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Two False Assumptions to Leave Behind When You Preach

Public Preaching

photo credit: pand0ra23

I realize that we pastors are going way beyond motivational speaking in our sermons. We are sharing the gospel and leading people to the cross. But we are still speakers and communicators nonetheless, and our effectiveness and influence depend on our understanding something about the nature of speaking.

Seth Godin, a marketing guru with much to teach the church, wrote about speaking and had this to say:

Speaking in public: two errors that lead to fear…

1. You believe that you are being actively judged

2. You believe that the subject of the talk is you

When you stand up to give a speech, there’s a temptation to believe that the audience is actually interested in you.

This just isn’t true. (Or if it is, it doesn’t benefit you to think that it is).

You are not being judged, the value of what you are bringing to the audience is being judged.

And he goes on to say:

The members of the audience are interested in themselves. The audience wants to know what they can use, what they can learn, or at the very least, how they can be entertained.

Source: Seth Godin

“Preaching is not about you, so stop focusing on being the star… focus on the power of the gospel.”

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This is truth. Seth is wise. Obviously, we are called to do more than simply please an audience. We are heralds of truth. But understanding what people are expecting or searching for when they sit down to listen to us certainly helps us communicate truth in a way that taps into the audience’s interest.

I agree with Seth. Preaching isn’t about you, so stop focusing on being the star, the celebrity, the eloquent master communicator out to impress your hearers. Instead, focus on the power of the gospel content to change lives now and for eternity.

The next time you preach, just before speaking, pray something like this:

God, help me to glorify You, honor Your truth, and speak with the confidence that what I have to say matters. And help me to love these people enough to give them what I know they need – Your Word.

One More Way to Outline a Sermon

Sermon PreparationAdrian Rogers outlined sermons using four phrases:

  • Hey You! (Get the audience’s attention)
  • Look! (Examine the Scriptures)
  • See! (Explain the passage)
  • Do! (Make application)

Andy Stanley is famous for one-point preaching, but really breaks his messages into five movements:

  • Me (How do I struggle with this?)
  • We (How do we all struggle with this?)
  • God (What does the Bible say about this?)
  • You (What should you do about this?)
  • We (How can we all live this out together?)

And I’m not sure who came up with it, but another well-known system is:

  • Hook (Get attention)
  • Book (Examine the Word)
  • Look (Expound the passage)
  • Took (Make an appeal)

The Puritans jumped right into point one of 27ish as they preached for several hours and there are plenty of other outlining methods as well. I’ve changed my system several times over the years, which I think is important to keep us out of a rut. Lately, I’ve been outlining my messages around three movements..

WHERE WE ARE

In the first part of the message, I speak about the problem or issue that the message addresses, hopefully in a way that motivates my hearers to identify with the problem personally as in, “Oh yeah, I struggle with that too!”

WHAT GOD SAYS

In the middle part (the longer part), I dig into the passage, or sometimes several passages, that address the issue, provide a historical context and expound on the meaning. Sometimes there are three or for “points” here, but not always.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Finally, I move to how we need to live out the solution that God’s Word has provided. I try to be as concrete as possible such as challenging people to go sign up for a ministry, buy a particular book, talk to their next door neighbor, etc.

I’ll probably tweak and change it up again soon, but for now, this system works quite well for me right now.

5 Ways to Preach Like a Pharisee

Pharisees and Jesus

Photo by bbaltimore.

Many of the Pharisees were probably great teachers and skilled speakers. I’m sure many were charismatic, skilled communicators. But by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the Pharisees, on the whole, were killing the culture around them spiritually. Jesus had a lot of work to do just to unwire people from the performance-driven, legalistic trap of pharisaism.

I’ve been guilty of preaching like a Pharisee before, and as I review my sermons from the past, I cringe a bit as I peruse certain periods of my ministry when I placed undue burdens on my listeners in the name of “preaching the Word.” I’m writing out of my own past tendencies (and present tendencies I’m still trying to snuff out) as well as out of what I observe across the landscape of evangelical preaching.

The following tips will work to draw a moderate-sized crowd. A pulpit characterized by negativity and belligerence will draw a moderate-sized crowd of masochists who draw energy to go on another day by being beaten up spiritually. But it won’t make Jesus-like, craveable disciples. So use them at your own risk.

How do you preach like a Pharisee?

Preach Your Opinions Instead of the Absolute Truth of Scripture

Exalting your own opinions about extra-biblical issues as though obedience to them is equivalent to obeying Scripture is dangerous. It creates the very burdens on the backs of people that Jesus came to remove. It also hurts the trust of your hearers. Consider my hero, W. A. Criswell who once promoted segregation as a biblical mandate only to repent and change his policy later. His opinion about a cultural issue caused many to question his credibility. Thankfully, he had such a high respect for the authority of Scripture that he changed course, publicly and with apology. Besides, you’re probably wrong more than you think you are.

Promote Moralism Over Grace-based Living

Your role is to present biblical truth, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform the lives of your hearers with the power of God’s revelation. Your role is not to make people behave. Repentance has to do with changing the mind and belief system so that behaviors follow, but when we promote better behavior, we put the cart before the horse and fail to exalt the grace that enables us to live differently.

Make People Feel Guilty Enough to Make Short-term Commitments

Guilt is a terrible motivator. Yes, we sinners must come to grips with our sin by means of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but it is the Holy Spirit’s job to bring that conviction. I can get people to give more money, sign up to serve in a ministry, or go share the gospel by making them feel guilty about not giving or doing enough. Or I can empower them to give, serve, and share by inspiring them with hope. God dangles rewards in front of us in eternity as motivation for action rather than feelings of guilt over our sinful past. I owe Him everything, but He doesn’t remind me of that. He simply challenges me to go forward in hope and for the pure enjoyment of Him and His grace.

Beat People Into Skepticism

Jesus once told the Pharisees that they had a tendency to make people “twice the child of hell as they were before.” What did He mean? People had come to the Pharisees, as religious leaders, to find the ultimate fulfillment God could offer. What they received was a long list of rules that were impossible to keep. After their repeated failures, they would finally turn away in disgust and it would be a long time before they listened to another religious leader again. Sound familiar? My heart breaks for the victims of spiritually abusive churches that have little understanding or compassion for the hurts and problems of people in pain.

Dress the Part

If you wear a three-piece suit and cuff links because you’re into that sort of thing or because it appeals to the community you’re trying to reach, more power to you. But if you just like to wear the “preacher” uniform and appear lofty and ministerial, repent now. I get a bit nauseated when I see a leader who has that “preacher strut.” I won’t describe it – you’ll know it when you see it. It’s usually the result of my desire to impress my peers outweighing my desire to connect with the lost. This is not a rant against “dressing up.” It’s just a warning against trying to “dress the part” of the superior religious leader.

More than ever, a skeptical, broken world needs our authentic, truth-saturated, grace-based, Spirit-filled message of the cross and the resurrection. And they need to see it embodied in our lives as much as they need to hear it proclaimed from the podium.

The Three Key Components of a Solid Sermon

Me. Preaching.There are certain elements that must be included in every single sermon that we ever preach. They are non-negotiable. To put it another way, every sermon you preach has three key components…

The God Component

The “God component” is what sets preaching apart from other kinds of public speaking. We are God’s spokespeople. We preach His word, not ours. And as we consider the role of God in the sermon, we have to ask some pretty pertinent questions:

  • Have I recognized that God is the ultimate authority on the meaning of His word?
  • Have I consulted with the Author of the word in prayer?
  • Have I trusted the results of my preaching to the Spirit who moves among his people?
  • Have I made Jesus the central character of the sermon?

The Communicator Component

The component has to do with me, the preacher. I need to ask certain important questions about my own role in the preaching experience:

  • Have I live and embodied the word in my life? That is to say, have I been the incarnation of the message I hope to convey on Sunday morning?
  • Can I honestly say I’ve spent adequate time in preparation, so that my mind, heart, and soul are all immersed in the text and it’s meaning?
  • Am I humbled by the weight of the responsibility of being God’s spokesperson to people whose lives and eternities hang in the balance?
  • Have I been the same person at home and in my private life and in my various relationships that I plan on being in the pulpit when I am teaching on Sunday?
  • Am I prayed up?
  • Am I fired up?

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The Audience Component

The final component has to do with the people to whom I am preaching. My audience matters.

It sounds good, and makes a great soapbox issue to proclaim that preaching ought to be God-centered not man-centered. The fact is, Jesus himself would not be welcomed or accepted by some today in the world of preaching because he wouldn’t be considered scriptural enough. Jesus preached to the needs and the hearts of human beings with problems.

We have had plenty of arguments around the subject of whether or not we should preach to the felt needs of society. The problem with these arguments is often there is a failure to understand that felt needs are real needs that are felt. And Jesus spoke to those needs.

My audience matters so much to the heart of God, that He sent His only son Jesus to die on the cross for their redemption. I need to consider their needs if I hope to please the Author of the word. His intention for his message is that it convinces, converts, and changes the lives of its hearers.

I need to be asking questions about my audience as I am preparing the message:

  • Have I spent time with people, getting to know their hurts, habits, and hang-ups? Do I know what it is like to be human, to err, and to have messed up before a holy God?
  • Every text has not only a primary principle, but an implication for the everyday lives of human beings. Have I dug into the text deep enough, not only to discover what it says about God, but also it’s practical implications for the lives of people?
  • Have I prepared not only an explanation of the meaning of the text, but also at least one, if not several calls to action?
  • Am I willing and ready to ask people to change their lives entirely on the basis of what I am going to say? And will I do this with the authority that God has granted to me, and the humility that is calling should create in me?

 

Approaching Easter Sunday As a Pastor

EasterEaster Sunday is special. In spite of the competition from little furry bunnies who deliver colored eggs and sugar-induced hyperactive episodes among children, it’s still a holiday that is fairly “religious.” That is to say, Jesus still gets a fair amount of attention, possibly because it’s always on Sunday and churches draw such attention to the resurrection. This is good.

As a Pastor, I know that Easter Sunday excites me because I’ll see new and unfamiliar faces in our weekend worship service. Most Pastors (those who aren’t jaded toward the occasion) get the warm fuzzies as we approach this big day because of the opportunity to address an unusually large crowd of attenders. As my own church gears up for this special Sunday, I wanted to pass along some wisdom I’ve learned from fifteen years of celebrating this special time as a congregational leader.

Here are tips for approaching Easter as a Pastor…

  • Remember Jesus. It’s all about Him. His resurrection is the first half of the Easter story and the promised and guaranteed hope for the future resurrection of all believers is the second half. Make it a day of worship.
  • Remember family. Easter Sunday afternoon has always been as meaningful to me as the morning service because our family gets to spend quality time together.
  • Remember Jesus as a family. I love peeps and chocolate bunnies as much as the next guy, but it’s even more important to have family conversations about the story of Jesus’ resurrection. Read it from the gospels together and talk about the wonder of that morning.
  • Remember children. I like church Easter egg hunts simply because we’re smiling at kids for the 4.2 minutes it takes for them to locate our carefully hidden plastic eggs. If having an egg hunt means you will welcome more kids to church on Easter Sunday, go for it. I know you’ll be faithful to present the gospel to them and their parents since you’re remembering Jesus already.
  • Remember to celebrate. This is a day of victory and triumph. It kinda deserves a smile.
  • Remember a lost world. People will come to your church on Easter who may only come once or twice the rest of the year. You can try to shame them into coming more (and it probably won’t work), or you can just love them and have compassion on them the way Jesus often had compassion on crowds who only showed up when he had food. Love them. Treat them lovingly. Maybe they’ll be back because of love.
  • Remember the questions of a lost world. The resurrection is unbelievable… if you’re a naturalist. If you don’t embrace the supernatural God of Creation, you’ll have a tough time with the miracle of the resurrection. Remember this. Don’t fear the big questions, and don’t be afraid to let Scripture give answers.
  • Remember to be the church. What do you do every Sunday when guests come? Do that, but do it even better. Welcome newcomers. Smile. Serve them. Love their kids. Guide them around your campus. Meet their need for friendship.
  • Remember who you are. Don’t try to be the church you’re NOT on Easter. Be you. Pastor, you should preach. Your worship leader should lead. And while the day is special, the worship service should give people an idea of who you always are, not just who you are on a holiday.
  • Remember that people count. So don’t just count the people. Metrics are valuable and big attendance days can help us envision what our church will look like if we work together. But don’t forget that every face is the window to a soul deeply loved by God.

And… remember Jesus… no matter what else you forget.

Graphic by Pierce Brantley.