The Captain Obvious Of Preaching

I have noticed in the communication field that it is all too easy to succumb to the “Captain Obvious Trap.”

One of the commentators on the Tennis Channel, for example, is notorious for telling viewers that “Wow, Novak Djokovic is really flexible,” or “Man, can John Isner serve,” or “Rafael Nadal puts so much topspin on his forehand” . . . all observations that are, well, obvious.  What we’d like to know is how does Djokovic have such superhuman flexibility, what is it like to return Isner’s serve, or what about Nadal’s grip makes such topspin possible?  Such information would move the commentary from the obvious to the insightful.

Preaching is much the same way.

In fact, I believe that “The Captain Obvious” trap is one of the church’s great sermon killers.

Sermons become obvious when they resort to platitudes like these:

  • God loves you.  (The only way to make that platitude worse is to say “God loves you and I.”  He doesn’t.  He loves you and me.)
  • Serve one another.
  • Be kind.
  • The Church needs more togetherness and more unity.
  • We gotta get more people coming to church.

All those sermonic points are true.  They’re just not very interesting.

See, moving from obvious to insightful doesn’t mean finding new truths.  Lord knows that I am not a fan of that.  We celebrate that we can excavate the old and the unchanging at Good Shepherd.

But moving from obvious to insightful does involve both wordsmithing — a task that takes much time, many failures, and hours of energy — and observation — the ability to notice and articulate what is subtly true and yet painfully ignored in many people’s lives.

Wordsmithing, for example, allows John Mark McMillan to transform the truth of God’s love into a scandalously vivid image in his song   How He Loves: “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss”    I bet your grandmom never used that as an example of God’s love for you.  I’ll also bet you’ll never forget it.  Why?  It’s not obvious, but it is insightful.

Wordsmithing allowed one of the messages in the recent The Light At The Beginning Of The Tunnel series to describe eternity in this most unexpected way:  “Paradise isn’t a place you go.  It’s a Person who comes.”  Because its description of the hereafter was anything but obvious, that particular message generated as much conversation as any one I can remember at Good Shepherd.

Observation allows Andy Stanley to give voice to what most of us might notice but never consider.  Some of his best:

  • Wise people know what they don’t know.
  • We aren’t mistakers. We’re sinners.
  • Good people don’t go to heaven.  Forgiven people do.
  • Nobody expected no body (an Easter sermon).
  • Falling in love is easy.  Staying in love is hard.

Obvious?  Not a one.  Insightful?  Every single time.

Among the truths nestled in Solve are these that I pray move well beyond the obvious and into the insightful:

  • When you admit that your solutions are your problems, God surrounds you with his promises.
  • You only get rid of what you refuse to get used to.
  • Move on what you’re moved by.
  • God sends opposition to grow desperation.
  • Leaving your mark isn’t about what you accomplish.  It’s about who you influence.

You can be part of the first wave of solutionists — people who opt for the insightful over the obvious — by purchasing Solve here.

Together we can leave Captain Obvious on the television screen and bring biblical insight into the pulpit.