- Insights on Preaching and Teaching
Insights on Preaching and Teaching
“Nice sermon, Pastor. Say, did you hear Charles Stanley on television this morning?” -Haddon Robinson
1. Listen to God First realize that hearing from God precludes ever being the same again. Sin keeps us from hearing God-it must be unpacked like a load of dirty laundry. Consider pride (insecurity), bitterness, envy, competitiveness. Pray to see God’s glory. Seek counsel from trusted advisors. Obey. Listen. 1. God speaks in my innermost spirit. Satan and I speak in my soul or human mind. Hebrews 4:12, quiet my mind and allow the Word of God to divide between soul and spirit. As I listen for God to speak deep within, I try to discern whether what I hear emanates from my soul (my mind) or from my inner human spirit. 2. God tends to speak with gentle leadings. When God spoke to Elijah, He was not in the swirling wind, the violent earthquake, or the raging fire. When all was still, God spoke with a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11–13). God seldom pushes and drives and demands like an aggressive, assertive used-car salesman. The Word of God is open to reason. 3. God’s voice produces freedom. In Matthew 11:30, Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” “If I am not careful, I can feel frustrated by biting off more ministry than God intends for me to chew.” “Satan loves to put people into bondage; God loves to set them free.” 4. God tends to speak when I am seeking him. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:12–13.) 5. When God is speaking, there is a sense that everything is under control. “When self and Satan speak, there is an inner sense that something is out of control.” 6. God gives specific directions. “God is not the author of confusion.” Satan and self, however, often communicate in confused, uncertain wonderings. But when God speaks, there is no doubt about what to do.” 7. God convicts of specific sins. John 16:8 teaches that the Holy Spirit “will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” “My experience is that when God convicts of sin, his voice is quite specific: Yesterday at two p.m. you did this. I know exactly what I did and when I did it”. ”Satan and self, on the other hand, often accuse in broad generalities, leaving me with an unfocused sense of haunting guilt…” 8. God speaks with 100 percent truth that can be tested by the Word of God. 9. God’s voice always leads to a deep, abiding sense of peace. I believe that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).
2. Preach to Convince: Prepare: Don’t be a preacher who speaks from inside a little Christian box. Get out into the congregation and the community and ask, who is my audience (age, sex, background, prejudices)? What are their questions (thoughts, feelings, struggles, pains, needs)? Which of those questions shall I address this time? What is God’s answer to this question? Answer for them-Why should I listen to you? Can I trust you? Do you care for me? Do you know what you are talking about? Move towards application and to the people saying Ahaa! Most good sermons that fail, fail because they didn’t match the audience. Make sure the text is appropriate for the setting. Before opening the Bible, first ask, “What is the focus of this group?” Teach truths appropriate to the group. Plan ahead what the appropriate response for this group should be. Illustrate: When choosing or writing illustrations ask, what is my purpose or goal for this point? What do I want to do with an illustration? (Clarify a point, show a real-life application, convict of sin, inspire and move to action, convince someone of truth, make a “truth” memorable.) Good illustrations: don’t waste time getting into the story, get in and get out, clearly let the people know what you’re illustrating, don’t overshadow the point. Be excited about the illustration. Make sure it’s believable and true. Make sure people will identify with the illustration. Be sure of the facts. Be visual. Hook the congregation at the beginning with a good illustration, start with a spark. Impose a time of silence after the illustration, don’t be impatient, the pause is important, let the words sink in “deep in the listeners’ hearts…” Apply: Finally, the end of the sermon should illustrate how to “pull off” what the preaching was preaching on. Finish by building a bridge from the information to the application. Ask, “what response does the text demand and how can I best move the people toward that response?”
3. When preaching a parable, note that there is one main point per character. The characters are all symbolic of something spiritual-they stand for something. Many have a boss or king and two other characters. There is often a point of turning or a reversal in the parable. Many have three main points. Try to build the three main points into one Big Idea. All parables are about Jesus’ idea of the Kingdom of God. Parables are intended to conceal as well as reveal a truth. If the parable is in more than one gospel, find something in the text you chose that is different then the other gospels and point to that. A parable often will be divisible into three sermons-one for each main point. Consider telling the story from the point of one of the characters. For “one-point” parables, be sure to study the context to understand what that one point really is. Stewardship is the single most frequent theme of the parables.
4. It is critical to establish authority and at the same time to acknowledge being a fellow struggler. Communicate intimately. Don’t be preachy. If I’m not taken seriously, perhaps I’m taking myself too seriously. I should take my call very seriously. In sermons try to use earthy language, no euphemisms. Be contrarian, shake people up, “If you think you shouldn’t say it, you probably should.” “People fail in their obedience not because we make the gospel too good but because we don’t make it good enough.” “We want to “meddle” [in the lives of others] but without self-righteousness. We want to build up the congregation, not condemn it. We want to speak the truth but do so in love.” Know yourself and your own issues and then know your congregation as well. Let the Bible do the talking. “Just because grace is first and last doesn’t mean we don’t frankly deal with sin.” • Place yourself in their pews. • Identify recriminating guilt. • Speak of gracious repentance. Although apologies are in order, often people have to live with spiritual scars. Calling to repentance doesn’t mean calling people to straighten out every wrong they’ve committed. “Repentance means agreeing with God about who he is, who you are…” “The paradox of grace is that we are closer to holiness if we trust God’s mercy than if we try to be perfectly holy.” • Start with milk. Many people are miserable, we’ve got to accept them where they are, take the pressure off. • Let some people off the hook. Sometimes you have to make it clear that you are not, in fact, singling someone out. Move from judgment to love.
5. Use journalistic techniques in a sermon. Instead of telling people “what” they need to know, tell them how it feels, how it is, how it was, how they might feel, what it would be like if that thing you want them to know were really true. Proclaim the familiar in an unfamiliar way, use incongruity, things that are amazing or startling. Use generative thinking, freewheeling thinking, mind mapping, then pick what is useful from the tree. Ask questions like: How should this text affect the way my listeners live tomorrow? What are the word pictures in the text, how can I use them as running scenery in the text? Who will benefit from the truths in this text? What principles does this text teach? How have I experienced the truth of this text? What are the truth tensions related to this text? What is the purpose of my sermon? What is the cause, the nature, the effect? How do I define the key words or ideas? How does this compare and contrast with related subjects? What does this text call us to do, say, think or stop doing? What is the good news of this text? How would skeptics object to this verse and how can I answer them? What emotions are touched by this text? Have there been any stories in the news that relate to this subject lately? What key doctrines does this text teach? What assumptions of our culture does this text challenge?
Talk about the text with other people, do significant pondering-Big Ideas come from the subconscious. Do Five stage preparation: 1. Study Scripture, 2.develop skeleton sermon, 3. write the introduction and conclusion, 4. write the body, 5. evaluate, edit, fill in the gaps and spice up the sermon. Use true stories that are very specific and detailed, about people, which have emotional impact, and logical appeal.
6. Narrative is one of the dynamics of the “new homiletic.” It seeks to create an experience rather than create a cohesive argument from information. The trick is to create community by helping the people suspend their belief and join with you. You can say “Let me tell you a story…” or “Suppose…”. We try to get the audience to identify with the story so that they make personal connections and say, “that’s like me!” or “now I understand why…”. The congregation wants to know not only what happens next but what this is all leading up to. What it is supposed to mean. When the story ends, the listener returns to space and time but has been changed. They are now part of this community as well. Note that post-modern listeners are suspicious of stories that presume knowledge of authority but the preacher must persist in the story of salvation knowing that the audience cannot be controlled or manipulated.
7. Stories speak to people who might not be able to listen to sermon. Don’t just add a story at the end or add an illustration to a three point sermon; instead, develop your three points into a story. Don’t memorize a story, learn it, and then tell it. Memorize only the first few lines and the last few lines. Create the mood for your story in the beginning Slow down and drop your voice as you get to the end of a story. Envision how a Bible story would feel with present day feelings and concerns. Let the Bible characters walk in your shoes. Know the story from the point of view of at least one of the characters on the scene. Establish the once central theme or point of the story. Add a memory hook, either subtle or blatant. Try telling a story within a story. Write the story before you do research or add background. Cut out any extraneous information. Use deep silence to gauge whether people are listening. Think of nervousness when you speak as a gift. It will prompt you to prepare better, activate your senses, and give you a surge of energy. Push it down into the platform and bring your emotions into the center of your body. Speak with confidence. Never apologize for or explain your story.
After a musical or play that has been particularly moving, instead of saying a few inane words or an unrelated devotional, try telling a story. Keep with the theme of the message of the music or play and tell a story that acts as a frame around the centerpiece of the picture created by the event. Don’t say, “My, wasn’t that moving.” Don’t comment on the performance instead enhance or complete it.
8. The Ten Commandments for Preachers
“I, the Lord your God, who saved you by grace alone in Christ,
call and empower you to preach this good news to my people.”
Preach no other gospel
Do not use the Lord’s name to justify your cause
Remember to rest in God
Require the doing of justice. Do not dispense cheap grace.
Do not kill the spirit by moralizing
Be faithful to your promise
Do not steal someone else’s witness
Tell the whole truth
Do not covet a favorable response from the people
Do not desire another preacher’s gift of success
9. How much content is enough? It is important to distinguish between exegesis and exposition. Exegesis is getting the meaning from the text. Leave it out of the sermon. Greek and Hebrew are seldom appropriate on Sunday morning. The congregation needs to know they can understand everything you could right from their own Bibles next week. Don’t talk like a religious expert or a seminary professor. Putting commentary tidbits into a sermon is good for Bible study and classroom, but on Sunday morning they are distracting. If you want, you can save that stuff for a small group discussion on Sunday night. Or, you can use what you’ve learned in study to amplify the passage as you read it to the congregation prior to preaching. A sermon is about life. It is about application. It is not a lecture on archaeology or sociology. Answer the question, “so what”? Let them know what they can do now when faced with a situation. Let them see what God is like and how they can stand before him right now. Leave behind the “we” in favor of the “you” when you get down to the application.
10. Application: “Application moves beyond explaining the text and stating the timeless truths. It makes the message personal and challenges people to act.” 1.The listener must receive the message: Do I understand what was said? 2.The person should find reason to reflect on his or her own life: What does the message mean for me? 3. The individual needs to identify necessary behavior changes: What should I do about it? 4.The person should lay out a plan or steps to make a change: What should I do first
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