But have you ever had to listen to a talk that went absolutely nowhere?
Here are 4 sermons - 4 journeys - that are all heading nowhere.
1. The carnival ride
The journey with no destination
There are of course journeys that deliberately have no destination. They take people nowhere. They deliver you back exactly where you started. These are called carnival rides. People willingly pay their money, line up for hours, and take the thrill ride of their life. Lots of fun. Well worth doing.
But the purpose of preaching is not just to give people a good time. Our purpose is to take them to a God-given destination. Otherwise we will fall into the trap that the bible warns us about:
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
2 Timothy 4:3
If entertainment is our goal as bible teachers, then our listeners will end up in the same dire situation as the residents and visitors in ancient Athens:
“All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.”
If you give your bible talk – and you don’t take us to a worthwhile destination - then you’re just taking us all for a ride.
2. The broken-down train
The journey that never starts
There are other journeys that never even leave their starting point. Have you ever been on one of those journeys? You thought you’d get to your destination; you hoped you’d get to your destination, you prayed that you’d get to your destination - but something went wrong. The plane stayed on the tarmac. The train ground to a halt because of a signal failure. The bus driver took a wrong turn. You got a puncture in your bike tyre. Your car died and had to be towed away. It happens to all of us. It is so frustrating when you never reach your destination!
My daughter and I were all signed up for the big trip to Israel. The adventure of a lifetime! The tickets were all booked and paid for, and we dutifully showed up at Heathrow and joined the bmi queue which seemed to stretch somewhere into the next postcode area. An hour or so later, we finally arrived at the cheery check-in girl who announced in a sort of concerned but chirpy voice: “I’m sorry, I can’t allocate you a seat. The flight is overbooked and you’ve been bumped.”
This was a journey where we were going nowhere. We had been promised a destination. We were committed to travelling to that destination. We were eagerly looking forward to that destination. But we weren’t going to get there. Not on bmi. Not that day.
Have you ever had to listen to a sermon like that? A message where the destination was announced, but nobody ever arrived there? Maybe the preacher never made it either. Maybe the speaker knew their bible well; maybe they had all the right information; but whatever else they achieved in their message, nobody arrived at any destination that day. Not with that preacher. Not with that message.
3. The de-railed train
The preacher who gets distracted on a detour
My wife and I once took our two teenage kids on the once-in-a-lifetime-let’s-take-the kids-to-Disneyland trip. After we had safely arrived in Anaheim, we settled down for a week in one of those squillion motels that sits across the road from Disneyland, where we were entirely surrounded by a myriad of other intrepid tourists. Eventually when we had Disneylanded-ourselves-out, we realised that we had a spare day with nothing to do.
“Let’s go to Mexico!” Seemed like a great idea. We had a hire-car at our disposal – it was only a few hours drive away. What could be simpler? A few hours drive – a wonderful day in Tijuana – sample the Mexican hospitality – devour the Mexican food – grab ourselves some Mexican bargains. This trip had “great destination” written all over it.
We set off around 9 am. After we had been driving for around an hour, we knew we had left the city limits well behind. We were travelling on the ‘Interstate’ through some very sparsely populated land, and as we turned the corner, there, rising from out of the desert like a Shangri-La in the wilderness was this gi-normous factory outlet centre. Right there in the middle of nowhere was one of the biggest retail centres we had ever seen!
“Honey, look!” exclaimed my wife. “Factory Outlets! Let’s stop and shop for a while”. I looked at my watch – the day was fairly tightly timetabled – and I replied with a sigh in my voice: “We don’t have time to go shopping today. We’re going to Mexico!”
Noticing the scowl on my wife’s face, I turned to my 16 year old daughter for support. “Carly – we’re going to Mexico, right?” “But dad – it’s a factory outlet!” I knew I could count on my 13 year old son. “Hey Josh – it’ll be really cool to go to Mexico … right?” He looked at me in that wistful way that only 13 year old boys can master. “Dad – it’s factory outlets - and they’ve got Nike and Puma and Adidas and …”
Six hours later, we were still at the Factory Outlet Centre. At four in the afternoon, I reluctantly conceded – “We’ve stayed here too long. We’ll never make it to Mexico today”. I was right on both counts. We had – so we didn’t. We made it home with lots of goodies – lots of new clothes, new shoes, yummy food and futuristic electronic gizmos. But on our journey that had started so well – we were terminally detoured - and we never made it to our destination. Ever.
You’ve heard sermons like that, right? The preacher starts out towards a great destination – makes enormous headway – and then gets distracted by some side issue – some minor point – some theological titillation that fascinates their senses with loads of scriptural temptations – but it is a side-track - a detour – and nobody ever arrives at the magnificent destination that God had clearly laid out in scripture.
4. The empty train
The preacher who neglects to pickup their passengers
Of course, sometimes the bible teacher has a grand old journey. Pulls out of the station full-steam-ahead; drives their shiny new train at breakneck speed; understands the track, knows the signals, checks the stations … indeed does everything imaginable to arrive at the destination with a cheery grin on their face. Safely and promptly. A smooth journey.
Only problem is – nobody got on their train. They never picked up their passengers! They never persuaded anyone to join them for the journey. As they charged out of their departure point with all-guns-blazing, every one of their passengers remained firmly on the platform. They could see no reason to get on that particular train. They never bought into the destination and they never saw any reason to leave the comfort of the departure lounge for the uncertainty of a train journey. As the eager preacher pulled out of the station with eyes only for the destination, every one of their potential passengers remained firmly on the platform waving “Bye, bye preacher – have a nice journey – all by yourself!”
Wouldn't it be brilliant if every time you preach God’s word, you take your listeners on a journey to a life-changing destination that God has revealed in his word?
That's what I'd love to explore with you.
Condensed from "Preach Like a Train Driver"
To pre-order "Preach Like a Train Driver", click this link.
See also the companion book for professional speakers:
"Speak Like a Train Driver" - More info