Limiting Reactive Preaching

Should preachers preach sermons that speak to the reality of what is happening in the world?  YES!  Absolutely.  We should and need to preach about things that happen in the world and to give a Christian view of them.  We need to speak to the reality of evil after 9/11 or Sandy Hook.  We need to share where God is during and after natural disasters.  We need to preach the Biblical reality of what it means to love your neighbor and take care of the least of these.

I have been wondering recently, should or shouldn’t we use reactionary preaching in small doses?  Karl Barth is famous for saying, “We should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”  (for younger readers a newspaper were the blogs of the 10th & 20th century)  However, which should influence which?

I am not suggesting that when we rewrite our sermons on Saturday night because of the events of that day we are neglecting the Bible and God’s teachings. We need to do that but the more I think about it the more we need to do it occasionally.

2017, so far, has seemed jam packed with emotions, frustrations, and panic on the political front. It seems every morning I wake up and watch the news to find something that boils divine anger within me.  I am now curious what the new normal is.  What situations or events demand Saturday night rewrites and which don’t?

My fear is that focusing on reactive preaching can turn preachers into hypocrites.  What we are telling people in our pews is that the current President’s policies demand sermon rewrites whereas the last one didn’t.  For example, how many preachers on Oct. 18, 2015, preached a sermon that discussed the fact that 90% of President Obama’s drone attacks killed innocent people (reported by the Washington Post).  Why was this not sermon rewriting worthy and the Presidential refugee ban was?  Aren’t both examples of questionable abuses of Presidental power?  You don’t have to stretch your brain too far to start to see the preacher’s political leanings.  And once that view is uncovered, can someone still reach a congregation full of people with differing views?

If we preach the message of God’s salvation found in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, we will go against the culture.  The gospel message is counter-cultural and dangerous.  It will speak against the evils of this world naturally.

Therefore, I am hesitant, rewriting sermons to speak to the current events of that week.  There has to be a good mix or else the prophetic voice will only yell to deaf ears and whispers of “here we go again.”

I find the pastoral prayer can handle a lot and is a great place to speak to God and the congregation about current events.  How often do you do rewrites to include current events?  Do you speak to them in different ways, outside the sermon?

3 thoughts on “Limiting Reactive Preaching

  1. Jim, this is an excellent essay, except for one thing. When you say “reactionary preaching,” I think immediately of a political definition, that is, actions or policies that seek to impose restrictive controls on public life. Is “reactionary preaching” a seminary term? Would “reactive preaching” be the same thing? I’d like to pick up this post for UM Insight, but I’m wondering how well the word “reactionary” will communicate. Thanks for hearing me out.


    1. I made up the term and I haven’t heard it anywhere. Seeing the definition of “reactionary” though I do see your point. That is not what I was intending and “reactive” is much better. Thanks for the insights and an edit is in the works.


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