When was the last time you ranted? If you’re a preacher, it may have been recently. Preachers, unforutnately, have a tendency to launch into rants. There are plenty of topics to rant about. Unfortunately, ranting during your sermons is dangerous. When you rant, you lose your authority, feed people’s flesh, cater to your pride, and direct people to a false source of wisdom. When it comes to preaching, ranting is dangerous. Here’s how to avoid it.
First, Some Big Picture Issues
Before we discuss the details of avoiding The Rant, here are a couple big ideas to keep in mind.
1. Recognize your role as a messenger.
If you are a preacher, your role is to shepherd the flock. Flocks need care and feeding. Discern carefully how your ranting stacks up against this responsibility. Most rants don’t pass muster when analyzed through these lens.
2. Proclaim the Bible.
Every time you preach, you have a text. That text, taken from God’s Word, is to be your subject matter. In other words, preach the Bible and only the Bible. The Bible definitely deals with plenty of topics, and if it doesn’t directly connect with your preferred rant topic, you are advised to leave well enough alone.
Specific Instructions on How Not to Rant
1. Intentionally avoid hobby horses, pet issues, and soapboxes.
In order to know what to avoid, you have to know what issues tempt you to rant. Popular topics include politics, Calvinism/Arminianism, Bible translations, manhood/womanhood, how to dress/how not to dress, separation, tithing/giving, and which church ministries to get involved in. What are your hot topics?
The key here is to avoid such issues if they are trivial in light of Jesus Christ. When you look at it that way, most things are. When Sunday morning’s messages are primarily dealing with issues like Chick-Fil-A, Fifty Shades of Gray, boycotting Iran, or the healthcare crisis, your preaching has veered off course. You must make a conscience decision not to form messages around trivial issues, but instead focus on the most triumphant issue of all — Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
2. Create notes and stick to them.
One of the best safeguards agains ranting is to prepare your sermon notes ahead of time and follow them. When you feel like shouting about Mitt Romney or Barack Obama for another ten minutes, glance down at your notes. This will help you stick to the more important topics.
3. Become deaf to the cries and shouts of “Git ’em preacher!”
I once attended a small rural church in the beautiful Appalachian mountains. The people with whom I worshipped each Sunday morning were loving to each other and devoted to Christ. They were passionate as well. One thing they were passionate about was a single translation of the Bible. During one message, one of the “preacher boys” delivered a message that largely consisted of shouting (during which time he became hoarse), sweating, and prancing around the platform, successfully whipping the audience into a frenzy. His subject matter? His preferred Bible translation. The pastor of the church on the other hand, deliberately steered away from the subject when he preached. During one Sunday morning message, he started to speak of Bible translations. The shouts of “Oooooh yes!” and “Git ’em preacher!” began to roll from the Amen Corner. But wisely, he switched away from this agitation-inducing topic, and calmly said, “Now, don’t get me started on that…” He resumed his message. This wise pastor knew that riling the crowds might make him feel good. It would generate some excitement, pump up some adrenalin, and create a wash of controversy that would sweep the people like a powerful flood. But he also knew that it was an issue of little eternal consequence. He chose to preach God’s Word rather than rant about little issues.
Tony Merida wrote, “God has not called us to rant, he has called us to preach the word — faithfully, consistently, pastorally, patiently, and theologically.” Listen to the aged Apostle Paul as he advises his protege Timothy on the sacred art of preaching:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4)