Practical Preaching Or Kingdom Preaching?

Photo : Bresson Thomas

Many call for practical sermons. I have made the same call on occasion. However, the term “practical sermons” means different things to different people. For example, some preachers use the term to mean sermons that give people life skills to help them live in this world. These sermons would address such important things as becoming a better employee or entrepreneur. Other sermons might be how to overcome racism and sexism to break through the glass ceiling that “the enemy” wants to use to block you from your God given destiny of prosperity, health, and wealth (certainly you have read enough of my work to know I have great problems with such a presentation…but I digress…).

Practical Sermon Drawbacks
A few months ago, I remember a sermon that illustrates this mindset clearly. The preacher took the life or Joseph and distilled 4 or 5 principles that would help the hearer to become a better employee and thus get the next promotion. I forget the title, but the point was to follow the steps of Joseph to become a better employee.

Certainly, if you apply the principles of this very practical sermon you will no doubt be better equipped to move ahead in your job. Certainly, there is a time to learn how to be a good worker or know when it is time to move to another job. But, I seriously question whether the morning sermon during the worship service is the right time or location. On another note, I wonder if the preacher is the right one to give that kind of training in many instances.

Are Spiritual Sermons The Answer?
There are some who would question that kind of sermon by saying that we need to preach “spiritual” things and not “worldly” things. Some would argue that, we need to point people to the heavenly realm. I like the emphasis on the spiritual that those who argue along these lines gives, but I think it has a tendency to limit God’s incoming kingdom to a particular realm, namely “spiritual” topics and venues. Often these “spiritual” things can be separate from our daily lives.

This kind of preaching places a disconnect between the way we live during the week and the way we are called to live as Christians. This kind of preaching makes it too easy to be comfortable in political parties when both should offend our prophetic tendencies from time to time. This kind of preaching makes it too easy for us to preach about “turning the other cheek” on Sunday morning but bash in cheeks every other day of the week. It makes it too easy to give grace and forgiveness to the perpetrators of wars based on lies while condemning the two-bit criminal robbing the 7-11. Or vice-versa depending on our political tendencies.

Moving Beyond the Spiritual – Practical Dichotomy
No we are not looking for a practicality that does not confront the status-quo but merely teaches us how to strive to live in it. Neither are we seeking to teach a spirituality that only has relevance to “gettin’ to heaven.”

Yes the practical preaching proponent is right in the desire to allow God’s principles to invade every area of our lives, but the Spiritual preaching proponent is right that the spiritual aspects of the coming kingdom must take center stage in our lives.

So what do we do? We preach God’s kingdom. We preach what it means to live in that Kingdom. We preach the ethical demands on those of us who are citizens in that kingdom. We preach how to become citizens of that kingdom. We preach how to live as ambassadors of that coming kingdom in this world.

Certainly living as a member of God’s Kingdom has relevance to life down here. Being a good citizen of God’s kingdom in many cases means that we will be a good worker at work. It means we will be a good steward of God’s blessings. It does mean that we will do our duty down here. So the practical side will be taken care of. But also the spiritual side will be addressed as this is the fuel that empowers our living.

Great preaching is about living in that coming Kingdom. Let us be true to it and true to our God. Leave the surface self-help messages to the personal development gurus and television preachers. On the other hand, don’t preach a “gettin to heaven” sermon that has no relevance for living in this world. Go head on and preach God’s Coming Kingdom and watch as the gates of hell begin to fall in its face.

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  • Lorraine Jones

    Thank you for this thought provoking article, Dr. Cox. I believe that the practical sermon can have greater impact when it is done in tandem with or as a result an extended series of teachings led by the Pastor or other skilled personnel. A few years ago in the church where I participate, the Servant-leader conducted a 6 week sermon series that coincided with our EEI (Educational Enrichment Institute) series on Spiritual Gifts that was taught by 2 very gifted and dynamic staff persons.

    What it did for me personally, and I believe the congregation as a whole was to enable us to “see” the importance of the spiritual gifts in the 21st century; gain an understanding of their context and use; determining where we were on the spectrum. We actually took a “Spiritual Assesment” Survey and had it evaluated an put in our church member files; and then assessing what we needed to do to nurture, support, and supplement those gifts.

    For some, it became one of the tools that persons used to lovingly (and in some cases “finally”)transition out of “roles” and into real ministry. For others, it was an affirmation of the person’s relevancy and how their lives had changed. For others in our ministry as a whole, it sparked conversations and unveiled the gifts that we believed were “in our midst” but had been lying dormant/under-utilized.

    For our Senior leader, I believe, it “freed him up” to hone in on the spiritual dimension more precisely pointedly because the practical tenets had been dealt with in another context.

    Thank you for provoking us to “think” and then facilitating a forum that enables us to communicate. You are a great gift to the body of Christ!

  • Wendell D.T. Hicks

    This is a great topic because it is relevant to all preachers. I believe, as it seems Rev. Cox does, that balance is important. We can be so “overly spritual” that we forget the person that maybe has not arrived at that level of spirituallity or we can become so focused on social justice or self enrichment that we infude little of Christ.

    I, personally, am more comfortable dealing in the spiritual than the social relm but I fully understand the need to have the social as a part of our consciousness. The point that Rev. Cox made of getting our spitual selves in order will force everything else to fall into place. We have to remember that our call is to preach the gospel and allow God to reform. If we love the Lord with all of our hearts and minds, we have kept the whole law. The same is true for our personal lives, if God is love and we abide in God then we have to abide in love. If we love then we will not offend.

  • Sylvester Warsaw, Jr.

    My brother, Elder Cox,

    Another thought provoking topic. For me personally, Kingdom Preaching, has both because we’re not of this world but we live in this world; therefore, God, has called His children to a higher standard in Christ Jesus. The best of Kingdom preaching teaches us how to live in this world as we are guided by the Holy Spirit living within us. When I read the greatest sermon ever preached The Sermon on The Mount the Kingdom of God suppose to impact the world not the world impacting the Kingdom of God. Jesus teaches us how to live in this world without compromising the Kingdom of Heaven.