Given free choice, my children would eat nothing but ice cream. There is rarely a time they don’t fancy ice cream and, given the option, they would eat it for every meal of the day. In fact, they love it so much that if my daughter hears the words ‘ice cream’ or ‘pudding’, she immediately decides she has finished her main meal because she wants her pudding now.
As parents, we are conscious that giving them pudding for every meal is not going to do them any good at all. Children need a balanced diet. They need different kinds of food to build them up, they need protein and carbohydrate to fill them up and vegetables to give them good nutrients. Of course, a nice pudding does no harm, it is enjoyable. But a non-stop diet of exclusively cake and ice cream, whilst it might taste good, won’t build you up or fill you up and will cause you to develop some fairly severe health problems.
The same is entirely true for the teaching programmes of our church. The regular diet of expository, systematic Bible teaching is like your meat and potatoes main meal. It will fill you up, it is good for you and it will build you up. I am convinced that the best diet for our churches is one that majors on teaching the scriptures faithfully, book-by-book and allowing the Lord to set the agenda for your church.
Often, however, we face calls from our congregations to give them the equivalent of pudding for every meal. This can take the form of insistence on more thematic preaching (often focusing on the particular pet theological concept the person asking wants to hear more about). Otherwise, you may have folk determine that we need more interaction or more razzamatazz. In particularly pointed cases, you may be asked to ditch the sermon altogether. I remember hearing one man suggest, as the Spirit leads of course, that some weeks we might just ditch the sermon altogether and just sing songs.
Now, none of those things are bad for you in the sense that cancer is bad for you. Cancer is only ever damaging. The things suggested above are not bad things in and of themselves. Thematic teaching can be helpful, interaction can be useful, singing can be beneficial. The problem isn’t the thing, it’s the suggestion of what we do with those things and how frequently we are to do them that are the problem. It is like having ice cream for every meal. There’s nothing wrong with ice cream – it’s tasty and it’s good to enjoy nice food – it’s just no good if you’ve decided it’s a staple food that forms the basis of every meal you ever eat.
Don’t mishear me. If you preach a thematic series here and there, there’s nothing wrong with that. It has certainly got its place and can benefit your people. But if that’s your main mode of preaching, you’re probably giving folk nothing but pudding. There’s nothing wrong with singing – it’s good in its right place – but if you’re favouring that over regular preaching, you’re basically giving your children cheesecake for dinner and suggesting the kind of food that will fill you up and do you any good is entirely optional.
If you wouldn’t just give your kids cheesecake and ice cream for every meal, why would we give them the theological equivalent from our pulpits? We need to make sure our people have a healthy, balanced, Biblical diet. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of ice cream, let’s just make sure we don’t make it the main thing we give our people.