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Young preachers have their work cut out for them.They sense a call to preach. They may go to school or sit with their pastor to learn some basics about preaching. Many scholars and pastors write books on the subject.
But the only way to really learn how to preach is to, well, preach. Even so, young preachers would do well to have a paradigm from which they work to approach their sermons. This will help not only them, but their listeners that they so want to see know and grow in Christ.
Invest in study and prayer.
We will see a verse in which the apostle Peter told the congregation in Jerusalem that the apostles would “devote ourselves to prayer and ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Preachers of the Word must spend time investing in prayer and the study of the Word long before they spend time investing in the preached Word. The truth is, for many who choose to be expositors of the Word (a definition I’ll explain momentarily), a thirty-minute sermon can take 5-10 hours to prepare in coming before the Lord and His Word.
The apostle Peter mentioned prayer first, and for good reason. Preaching is a supernatural act! We are not simply dumping information, we are praying for transformation through what God has said. A.J. Gordon noted:
Our generation is rapidly losing its grip upon the supernatural; and as a consequence, the pulpit is rapidly dropping to the level of the platform. And this decline is due, more than anything else, to ignoring the Holy Spirit as the supreme inspirer of preaching. We would rather see a great orator in the pulpit, forgetting that the least expounder of the Word, when filled with the Spirit, is greater than he.
While some look at the power of preaching coming from a certain type of personality, a certain twist of a phrase, being a stand-up comic that intersperses Scripture in from time to time, or other human-driven motives and methods, preaching is a supernatural act that needs bathing in prayer. D.L. Moody got it right:
I’d rather be able to pray than be a great preacher; Jesus never taught his disciples how to preach, but he did teach them how to pray.
Intention. Preaching needs a plan. What is your intention with your sermon? This involves much prayer and study of the text at hand. If you preach expositionally, you will certain have the parameters of the text from which to proceed. But given that the Spirit has inspired the Word, you must engage in persistent prayer and study of the passage. Cull your sermon down to one main point or intention. Even if you use multiple points, they should all feed the main intention.
Inform. Yes, preaching is about information. You are passing along propositional truths. Grammatically, these are known as indicatives—truths and objective facts of what God has revealed in His Word. “Christ has died, and has risen, and will come again” is an example. This speaks to what has been done.
Be careful not to bring every last thing you’ve culled in your study. You risk being a fire hose on your unsuspecting people. They point is not to show how much information you know, but the goal is transformation by the Word and the Spirit (Romans 12:1-2).
Inspire. This brings passion to the propositions! This gives heat to the light of God’s Word. To preach God’s Word without the corresponding passion will not inspire. The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14 says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” (NIV). That inner drive, that inner compulsion, that inner desire to rally the troops! This must be present—without it, it will land flat. And there’s no reason this should ever happen. It’s the Word! Preach!!
Illustrate. Preachers must connect biblical truth to present-day situations. Illustrations aren’t selling out, as if the Word is not sufficient! It is—and we must illustrate how the Word is brought to bear to the culture today. Spurgeon brings his usual insight:
In addressing my students in the College long ago, I was urging upon them the duty and necessity of using plenty of illustrations in their preaching, that they might be both interesting and instructive. I reminded them that the Saviour had many likes in his discourses. He said, over and over again, “The kingdom of heaven is LIKE”; “The kingdom of heaven is LIKE.” “Without a parable spake he not unto them.” The common people heard him gladly, because he was full of emblem and simile. A sermon without illustrations is like a room without windows. One student remarked that the difficulty was to get illustrations in any great abundance. “Yes”, I said, “if you do not wake up, but go through the world asleep, you cannot see illustrations; but if your minds were thoroughly aroused, and yet you could see nothing else in the world but a single tallow candle, you might find enough illustrations in that luminary to last you for six months.”
Illustrations bring light onto the truth being preached. You do not want to leave your people in the dark, do you?
Infuse. I use this word as a way to infuse the power of the Word by the Spirit into the lives of the believers through application. It’s the ‘so-what’ factor. “OK, you’re telling me this today—so what?” Again, this is not taking over for the Holy Spirit. Whereas the ‘inform’ aspect is about the indicatives, the ‘infuse’ part deals with the ‘imperatives’—the commands. “Walk worthy of the gospel.” The Ten Commandments. “Go, and do likewise.” These commands are infused via the information and illustrations given. You then inspire through the Spirit’s work in your heart concerning what God has revealed in Scripture.
Yes, young preachers have their work cut out for them—but if you have this paradigm before you, it will make the sermon easier on you—and your dear listeners.
Thoughts? Do you remember your first sermon? How have you changed from then until now?
I’m grateful to all of you who have visited this blog. I have moved now to http://www.drmattperry.com and am pouring my writing about preaching, pastoring, and productivity. The site is called Lead With Joy. May God help all church leaders do just that. Stop by, read up, and let’s sharpen each other for the gospel cause.
The day is coming. One of the two ‘big days’ of the year for worship services in general, and preachers specifically. One of those days is right around the corner: Christmas. Usually, two services around this time really matter during Christmas time are the service the Sunday before Christmas, and the Christmas Eve Service. I include the Christmas Eve service because in my 20+ years of ministry and almost 12 years as the preaching pastor of local churches, I’m always amazed at how well Christmas Eve services are attended. People who come to these many times do not come to a regular worship gathering. So preachers should prepare as well for the Christmas Eve service Sunday-before-Christmas service.
As expositors, what do we do?
First, resist the temptation to discard or disregard or discount exposition in your sermons. Our conviction is to preach the whole counsel of God and bring out the Book. We believe that God intends for His Word to be shown and searched. That should not change.
However, second, concision would suit the occasion better. While the background of the Magi would be an interesting foray into biblical history, this may not time. While flexing the lexical muscles of your Greek and Hebrew prowess may impress on other Sundays, refrain on this one.
Thirdly, be conside and be clear. Roll out the main point (or the Big Idea, for all you Haddon Robinson fans), and stay tethered to it for the duration of the sermon. Get to it. Clearly. Repeatedly. Make it pass the 3 AM test, where you could call your listeners up at 3:00 AM the following week and ask them what the point of the sermon was, and they could answer!
Fourthly, be Christian. ‘Be gooder, do better’ sermons need to go the way of the do-do. Preach about not what your listeners should do, but drive home what Christ has done. Don’t pour on more law, but slather your sermon in God’s mercy and grace. Do we avoid the sticky subject of sin? No, for Christ came to save His people from just such a thing (Matthew 1:21). But by him coming is the epitome of his mercy and grace put into action, culminating at the bloody cross and the empty tomb.
Fifthly, encourage them to come, and keep coming. The church is the Bride of Christ, the body of Christ, the pillar and ground of the truth, and puts on display the manifold wisdom of God. This is a great place to be, a place where sinners can come to be with other sinners who have been rescued by Christ. Help them to take that next step in their journey with Christ. And ultimately, you want them to repent of their sins and come to Christ.
Sixthly, once they come, encourage them to connect. Christ has set up his church and various local kingdom outposts for us to join and be accountable. Through baptism, membership, connecting in a small group, connecting with another fellow member of the church for discipleship and accountability as well will provide that connection so many in our world long for, and the church provides in Christ.
Seventh, encourage them to contribute. Everyone wants to belong to something and Someone bigger than themselves. As they connect, they grow and mature to the next step of leadership and contributing to the work as ambassadors of the Kingdom. Again, help them to take that next step.
What else would you suggest as an expositor over Christmas?
Preaching is not simply a Sunday morning event. By that, I am NOT speaking of having more preaching events on Saturday nights, etc. And by this, I do not mean to deemphasize the declaritive method and mode of preaching. Preaching is not a conversation, but Proclamation.
What I mean is that preaching from the pulpit must translate into a passion in the pew. We must take what we’ve learned while listening to preaching of the gospel, and take that message to our friends, relatives, Associates, and neighbors.
For the pastor, preaching must also translate from the pulpit to personal conversations that take place Monday through Saturday. What I mean is that preaching must not be the only time that pastors and preachers share the gospel. We will not be let off the hook if little happens in evangelism during the week. The evangelistic fervor the pastor has during the week will fuel the Sunday preaching. Along with this, The Sunday preaching of the Word of God will fuel our evangelistic fervor the following week. Just as we believe as pastors that the Word of God can and does change hearts by the Spirit during the preaching event, we also realize that the Word of God can change hearts during our evangelistic and counselling endeavors. It’s a duel fuel.
You’ve heard of writer’s block, right? The blank page just stares back at him–and nothing. The ideas have dried up. Inspiration and motivation have taken a vacation.
Do preachers ever get preacher’s block? Sadly, they do. They look at the Scriptures from which they are to preach, and nothing comes. Few things are more frightening or discouraging. Even expositors, who know from which book and passage they shall preach, have those holy and inspired words look back at them and sense little movement, little excitement, little… anything! What should a preacher do? I’ll list off a few things.
First, take a spiritual inventory of your personal relationship with Christ. Are you still communing with him in prayer and study of Scripture even if it’s not directly tied to your sermon? Are you only in the Scriptures because you are compensated for doing so? Jesus is not simply your job–He’s your Lord and Savior. It’s good to take a spiritual inventory to (1) see if you are in Christ, and (2) evaluate your relationship and your engaging in the spiritual disciplines.
Two, once you’ve prayed, get away from distractions. For the preacher and pastor, this may mean getting away from the office or getting out of the house. “The office? That’s where all my books and commentaries are.” And… your point? Go to a coffee shop, find a quiet spot, and clear your mind. I go up to a local eatery called Corner Bakery here in town. Other times, I find a small hidden room in the church. Once a year, I check into a hotel for a couple days, leave the TV off, and just decompress. I’m thankful for our Colorado Baptists that have a camp in Monument called Ponderosa. Pastors can take a night or two free of charge to get away, either by themselves or with their family. You may have some places like this near where you live. Ask around. You’d be surprised. And your congregation would be grateful.
Thirdly, read meaty works on the subject or the passage from which you preach. Tread lightly here. You could find yourself standing behind the pulpit, preaching Edwards or Spurgeon or Keller or Piper or Warren. Some do go so far as to preach other people’s sermons, salving their conscience a bit by giving full attribution. Fellow pastors, they called you as their pastor to feed the sheep. We already have an Edwards, Spurgeon, Keller, Piper, or Warren. Go and drink from the fountain of the Spirit, but recognize that the Spirit has given us theological and pastoral giants on whose shoulders we may stand. They may shake out the scales from your homiletical eyes.
Fourthly, ask yourself if you’re trying to be too creative or clever. Are you taking the Word and its power for granted? Are you saying to yourself, “Yes, I know the Word is there, but if I just had that zinger, that one-liner, that illustration, then this sermon would have power!” While illustrations and the like are, as Spurgeon said, like windows that shed light on the Scripture, the true power lies in the Word, which will accomplish all that God seeks it to accomplish” (Isaiah 55:11-12). Maybe you need to back off your cleverness and get back to the pure preaching of the Word.
Lastly, talk to another pastor about this. He may be on staff with you, he may be a fellow pastor in the area, he may be a mentor from days gone by. God has given us friends who have journeyed this path as well. You’re not alone. Pray together with them. Share with them. Ask their advice about a passage. Or talk about something completely unrelated. You can overthink yourself into a corner.
What are some things you’ve done to break the preacher’s block?
I confess, I preach from a Samsung Galaxy Tab, so I may be jumping fences here in sending this article forward, but Tim Challies has some excellent tips on preaching from an iPad.
I started preaching from my Galaxy Tab about six months ago and truly love it. It’s environmentally sound (because I don’t have to print off my sermon on paper, using precious wood and ink unnecessarily), and I don’t have to worry about misplacing my notes—they are all there.
Just heed the tips Mr. Challies gives! Hint: You don’t want your SportsCenter app to go off in the middle of your sermon. You can find out how the Bengals did after the service.
I’d love your thoughts on the matter.
Steve Lawson gives ten characteristics of Calvin’s preaching that we expositors would do well to emulate. You can read more about this in his book John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology .