It is Sunday morning, nearly 168 hours from the beginning of last week’s sermon. It is about time for you the preacher to take that walk again. You are going to walk alone to the sacred desk to preach. Are you ready? As you reflect on this question you realize that your mouth is dry and don’t have any water. Your opening to the sermon just got eclipsed by the reminder of a heavy pastoral concern. But you have to take this solitary walk. It is time. Are you ready? As you walk you throw up a petitionary flare, “God, help me.”
This question of readiness is really subjective. Some guys will answer it by considering what they have done in sermon prep. They have spent adequate time in prayer, studied the text, made a sensible outline, drew out some practical implications, and are ready to help people to understand God’s Word.
These are all good, even very good things. I aim to do them all each and every week. However, I wonder if sometimes we miss a very important aspect to sermon prep. Preachers should be wrecked and rebuilt by the text before preaching the text.
Be Wrecked by the Text
When you are wrecked by the text you have been stripped of your pride. Like a divine power-washer, the Bible has blasted off the mildew, dirt, and residue of self-reliance. The text has shown you God’s character and made you feel very small. You have been made to see something of …
It is a problem that all pastors doubtless face, “How can I make sure that I am feeding all of the people that God has given me?”
When I look out upon our congregation on Sunday morning I see a wide spectrum. I see faithful and mature folks who have been walking with the Lord for decades and then some who have been Christians for only a few months. I see people in their 60’s and then folks in their 20’s. In addition to that there are many little 5 year-olds staring up at me trying to understand. There are people from a completely biblically illiterate background and then there are those who have grown up in evangelical churches but never heard the gospel. Then there are many guys who are running hard theologically and wanting to be challenged and fed.
And so I push back from the table, exhale, put my hands behind my head, and wonder to myself about how to best deal with this good problem.
I was sharing this dilemma with a friend recently. He would be in the ‘running hard theologically’ category. He smiled and said, “Just make good fish and chips every week. If you make fish and chips well then we will all be happy and fed.”
His point was this, regardless of what you are used to, expecting, or really want, you always appreciate a well-made plate of fish and chips. It seems to have that unique ability to simply ‘hit the spot’ every time …
Over the years I have heard a lot of sermons; some have been good others, not so much. If you are a preacher then you, like me, want to get better. In this post I’ll take for granted that we understand that no sermon will get off the ground unless it is preaching the Scriptures. If you are not doing this then anything I write here will not help you. What follows here are 5 simple, practical preaching helps. As I study preaching and preachers these things are present in consistently helpful, good expositions.
Prayer before preaching is essential because, without God’s help, we are useless.
In Deuteronomy 32 Moses is no doubt feeling quite a burden. You see, Moses is about to die–and he knows it. He is going to look into the eyes of the covenant community once again. He is going to preach and plead God’s character, promises, and threatenings to them. In the ensuing words of chapter 32 he uncorks one if the heaviest, pastoral, and most passionate sermons in print. Remember, it was this chapter that proved to be the sermon text for Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
How does he begin?
May my teaching drop as the rain….For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! Deu. 32.2-3
The preacher’s burden has never changed, therefore his prayer remains the same. God–may you be pleased to use my words to magnify your name!
Moses knew himself, a dying man preaching to dying men (to use Baxter’s phrase). As a result, he did not long for such temporal and base things like what the crowd would think of him, how they would remember him, or how he would feel saying what needed to be said. Instead, he pleaded the living word of the living God! And in his prayer he struck the flint for God to light up his people with an awareness of God’s awesomeness and sin’s repulsiveness. Oh, that more preachers would preach a deep awareness of their own mortality as well as God’s eternality!
Whether you are stepping …
It is the Thursday before Good Friday. I can’t wait to preach tomorrow night and then Sunday morning. I love preaching Christ every week, but there is something about the Resurrection weekend that is particularly special.
However, when I woke up this morning I was drawn to think about someone I don’t often think about: the liberal pastor. By liberal I am not referring to political affiliation but theological conviction. In particular, I am talking about those who either deny the reality of or diminish the priority of the cross of Christ and his resurrection.
Lately I am learning of the indispensability of personally listening to sermons. Let me explain. Over the last several years I have preached, on average, nearly 50 Sundays per year. The times I have not preached I have been on vacation or traveling. As a result, I very rarely sit under preaching. I am making a distinction from listening to sermons and sitting under preaching. I listen to sermons all the time but rarely sit under the preached word live.
I believe that this has not helpful to me. In fact, I need to sit under live preaching.
This sermon and this section in particular was a great blessing to me today. Is Spurgeon’s great longing and prayer beginning to be realized in our day? To some degree you would have to say “yes.”
Read and enjoy!
Often times I scratch my head as to why some Kindle books are so expensive. In the past I have done that with 2 of these listed below. I’m very happy to see that they are on sale for a limited time.
Center Church by Tim Keller ($5.69) Whether you agree or not with Keller (I happen to agree) pastors need to read this book to be encouraged and informed. It is that good. (Amazon Kindle)
Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton ($7.69) This is Horton’s attempt to make the on-ramp into Systematic Theology more accessible. What results is a doctrinally and devotionally rich systematic theology. I really like this and can’t wait to have my Kindle read it to me. (Amazon Kindle)
Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones ($3.99) Arguably one of the 20th Century’s best preachers writing about preaching. This is the 40th anniversary re-release with contributions from contemporary preachers. This is a staple for preachers or aspiring preachers or people who just like preaching. (Amazon Kindle)
Pastors have greatly benefited from the recent technological advances. Having only been in full-time ministry for the last 8 years, I have seen a flurry of new gadgets and software that can help me to be more efficient and effective.
At the same time, there is a little recoil. New devices and software present challenges as well as opportunity. How can I employ these means without being a distraction to those I preach to? One such environment is the officiating of a wedding. I have always printed my notes out from a word document and then conducted the wedding. The trouble is: I don’t own a printer and I no longer use Microsoft Word. I put everything in Evernote and use my Desktop / iPad / iPhone. In my estimation I would be about as distracting officiating a wedding with an iPad as I would with my desktop. So I have used my iPhone in the past. The issue here would be that it would slide in my bible and become a distraction, potentially for everyone if I fumbled it.
My solution was to combine the best of both worlds: my trusty (and timelessly trendy) Moleskine Notebook with my iPhone. Think of a combination of Charles Dickens and Shawshank Redemption.
Below are some pics of the process. Trust me when I say that my craft skill rivals a 3-year-old. No one should feel like they could not do this if they wanted to.
Start with the tools (Moleskine Ruled Notebook, iPhone, box cutter, …
Awhile back I heard a talk by Tim Keller on preaching. As is often the case, Keller’s thoughts multiply in my mind faster than a rabbit farm. In this instance he was talking about sermon application. I may not have the quotes or points just right, but the gist of it is here.
Sermon application will often focus on either the doctrinal, the pietistic, or the service of others (declaring and/or demonstrating the gospel by loving our neighbors).
Keller’s point was that preachers often have their own leanings to one of these three. As a result their sermon application will tend to accent a particular category. Over the long-haul this begins to lead a congregation to over pronate to one side at the exclusion of the others (not that any of these three are bad, they are just not complete).
The answer is to be aware of our blind spots and to work regularly and faithfully to apply the text. Some of the best sermons will include all three components.
I know where my leanings tend to be. I also know that I can get aggravated when other preachers may not emphasize my particular hobby-horse while riding their own. Keller’s call for thoughtful faithfulness is really a call for balance. Which is another way of saying ‘biblical’.