Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 23, 1958

Profitable And Unprofitable Preaching

Harold Hazelip, Louisville, Ky.

People are constantly telling preachers how to preach; I suppose nothing is more astonishing than to study for 4 to 10 years to prepare to preach, to believe that 10 or more years of experience should add something to one's preaching, and then to be constantly told how to preach by some one who has never given the matter five minutes serious reflection. There is much to learn — no preacher is worth much who has stopped learning; but most criticism is aimed, not at what one has learned about the art of preaching, but at the basic content of the preaching, and this was determined 1900 years ago.

There are basically two types of preaching; one may desire one of these while needing the other!

Unprofitable Preaching

Unprofitable preaching may be classified; one type is preaching to please the congregation. Sound preaching may please a devoted congregation, but preaching should not be done for the purpose of pleasing a congregation. Men sometimes think they want this kind of preaching, and, "having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts." (2 Tim. 4:3). One does not always desire corrective treatment but his condition may demand it.

Another type of unprofitable preaching is speculative preaching. Speculation about events proposed for the far east in an Utopian millennial age produced a faction breaking away into a sect from among churches of Christ a generation ago. Speculation about methods of teaching (or not teaching) the Bible to different age groups now trouble some Kentucky congregations. Speculation is dangerous!

Apologizing preaching is unprofitable. A heart is pricked by the Word of God, and while the decision is being made to obey, the hearer is apologetically informed that the speaker really did not mean what he said. The "forgive me for saying it" approach is not the apostolic approach.

Preaching in general is unprofitable preaching. The hearer is exhorted to make specific application of generalizations he has heard because, it is hoped he will not get angry with himself. Bro. Keeble used to warn that straight preaching doesn't always get the job done — for some fellows are hiding around the corners. The application must be made for many men would never recognize a refutation of a doctrine their religious group teaches — they have not been taught!

Abusive preaching is unprofitable preaching. While we have heard a lot more about this kind of preaching than we have actually heard, it is true that even though a man is right, he should be thankful rather than proud. However, we are convinced that some men's feelings are on edge — they seek points to criticize when they hear plain preaching. Preachers can call the name of the error or of the person whose conduct is being censured, and yet not be abusive. We believe our Lord's heart was running over with love when He called the very men He was willing to die for a group of "hypocrites . . . children of hell . . . serpents . . . vipers." (Matt. 23:15,33). Just before He preached the most scathing sermon I have ever read, He wept over the very people He later condemned with loud crying, such as the pain of the cross did not even elicit from Him. (Matt. 23; Lk. 19:41).

Profitable Preaching

Following Paul's outline in 2 Tim. 3:16-17, we note four types of profitable preaching. Doctrinal preaching is profitable! Denominational groups are waning from a lack of meat — they do not teach doctrine. The Methodist Church, while claiming broadmindedness, is recording a net loss in membership each year in our state. Billy Graham is the notable example of avoiding doctrinal preaching today. Shall we measure his work by his Louisville crusade? The expense to Louisville people was over $100,000 in four weeks; we have the reports from men who worked in the crusade that the largest number of members received from the crusade by any church in the city was 12; the second largest number was 5 (names of churches on request). Preaching that avoids doctrinal issues is not Gospel preaching.

Reproving preaching is profitable; the word Paul used for this means "a proof," especially for the purpose of "refutation" of a false statement or argument.

Corrective preaching he next alludes to (2 Tim. 3:16); the word, used only here in the New Testament, means "setting a person or thing straight, revisal, improvement, amendment." It may refer to opinions, morals or one's way of life — when either needs correction.

Instructive preaching is profitable — if it instructs "in righteousness." Preaching from which man learns something of God's will is profitable; we, like Paul, do not intend to just "beat the air." (I Cor. 9:26). Deathbed fables and cemetery myths may entertain, or even thrill one; but they do not add to one's understanding of the Gospel, nor do they save his soul. Preaching is teaching!

Cultivate an appreciation of sensible, Scriptural preaching. You may be wrong about a number of things; had you not rather be told about them now than on the Judgment day? The preacher has an order: "Preach the Word!" You have a command: "Take heed how you hear!"