By Josh King
This past Sunday I preached a text that dealt primarily with alcohol. I didn’t want to do it.
I’ve preached nearly every week for the past 20 years and, during most of those years, multiple times a week.
As much as I love preaching, there are some topics I don’t enjoy tackling. I know I’m far from alone in this.
I recently asked a few pastor friends about topics they dread addressing from the pulpit. The discussion revealed a few shared answers. Here are some of the subjects mentioned:
- Sex (particularly when children are present for the sermon)
- End times
- Roles of deacons and elders
It’s not that we don’t like the text or don’t know or agree with what the Bible says.
The problem for most of us is these can be divisive issues. And with these particular topics, the divisions don’t tend to leave room for grace toward one another.
Here are some practices I’ve discovered and implemented to deliver messages on these specific topics with a bit more ease. Here are some “preaching hacks” for each of these subjects.
When preaching about sex I use the word intimacy since there are children in the room.
It gets across what I’m trying to say without making the parental ears squirm and the teenage ears too embarrassed to listen to me.
When preaching on the topic of submission, use others’ voices. This topic is challenging for the majority of preachers simply because we’re men. And because many men have abusively handled such passages in the past, it can start us out in a difficult place.
What I’ve done is use the words of a woman in making the point. Kathy Keller has some great material on this subject, and honestly, says it better than I ever could.
When I needed it, I simply put her image and quote on the screen.
3. End times
If you should come across a text that deals with the end times, make sure to anchor the sermon in the idea that God is ultimately in control.
So much apocalyptic preaching can be sensational—and honestly, boring—due to so much conjecture.
Say what you know, admit what we can’t know, and remind them God knows it all.
This can be hard to touch on because so many of the people in the room are personally affected by it.
I like to include language that shows compassion for the various situations that sometimes lead to divorce. I’ll often say something like, “No one who has had a divorce set out to do so. If we follow God’s design in (whatever area I’m preaching) we can avoid the pain and loss resulting from divorce.”
5. Roles of Elders and Deacons
There’s a lot to unpack regarding these roles, and for many, their extended faith family isn’t representing anything close to what can be found in the Bible on this topic.
My best advice in this situation is to use the words of whatever denomination you’re a part of.
Just as we take the original languages of the Bible and use English words in our translations, I think we need to sometimes take an English word and use a denominationally colloquial one.
That means when I preach in my Southern Baptist church or other Southern Baptist churches, I always refer to elders as “pastors” and deacons as either “deacons” or “ministers.”
This helps me frame it in a way the listeners are likely more familiar with.
As the sermon or sermon series progresses they begin to grasp that pastor and elder are synonyms. It removes those walls that say, “Elders are for them; we have pastors.”
General preaching principles
I’ve offered some preaching hacks on approaching some specific topics that may make you cringe a little (don’t avoid them; they are in the text, after all).
Now, here are some general principles to keep in mind before you approach any sensitive or difficult subject.
Preach with a plan.
You can preach through books, larger sections of text, or even start in Genesis and work your way through the Bible.
I preach the schedule provided by Explore the Bible and really enjoy having our church small groups and worship service centered around the same text each week.
Whatever you do, if you have a plan and a direction you can’t be accused of cherry-picking a text.
This is helpful for those topics like submission or giving. Even if someone thinks you’re coming at them personally, you can let them know your sermon topic has been scheduled for some time.
Use the original language.
I usually encourage pastors not to do this, but if a text is hard to preach because of a certain word, consider using the Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word.
For instance, anything dealing with slavery can be sticky because of the disgusting history of the U.S. in that area. It can be helpful, therefore, to go ahead and use the word “doulos” throughout the sermon.
In this scenario, you could start by defining the word to get everyone on the same page. This will help you preach on the topic while avoiding the pain the words “slave” or “slavery” can trigger.
Remind yourself they need this.
All of the Bible is beneficial, and all of it needs to be preached.
Even if you aren’t a big fan of preaching apocalyptic sermons, know that God wants you to read it and know it for some reason, and that it’s your honor to reveal that reason to your church.
Jump in with both feet.
Truly, the easiest way to preach difficult passages is to preach them clear and strong. Don’t waver. Say what the text says and then move on.
Think of it as “ripping off the Band-Aid.” You may also find your congregation has been hungry to hear a clear teaching on that troubling topic for years.
There are times when we’d rather not face the emails or after-service confrontation. Hopefully these “hacks” will help you get through that topic or two.
Remember, it’s rarely what you said that makes people mad, it’s how you said it. We can all learn to say things better.
Please share some of your “preaching hacks” in the comments. I can use them myself, and it will benefit our readers.
JOSH KING (@JoWiKi) is the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas, husband of Jacki, and father of three boys. He’s also a co-host of the EST.church podcast.