Many call for practical sermons. I have made the same call on occasion. However, the term “practical sermons” means different things to different people. For example, some preachers use the term to mean sermons that give people life skills to help them live in this world. These sermons would address such important things as becoming a better employee or entrepreneur. Other sermons might be how to overcome racism and sexism to break through the glass ceiling that “the enemy” wants to use to block you from your God given destiny of prosperity, health, and wealth (certainly you have read enough of my work to know I have great problems with such a presentation…but I digress…).
Practical Sermon Drawbacks
A few months ago, I remember a sermon that illustrates this mindset clearly. The preacher took the life or Joseph and distilled 4 or 5 principles that would help the hearer to become a better employee and thus get the next promotion. I forget the title, but the point was to follow the steps of Joseph to become a better employee.
Certainly, if you apply the principles of this very practical sermon, you will no doubt be better equipped to move ahead in your job. Certainly, there is a time to learn how to be a good worker or know when it is time to move to another job. But I seriously question whether the morning sermon during the worship service is the right time or location. On another note, I wonder if the preacher is the right one to give that kind of training in many instances.
Are Spiritual Sermons the Answer?
There are some who would question that kind of sermon by saying that we need to preach “spiritual” things and not “worldly” things. Some would argue that we need to point people to the heavenly realm. I like the emphasis on the spiritual that those who argue along these lines give, but I think it has a tendency to limit God’s incoming kingdom to a particular realm, namely “spiritual” topics and venues. Often, these “spiritual” things can be separate from our daily lives.
This kind of preaching places a disconnect between the way we live during the week and the way we are called to live as Christians. This kind of preaching makes it too easy to be comfortable in political parties when both should offend our prophetic tendencies from time to time. This kind of preaching makes it too easy for us to preach about “turning the other cheek” on Sunday morning but bash in cheeks every other day of the week. It makes it too easy to give grace and forgiveness to the perpetrators of wars based on lies while condemning the two-bit criminal robbing the 7-11. Or vice-versa depending on our political tendencies.
Moving Beyond the Spiritual – Practical Dichotomy
No, we are not looking for a practicality that does not confront the status-quo but merely teaches us how to strive to live in it. Neither are we seeking to teach a spirituality that only has relevance to “gettin’ to heaven.”
Yes, the practical preaching proponent is right in the desire to allow God’s principles to invade every area of our lives, but the Spiritual preaching proponent is right that the spiritual aspects of the coming kingdom must take center stage in our lives.
So what do we do? We preach God’s kingdom. We preach what it means to live in that kingdom. We preach the ethical demands on those of us who are citizens in that kingdom. We preach how to become citizens of that kingdom. We preach how to live as ambassadors of that coming kingdom in this world.
Certainly, living as a member of God’s kingdom has relevance to life down here. Being a good citizen of God’s kingdom in many cases means that we will be a good worker at work. It means we will be a good steward of God’s blessings. It does mean that we will do our duty down here. So the practical side will be taken care of. But also, the spiritual side will be addressed, as this is the fuel that empowers our living.
Great preaching is about living in that coming kingdom. Let us be true to it and true to our God. Leave the surface self-help messages to the personal development gurus and television preachers. On the other hand, don’t preach a “gettin’ to heaven” sermon that has no relevance for living in this world. Go head on and preach God’s coming kingdom and watch as the gates of hell begin to fall on its face.