What is missing from many sermons today? Drawing from his observations of our culture, Dr. Michael Kruger advises pastors to connect with the needs and questions of their congregants.
In a seminary context, we get to hear a lot of sermons. Sermons, certainly from students training to be in the ministry, I hear a lot of sermons at churches that I attend and travel to, and it’s a wonderful experience to listen to all these sermons. And no doubt you yourself have probably heard sermons all over the country in your home church and beyond. And when I listen to sermons, I realize that sermons are trying to accomplish many things. And many of these things are good things. A lot of sermons are trying to inform, others are trying to educate, some are trying to clarify. Others are trying to comfort and encourage. And there’s all kinds of things that sermons do out there.
The Lost Art of Persuasion
But being in the seminary environment for so many years, I have noticed what I think is missing from so many sermons today. And I think it’s particularly troubling given the cultural moment that we’re in. And that is, missing in a lot of sermons today is this art of persuasion. Very few sermons I hear today actually are trying to convince the listener of the truth of what’s being said. Very few are trying to make a case that what’s being said makes sense, or it’s the best way to think about the world around them, or is the best course of action for how to behave or act. In other words, I hear a lot of pastors proclaim, a lot of pastors announce, a lot of pastors tell, but I see a lot fewer of them persuading. And I think there’s a number of reasons for that in our world today. It’s unfortunate because I think the Bible is filled with persuasion. Jesus teaches with persuasion. Paul does it. Even God Himself, when you see Him talking to His people throughout the Bible, is often trying to persuade them that His path is the best and right path.
Making the Case for Christianity
I hear a lot of pastors proclaim, a lot of pastors announce, a lot of pastors tell, but I see a lot fewer of them persuading.I think part of the reason we’ve lost that in the church today is I think many pastors probably wrongly and mistakenly assume that the bulk of their congregation that shows up on Sunday morning is with them and agrees with them on what they’re teaching. And I think maybe 50 years ago, or even another couple of generations ago, maybe that would have been the case: that in your local church, the vast majority of people here in your sermon would have thought, “Yep, I’m with you and we’re all on the same page. I don’t need to be persuaded.” But today, that’s not the case. Even in evangelical churches, even reformed churches, even in churches where the person is committed to being a faithful member. I think we’ve underestimate the number of people who hear a sermon and think, “You know, I don’t know if I agree. I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t know if I believe that.” And because we don’t realize that’s happening, we don’t feel like we have to persuade people. We just simply tell people. We’re not making the case for Christianity like we ought.
Advice for Pastors
We need to recover the art of persuasion in our preaching today.The other reason I think it happens in the church, unfortunately, is because I think a lot of pastors, perhaps, are just not engaged with the questions that people are asking in their lives. They’re, rightly, I think, in the theological sphere. They’re reading theological books, they’re reading doctrinal treatises. And all those are important things. But I think some pastors are disconnected from what the critiques of the world are. They’re disconnected from what the world is saying about the Christian faith. And they don’t know what their people are hearing about what the world thinks about their Christian faith. And because you’re sort of in an isolated bubble, you think, “Well, everybody’s with me. I don’t really hear any other arguments.” And I assume that I can just say it and everyone is going to follow. Well, if you’re in a context where you realize what’s going on out there and you’re more up to speed on the critiques that are happening, perhaps that pastor will be more apt to address those critiques in a sermon. So here’s my advice if you are a pastor or even if you know a pastor: we need to recover that art of persuasion in our preaching today. We need to try to convince whoever’s listening that the path of Christ is more wonderful, more true, makes more sense of the world than any other path, and to go out of our way to make that persuasive case. And even for the people who already agree, what you’ll discover is that they actually are encouraged by it. Even if they already agree, they need to hear again why it makes sense to be a Christian in a world where so many people say it doesn’t make sense. And I think if we try that art of persuasion, I think we’re going to find a lot more fruit as we live today in a post-modern world.