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.
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.