If your subject is controversial and your heart is in your throat, it’s going to be hard to get your message out. Here are ten ways to prepare your sermon that can really help.
- Avoid shock-jocking. Some preachers use controversial topics as an opportunity to use language and humor that’s over the line. I think you risk alienating people who may be offended and decide not to listen to you. Avoid shocking people just to get their attention. If you’re taking a biblical approach to a sensitive cultural issue, it will be offensive on its own. You don’t have to make it offensive.
- Be thoroughly biblical. If you are giving your opinion because the Bible doesn’t explicitly address something, be clear that this is what you’re doing. Otherwise, point to Scripture and not to your own ideas about the problem. This puts the focus on the text itself. When people take exception with your arguments, you should be able to point to Scripture as your source. If they disagree with you, you have to be able to show them that they need to grapple with God’s Word.
- Understand objections from those within the church. If you preach on a controversial topic that may not be explicitly spelled out in Scripture, people may see it from different angles. You may have people within your church who will say, “Whoa, this goes against my tradition. This goes against my preference.” You’ve got to anticipate those objections and show that you’re addressing the issue biblically, even if it challenges tradition or preference.
- Let others be part of your sermon prep. Always share your material with others while you’re preparing. I never prepare my messages alone. I have a team of people who read what I’ve got and make sure that I’m seeing the topic from a lot of different perspectives besides my own. Otherwise, my perspective becomes limited and people start to realize, “He keeps talking to the same people.” I want to connect with as many different kinds of people as possible, especially on a controversial topic. I want to ask people, “Hey, when I say this, how does that sit with you? What do you think? How could I communicate this in a way that I don’t lose you?”
A pastor of a small church can do this by reaching out to people in your church, lay leaders you trust and who believe in the vision of the church, or friends or ministry colleagues. You can say, “I would like to share my content with you and get your feedback.” Maybe you’ll meet for coffee early in the morning before work. Or maybe it’s occasional or once a month.
Everybody’s busy, so make sure you’re asking only for things you really need. But if you make it simple for people, it’s amazing what’ll happen when you invite people into this mysterious world of sermon prep. I think people are very eager to be a part of it.
It’s amazing what’ll happen when you invite people into this mysterious world of sermon prep.
- Be well informed on cultural issues. The more sensitive or controversial the topic, the more your listeners will have their own understanding of it. You need to be on top of the issue. If your data and your conclusions are even six months out of date, it will make you look uninformed and harm your credibility. If your goal is to get your listeners to view the issue from a biblical perspective, you need to demonstrate that you understand it from a cultural perspective. Speak into the culture with an understanding of the world in which your listeners live.
- Be confident. Don’t be nervous. If you hesitate and tiptoe around a sensitive issue, it will put your people on edge and cause them to question how confidently you hold your position. It will make them think twice about adopting your views themselves. This matters if you want to change minds and influence hearts.
- Be humble. In your confidence, you never want to appear arrogant. Approach the topic with humility and respect for those who disagree, for those who are hurting, for those who aren’t there yet, for those whose life circumstances make it difficult for them to hear what you’re saying. Preaching is supernatural work. God has to move in the hearts of your people for life change to occur, and I think He does this through humble servants. So be confident in God’s truth and God’s Spirit, but humble in yourself and your abilities.
- Consider a forum for questions and answers. Some issues always raise more questions. You want to show your listeners that you’re not afraid of questions. You may not know the answer to each one, but you can demonstrate that you care what’s on their minds, what’s on their hearts, what they’re wrestling with. And that you’re willing to dialogue with them.
- Be real and authentic. Some things in Scripture are difficult to teach on, but in order to be faithful, you must preach the whole counsel of the Word of God. It can be helpful to say, “I understand how hard this is, because it’s hard for me. But this is what the Word of God says and I love you enough to tell you, because God wants our best.” We present truth with grace and love, just as Jesus did.
- Pray. The most important step. Pray while you prepare. Pray before you preach. Pray during the sermon. Get others to pray for you. None of the other things will do much good when preaching on controversial topics without an active dependence on God through prayer.
To hear more from Lane Sebring about this topic, see Preaching on a Sensitive Topic? How to Avoid Being Insensitive.