Gospel

To The Young Pastor (Tabletalk)

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In the May 2008 edition of Tabletalk magazine from Ligonier Ministries, Ron Gleason (senior minister of Grace Presbyterian Church in Yorba Linda, CA, and founder of Renewed Life Ministries) contributes an excellent article aptly titled, “To the Young Pastor.” He gives five pieces of advice that are just spot on.

  1. Preach expository sermons from both the Old and New Testaments. An excerpt: “The pastor is primarily called to proclaim the riches of Christ through the preaching of the Word and the clear exposition of Scripture. In this manner, he both equips the saints and prepares them to present the true, pure Gospel to the lost.”
  2. A faithful pastor takes worship seriously. “To worship God rightly means to worship Him scripturally. The pastor and his congregation must pay careful attention to what God requires in His Word.”
  3. Manage your time to the glory of God. “Far too many pastors waste precious time performing ever-nebulous “networking.” Time, once spent, cannot be regained.”
  4. Maintain office hours and be approachable. “Make good use of your study and be available by phone, for personal visits, or a spontaneous ‘hello.’ My study door is almost always open and I enjoy people sticking their head in and saying hello.
  5. Visit the flock. “It is a time of personal accountability, equipping, and teaching that is so often missing in today’s churches.”

The Driving Question of Faithful Preaching Ministries

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I find myself pondering the place of the preaching ministry not just in the life of the church in general, but in my church in particular. Having been here almost five years, I am now seeing the importance and the cruciality of leading from the pulpit. The pastor is the primary vision-caster and mission developer of the church by virtue of his leadership status but also due to his studious diligence in his primary duty, preaching and teaching the Word. In Acts 6:1-4, we read:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. [2] And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. [3] Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. [4] But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:1-4, ESV).

This oft-quoted passage really stresses the necessity of why “prayer and the ministry of the word” is so important. Prayer crafts our hearts to the framework of God’s will and way. The Word helps give us an objective anchor to the relevation of God through the person of Jesus Christ. The pastor is the intercessor and the point person for each local church assembly to connect with God and then in turn connect God’s people with God’s vision for them.

Ultimately, God’s vision for his church is found in Romans 8:28-29:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. [29] For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

God’s vision for his local church is to conform his people to Christlikeness. And the preaching ministry should and must drive every person and every other ministry to this pursuit.

Where churches encounter trouble is when we forget the ‘why’ of a particular ministry or program and simply get caught up in the ‘what.’ If a missions program exists, we are tempted to focus on the ‘what’ of that program and how we should have that program because its that program. But when asked ‘why,’ the response can be boiled down to the following: ‘Because this is what has always been done.’ It can be any other ministry in the church.

The pulpit ministry of a church should encourage Christlikeness and challenge the traditions, mindsets, and ministries of the church by asking this question: “How does this exalt Christ, His gospel, and the believer’s transformation to Christlikeness and (to be redundant) holiness?” Pastors must challenge their people in this, regardless of the age or influence of the church. When churches begin to lose sight of this, it is because their leaders have lost sight of this.

So pastors, use the pulpit for not only to faithfully exposit the Word of God, but prayerfully consider how to apply this to your individual people and to the corporate ministries of the church. Evaluate, question, challenge, encourage, love, support, motivate, compel, and pray over everything that takes place under the banner of your local church and, ultimately, the Lord Jesus Christ. Pastors must not be afraid to lead. Hebrews 13:17 says:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

What think ye?

Why We Do What We Do on Sunday Morning?

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This coming Sunday, I plan on including this on the back of my sermon notes which are an insert in our bulletin. After reading through the minor prophets, they warn of a danger of going through the motions of corporate worship without being engaged into their significance — and who the worship is toward! I was limited to a 5.5″ x 8.5″ page, so obviously I could not go into the depth I wished. But here it is.

Calls-to-Worship? Fellowship Time? Scripture Reading? Offertories? Singing? Preaching? Choirs? Why does Boone’s Creek include these activities during our Sunday morning times of worship together? Is it just tradition? Is it just a “Baptist thing”? Or is it more? Take time to read the biblical reasons why we include these activities during our times of worship and the great truths they teach. Our aim is to be obedient to God’s Word and point everyone to Jesus Christ through each of these things.

Call-to-Worship: Whether through congregational singing, choir specials, or responsive Scripture readings, we call to everyone in the place, “Come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” (Psalm 95:2). Just so there’s no mistake: we are here to worship Jesus Christ our crucified and risen Lord.

Congregational Songs: Why sing? My goodness, there are so many reasons to sing. Praising and thanking God, encouraging one another, songs of prayer and supplication — the reasons are many. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Scripture Reading: We know what we know about God because God shows us in His Word, the Bible. Plus, Paul exhorted young pastor Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).

Fellowship time: This is not a time to simply catch up on the week’s activities (although there is room for that, for sure!). Yet, it’s so much more. Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship.” Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to “neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We encourage one another in the faith!

Ministries in Song: Whether singing solos, instrumental music, quartets, or choir specials, we believe God has given a gift of music (see Colossians 3:16 above) not just for an emotional connection but also to teach us about who God is and what He has done. Psalm 150 lists off a number of instruments used to praise the Lord. First Chronicles 25:1 says that David set up the music ministry in the temple to “prophesy,” or to teach God’s Word! This is not just entertainment, dear friends. We believe this is a God-given vehicle the Holy Spirit uses to drive home the blessings of God’s truth.

Times of Offering: We believe that the Scriptures teach that the giving of our money to the Lord cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:6-7) and sincerely (Matthew 6:1-4) is ultimately an act of worship. We ask that you give first as an act of worship and love and adoration before the Lord and, secondly, to help us in advancing the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus in our community and the world. The Scriptures teach that we give first to the local church where we belong, then other offerings as the Lord leads.

Preaching: Paul tells Timothy to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Jesus told the disciples to “Go, make disciples … teaching them everything I have taught you” (Matthew 28:19). Paul told the Ephesian church that he preached to them the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). God has given us His Word to help us know Him, know His will, and to know the way He has for us.

Personal Method and Model for Expository Preaching

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Prior to preparing for a sermon, I must be sure my prayer and devotional life are intact. Charles Spurgeon poignantly points out, “True and genuine piety is necessary as the first and indispensable requisite; whatever ‘call’ a man may pretend to have, if he has not been called to holiness, he certainly has not been called to the ministry.” [1] Don Whitney, Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality at Southern Seminary, exhorted seminary chapel students in the Fall of 2005 at Southern, “Don’t let the ministry get in the way of Jesus!” [2]

The way to avoid this is to see the job description of the expository preacher: ones who are devoted “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4, ESV). In 1592, the Puritan William Perkins gives the proper balance to the pastor’s preaching ministry:

There are two parts to prophecy: preaching the Word and public prayer. For the prophet (that is, the minister of the Word) has only two duties. One is preaching the Word, and the other is praying to God in the name of the people. . . . Notice that in Scripture the word ‘prophecy’ is used of prayer as well as of preaching. . . . Thus, every prophet’s task is to speak partly as the voice of God (in preaching), and partly as the voice of the people (in praying). [3]

Perkins’ exhortation is well spoken. Without this understanding, I risk becoming as one pastor friend of mine noted, a sermon machine. John Piper helps pastors avoid this problem:

If we are going to feed our people, we must ever advance in our grasp of Biblical truth. We must be like Jonathan Edwards who resolved in his college days, and kept the resolution all his life, “Resolved: To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.”[4] Growing, advancing, increasing — that is the goal. [5]

I then proceed by prayerfully determining the text on which to preach. The expository preacher surely has a distinct advantage over the inductive preachers and the average advocate of the New Homiletics preaching philosophy. The inductive preacher committed to topical preaching spends precious time not only looking for a text, but also exhausting necessary energies in creating a compelling and intriguing form and flow to the sermon. On the other hand, preachers committed to an expositional model usually plan ahead by preaching through a biblical book or doctrinal study. As a result, expository preachers know on Monday morning, Lord willing, the exact passage from which they will preach. Thus, the preacher may spend his time more focused on exegeting and understanding the theme or themes of the text prior.

This understanding has transformed my study time. Not only do I know on what I shall preach, I know that with expository preaching I would dismiss the temptation to avoid difficult texts. Heisler says, “Expository preaching assures us that we are keeping the sermonic train on the biblical tracks and helps us avoid unnecessary detours and breakdowns on our way to the final destination of Spirit-filled living.” Expositional preaching helps me not only grow as a preacher who delivers the message, but helps me in worship in the study as one receiving the delivering of the Word first. If I preached topically and inductively as Craddock and Lowry advocate, I would risk losing that precious time of study and prayer in order to design in a creative manner a listener-driven sermon, rather than a text-driven, Spirit-led sermon grounded in the Word of God.

As for the planning aspect, I have found that developing a preaching plan is helpful for a number of reasons. First, I read the entire book from which I shall preach to understand the direction and the particular themes found in the book. Secondly, I break up the book into expository units. Chapell defines an expository unit as “a large or a small portion of Scripture from which a preacher can demonstrate a single spiritual truth with adequate supporting facts or concepts arising within the scope of the text.” This definition does not mean that preachers should only preach from paragraphs, but should understand the particular genre from which he preaches so that the listener hears entire scope of the passage. Narrative texts usually cover not only paragraphs but also a chapter or chapters at a time. Chapell also notes, “[Beginning preachers] are well advised to consider how they may ultimately expound passages of varying lengths since biblical truths are related through a great variety of literary means and lengths.”

In this planning stage, I found a method used by Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, quite helpful. If I know the text that I shall preach from over the next four weeks, I will take a manila file folder, designate that folder with the corresponding Scriptural passage, then have either my secretary of myself photocopy four or five commentaries on that passage and insert those copies into a folder. That way, if I am ever on a trip, at a conference, or even waiting in line for a haircut, I am able to pull out that file folder and study. I am grateful for the discipline of beginning this type of organizational system.

The next step is to find the main idea or ideas from the passage. A number of preaching books define this main purpose in differing ways. Bryan Chapell calls this the “Fallen Condition Focus.” Haddon Robinson designates this purpose as the Big Idea. Ramesh Richard calls this the Central Proposition of the Text, or CPT. Whatever the designation, the purpose is to find the central idea of the text. Haddon Robinson believes that:

Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept. That affirms the obvious. A sermon should be a bullet, not buckshot. Ideally, each sermon is the explanation, interpretation, or application of a single, dominant idea supported by other ideas, all drawn from one passage or several passages of Scripture.[9]

Understanding the main point of an expository unit, regardless of how large or small, helps give direction to the sermon and avoids the risk of being repetitive over a number of weeks. Yet, those from the New Homiletic and Emergent Church philosophy reject this notion. Leonard Sweet, a faculty member at the Drew Theological Seminary and at George Fox University, puts forth a brand of preaching known as “E.P.I.C. Preaching,” that is, preaching which is experiential, participatory, image-rich, and connective. Sweet notes, “Preachers are homiletic hemophiliacs, hereditary bleeders of liquid life. If you’ve never bled, you have no material for preaching.”[10] Sweet seeks to make preachers who are not simply orators who put forth rational, word-based discourses; but rather ones who connect with stories, experiences, and conversant participation. He believes that “preachers [should] look for … less the ‘main principle’ or the ‘key idea’ or the ‘big point’ and more the ‘master metaphor,’ the leading or controlling metaphor that refrains the conversation.” [11]

Next, I begin to sketch out a thematic outline on the text. Helpful for me in this area is Preaching with Bold Assurance by Hershael York and Bert Decker. York recommends that preachers “diagram and write a thematic outline of the passage one to three weeks before you plan to preach it. This will allow your mind more time to ruminate on the text and to choose and edit illustrations, etc. before actually planning the sermon in detail.” [12] This textual outline will not be in all likelihood the outline taken into the pulpit, but is still crucial in understanding the direction as well as helpful in gleaning the main points along with the subpoints. Bert Decker advocates using Post-It™ notes to write down any principles that arise from the text, then organizing them. I prefer using an 8 ½” x 11” legal pad to sketch out the passage, sorting out the main clauses from the subordinate clauses. From this exercise, I begin to see the sermon that God wishes to me to preach because I begin to see the themes found in the text.

Next, I begin to organize the themes and subthemes as I move from hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) to homiletics (the presentation of the sermon). How do I determine the order of these themes? The Scriptures determine the order. The Holy Spirit who inspired the text of Scripture also inspired the order of the Scriptures as well. As I organize these themes, I begin to search for illustrations — on either news websites or the recesses of my memory. Personal illustrations are quite effective — when used sparingly — while news stories over the past week or month help connect the relevancy of Scripture to our contemporary culture.

I confess that I struggle with appropriate illustrations not because of how poorly I speak them but because of the temptation to illicit a quick response from the congregation. The New Homiletic philosophy of preaching is right in that the majority of people in the pews enjoy stories. Our image-driven, visceral culture enjoys the plot of a good movie, the quick humor found in situation comedies, and the thrill of sporting events. I live in Lexington, Kentucky, which is known as the “jumping off point to Eastern Kentucky.” In the mountains of eastern Kentucky, storytelling is king — and that mindset exists at our church among our elderly members.

Yet, even when I find myself preaching the Word in a faithful manner yet have minimal response either during or after the preaching time, I succumbed briefly to the temptation of littering my sermons with illustrations that generated a smile or played on the emotions. Soon, I grew convicted — for I felt God impressing on me this question (a question I have alluded to numerous times in this paper): to whom are you trying to connect your people: my Word or yourself? Since that time, I have been very careful about how I use humor and illustrations.

Concerning humor, one rule stands out above all the others: never use humor at the expense of another human being. Some pastors like using their spouses, children, or even church members as the object of a joke, in the process exposing their behavior to elicit a laugh — all the while causing embarrassment for that person. Humor is not a sanctuary from the commands of God that tell us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1b-3, ESV). Humor of this nature is divisive and harmful to the body, even when guised as amusing.

Concerning illustrations, Bryan Chapell helps me greatly understand their role:

The craft of sermon illustration begins when you as the preacher bracket an element of experience in order to give your listeners access to an associated concept, or an isolated experience may spawn the associated idea. Whatever the sequence of events, both elements operate together. [13]

Though preachers need not be in the business of trying to make the Bible relevant, they must be in the business of connecting biblical principles with contemporary reality. They must be accurate, bolstering the integrity of the Scriptures as well as the integrity of the one preaching. Illustrations serve a crucial and pivotal role in the proclamation of the Word.

Once these items are in place, I begin to construct the introduction and conclusion. These areas have proven to be the most difficult for me in the preparation process. After reading York’s understanding how the sermon’s introduction should “get past the gatekeeper” of the listener’s heart, I added undo pressure on myself because I wanted to find that perfect introduction. The same issues arose concerning the conclusions of the sermon. Like the composer of a symphony, preachers want to end on a powerful and memorable chord — since that chord will serve as the last sound the listeners hear from the concert.

To help me in this issue, I have developed both an electronic filing system on my laptop and a hard copy filing system in a cabinet in my study. For general filing, I have a drawer for articles covering various topics and another drawer with folders for designated Scripture passage on which I will preach in the weeks ahead.

Once I have complied my information, I begin to write the manuscript. Many preachers whom I respect greatly discourage this practice — and for good reason. Speaking and writing are entirely different forms of communication. Yet, in the study, I write out my sermon word-for-word to help my mind maintain an order and clarity and I take that manuscript into the pulpit. On occasion, I give my manuscripts to some in my congregation who request them, and frequently they observe, “You did not preach this the way you have it on paper.” That is true the majority of the time. By writing out a manuscript and highlighting the key themes, quotations, illustrations, etc., I not only have the themes and the flow of the sermon in my mind, but I am able to keep a record of that manuscript in case I need it in the future for a publication or another preaching engagement.

Conclusion

I am an expository preacher. I say this without shame or apology. I know that if my calling is grounded in a passion for God’s Word and a love for God’s people, then I shall preach to them the only message that is assured to change hearts and minds toward Christ: the Spirit-inspired, Christ-centered Word of God. May God continue to give me that passion to preach his Word with great patience and readiness for the days ahead.

NOTES:

[1] C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954), 9.

[2] Donald S. Whitney, The Almost Inevitable Ruin of Every Minister … and How to Avoid It. Downloaded 22 January 22, 2008. Accessed at http://www.sbts.edu/MP3/fall2005/20050915whitney.mp3: Internet.

[3] William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 7.

[4] Jonathan Edwards. The Resolutions. Downloaded 18 January 2008. Accessed at: http://www.reformed.org/documents/Edwards/index.html?mainframe=/documents/Edwards/j_edwards_resolutions.html: Internet.

[5] John Piper, Brother, We Are Not Professionals (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 74.

[6] Heisler, 23-24.

[7] Chapell, 61.

[8] Ibid, 61.

[9] Haddon W. Robinson. The Big Idea of Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 35.

[10] Sweet, Leonard. “E.P.I.C. Preaching.” REV!, November/December 2005, 57.

[11] Ibid, 62.

[12] York and Decker, 83.

[13] Bryan Chapell, Using Illustrations to Preach With Power (Wheaton, IL: Zondervan Publishing, 2001), 91.

[14] York and Decker.

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Practical Tips for Preaching a Funeral

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Today (Monday) was an exceedingly sad day — I had to preach a funeral of a member who was of great encouragement to me. While I feel the immense privilege of preaching a funeral and being able to minister at such a critical time, I find that there are some lessons that I have learned in regards to preaching a funeral sermon.

First, spend time with the family of the deceased. There is no substitute for this. It’s not enough to simply preach a sermon during this occasion. There is pastoral work to be done. Be there at least by the day after the family members’ death — after the funeral arrangements have been made and other personal issues are in order. Go to where they are and just sit and listen. Some would say, “I don’t want to intrude on family time.” To that I say, if had the choice of erring on the side of a personal presence or no, I would err by risking intrusion. You will be able to tell in about 15 seconds if it is a bad time — but they will appreciate the gesture and may well give you a better time to come by. And when you do, be prepared to listen, to inquire, to go through pictures, read letters, hear wonderful stories. But most of all, be prepared to be the Lord’s presence to them at that time. Since you are a minister, you are an ambassador for Christ — and even the most pagan individual will see you as such (and may not understand why).

Second, when you preach keep it short — 12-15 minutes top — unless the family asks you otherwise. Yes, the family asked you as the minister to do the funeral — but this time is not about you or your sermonic skills or for you to take pride that the family asked you to preach at such a life-altering occasion. You are there to represent Christ and to give his Word — but take care. The family is emotionally, spiritually and in all likelihood physically drained. And listening takes energy. An economy of words would suit everyone well here.

Three, share the Gospel without fail. Yes, address the reason why you all are gathered in that place. Yes, eulogize and recall some fond memories. Yes, address the family and send your condolences on behalf of yourself and the church you serve. But shame on any minister of the Gospel who does not share the Gospel to people who are most open to hearing about this. Some would object and say, “This is manipulation! You shouldn’t take advantage of people in that state.” But death is what the majority of people are most afraid of, and the finality and mortality of this age is clearly front and center. And, as was the case with this individual’s funeral I did on Monday, this person dealt with some severe medical issues and remained resolute, the family and friends looking on need to know why. So tell them the Gospel of Jesus Christ and give them the encouragement that the Apostle Paul gave in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. [14] For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. [15] For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. [16] For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. [17] Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. [18] Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Fourthly, be the last one to leave. If you end with a graveside service, stay until everyone else is gone. Don’t say, “Amen!” then run to the car. Stay with the family until they leave. Walk out with the last family member if possible. Be the Lord’s ambassador right until the end. If there is a meal afterwards for the family and they invite you to stay and partake, stay and partake. Some very pastoral and teachable moments happen on such occasions that would not happen at any other time. So take advantage of the opportunities God brings your way.

Lastly, touch base with the family one week after the funeral. By now you may be saying, “Matt, I thought this was about preaching a funeral.” Yes, and by you showing that you care outside the pulpit, you will give more credence to what was said in the pulpit. There is something to be said for living a sermon, not just preaching one.

Those are my tips. What about you? Any tips come across your mind?

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The Two Parts to Prophecy

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artperkins.jpgI am currently working through William Perkins’ “The Art of Prophesying” (a Puritan way of saying ‘preaching’). Sinclair Ferguson does wonders in making this readable for today’s preachers, yet still capturing the spirit of what Perkins communicates. Consider how he begins this book:

There are two parts to prophecy: preaching the Word and public prayer. For the prophet (that is, the minister of the Word) has only two duties. One is preaching the Word, and the other is praying to God in the name of the people: ‘Having … prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith’ (Rom. 12:6); ‘Restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live’ (Genesis 20:7). Notice that in Scripture the word ‘prophecy’ is used of prayer as well as of preaching: ‘The sons of Asaph, of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, stringed instruments, and cymbals’ (1 Chron. 25:1)… . Thus, every prophet’s task is to speak partly as the voice of God (in preaching), and partly as the voice of the people (in praying).

Preaching the Word is prophesying in the name and on behalf of Christ. Through preaching those who hear are called into the state of grace, and preserved in it.

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