Howell warns against 'rush to relevancy' in preaching

FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Students were challenged to rely on the sufficiency of God’s Word and to guard against a “rush to relevancy” in preaching during the annual Northcutt Lectures on Preaching, Aug. 30-31. Mark Howell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Fla., delivered three lectures over the two days as he sought to dispel common myths about preaching and pastoral ministry.
 
Howell’s first message came during a seminary chapel service, where he encouraged students to embrace the suffering, sacrifice and discernment demanded from pastoral ministry. Preaching from Luke 12, Howell warned future pastors to beware of treating ministry with an earthly perspective.
 
“Earthly perspective will paralyze your ministry,” Howell said. He explained that an earthly perspective will influence where one chooses to serve in ministry as well as what one will and will not say in the pulpit, thus affecting the effectiveness of the ministry. Pointing to Luke 12, he challenged students to be prepared to give up their self-determined dreams for the future, unhealthy habits and hobbies, and prejudices and bitterness.
 
In his second lecture, Howell discussed “What You’ll Never Hear in Seminary About Preaching.” Admittedly, Howell said, the title was somewhat tongue-in-cheek because “you have heard most of what I’m going to say in your classrooms, … but the real issue is have you paid attention to what you’ve heard?” Howell went on to offer encouraging advice to students to remember as they serve in ministry.
 
While ministry is not always easy and finding time to study will be an ongoing challenge, Howell told students, “God’s Word is sufficient even when you are not.” With regard to the sufficiency of Scripture in preaching, Howell said pastors must guard against a “rush for relevance.”
 
“You concentrate on the depth of your walk with God, and let God take care of the breadth of your work for Him,” Howell said, adding that when things go wrong, the pastor must stay faithful.
 
Howell said preaching is not only about what is said in the sermon but also how it is said.
 
“What you say is more important than how you say it, but how you say it has never been more important,” Howell said. “When it comes to preaching, … you may be able to exegete the Scriptures and pull together truths and weave together illustrations, and you may be able to do all those things extraordinarily well, and you may believe in the message you preach, and you may be passionate about what you say, but if you don’t come across as believable … and you are not a person who can be trusted, then they’re not going to hear a thing about what you say.”
 
Howell concluded the lecture with an encouragement to students to remember that people are not the enemy and that the pastor must make his family a priority.
 
In his final lecture, Howell addressed the “Myth of Relevant Preaching.”
 
“It is not our responsibility as preachers to make the Bible relevant,” Howell said, “The Bible is already relevant. It is our responsibility as preachers to show people how relevant the Bible really is.
 
“To say that my goal in preaching is to proclaim relevant sermons is a myth. My job as a preacher is not to preach relevant sermons; my job as a preacher is to proclaim a relevant Bible and to show people how relevant the Bible is for every facet of life.”
 
Howell then offered advice on how to show people that the Bible is relevant for today, including seeking God’s help and anchoring one’s preaching in the text. He encouraged pastors to take time to plan the sermon “from intro to invitation.”
 
Additionally, Howell said pastors must apply the passage to their specific congregation by analyzing how different people of all ages and backgrounds in the church should receive and respond to the sermon.
 
To listen to audio of the lectures, visit www.swbts.edu/mediaresources under “Lecture Series.”

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