“This isn’t a ‘preacher story.’ This really happened!”
It may be the punchline of an old joke, but it’s still enough to make many of us cringe because it strikes so close to home.
There’s something wrong when a “ministerial estimate” refers to a wildly-inflated figure, and a “preacher story” is short for exaggeration or falsehood.
You’ve read the news reports about the newly-developed military vehicle that is having its problems. Although millions of dollars have been spent to create a vehicle that can carry troops on land and across rivers, it seems that the vehicle often won’t float (to put it bluntly, it sinks), and when it doesn’t sink it often can’t climb up the river bank on the other side. On the field of battle, such a weapon could be more dangerous than helpful.
One of the strongest weapons in the preacher’s aresenal is integrity. Yet integrity is also one of the most fragile possessions we have; when abused, there is real danger for the preacher. It takes very little — especially in these days of televangelist scandals and manipulative fund-raising techniques — to shatter a preacher’s credibility in the eyes of a congregation. Once lost, credibility is not easily regained.
There are several ways in which we can easily bring our integrity into question before a congregation. One is claiming as personal experience stories that are not truly our own. Pity the traveling salesman who goes from pew to pew in different churches, only to hear the same illustration begun with the words, “Just the other day, I was ….”
Far better to properly credit an illustration, or at least to tell it in the third person, than to claim an experience as our own which never really happened to us. Even if no one catches us in the act, we would do well to remember Chuck Swindoll’s phrase, “Integrity is what we are when nobody’s looking.”
We also call our integrity into question when we “lift” a fellow minister’s sermon and preach it — virtually verbatim — to an unsuspecting congregation which is led to believe it is our own work.
One popular preacher (who serves on our Board of Contributing Editors) mails manuscripts of his sermons to a list of appreciative readers around the country. A friend recently reported to me that he had heard another preacher — one with a national television audience — preach one of this colleague’s printed sermons nearly intact. If he wasn’t giving his brother credit, the least he could have done was pay a royalty!
Still another way we can abuse our credibility is failure to retain what James S. Stewart calls “exegetical honesty.” He refers to sermons which take a portion of Scripture as a text and then flagrantly violate the original intention of the writer, making the Bible appear to say something it simply does not say. While some members of a congregation may blindly accept any interpretation we fling at them, others will quickly see through the masquerade — and begin to question other utterances from our pulpits.
As Stewart urges in Heralds of God, it is best to “allow the Scripture to speak its own message. Build your sermons on a solid foundation of accurate exegesis. Be honest with the Word of God!”
And honest with those who come to us to hear that Word proclaimed.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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