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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 .
As many of you know, today is the 150th anniversary of the delivery of the Gettysburg Address by then President Abraham Lincoln. He was invited to attend the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery give some brief remarks to commemorate the battle that took place just months before (July 1-3, 1863) where almost 30,000 Americans (Union and Confederate) gave their lives for their respective causes. Though Edward Everett, a great orator of the time, served as the keynote speaker and spoke for over two hours, Lincoln’s speech took only ten sentences and landed shy of 300 words, Everett recognized that Lincoln captured the spirit of the times better in two minutes than he did in two hours.
Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
So why speak about this on a blog regarding ex the positional preaching? Simply put, Lincoln engaged in exposition himself. He sought to expose the meaning, not of Bible as we preachers aim to do, but of the Declaration of Independence. He started off, “Four score and seven years ago.” This 87 year marker took the listeners back not to the Constitution’s ratification (1787–only 76 years prior), but to 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Lincoln sought to take the readers ‘ad fontes’–to the source of the nation that declared that all men were “created equal.” This issue did not simply go toward the South, but to also the Northerners who struggled with the ethics and rationale behind the war. Racism was not relegated to the Confederacy. The issue of slavery was left untouched by the Founders and the foundational documents of our nation, but the idea of all men begin created equal had far reaching ramifications.
Expositors take our document (the Bible) and preach not simply to expose the Bible, but to expose the hearts that listen to the Bible. For many, a disconnect exists between His Word and our world–just like the disconnect existed between the Declaration of Independence and the declaration of most citizens living under that document. And it took a Civil War to bring these issues to a head. Did “a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” really come to pass?
Lincoln in his exposition called for an invitation, if you will. While he recognized that the purpose of the dedication was for the fallen soldiers on that battlefield, he turns this on his listeners Though quoted above, let’s isolate this understanding:
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought her have thus so far nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth dedicated of freedom.
Lincoln knew that if he left this as simply something they did as soldiers, it would be left in the dustbin of history. But he put it to the people–they fought, will we? Will we move forward in such a way that the cost they paid would be worth it? Or would it be all for nothing. It’s up to you.
Pastors, we must not preach the Scriptures as a historic artifact, but preach it in such a way that the price that Christ paid on the cross and His work in being raised from the dead is worth the price as He is raised in us (Romans 6:1-4). The price that the martyrs paid will not be in vain. The sacrifices made for the cause of Christ would not be in vain.
What hath the Gettysburg Address to do with exposition? Lincoln exposed the meaning of the text (the Declaration of Independence) and exposed the worldview of the listeners’ hearts. Will we, having the power of the Spirit to lead and aid, do no less with the inspired text of Scripture?
I truly love Pandora. If you’re not familiar with this site, it’s basically a radio station of sorts based on your favorite artists or genres. Right now, as I type, I’m listening to a station called “Jazz Holidays.” But I have also developed a Bluegrass station, Dave Brubeck, Classical Christmas, and a slew of other types over the years.
One of the truly interesting aspects of Pandora is that they somehow have it programmed what song or artist is coming up–but I have no idea what it would be. If I like it, I can give it a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘thumbs down’–the latter being that I will not hear that song again in the rotation.
Expositional preaching prevents the Pandora effect. How?
- If you preach expositionally, you won’t question at all what’s coming up. In your preparation, you have committed to preaching the whole counsel of God, and therefore you know that God placed that text in the order its in for a sovereign and providential purpose.
- As an expositor, you may choose what book or genre to preach from, but you do not have the option of a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down.’ You know that all Scripture is inspired and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16), and therefore will engage in a Spirit-prompted mining of that text to find the gospel-gripped profit of that text.
- The free edition of Pandora has ads that come across every five or six songs or so, in order to pay for the service and keep it free. The message that comes from Scripture, with no ads at all–because that message has been sealed and authorized by One who has already paid for our sins and secured eternal life for us.
While I am grateful for Pandora, this service reminds me of the glory of expositional preparation and preaching. I know what’s coming, that it’s all profitable to make us mature and equipped for every good work. And I’m so very grateful for what God has provided in Christ and His Word.
In order to understand the priority Jesus placed on the Scriptures, the student must understand the priority the Scriptures put on Jesus: he is the centerpiece of God’s entire written revelation. In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus brought out the true meaning of what God spoke through the Old Testament prophets. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
Jesus placed ultimate value on the primacy of Scripture, and on the intention of his ministry with regard to Scripture: Jesus Christ came to accomplish and to teach his disciples the entirety of what God put forth in the Old Testament. Following his statements of intent (Matt 5:17-18), Jesus taught on a number of Old Testament commands, and then crystallized them in a very alarming way. He gave teachings dealing with anger (5:21-26), lust (5:27-30), marriage and divorce (5:31-32), oaths (5:33-37), retaliation (5:38-42), and loving one’s enemies (5:43-48)—matters confused by the teaching of the Scribes. He gave the commandment or teaching, followed with, “But I say to you. . . .” Jesus gave a clear understanding of the intentions behind the command that God gave and thus demonstrated clearly his authority in regards to the Law. The Pharisees believed they were justified before God based on their external righteousness, believing that the way to be righteous before God is exclusively behavioral. Yet Jesus obliterated this false understanding of salvation when he addressed their internal rebellious condition.
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:19-20)
The word ‘righteousness’ is defined as “integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness, correctness in thinking, feeling, and acting.” Yet, this word in a broader sense also means “the condition acceptable to God.” The Pharisees were seen as righteous, in that they taught (and supposedly demonstrated) that obtaining God’s approval could only be found through strict, external obedience to the Law. Yet, Jesus informed his listeners that they must surpass the Pharisees’ type of righteousness. The kingdom message he preached was that he came to fulfill the Scriptures that pointed to an internal righteousness (Matt 5:19-20)—a righteousness supplied by Christ and his atoning work on the cross. Edmund Clowney elaborates on this understanding of righteousness:
Christ does not just bear the punishment we deserve. He also keeps the law in our place. Christ, our sin-bearer, gives to us the perfect robe of His righteousness. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21, NIV). . . . What we receive in Christ is His righteousness; we are adopted into perfect sonship of the second Adam and the true Israel.
How would a superior level of righteousness be possible if they could not attain even the level of the Pharisees’ righteousness? If Jesus came to preach the Good News, where is this Good News found?
Dennis E. Johnson explains how this portion of the Sermon on the Mount is indeed good news in the context of the cross.
Where is the good news [in the Sermon on the Mount]? The answer must be that the Sermon on the Mount can be read as good news only in the context of the whole story that Matthew has to tell, for in this larger context we see that Jesus came to “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets (5:17) not only in his filling out the implications of God’s ancient law but also in the beloved Son’s “fulfilling all righteousness” by identifying with sinners in a baptism of repentance (3:15), in his humility as the Servant (12:17-21) and meek entrance into Jerusalem (21:4-5), and preeminently in his sacrifice for sinners (20:28; 26:28). In the context of the cross, Jesus’ sermon is good news indeed; apart from it, Jesus’ revelation of the law’s depth and intensity drives us to despair.
Johnson notes that the message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection liberates those who have ears to hear. Mark 1:14-15 says, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” In Luke 4:42-45, Jesus told the people, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).
Greg Heisler offers some needed perspective to help us understand the redemptive work of Christ in preaching from both Old and New Testaments:
Christological preaching happens when we build the theological component of our message upon one significant question: How does this text testify to the person and work of Jesus Christ? Whether preaching from the Old Testament or in the New Testament, we should constantly seek to understand how Christ’s death, burial and resurrection fulfill the redemptive focus of the text that we are preaching.
Heisler argues that expositional preaching is Christocentric preaching. Christ came to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15) and is thus the true fulfillment of the Law and Prophets (Matt 3:15; 5:17-18). In light of this understanding, expositional preaching entails preaching not just the content of the Law and the Prophets, but on the Christ and how the Father brought him along to fulfill them as well. With this perspective, we may preach expositionally with a Christ-centered, redemptive focus from every genre of Scripture.
Joseph Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), quoted in BibleWorks. 7.0.012. [CD-ROM] (Norfolk, VA: Bibleworks, 2006).
Edmund P. Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1988), 104-05.
Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), 169. Johnson is a disciple of Edmund Clowney, who holds to a “Christ-centered, redemptive-historical” reading of Scripture.
Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2007), 63-64.