Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. ~ Acts 20:26, 27
Most presbytery meetings include the examination of some young man for the pastoral ministry. Part of the examination includes the preaching of a sermon before all of the pastors who are present. I remember sitting at my first presbytery meeting. A young man ascended the stairs, entered the pulpit, and began to preach his ordination sermon before a host of seasoned pastors. Obviously nervous, he began his sermon by saying with a shaking voice, “My text this morning is Ephesians 1.” In response, I heard one seasoned Presbyterian pastor say to another in a low whisper, “Surprise, surprise!” and they chuckled.
Young Presbyterian pastors aren’t hard to spot. They carry a Bible in one hand and a Westminster Confession of Faith in the other; dressed in a suit coat, their topic of conversation is usually the doctrine of predestination (I can laugh, because I am one of them). Ephesians 1 is a popular text for young Presbyterians. Sometimes it feels like their only text.
Pastors tend to have theological hobbyhorses. They love the doctrines of grace or six-day creation or baptism, and everyone knows it. You don’t have to spend much time around them to discover their passions. They will tell you, and if you are still listening, they will tell you again. They seemingly find a way in every conversation, sermon, and teaching opportunity to bridge the gap to their topic of choice. Like a circus act that gets old because the pony keeps doing the same trick, the pastor who seems to talk only about one thing can expect people to begin to turn a deaf ear.
Be passionate about your convictions according to Scripture. Don’t shy away from sharing them, but don’t play only one tune on your fiddle. People will stop considering it a tune worth hearing.
Preaching lectio continua expository sermons safeguards the young pastor from this tendency. Lectio continua is the Latin term for “continuous reading.” It boasts a long history in the Christian church and refers to preaching consecutively through one book of the Bible. When finished with that book, the preacher moves on to another. This prevents the pastor from topical preaching, which tends to find its way back to his favorite theological subject.
There are seasons and occasions for a topic sermon series, but these should be less common than they are in most churches today. Even in such a sermon series, the content should be expository; the sermon should flow from the text and not from the pastor’s creativity. Expository lectio continua preaching serves as one of the best safeguards against saddling that old, trusty hobbyhorse with yet another sermon.
It is also important to seek regular feedback about your preaching and teaching ministry. If you have a staff team, meet with them on Monday or Tuesday morning to review the worship service. Ask them to give honest feedback about your sermon, and reflect on it.
Listen to the people of your congregation as well. They will approach you with questions and comments about things they think interest you. They will often pick up on your passions and emphasis on your preaching. This can provide an excellent barometer of the depth and breadth of your preaching, teaching, and leadership in ministry.
It’s not wrong of even harmful to be passionate about one discipline or area of theology or practice. However, it can be wrong and harmful to be too passionate about it – passionate to the point that everyone knows what you are going to say and your entire ministry is shaped by it. Don’t ride that theological hobbyhorse until she is only a beaten-up nag that no one pays any attention to. Give your people “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
This material was excerpted from chapter 37, “Here We Go Again: Theological Hobbyhorses” in The New Pastor’s Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2015). It is used by permission from the publisher.