Rhetoric And Homiletics: What Is The Greatest Challenge In Preaching?

“I Believe In Preaching,”  “Between Two Worlds, and “The Challenge of Preaching” — are essentially the titles of the same book that was written by John Stott.

Preaching is a CHALLENGE, but as Wiersbe & Wiersbe state . . . .

“We have read and discussed numerous books on preaching, and, we think, benefited from them. We have listened to preachers and have preached a few sermons ourselves. The senior member of this team even dared to teach preaching in the seminary classroom!

Our conclusion is that the multitude of books, seminars, cassettes, lectures, and “preaching helps” gives the impression that preaching must be a complicated and burdensome task. We hope to convince you that, while preaching is not easy, its elements are really quite simple, and the application of them can bring real joy to your heart.” [1]

Preaching is not just about getting the content down and accurate.  In fact, after the invention of the printing press, what a passage teaches ought to be well known and clear.  “Understanding the Scriptures is not rocket science” — literally!  We even believe and teach that God’s people, around the world, can have a Bible placed in their hands and understand what it is teaching!  That’s the whole purpose of Gideon’s International and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

We are not living in a time when preaching meant having to work through a passage of Scripture with few resources, limited educational opportunities, and having heard few others preach and teach the Scriptures.  When the pastor wasn’t seminary educated, far removed from other preachers, sitting on a horse, spending an inordinate amount of time traveling to another location, the challenge was far different from today!

How many more books, seminars, conferences, blogs, audios-videos, podcasts, educational experiences, and commentaries do we need to have had at our disposal — for years — to not already understand what most of the Scriptures are teaching? [2].

The parable of “The Good Samaritan” still teaches that all those around me, who are in need, are my neighbor.  We knew that before reading it, and will arrive at the same “passage argument” after reading and hearing whatever.

We can make “study” time more complex and complicated than it is!  Far too often, some will spend time digging for what was already laying on top of the ground, or for what isn’t there, or for what will be seen as pastorally insightful, or for what we want it to say.

In the overwhelming cases, the challenge in preaching is in communicating the biblical truth or principle of the passage!

Preaching is not just content; it is communication!

It takes work to communicate truths and principles that you well understand to a diverse audience who have come to listen. To make the sermon “the presentation of content” is to miss the fact that communication is an art and science. Oh yes — if you have any experience at speaking, you have already learned some of the art and science of communication — consciously or subconsciously. that is why you have improved over time.

Some have depreciated and thereby devalued the communication aspect of effective preaching.  The ability to effectively and cogently explain and apply what you have worked on in the study takes a lot of work, re-working, limiting, expanding, illustrating, clarifying, cutting, adding, wording, rewording, and sometimes even changing directions.

A different illustration, a new thought as to the application, a personal story that has come to mind, a possible application of a truth, an interesting way to state the point, a helpful turn of a phrase, a different way to begin-end, a better way to say something in a winsome way, et al., are all part of effective communication.

Leave the communication aspect till “Saturday night,” and you will be in the pulpit Sunday morning boring the audience with the details of what you did in the kitchen.  They will miss out on the meal that should have been there for them in the dining room!



1. “The Elements of Preaching.”

2. I am not “commentary adverse,” nor am I against “commentary first.”  Be assured, I understand the admonition to read and study a passage of Scripture yourself before consulting a commentary.  However, well-known and trusted commentators come to the same expository conclusions about what the passage teaches as we do and did.  And when it comes to original languages, even after 6 years of Greek and 3 years of Hebrew, I will trust the best and brightest Greek teachers.

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