Solving Real Problems in Sermons

Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote an article for Harper’s Magazine entitled What’s the Matter with Preaching?. In the article Fosdick, former pastor of the famed Riverside Church in New York, gives his principle for strong sermons. He states:

Any preacher who even with moderate skill is thus helping folks to solve their real problems is functioning. He never will lack an audience..

Solution circle in red with Problem text and pencil on textured paper

Solution circle in red with Problem text and pencil on textured paper

The basic idea is that a preacher should help the people solve a real problem that they are having. He continues:

Every sermon should have for its main business the solving of some problem–a vital, important problem, puzzling minds, burdening consciences, distracting lives–and any sermon which thus does tackle a real problem , throw even a little light on it, and help some individuals practically to find their way through it cannot be altogether uninteresting.

I find much to agree with and and some things to disagree with in these quotes. I agree that preachers must address people exactly where they are. This is a basic rule of communication. However, I do not agree that preaching is mere problem solving. Preaching must remind the people of another kingdom. Preaching must point to possibilities and realities that are even outside of the structures that seem to constrain us. Preaching must remind us of something that is even greater than our problems. That something is that kingdom of God that ultimately places our problems into a larger context.

So yes, address people where they are, but take them to another place to meet the Sovereign of the Universe. And then as our congregants meet that great God, hopefully, they will receive the vision as well as the tools to deal with the problems that this world gives us.



Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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