Sunday, April 13, 2008

How Not to Preach on Pain and Suffering

If you would like to know how not to preach a sermon on pain and suffering, just follow these simple guidelines:
  1. Make your sermon topical rather than expositional. People already know about pain and suffering. They want something applicable with lots of anecdotes and illustrations. They don't need to hear all the details of what God's Word has to say on the subject, but do feel free to throw in some random verses here and there.

  2. When dealing with such a serious topic, it's always good to break the ice with a joke. Say something like this: "When we ask questions like Why does God allow pain in my life? it really has a lot of similar questions that kind of butt up against it. Questions like Why is there suffering in the world? Questions like Why does God allow evil? Why do they sell hot dogs in packs of eight, but rolls in packs of 10? You know, really big questions that really get at the heart of what we're struggling with." Be sure to pause long enough for laughter.

  3. Maintain a man-centered perspective. (The congregation is made up of mere mortals, after all.) Stress the importance of free will. We aren't robots, so don't let your congregation think for even one second that things like evil and suffering may have been ordained by God. Sure, scripture teaches that our salvation was secured in Christ before the foundation of the world, but that doesn't mean God had everything planned ahead of time. Let's just try to stick to the subject at hand, shall we?

  4. Remember, you're coming at this from a man-centered perspective, so stick to three practical implications. God allows pain in our lives: 1) to grow our faith, 2) to focus our hope, and 3) to propel our love.

  5. Whatever you do, do not -- I repeat, do not -- bring up God's sovereignty or his glory. Once you do that, your sermon ceases to be man-centered, and people will tune out because you are no longer making it about them.

  6. Humor is especially effective at driving your points home. A joke about shooting your neighbor because his dog poops on your lawn, and then going to jail for it, can be a very effective way to convey the point that suffering can sometimes be the result of bad choices that we make. (You know, that whole free will thing.)

  7. This is a sermon, so you will want to mention Christ in there somewhere. Tell the people that Christ suffered and died on the cross to overcome the two biggest problems in our lives: sin and death. If you're delivering this sermon around Easter time, make it relevant by saying something like "That's what Easter is all about." Congregations like that kind of thing.
To hear a sermon that makes great practical use of all these tips, click here.


Stan said...

As I was getting ready for church on Sep. 16, 2001, I was dreading going. I knew what the topic would be -- the events of Sep. 11. Frankly, I'd heard enough. I didn't want to hear more. Then I remembered ... the pastor was preaching through Ephesians. It "just so happened" that this morning would include Eph. 1:11, which, among other things, assures us that God "works all things according to the counsel of His will." Now that was the message I wanted to hear right now.

How was it, then, that the (well-known) pastor of this (well-known) church preaching "expositionally" could entirely miss this absolutely key, basic point at such an essential time? The same way that he could turn Eph. 2 into illustrations on marriage. How could he miss the one thing we needed most to hear? I suspect he already knew the principles you list ...

Anonymous said...

These were all from an actual sermon? Oh, my. (I suppose I should not be surprised.)

James said...

Friends, this is the second time I have read about a topic that might be important to someone who might be and wanting some answers, that the word of God would clearly spoken. But I am mistified why the writers on the subject instead of giving scriptural truth from the word for the problems seem to deliver negative responses of how not to do something, which give the answers in a weird negative way, such as, "If you want to tell some one about a problem, don't do this and never do that, be sure to do this" I find it sarcastic and extremely rude.
Quote God's word clearly, what the word has to say, and let it lay, don't use cute little sayings that make a person wonder just what kind of game you are playing. Speak the Word of God Clearly and to the point. I am refering to the post on "How not to preach on pain and Suffering" What the believer wants to hear is how it is done according to God's word. Enough of the cuteness. I am a believer in the Lord God Almighty and His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and God's sovereign grace.
Please don't misunderstand me, but cuteness in answering God's people is not acceptable.

Lee Shelton said...


I did deal seriously with a related topic in my post "Why Does Evil Exist?" The truth is that there are any number of resources out there helping people deal with pain and suffering. is an excellent one, and someone like John Piper is infinitely more qualified to take on a subject like this than I am.

The point of this post is exactly what I said in the title: "How Not to Preach on Pain and Suffering." It was my initial reaction after having listened to the sermon online. And, yes, I took a more lighthearted approach in this particular case because that's exactly what the pastor did in his sermon. If you listen to it, you will see what I mean.

I'm sorry you didn't appreciate my attempt at sarcasm, but the deeper point I was making is that suffering should be treated seriously. In all fairness, I never tried to make this post out to be more than what it was. If I had tried to promote it as a resource providing biblical answers to the difficult questions people have regarding pain and suffering, then I would agree with everything you said.

John said...

I thought it was a great post, and great advice. Advice not given in Martyn Lloyd-Jones' book on preaching because it would have been a ludicrous idea at the time, but sadly it's needed today.

A follow up to "this week in Calvinism" could be the fact that tomorrow, April 18, (1521) Luther made his "here I stand" speech.

Great blog. I'll come back.

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