A number of times in my 7+ years at my church, I have been told variations of this theme: "Bro. Matt, you do more teaching than preaching on Sunday morning." Some have meant this as a mere observation, others have not intended this as a compliment. Yet, I take it as one for numerous reasons. Of late, I have asked some who say this what they mean by this. What do they consider ‘teaching’ and ‘preaching.’ Here are some things they have said:
- Planning a sermon series for multiple weeks. This comes across as not being led by the Spirit to preach, but merely putting together something from my own thinking.
- Using an outline or providing bullet points in the bulletin for note-taking. This reminds them more of a lecture than a sermon.
- Mentioning a Scripture reference and having it appear on our overhead screen right after its mentioned. This comes across as having the sermon scripted rather than preaching ‘from the heart.’
- Bringing in a lot of historical background. Some wonder how this connects to life in 2011 USA.
- Using ‘ big theological’ words.
Everyone (both Christian and non-Christian) has their own thoughts on what preaching should be. Everybody preaches with a certain style and everyone prefers a certain style. Since I hear these issues more than anything else, let me address them and show reasons why I go this direction.
Planning a sermon series for multiple weeks.
Many pluses come from this:
- First, planning ahead is not anti-Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is certainly able to give the content not only for one sermon at a time, but for a continuity of sermons. Each of the letters in the New Testament are orderly and address particular issues in a structured fashion—even the book of Revelation!
- Secondly, it gives my music minister an idea of how to plan. When he knows what I shall be preaching in the weeks ahead, he can plan the worship music, the choir music, and other items that help the collective unity and theme of the Sunday morning worship time.
- Thirdly, it provides our members an opportunity to see what’s coming up, and invite those who may need to hear a particular topic.
Using and Providing an Outline for the Congregation
- First, providing an outline aims to help retention. If you provide an outline (especially with blanks), by hearing that point then writing that point in will aid in memory through hearing, writing, and seeing it.
- Secondly, you can take those notes with you from the service. Then the impressions you received from that truth being preached will return.
The Use of the Overhead Screen for Displaying Scripture
- In November 2003, our church voted to purchase and install a screen in our sanctuary. We have not only used it to put up words for the worship music, but also during the sermon. In a way, we are still learning how to best use this. Do we just put up the sermon Scripture or do we put up every Scripture reference spoken? Do we put up the entire outline? Do we use video clips?
- We have a program called MediaShout, which is like PowerPoint on caffeine. I can mentioned a passage of Scripture, and they have the capability of punching in that Scripture into the MediaShout program and have it on the screen in two seconds. Some have mentioned that this makes the sermon look scripted and less “from the heart.” When, in fact, it shows how far technology has come with the desire to help others see what the Word of God says in short order.
Going Into Historical Background
- The false notion that the Scripture is simply a book of rules fails to understand that the working out of God’s Word among His people takes place in history. These are not fictional stories with nice, straightforward morals like Aesop’s Fables. These are about real people occupying time and space before a holy God. And, a la Solomon, since there is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), helping one understand the historical background brings to life the situation in which that narrative takes place.
- Going into historical background is not a waste of time or simply filler. Timothy Beougher noted that we need to connect the context of “Jerusalem to Louisville” (or fill in the blank of your respective place of service). Plus, we need to see how that area of the NT fulfills what God laid forth in the OT concerning Christ and His prophecies/promises (2 Corinthians 1:20).
- Early in my ministry, I heard of someone who, in response to my preaching, tell me, “He just seems like he wants to show us all that he knows.” At the time, I was 31 years old working to give the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:24)—though I had only been preaching steadily for two years. I held to the fact that Christians needed to see the full scope of Scripture and its aim. It is crucial to understand the biblical author’s meaning and context in order to understand and apply it to ours.
Using Big ‘Theological’ Words
- When learning a new trade or engaging in any new thing, you have to learn certain terminology. Christianity has some beautiful terms such as atonement, propitiation, justification, sanctification, glorification, etc. I have vowed to use these words, but also to immediately follow-up these words with a clear, concise, accurate definition.
- Some have said, “If you use these large words, folks will tune you out.” I understand why: it comes across as if the Scriptures and their principles are inaccessible. Yet, those words carry much strength and serve as some of the great fundamentals of our Christian faith. These are words used in Scripture! We will come across these words sooner or later—so why not have a responsible preacher rightly divide the Word in helping others understand what this Word says in fullness (2 Timothy 2:15; Psalm 25:4-5)?
Pastors, be clear, clear, clear about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Help your congregation understand the motives and rationale behind what you preach and how you preach it. By being proactive in this manner, you will stave off most (but not all) misperceptions. Plus, folks will know you have a plan and also a passion to help them understand God’s Word and the purpose of His Word, Jesus Christ.
What think ye?