I have spent most of my life in church. I’ve heard countless sermons and participated in various Bible studies, and I faithfully attended Vacation Bible Schools and summer camps growing up. The older I get, the more I notice that most sermons and Bible study lessons aren’t original. Instead, preachers and teachers rehash old lessons, like a chef recreating a dish from his childhood—he might tweak the recipe, but he doesn’t stray too far.
That’s fine! Everybody loves a good, familiar recipe. Moreover, we as preachers aren’t meant to reinvent and recreate the good news of salvation in Jesus; that message is always both timeless and timely, delicious all-year-round.
The problem isn’t the lack of creativity. It’s the recipes from which we work.
I constantly struggle to feed the church I serve—to feed my own soul—because I keep pulling out the wrong recipes. I have sat under preachers and Bible study leaders who have left me feeling malnourished. If you’ve spent any time in a church, then I know you have too.
This is where many preachers and teachers will rail against the shallow, meatless preaching of pastors in other churches, chiding them for their lack of Scripture and their faithlessness to the gospel message, imploring them to preach deeper sermons and teach more meaningful small group lessons. They’re right. But that’s not the problem I’m writing about.
The problem with many of our sermons and Bible studies isn’t that they’re vegetarian—it’s that we’ve made the wrong ingredients the star of the dish.
So many of our sermons and Bible study lessons focus on what we need to do—how we need to change. We highlight our sins and our bad behaviors. We challenge each other to live better lives. We make people feel bad for their faults and give them a checklist for improvement. They leave our services and Bible studies with an aftertaste of legalism and judgment.
But that isn’t the recipe found in Scripture. We focus on individual ingredients, such as sin and righteousness, and miss the bigger picture. We take a delicious recipe for cookies and serve a bowl of flour and chocolate chips! They’re important parts of the recipe, but our sermons and Bible studies aren’t complete if all we have done is tell people to clean themselves up and try harder next time.
The star of the show in Scripture is Jesus. Every element of the recipe revolves around him. Every text leaves its reader with a greater sense of God’s power, wisdom, love, holiness, and righteousness, and he displays those characteristics most completely in the glorious message of the gospel. The Bible is about God’s plan of redemption for the world—redemption he accomplishes through Jesus.
We may have grown up on sermons and Bible studies that focused on things to avoid and behaviors to emulate, and applying the gospel to our lives is an important part of our sermons and Bible study lessons. But it’s time to throw bad recipes away. When someone walks away from a sermon or a Bible study thinking more highly of Jesus, that’s when we’ll know we served a wonderful dish.