Indicators that reveal the true healthiness of the Church and its members are at record lows. Take a look at Christian divorce rates, church attendance, immorality, greed, discipleship, worldliness and spiritual complacency just to name a few. It doesn’t take a statistician to see that we have a lot of work to do.
Charles Finney (1792-1875) was a great revivalist and leader in America’s Second Great Awakening. He is often called the “Father of Modern Revivalism.” Finney was an expert on preaching and commented on the things that make preaching ineffective. With your indulgence, I would like to modernize the language and paraphrase his comments to explain why so much of the preaching we hear today is powerless.
Keep in mind that the concepts were preached well over a hundred years ago. Does history repeat?
With that said, here are some pointers on how to preach without power:
- Focus on generating popularity and not on winning souls to Christ.
- Fear offending people, don’t fear people going to Hell.
- Don’t be too clear with your message. Do not make people consider their sinful condition.
- Do not make the message memorable. Do not employ powerful illustrations and repetition that will help people remember.
- Preach without passion for the Word of God and His message.
- Appeal to emotions and not to the conscience.
- Do not provide personal examples of your own transformation.
- Do not talk about sin.
- If you do mention sin, present it as a concept without specific examples that might offend.
- Do not encourage listeners to make an immediate decision.
- Leave closings open-ended. Ask people to consider but not necessarily act.
- Focus on man’s inability to be holy thereby giving tacit permission to continue in their sin.
- Focus only on grace to the exclusion of man’s sinfulness and depravity.
- Present the power of salvation without discussing the devastation of sin.
- Avoid discussions of God’s holy law which reveals sin.
- Word messages to reduce the fears of listeners instead of allowing them to fear the results of sin.
- Reveal God as loving while avoiding the topics of judgment and wrath.
- Talk about non-Christians as “good people” (especially at funerals) thereby making people think that trying to live a good life is all that is necessary for Heaven.
- Mention Hell so infrequently that people do not think even you believe in it.
- Explicitly or implicitly convey that God is so loving that He will not send anyone to Hell.
- Avoid discussions of self-denial and holiness that might make people feel uncomfortable.
- Do not call the church out for obvious and glaring sin as you could hurt their feelings.
- Don’t address the way people dress, as you may make them uncomfortable.
- Make social events a top priority.
- Try to be popular with everyone.
- Attempt to make people feel good about themselves and happy with you.
- If you discuss sinners, talk about “they” as if there are no sinners present. In this way people will not feel obligated to address the sin in their own life.
So, do agree with Finney or do you think he comes from an ancient time with nothing to say to us today? Do you agree with some but not all? I would love to hear from you.