Preachers everywhere face the pressure to preach messages that put humanity at the center. Someone has estimated that over 80% of sermons are human-centered. David Wells writes:
It seems that God has become a rather awkward appendage to the practice of evangelical faith, at least as measured by the pulpit. Indeed, from these sermons it seems that God and the supernatural order are related only with difficulty to the life of faith. He appears not to be at its center. The center, in fact, is typically the self. God and His world are made to spin around this surrogate center, for our world increasingly is understood within a therapeutic model of reality. (No God but God: Breaking with the Idols of Our Age)
The alternative, of course, is preaching that centers on God. Rather than being less relevant, it is actually much more explosive and life-changing.
I spent some time thinking about this a few years back, and came up with seven reasons why God-centered preaching is better than human-centered preaching:
- It glorifies God — One reason to preach God-centered sermons is that it brings glory to God, especially in comparison to human-centered sermons. It reminds us that God is the hero of each text, and he gets the glory. Human-centered sermons still talk about God, but place undue emphasis on our role and our needs. God does not yield his glory to another. This is ultimately a form of idolatry: putting anything else in God's rightful place.
- It is more accurate — God-centered preaching emphasizes accuracy in the study and communication of a Biblical passage. Scripture itself is God-centered, and preaching must be God-centered if it is to stay consistent with Scripture. Human-centered readings misinterpret the text and lead to sermons that, while seemingly biblical, fail to recognize that the Father, Son and Spirit are the key characters, and we are participants, not the main players. When the God-centered purpose of the text governs the sermon, then that sermon is more accurate to the meaning and the purpose of Scripture.
- It tells a better story — God-centered preaching also exposes the false stories that hold people captive, even within our churches. The North American story promises happiness and peace to those who are successful, famous, and rich. This worldview holds people captive in the never-ending quest to accomplish more, earn more, and win the respect of others. In contrast, God-centered preaching invites us into an alternate story in which peace does not depend on accomplishments, money, or the praise of people. God-centered preaching likewise exposes the prevailing worldview as a lie, unfurls reality as God sees it, and proclaims the truth that leads to freedom. It does not try to improve our lives within a false story; it tells a true story that leads to freedom.
- It prepares the congregation for faithful performance — God-centered preaching enables the congregation to learn the script and our role within it. We learn our place in the unfolding story of what God is doing in the world. Because Scripture is about God and his mission, a God-centered focus leads people into relationship with God and participation in his continuing mission within the world.
- It frees preaching from “to do” lists — God-centered preaching helps avoid application fatigue. Human-centered sermons can unwittingly place pressure on individuals to perform up to a certain standard, in order to obey a command or conform to an example in the text. Instead of leading to life change, applications can instead lead to hopelessness as they pile up, and as the listener fails to live up to expectations. The listener can begin to despair of ever being able to faithfully live as a disciple of Jesus Christ, and the preacher can begin to wonder if anyone is listening. In contrast, God-centered preaching is not about handing out more “to do” lists. The congregation is freed from the weight of commands they cannot keep, and enters into a life of dependence on Christ. Sufficiency is not found in the life of the individual, but in God.
- It is expansive — God-centered preaching thus leads to an expansiveness that is not characteristic of human-centered preaching. In God-centered preaching, we begin to understand that Scripture is an ongoing story, and that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is our God, and their story is an ongoing one that includes us. We also understand the end of the story (eschatology), and the knowledge of the story's ending gives us confidence and hope even as we live in what can appear to be uncertain times. The knowledge that our lives are part of something bigger leads us from a human-sized view of history and our lives to a God-sized view.
- It is sustainable — One of the problems with human-centered preaching is that it is demanding. People's needs are never met, and a preaching ministry that is focused on meeting those needs will never do enough. God-centered preaching does not begin with the inexhaustible demands of the human condition; it begins with the sufficiency of God. Rather than dwelling in the depth of human need, it lives within the realm of God's richness. The preacher is not pressured to only provide answers; instead, the preacher brings the congregation into the presence of God, who is on a mission to re-create the cosmos and to redeem all things. Discouragement is part of the assignment of preaching, but a God-centered approach reminds us that our sufficiency is not found in ourselves. God, not the preacher, is the only source of eternal satisfaction and joy.
These are just a few of the reasons why God-centered preaching is much more beneficial than a human-centered approach.