Monday, February 04, 2013

Why Preaching Gets a Bad Rap

Many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, are entirely confused about the meaning of the word "preach." Three examples of this misunderstanding will illustrate the problem. (1). First, young people will say to their parents, "Don't preach to me!" By this they mean, "Don't be telling me what I should or shouldn't be doing." (2). Second, a punk rock group called The Skallywags has a song called Don't Preach to Me where they express anger toward cultural pop stars like Madonna and actress Susan Sarenden by singing, "Take your soapbox rants and your politics and stick them where the sun don't shine." (3). And finally, after Lebron James watched a very inspirational video of Sports Illustrated Sportskid of the Year, a video about a boy who runs triathlons while pushing or pulling his six-year old cerebal palsy brother, he said to the media, "I don't have to preach anymore because I will just show that video and my older son will know what he's supposed to do for his brother."

All three above examples illustrate that most people believe the word preach means to moralize, to tell people what they should or shouldn't be doing. That is not the definition of the biblical word "preach." Sadly, most obtain this definition of preaching by observing the stereotypical behavior of those wrongly called preachers, men who shame their listeners over their poor behavior on Sunday morning and moralize them with "shoulds" and "oughts." Whatever it is these men in the pulpits are doing, it can't be rightly called preaching, at least as the Bible defines it.

The biblical English word preach translates the Greek word kerusso. This Greek word means "to herald, to announce, or to proclaim something new." The etymology of the word comes from the ancient Greeks who heard a rooster crowing as he announced the rising sun. The sound the rooster made is like how the word kerusso sounds when you say it in Greek. Thus, the word kerusso came to mean "to herald, to announce, or to proclaim something new."  When a rooster preaches (kerusso), he doesn't shame or moralize the person who oversleeps. That's not the job of preaching. The rooster simply announces the sun has risen. The closest modern comparison to the Scriptural word kerusso is news broadcaster.  When you listen to the news, you want to find out something new! The news broadcaster doesn't shame the listener, he reveals something new in the world!

So, too, the biblical preacher is one who tells his listeners something new about Jesus Christ, the risen Son. Paul said "Unto me has been given the grace to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8). Notice, the riches of Christ are inexhaustible. You can search, and search and search, and never even come close to discovering all there is to know about Christ. See Him in Creation. See Him in the patriarchs. See Him in the sacrifices. See Him in Israel's festivals. See Him in Bethlehem. See Him in the Gospels. See Him at Calvary. See Him in eternity. Announce and proclaim Him. See Him as the one to be revered. See Him as the solution for every problem. O that preachers today would be like Anacreon's harp, an instrument that refused to play any other song but a song of love. Though Anacreon wished to sing of the mighty deeds of Hercules and the feats of the sons of Atreus, the harp refused. Only if the song was about love would the strings of the harp vibrate. So, too, may the vocal chords of preachers only vibrate while announcing and proclaiming of the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. Anything else is not real preaching.

In summary, preaching is not moralizing people or even motivating people. Preaching is when a preacher meditates on Christ and is mesmorized by His riches, and then goes out and proclaims by memory all the good news that he himself has learned about Christ.


Steve Martin said...

Good preaching is proclaiming the full counsel of God.

Both His law...and His gospel.

The job of law preaching isn't to spur on to become better...but to expose our great need of a Savior. So that the only one left standing is Jesus.

And then the gospel raises to new life. Forgives...makes new.

Law/gospel preaching. Not easy to do, but it is the job.

Wade Burleson said...


I politely disagree.

Allow me to quote the First London Confession of Faith 1646 "The preaching of the gospel to the conversion of sinners, is absolutely free; no way requiring as absolutely necessary, any qualifications, preparations, or terrors of the law, or preceding ministry of the law, but only and alone the naked soul, a sinner and ungodly, to receive Christ crucified, dead and buried, and risen again; who is made a prince and a Savior for such sinners as through the gospel shall be brought to believe on Him. (see John 3:14,15, 1:12; Isa. 55:1; John 7:37; 1 Tim. 1:15; Rom. 4:5, 5:8; Acts 5:30,31, 2:36, 1 Cor. 1:22,24).

You may find the First London Confession, a confession of faith saturated with Christ, at

Bridget said...

I read Steve's response earlier today and disagreed as well. When I was saved, no one had been preaching the law to me. (I'm assuming you mean what we refer to as the law of Moses since you seem to contrast the law and the gospel. I could be wrong on what you mean.) I knew that I was in need of a savior despite having little to no knowledge of the law at all. It was the kindess of God that led me to repentance. It was the explanation of God's love for me in the act of sending his Son to redeem mankind that caused me to ask forgivness and have faith in Jesus Christ. It was not someone telling me how far short I fell of God's holiness. The scripture tells us:

"18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,
23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."

When Jesus sent the disciples out, did he tell them to go forth and share the law and the gospel?

I believe that we should learn about the law as we continue to grow as believers. It helps us to understand this Jesus who we love and who died to redeem us. But as Romans states, God has revealed himself to men. Before the law was ever given, men and women trusted in God :)

Wade Burleson said...


Well said.

The polite and gentle disagreement between us and Steve illustrates the difference between Puritans, Presbyterians, and other Reformed faiths (even some Baptists) who emphasize the Law, and others of us who believe in the doctrines of grace, but emphasize Christ as the fulfillment of the Law. As the old song says, "Give me Jesus"

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Pastor Wade!

One thing that often leaves me weeping these days:

No matter what brand church you choose, you will hear some variety of "do more try harder." You will hear some version of how the life should be lived, or someone's political persuasion, or some other minor issue.

But we have such a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord! What we don't hear preached is Jesus Christ and Him crucified for us sinners. What we don't hear is grace.

Please, "preachers," don't feed me your opinions on how the world has gone to hell in a handbasket, or who is taking it there.

Preach me Jesus. Or sit down and hush.


Wade Burleson said...

Amen, Linda, Amen.

Bob Cleveland said...

A lot of the "bad rap" stems from the fact that preaching is commonly heard by people without the Spiritual ears to hear. If, during the message, Holy Spirit conviction occurs, the only responses are normally yielding, or resistance.

If the resisters have the fortitude, they complain.

I'd be surprised if this were not the case.

Pege' said...

Wade, STANDING OVATION!!! It's all about JESUS!!! Hid yoke is easy and His burden is light.
Kerusso Charis!!

Paul Burleson said...


I REALLY concur with this post.

The gospel is NOT a balancing act of preaching law and grace, in that order, at all.

The NT gospel originally signaled a great joy for all people and it was, and remains, an announcement about a Man who was, Himself, the One true God in human flesh. Who He was and is and what He's accomplished on behalf of fallen men and will be good news for anyone who really hears it.

As you've pointed out, He alone is our message and, because the power of the gospel is real and equal to the task, we can leave human responses to the work of the Spirit who is the ONLY One who can make clear the unsearchable riches of His grace. [1 Corinthians 2:9-12]

Megan said...

Bob, you said this: "A lot of the "bad rap" stems from the fact that preaching is commonly heard by people without the Spiritual ears to hear."

Forgive me, but I would prefer not to sit under a speaker who assumes that the reason I do not appreciate his message is because I lack the "spiritual ears to hear".

I have been teaching for 5 years now. When I began, I assumed that my students produced C papers (and F papers) because they were poor writers. Some time after that, I realized that my students produced C papers because I was a poor teacher (the catalyst for this change was Bruce Wilkinson's book 7 Laws of the Learner). Yes, some students use their time poorly or are not prepared for a college-level class. It is, however, up to me as the teacher to assume responsibility for my students' learning.

The same thing applies to preachers: When a believer listens to a sermon and rejects it, it is irresponsible for the preacher to assume that the reason the message was rejected was because the listener was not spiritual enough to grasp or apply the point. If the preacher wants to be a true teacher of the Gospel, he (or she) should examine the content and the form of the message. Is the message being effectively communicated? Does it tell more about Christ (or moralize at us)? Yes, some people will sit in the pews and reject what they hear. That does not give the speaker leave, however, to assume that those who complain are doing so because they reject the message, that those who are growing have a personal problem and never a leadership problem.

For a pastor to assume that members of the congregation who complain are doing so because they reject a message from God is simply to shift blame onto the victim.

Aussie John said...


My initial response is to use the Aussie vernacular and say,"Beaudy mate!" :)

I also concur with what Megan wrote. Charles Spurgeon once said,"Whatever subject I preach, I do not stop until I reach the Savior, the Lord Jesus, for in Him are all things".

Rex Ray said...

My dad always said, “I hate a sermon that doesn’t mention His name.”

BTW, I think I recognize the finger in the picture…”If you don’t like the way the pastor does things, LEAVE!”

Rex Ray said...

Good to see you made it back. I enjoyed your four sermons a couple of weeks ago. They were examples of today’s subject.

Rex Ray said...

Yes, when most of the students are failing, it’s because of the teacher. And it’s not because the teacher is ‘dumb’.

In fact, most of the time it’s because the teacher is too smart.

My father wrote his Master’s degree theists on who made the best teachers.
His research proved it was not the “A” student that taught in the ‘mountain tops’, but it was the “B” student that also taught in the ‘valleys’.

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” The congregation starves to death if they learn more abut the preacher than Jesus.
And even if he preaches Jesus, the congregation looses ‘weight’ if they know he doesn’t ‘walk his talk’.

What would you think about the ego of a preacher if he shed tears because no one said, ‘Amen’?

Wade Burleson said...


I tend to stay away from determining whether or not other people have ego. That's an invisible quality only known to God. If I shed tears because nobody said "Amen" when I preached I'd eventually get dry eye syndrome. :)

Anonymous said...

For those preachers who think we lowly pew sitters reject your preaching due to hardened sinful hearts:

Bottom sediment or bull hockey, take your choice.

I freely admit that can happen. But surely you must admit some of us reject your...teaching...because we actually read our Bibles and know bottom sediment or bull hockey when we hear it.

Your job is to preach Christ and Him crucified.

His job is to clean up the world.

Bob Cleveland said...

Megan: I've been watching this for 32 years in the church we belong to now, and 15 years in other churches, before.

I stand by my original comment. And if you'll note, I said "a lot of" it.