Pastors are called to preach sermons, not deliver rants. Too often God’s people are subjected to the latter, but it is the former they truly need. This distinction struck me several years ago while co-preaching a conference with several other pastors.
I sensed we were in for a rant when one of the speakers declined a microphone, assuring the sound-booth attendant he would be sufficiently loud without it. When his moment to preach came, he did not disappoint. I was as amazed at his volume as I was disturbed by his handling of the text.
Pastors are called to preach sermons, not deliver rants. What differentiates the two?
Possessing Authority, Not Just Pulling Rank
To be sure, the preacher’s reputation, credentials, self-presentation, and speaking style may add credibility to the man and the message. However, true authority is much deeper—and much more lasting—than these superficialities.
Simply put, a sermon’s authority is derived from Holy Scripture’s authority. The more Scripture is presented, rightly interpreted, and brought to bear on the congregation, the more authority the sermon—and the preacher—will have.
Paul exhorted Titus, “These things (Scripture) speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” In this sense, we should aim to speak as Christ spoke, who, “when he had finished speaking, the crowds were amazed at His teaching: for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”
When we preach with the authority of the text, the sermon arrives with a “Thus Sayeth the Lord” ring to it—resounding with true, biblical authority, which God himself bestows through his inerrant Word.
Conversely, if a sermon does not come with the weight of Scripture behind it, the preacher is merely pulling rank—insisting the crowd obey his message because of the position he holds or the block of wood he is standing behind. If this is the case, the pulpit more resembles a soapbox, and the sermon more a rant.
Having Compassion, Not Just Passion
Once, a witty person described preaching the Bible and teaching the Bible as synonymous tasks, but in preaching you get to yell occasionally. There is a grain of truth to that observation.
Great preaching is usually passionate preaching. There are occasional examples to the contrary, but usually great preachers are impassioned ones. This is fitting and right. If the preacher is not moved by the message, why should the church be?
However, for every ounce of passion in the preacher’s voice, there should be a pound of compassion in his soul. To Timothy, Paul instructed, “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” And that, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition…”
Most poignantly, Peter calls the pastor to, “Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; not lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.”
Preaching is more than cranking up the volume. Yelling at people may help you get an irritation off your chest, but it likely won’t enable you to get it into the hearts of your congregants. Balance passion with compassion.
Having an Object, Not just a Subject
Sermons usually have a subject, but great sermons have an object. Preach to honor the object of the sermon—Christ. For example, do not just preach against the subject of sexual sin. Preach to glorify Christ by showing your church the vileness of sexual sin, but also forgiveness through Christ, and the joy of obediently living for him.
Preachers are not merely called to preach on something but to people. If you’re preaching on something, you just tee up the concern of the week and have at it. If you are preaching to people, you seek to bring God’s Word to bear on them, not just the subject of the day.
Intentionally focusing on Christ in the sermon and viewing the subject of the sermon through that prism, have the added value of personalizing the sermon to the congregation.
Any preacher can rant, and too many preachers do. But God’s men are called to preach. To this end, make sure your sermon is grounded in the authority of Scripture, delivered with compassion as well as passion, and that you point your people beyond a subject, to the object of making their joy complete by glorifying Christ.
 Titus 2:15.
 Matthew 7:27.
 II Timothy 4:2.
 II Timothy 2:24-25.
 I Peter 5:1-4.
*A version of this article first appeared on 1/25/16*