The popular cook book and Netflix series “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” explores key elements in developing flavorful dishes.
Rather than mass producing fast food lacking in nourishment, a skilled and experienced chef focuses on crafting meals which are an experience unto themselves. In the same way, pulpit ministry ought not be filled with pre-wrapped outlines and stale, predictable elements intended to tickle ears. Qualified men rightly dividing Scripture should deliver quality sermons which showcase the meaning and significance of the text, present an edifying experience for the congregation, and bring glory to God.
The first element of flavorful cooking is salt. By now many of us are all too familiar with the purposes of salt in New Testament times. In addition to seasoning and enhancing flavors, it was used as a preservative. Pastor, exposition in preaching is like using salt: it should preserve the meaning of the text, and enhance the flavor of the sermon as a whole. Your linguistic and historical details should not be the entire sermon, just like you should not taste only salt when eating a meal. Certain people have different flavor preferences, so certainly salt your sermons to taste with exposition, but your exposition should not be the only element used. Rather, your congregation should understand the flavor of the passage more clearly. Avoid salting with details just because you think you should put them in. Make sure the amount of seasoning you use complements and enhances the overall flavor of the meal rather than overpowering the point of the text.
The second element of flavorful cooking is fat. Fat brings a filling richness to a meal which would otherwise be bland and dry. In preaching, fat is illustration and humor which anchors the truth in a more palatable way. A lean steak is usually tougher and drier, and it isn’t always enjoyable. Having a steak that is mostly fat with a few scraps of meat attached is also not appetizing. But an evenly marbled ribeye contains wonderful flavor and is easy to sink your teeth into. Pastor, make sure you include just the right amount of humor and illustrations to make your sermons enjoyable. Do not cut all of the fat out of your preaching and make it dry; keep a joke or two, and do not shy away from relevant stories. On the other hand, do not build your preaching on illustrations and jokes alone; your sermons should provide nourishment and truth to your congregation, not just empty calories and cheap entertainment. Do not let your audience choke on the fat or spit out the meal because of it; rather, let it be a flavor enhancer that serves to enrich the meal and allow them to enjoy it.
The third element of flavorful cooking is acid, which breaks down and tenderizes food, and introduces a sharpness to the palate. In preaching, acid is anticipating and rebutting any opposition to your points within your sermon. Knowing your congregation well will help you understand what they will wrestle with, and what excuses they may find to disregard the Spirit’s leading. Pastor, be wise in using acidic elements, but do put them to good use in tenderizing your congregation’s hearts and gaining their attention. Every sermon should not be smooth, buttery, and sweet to your congregation; you must use your time in the pulpit to motivate to action and provoke a response. Let your rhetorical questions and boldness lead your congregation to sit up and take notice of the sharp, bright flavor as it complements the other aspects of your sermons.
The fourth element of flavorful cooking is heat, which seals in flavor and transforms food chemically. It can be low and slow, like smoking a brisket to develop full flavor, or it can be fast and high as in searing a steak. Heat in preaching is vocal inflection and passion. You do not use the same temperature to cook everything. There are times when preaching Lamentations or psalms of lament when you want a somber, smoky, lower heat to seal in the smoky flavor of the text. But when preaching the resurrection of Christ or the fiery rebuke in the last few chapters of Job, your voice ought to be loud and bright to convey the joy and the fiery passion in the text. Pastor, use the voice God has given you to proclaim his truth clearly and with good flavor. Learn to vary your tone, volume, inflection, and passion in your preaching such that you seal in the flavor and texture of the sermon and deliver an expertly cooked meal to your congregation.
A Word on Sugar
I inherited my grandmother’s sweet tooth, and thought it curious that sugar was downplayed as an influential flavor in cooking. But I find that to be an appropriate bridge to preaching as well. Sugar is popular. Iced cinnamon rolls and chocolate brownies are graces from God. My wife even uses a bit of sugar in her chili. But sugar is not nutritious; it is empty calories. Pastor, feed your sheep. Steer clear of the dessert tray filled with cheap carbs when you are laboring in the text. Do not let your congregation develop a sweet tooth, and do not give in to their demands that you entertain them or tickle their ears. Face down your own insecurities and simply preach the Word. They need truth grounded in Scripture, not movie quotes and pop culture references. Be relevant and accessible, but do not produce sugary hype that only stirs up emotion and does not speak to the motivations of the heart.
Finally, the elements of flavorful cooking will vary depending on the type of dish or meal. They are not of equal importance, so you must use wisdom in applying them in your context and with your gifts. Your preaching will grow and mature, just like a chef’s skills in the kitchen, so do not expect to master the art quickly or easily. Pastor, remain anchored to the text, prepare the meal, and dedicate yourself to feeding Jesus’ sheep with the Word of God for their good, and for his glory.