it out. Jesus embodied all of God's truth. He "tabernacled" Himself among us. He is God wrapped in human flesh. We ought to follow in His steps and be God's truth, wrapped in flesh. Sermons are not simply taught on Sunday, but demonstrated daily as those who listen to us observe us. We live life in a fish bowl, to some degree, so put on a show—not the kind where you act like a believer, but where you become a trophy of God's marvelous and powerful grace.
7. Love your listeners. One of the things I pray before every sermon is "Lord, help me love people as I preach." It's easier to get messy in ministry when we love people the way God does. And what we say matters to people only when we've loved them in saying it.
8. Do it all over again. Sincerity goes along with consistency. We must be sincere week in and week out. There must be a pattern. Sadly, one mistake can blow our testimony for a long time into the future, so we must live consistently, prepare consistently, and preach consistently.
Sincerity matters in preaching. It's a key value, a core component of effectively representing the gospel and communicating God's truth in this present age. In fact, we need it more than ever.
Brandon Cox has been a pastor for 15 years and is currently planting a church in northwest Arkansas, a Saddleback-sponsored church. He also serves as editor of Pastors.com and Rick Warren's Pastor's Toolbox, and authors a top 100 blog for church leaders.
For the original article, visit pastors.com.
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