Substituting a Good Thing for the Best Thing
One of the big dangers that faces pastors today comes from a desire to connect with people and to sense that they’re connecting with us. After you preach a while, you begin to see that when you are, for example, explaining a passage or doing an exposition, people can get kind of restless.
But when you stop and tell a story, they’ll ease back and listen. They’ll even get quieter if you tell an inner-directed story. So, it would go something like this: I’m explaining the text, there’s a little coughing and people are restless, and then I say, "You know, last week I had a hard time. Let me tell you about it." As soon as you do that, everything goes silent. I mean the babies stop crying. They want to know how you feel.
That’s a good thing. And it’s good to use inner-directed stories from time to time.
But what can happen is that when you use inner-directed stories—you spice it with a little humor and you put a little Bible with it—you’ll have people telling you it’s the best sermon that you have ever preached. They connected with the story. It doesn’t mean that they know what the Scripture taught, but they connect with the story.
This is something that I say a lot—I will tell you how to get your listeners really quiet. The way I accomplish it is to tell them about my dog, Sunday, a preacher's dog. Great dog! He was just the most beautiful golden retriever you’ve ever seen. He was wonderful. When I came home and he was sitting there, he would look at me, smiling. No matter what my day was like, Sunday was always there. He was my buddy. I used to jog with him and swim with him. One day I took him out for a run and he could not get in the car. I took him down to the vet and found out that he had a raging case of leukemia. I had to put him down then and there. We walked out carrying his collar.
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I can tell that story and have grown men weeping and invariably have somebody come at the end of the sermon and say "Pastor, that is the greatest sermon that you’ve ever preached." And it was about my dog.
So we need to be aware of those things. It can be seductive. Yes, we need to use inner-directed stories. But the danger is to move away from Scripture and give them a little bit of the Bible and a lot of stories and a lot of humor because we like the feedback. But we have to remember that the Word is sovereign. We need to preach the Word.
Here’s the preacher. Here’s the Bible. And there are the people. The Bible is what I am to explain to the people.