Holiday Preaching – Something I’m Losing Interest In

I am finding that I am preaching fewer and fewer “holiday” sermons as the years wear on. I will preach a few Christmas-themed messages in December (it’s foundational to the gospel story of Good Friday and Easter). I preach on Good Friday and Easter on the appropriate themes (which are pretty common for me the rest of the year as well). The Sunday before Turkey Day is likely to be Thanksgiving themed. But that is about it for me now. Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. The rest of the year I tend to give a brief homage to the particular holiday and then move on to whatever expositional series I am in currently in.

There was a time in my ministry when I preached Mother’s Day and Father’s Day messages every year, often a Memorial Day or July 4th message, a Graduate Sunday message, a New Year’s day message, and of course, my Arbor Day messages are famous in my previous churches, as are my St. Patrick’s Day stem-winders. I just don’t do it anymore. There are a number of reasons for this.

1) I find preaching a series frustrating when there are so many interruptions. I take a Thanksgiving/Christmas break from my series and a short break around Easter, but try to keep the series going the rest of the year.

2) After nearly 35 years as a preacher, finding something fresh, non-cliche, biblical and spiritually effective gets hard.

3) I had a feeling that on holidays I was preaching to people’s expectations, more than I was delivering God’s word to the people. If God has led me to a series in the Farewell Discourse (where I am preaching now) why would I preach a holiday sermon just because people expect it?

4) Christmas and Easter, though grossly commercialized, are celebrations of biblical events. Thanksgiving is truly a biblical value, even if the holiday is not rooted in a biblical story. But the rest of the holidays are national or secular. I love my Mother but there is no biblical mandate to devote my sermon to telling women how wonderful they are or men (on Father’s Day) about how bad they’ve messed up.

I just find myself more and more drawn to just continue the series I am preaching. We will often take a moment in the service to recognize the holiday, but move on toward worshiping Christ and preaching the Word.

While I’m Offending….

A friend asked a question the other day (can’t remember if it was here or on Facebook). “When is the last time you heard a sermon on sexual abuse of women?” I can answer that. In the last 35 years, I have preached exactly ZERO sermons on the topic. “How many sermons on abortion have you preached, Dave?” Same number. Nada. How many sermons have I preached on homosexuality? Zip. Zilch.

I have addressed each of these topics forcefully as I preached the scriptures expositionally, but since I do not preach topical messages as a rule, I never do a sermon on Obamacare, taxes, sexuality or any of a million topics. Again, I have talked about abortion, just never preached a January “Abortion Week” sermon on it. I’ve discussed homosexuality, but never had a sermon entitled, “The Gay Agenda.”

I preach the Bible (as best I can) not topics. Perhaps that is why I prefer not to preach holiday topics. If you preach all the holiday topics, follow the “topic of the week” calendar of Southern Baptists and the Christian world in general, you will be left with about 4 weeks a year to preach on a topic of your choice. That just ain’t for me. I finished John 13 last week. This week, it’s John 14:1.

Anyway, have I annoyed and offended enough people? My work is done here. Time to move on.

Comments

  1. Dave Miller says

    FYI, anyone who tries to turn this into a foodfight on patriotic sermons on July 4 will be banished to Yuma from May through September and Duluth the rest of the year.

  2. Mike Bergman says

    I hear Yuma, Colorado, has nice weather those months! I just save my holiday preaching for Boxing Day.

  3. says

    Go, Dave. I’ve pretty much done what you have over the years. It’s amazing how all those topics get treated if you just act like the Word really IS alive and “will accomplish the purpose whereunto I send it.” I had a visiting lady, a total stranger, get saved one time when the subject in my text was sanctification….never said a word that I can remember about how to get saved, but somehow the Holy Spirit caused her to hear the words of life…..Book by book, chapter by chapter, line by line, even word by word. As a dear black friend of mine, now with the Lord, used to say: “It’s ALL good!”

  4. Dean Stewart says

    I would guess most preachers make this transition you have made. I remember when I first began a preaching schedule. I did it just like Dr. Joe Cothen laid out in “Equipped for the Good Work.” It was amazing that at least 2 sermons a quarter were mandated by the calender. As scheduling sermons by the quarter gave way to total exposition I was comfortable with preaching through the books and characters of the Bible and ignoring the American holiday calendar. My guess is that people would be confused if you are a topical preacher and chose not to preach on the topic of mothers on Mother’s Day. When you are going verse by verse through a book, I am convinced, people are not offended or confused if you stick to the book.

    Dave, I am finishing the book of Judges this Wed. night. Chapter 19 requires we deal with sexual abuse of a woman as the Levite’s concubine was gang raped to death. I preached through the Judges on Sunday mornings until I finished with Samson. I then moved the study to Wed. night to deal with the difficult nature of chapters 17-21, especially 19.

    • Dave Miller says

      You hit on a good point. If the topic is of biblical import, it will be either directly or indirectly applicable when expositing the Word.

    • Bart Barber says

      Dean, I just finished earlier this year a series through Judges. Preaching that story was difficult, but rewarding.

      • Dean Stewart says

        Bart, I agree that those final chapters have been rewarding. Many resources on Judges deal only with the Judges and skip the final chapters of the book. The group on Wed night that have heard these messages seem to have thouroughly enjoyed them. From Micah’s idols to the concubine being abused and Benjamin’s subsequent two victories over the children of Israel the story is riveting and the truths rich.

  5. John Wylie says

    I no longer preach 4th of July messages, I never preached either veteran day of memorial day messages. I don’t preach Ground Hog day either there just too many days that distract from the main work of preaching. I do preach Easter, Thanksgiving and a serious during Christmas season but that is it, because these holidays actually focus on Christ and His gospel.

  6. Johnathon says

    A bit of good advice I was given years ago. “Preach it because God put it in the Bible, not because Hallmark put it on a card.” Good admonition for both platitudes and the holiday calendar. If there is a logical connection between the scripture I’m preaching and the holiday then I will reference it but I have learned not to make it my sermon focus.

  7. Mike Bergman says

    Granted I don’t have much of a hairline, but as long as I’m still the youngest pastor in my association and youngest guy in my classes, I think I still qualify! (folds arms, turns head… harrumph!)

  8. says

    What we need is a significant memorial or emphasis for every Sunday of the year then they can ALL be topical. Oh wait… I think they did that for about 1000 years.
    Anybody got a good Maundy Thursday message?

  9. Joel Hunt says

    While I agree with the reasoning behind the OP, it’s interesting to note that the number of statements to this same effect are on the rise, and I’m not sure if it’s because more people are becoming determined to put Christ first in their daily practice (to include preaching), or because they are feeling that America has abandoned them, so the patriotic/theological allegiance is waning…

    Now – take a poll to see how many SB churches still have the American flag in their sanctuary. I’ll bet it’s quite a few.

    • Dave Miller says

      It’s not just patriotic sermons, Joel. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc as well. For me, it has nothing to do with America’s moral travails. Or little anyway.

  10. Bruce McGovern says

    >> I love my Mother but there is no biblical mandate to devote my sermon to telling women how wonderful they are or men (on Father’s Day) about how bad they’ve messed up.

    Just for kicks, a revolutionary suggestion. Someone; anyone; try giving a sermon on Father’s Day not attacking all fathers on the one day a year dedicated to them for the conduct of a minority, but actually merely thanking the millions of fathers who aren’t messing up.

  11. Adam Blosser says

    I do not feel bound by the calendar. I have only been preaching every week for about a year and a half now. I did not preach a Christmas sermon last year for every Sunday in advent, only the last couple of Sundays. We acknowledge Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and honor the mothers and fathers during the service, but I am in 1 Corinthians right now and just kept preaching through that. I did make specific application to mothers and fathers in both sermons, but that was not the focus of my message. I will pray for our nation during our pastoral prayer today, but we won’t be saying the pledge of allegiance or singing the national anthem. I won’t be preaching a sermon about how we need to take back America for Christ. Instead, I will be preaching 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and challenging us to, unlike the church at Corinth, submit ourselves to a biblical sexual ethic in a decaying culture. I will call us to commit ourselves to the discipline of ourselves and biblical church discipline.

    As far as expectations, it is the preacher’s responsibility to train his people in a sense. Thankfully, the pastor who preceded me here preached through books and our people now expect that. Some may be disappointed when I don’t preach a Mother’s Day sermon, but they are not surprised and rarely complain.

    With all of that being said, if I were going to a church that expected me to preach a Mother’s Day sermon, I would likely acquiesce for the sake of the gospel until I could slowly remove that expectation. I find it interesting that so few are willing to contextualize here in the States when few of us would say that contextualization is unnecessary overseas. If you will lose your people because you did not preach a Mother’s Day sermon, PREACH A MOTHER’S DAY SERMON!

  12. Chris Johnson says

    Dave, or anyone else…. Why did preaching on topics or holidays become popular? I don’t think seminaries have a class on preaching that way, do they?

  13. says

    I try to acknowledge holidays, but we’ve recently made a change in our order of service that lets me kind of slide past preaching the holiday.

    We’ve added a designated time of prayer–a couple of minutes of near-quiet (in a church with kids in it, silence doesn’t happen) prayer. In the introduction, I will take something either current and relevant (persecuted church issues, disasters) or calendar-based (Mother’s Day and all its baggage: longing to be mothers, losing mothers, lousy mothers, great mothers, whatever…; Memorial Day/Veteran’s Day; the SBC and praying for strange religious leaders :) ) and ask folks to pray especially for something connected to that situation. That goes along with praying for the things we are always praying for: the lost, the ill, governing authorities, pastor, church, etc…

    We then take those couple of minutes and pray in our ways. We then say the Lord’s Prayer together and continue with the service. We started printing the Lord’s Prayer in the bulletin to solve the debts/trespasses issue :)

    • says

      All that to say–then I preach based on where we are going through Scripture, either the whole Bible (this year, in a year, but never again, probably) or book-by-book.

      This year, we’re reading through the Bible so I’m preaching from the previous week’s readings. 80% of the church will have read the passage and most of the context the week before.

  14. Mike Bergman says

    I’ve been doing a sermon on the mount series, and continued on today–Matt 6:5-15, prayer… I did tie the holiday into the “kingdom come” line in two ways: 1) the better freedom we have in Christ, and 2) that it’s good to celebrate different holidays like we do, but as much as the Bible talks about celebrating salvation in Christ, we need to be less “serious” in some aspects of our religion and quit letting the world have better parties than the celebration we do for joy in Christ… The prodigal’s dad did kill the fatted calf and invite all the neighbors over, after all! :)

  15. says

    I’m expositional as well. In James on Sunday mornings and Hosea in the nightime services right now. Handle it about the same as you. A few around Christmas and Easter. I usually go topical on Mother’s Day but it’s an evangelistic message as a lot of lost kiddies who haven’t been in church for a year will be there. Reference topics when scripture applies, can’t think of a better guide for preaching. If you preach through the bible, you’ll hit on every thing you need to. And it’s amazing how those things come up at just the right time

  16. says

    I’d stick with the series on most holidays. It reminds me of sermons using the three-year lectionary. Since the lectionary is based on the church year, virtually every Sunday is a holiday after a sorts. I’ve noticed that expository preaching is for more in depth and convicting than jumping around on some holiday schedule imposed on the calendar.

    For Easter or a special Christmas service, it’s expected to preach to the occasion by the C&E crowd. However, many of those need the gospel. So I would supplement a current series with a tangential message from a complimentary passage aimed at bringing the series to bear on the event with a clear presentation of the gospel. As long as your preaching is “gospel-centered” anyway, it’s easy to do: The DNA of the gospel is in every passage, so latch onto it and extract it exegetically.

  17. Andy says

    Since I’m up late, I’ll throw in a different take on the primacy of preaching through books.

    Has anyone read this description from Brad Bigney about why he preaches topically instead of expositionally? I think his points are very valid, at least on the positive side. He is probably a bit too hard on those who do preach expositionally, but at the very least, I’m convinced that Topical Preaching & Expositional preaching are both good, and can both be abused.

    Link here: http://graceky.org/about-us/beliefs/our-beliefs/why-doesnt-brad-preach-verse-by-verse-through-books-of-the-bible/

    • William Thornton says

      This deserves its own topic, though it is related. Who was it that decided that expository preaching was good and topical was less good or bad?

      I agree with Dave Miller here on secular holiday preaching. How many syrupy sermons can a guy preach on Mother’s Day…and do you really want to preach the Goddess of Liberty rather than Jesus on Independance Day?

      A good series on a particular topic is very effective and no less Biblical. When I hear a guy boast he only preaches expositionally, I suspect that he conjures up an absurd alliterative outline and then rides off on his hobby horse no matter what the text and proudly labels it ‘expository.’

      • says

        William,

        I’m wondering if definitions are being muddled on this topic, or at least not clear. And this is not particularly aimed at you, but your question prompted me.

        “Who was it that decided that expository preaching was good and topical was less good or bad?”

        Maybe it would be best to distinguish expository preaching (of a given passage) from the lectio continuo method of expository preaching. See, I actually think one can preach expositional sermons whether he is preaching consecutively thru books chapter after chapter of bouncing around topically (I prefer the former but I see where the latter is also useful at times and seasons.

        But I think when many people are asked or do actually think about expositional preaching, they are comparing verse by verse thru books of the bible with topical week by week preaching when in reality both can (and I think should) be expositional.

        Expositional has more to do with how a preacher approaches and uses and preaches from the text passage. What many of us detest is the preacher who announces his topic (title), reads the text and never or hardly interacts with the text after that. That is a horrible approach to preaching.

        Just my thoughts.

      • says

        Also, the reason I prefer the verse by verse, chapter after chapter approach for most of the time is it does help prevent the hobby horse sermons and forces the preacher to deal with the whole counsel of God. He can’t avoid the difficult passages.

  18. cbscott says

    “When I hear a guy boast he only preaches expositionally, I suspect that he conjures up an absurd alliterative outline and then rides off on his hobby horse no matter what the text and proudly labels it ‘expository.”

    William Thorton, it should be recognized that a guy who would “boast” of his preaching and “proudly” labels it “expository” has not given much time to reading that of which he claims to be preaching in an expository manner.

    That being said, it is my opinion that the lack of true exposition from the pulpits of Southern Baptist churches has made us biblically and doctrinally anemic as a whole.

    In regard to “hobby horse” preaching; True expository preaching builds a strong hedge around the preacher’s preparation to keep him from straying into hobby horse land.

    • William Thornton says

      Had to take a family member to the airport this AM and caught an Adrian on radio preaching (gasp!) a thoroughly topical sermon on love from 1 John. It lacked any hobby horses but did have a typical Adrianological alliterative outline. It was excellent.

      Everyone touts expository preaching but not many do much of it.

      • John Wylie says

        Given the fact that all of Dr. Roger’s points were taken from his primary text in 1 John 2 and all of his cross references were brought to bear to bring light to his text in 1 John 2, I would submit that the sermon you referred to as “thoroughly topical” was in fact expository.

        I think Les is right, there appears to be a disagreement on what an expository sermon is.

      • Les Prouty says

        John, right. Even when Dr. Rogers was doing a topical series I think it’s a safe bet that his sermon each time was expository. William is right that expository preaching probably deserves it’s own post.

    • Chris Johnson says

      I’ve not taken any preaching courses at any of the SBC seminaries. What is modeled in those classes…. or is anything used as a model?

  19. says

    How many Expository, Verse By Verse, Sermons do you find in the Bible?

    I am for Expository Preaching.
    I am also for Topical Preaching.
    If the sermon is biblical, based on the inerrant Word of God, and interesting, I’m for it.
    I would agree, however, that it is best if the majority of our preaching is Expository Preaching.
    David R. Brumbelow

  20. Norm (AKA bapticus hereticus) says

    Special days need not be the driver of sermons nor is it necessary to ignore them, either. Linkages between special days and biblical themes are many, thus the latter is available to inform the former, thus making the special day a means to a particular end, assuming the day is considered at all.

    All work and no play makes Jack and his friends a pretty dull bunch? That is, all expository, all topical, all you name it all the time (or even most of the time), is, well, boring. How about a multitude of sermon types (e.g., expository, topical, etc.) with various deliveries (e.g., script, memory, extemporaneous) throughout the year? Preaching and listening is often too predictable, thus over-worked habits of mind may actually be attenuating the potential effectiveness of the thing said and the thing heard, thus, perhaps, the thing learned and the life lived?

    Here and there and everywhere, jump in and jump out, is not suggested, but neither is a mind-numbing 10* week and even more mind-numbing multi-month or annual preaching series. Expository is the key to growth and depth and without it (or it all or most of the time) we are going south and our people will then be biblically and spiritually malnourished? Show me the evidence, but please don’t provide anecdotal stories, even multiple anecdotal stories, for the plural of anecdotal is not data. However, expository is good. Very good. Excellent. And so are other types of sermons, too. Expository “is the key” might actually be, notwithstanding one’s efficacy with it, “that is all I know and can do and am expected to do because … it just is.” There is likely a good bit of circular reasoning behind the support for this type of preaching, especially when used to minimize the significance of other sermon types.

    *Cognitive psychology instructs that complexity is more manageable, thus more deeply processed, when material is presented in (and transfer strategies that are deployed using) “chunks” that do not generally exceed five. The focus and strategies for processing chunks of information greater than five are very time consuming, and when considering the magnitude of what is retained, the increased effort typically leads to an insignificant increase. I have observed expository series in Romans in which multiple, multiple Sundays were in Romans … 1. Gad, would someone please preach something in Chronicles before we proceed to chapters 2 through … eventually, eventually, I promise some day …16.

  21. John Fariss says

    I agree with you, Dave. Especially your point #3, “I had a feeling that on holidays I was preaching to people’s expectations, more than I was delivering God’s word to the people. If God has led me to a series in the Farewell Discourse (where I am preaching now) why would I preach a holiday sermon just because people expect it?” I used to faithfully give Mother’s Day/Father’s Day/Memorial Day/Veteran’s Day/July 4/etc. messages, but I was never comfortable with them, and have quit. Now I consider the Christmas/Advent and Easter seasons to be different so I do preach more “holiday” (or rather Holy Day) oriented messages then, but not on secular holidays. We do give then some recognition in the worship service–an oral acknowledgment, perhaps a song–but the sermon is as the Spirit leads me. I have gotten a few complaints about it, but I have explained that I preach as I feel led, and the Holy Spirit has not so led me. I’ll let the chips fall as they may from the congregation, but I am comfortable with where God has led me.

    John

  22. Tarheel says

    I wasn’t aware that preaching a series on a given topic and preaching expositionly were mutually exclusive concepts.

    • says

      Tarheel,
      There is some overlap in that the message of a primary passage has a topic and even good expository preaching often references related passages. However, there is topical preaching such that there isn’t a source verse for the sermon, but rather an unreferenced topic that is being addressed. A good preacher will have a wealth of scripture to back up what he is saying about the topic, but I’ve heard sermons where little to no scripture is referenced and what is referenced isn’t exegeted. As a practice, when I have occasion to preach, I usually preach expositorily (there have been exceptions). I typically leave the topical for teaching.

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