Regular preachers need to be more like starters than bench players.
The bench player is a specialist. A southpaw might take the mound to pitch to one player. A sharp shooter enters the game to knock down threes to spark a comeback.
But the starters need to do everything well. These are the triple-threat basketball players, athletes who can shoot, pass, or drive to the basket. These are the five-tool baseball players, guys who can hit for average, hit for power, throw, field, and run fast around the bases.
The triple threat, five-tool preacher is characterized by variety in his sermons. He varies his structure, tone, and delivery of the sermon, so that his church never hears the same message twice.
Must you add variety to your sermons?
Why can’t you just preach three points and a poem on a weekly basis if that’s what you’re good at? Fair question, but here are some reasons why you shouldn’t:
· You won’t reach diverse people if you don’t vary your sermons. Your church will be filled with people who resemble you, crippling outreach to various personality types and ethnic groups. If you preach only Paul, you will have only analytical thinkers. How will you reach creatives?
· Also, you won’t preach the whole counsel of God. The content of the Bible varies broadly in genre and tone. If you can’t preach all of it, you will neglect many books of the Bible.
· Finally, you will bore your church! God’s world and God’s word both demonstrate that he has created us for variety. When you become predictable your people lose interest.
How to add variety to your sermons
Although five-tool baseball players are a rare commodity, there is no reason why you can’t develop a broader skill set behind the pulpit. All it takes is intentionality, and a bit of practice. Here are three simple ways to change things up.
1. Let 2 Timothy 3:16 guide you toward sermon variety
This verse provides a formula for adding variety to your sermons. What Scripture is useful for—teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness—suggests at least four types of sermons: theological, confrontational, encouraging, and practical. That’s a nice monthly variety. However, most pastors are drawn primarily to one, given their personality.
There are two ways to make sure you don’t overdo the type you are most drawn toward.
· First, take your cues from the passage to determine if it naturally fits in one of the four categories of 2 Timothy 3:16. For example, if it is a confrontational passage (think Gal. 1:6-10), don’t preach it all warm and fuzzy. Rebuke! Or if it is a passage that pleads (think Gal. 4:8-20), don’t extinguish that passion with unnecessary word studies. Plead!
· Second, when a passage fits a couple of the categories of the 2 Timothy verse, take your cue from the past month of your preaching. Have you preached a couple heavy, didactic sermons lately because you are in the first half of Ephesians? Figure out a way to make the next passage a bit more practical.
The 2 Timothy 3:16 is not a perfect model. The usefulness of Scripture, after all, is not limited to the four benefits Paul lists, and every sermon should contain a bit of all four characteristics. That said, it’s still a helpful guide to get started on sermon variety.
2. Add variety by hitting multiple genres in one sermon
It’s baffling how Italian restaurants fit so many dishes on their menu. Can you really make that many meals by combining noodles with sauce? Yet, by varying the types of noodles, sauces, meats, and spices, Italian chefs can create an infinite number of dishes.
You can accomplish the same goal by cross-referencing to various genres in your sermons. By combining various genres in one sermon, you can preach an infinite variety of sermons. Your church will never eat the same spiritual meal twice.
The trick is to hit the cross references with interpretative integrity, not just for variety’s sake. There are several ways to do this responsibly.
Explore New Testament quotations and allusions of the Old Testament. If you are preaching from the Old Testament, jump to the New, and vice versa. Not only will this shed inter-canonical light on the passage you are preaching, it will give your audience a change of pace in your sermon.
Show Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. When you are preaching the gospels, take time to go back to the OT to show why Jesus is doing what he is doing. It’s a good way to sneak in some didactic material from the prophets or the Torah while preaching a narrative.
Connect the dots between the gospels and the epistles. The ministry of Jesus in the gospels is organically connected to the message of Jesus in the epistles. Show your church the unity of the New Testament by taking a few moments in your sermon to show how Paul’s doctrine flows from Jesus’ deeds.
When you tug on all the strings that connect your passage to the greater story of the Bible, your sermon takes on the variety of a quilt, rather than the monotony of an afghan.
3. Add variety by preaching sermons series from various biblical genres
This is the easiest way to add variety to your sermons. Simply rotate through the various genres in Scripture, rather than sticking to the one or two that you feel most comfortable with.
You even can do this with single books of the Bible, which often contain several genres. For example, Exodus contains narrative, poetry, law, and blueprints. The Gospel of Matthew contains genealogy, narrative, didactic, parables, and apocalyptic. Genesis, Isaiah, Daniel, 2 Thessalonians, and Revelation—to name a few—each contain multiple genres. Preach through one of those books and you will be guaranteed sermon variety for months.
Next step: become a double threat, two-tool preacher
If you’ve been preaching the same way for a while, it may seem overwhelming to add all this variety at once. I’m not advocating that. Take it one step at a time.
What genre have you most rarely preached on? Which of the four uses of Scripture do most rarely exhibit in your preaching? Consider just taking those on for now. In time, you can add the others, while not venturing too far from your preaching strengths.
As you broaden your repertoire, don’t feel like you have to reinvent your preaching style. Even if you ease into varying your sermons, it will be better than not trying to add variety at all.
Eric McKiddie serves as Pastor for Gospel Community at the Chapel Hill Bible Church He helps pastors grow as well-rounded ministers of the gospel at his blog, Pastoralized, and through sermon coaching. Follow him on Twitter: @ericmckiddie.