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Monthly Archives: March 2010
Occasionally I come across an author who seemed to be reading my mind and spoke my ideas out loud. He expresses my philosophy of life and ministry even better than I can. I want to shout, “That’s exactly what I was trying to say!” I had one of those moments today regarding my philosophy of preaching.
My approach to preaching is that I want to communicate the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Over the course of time, I try to find a balance between Old Testament book studies, New Testament book studies, and topical series. In his book, Deep Preaching: Creating Sermons that Go Beyond the Superficial, author J. Kent Edwards expressed my philosophy even better than I could.
How do you decide what to preach? What criteria guide your decision? Even if you are committed to preaching Scripture, the question remains. What portion of the Bible will you preach this week, month, and year? What parts will you not preach? Why?
Many preachers regularly decide to preach topically, to bring Scripture to bear on a subject that a biblical author never specifically addressed. Topical sermons on “how to date” or “how to handle stress” can be helpful and biblical. Topical sermons are not necessarily second-rate sermons. In more than 25 years of being a pastor, however, I have chosen not to feed my congregations a steady diet of topical preaching. My practice has been to preach through the books of the Bible. I have chosen to preach the ideas that the biblical writers have placed within the natural units of the Scripture they were inspired to write. Why?
I preach through books of the Bible because I’m not that smart. Some preachers seem to overflow with penetrating and insightful ideas that perfectly fit with the unique needs of their audience. Not me. I try to know my people well, and I will occasionally preach topical sermons that I believe are both relevant and necessary, given a particular cultural or congregational situation. At their best, such sermons seem highly effective. But every week?
To my mind, it seems presumptuous for a preacher to claim to have perfect clarity into what their congregation needs to hear next. I struggle to understand what my own heart needs: how do topical preachers possess such tremendous spiritual clarity into the unique needs of their local congregations? I’ve come to realize that many don’t.
I wished that I could have said it that well.
“A sermon prepared in the mind reaches minds. A sermon prepared in the heart reaches hearts. A sermon prepared in the life reaches lives.”
Cited in Defying Gravity: How to Survive the Storms of Pastoral Ministry, by Daniel Henderson
Daniel Henderson has written an encouraging book for pastors, Defying Gravity: How to Survive the Storms of Pastoral Ministry. One of the keys necessary to climb out of a “truthless tailspin” is not only to read and study the Scriptures, but put them into practice in our daily lives.
Still, we have to be honest and admit that most Christian leaders who have experienced a disastrous crash have not lacked Bible knowledge. Some of the nation’s greatest preachers have produced the most disconcerting scandals. Clearly, it is not mere Bible knowledge that produces the power to stay on course and in flight. Rather, it is a consistent and authentic application of the knowledge to the mind, heart, and life. Even Christian leaders can become “hearers” rather than “doers” and deceive their own hearts (see James 1:22-24) as they sit among the commentaries and study tools of their Christian library.
It was interesting to read his quote a few weeks after preaching on 1 John 2:12-14. In the second half of verse 14, John writes, “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” I was intrigued that John did not say we become strong when we abide in the Scriptures, but rather that we become strong when the Scriptures take up residence in our lives.
A friend sent me the following list of universal laws. Certainly truisms, if there ever was one.
Law of Mechanical Repair – After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch and you’ll have to pee.
Law of Gravity – Any tool, nut, bolt, screw, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible corner.
Law of Probability – The probability of being watched is directly proportional to the stupidity of your act.
Law of Random Numbers – If you dial a wrong number, you never get a busy signal and someone always answers.
Law of the Alibi – If you tell the boss you were late for work because you had a flat tire, the very next morning you will have a flat tire.
Variation Law – If you change lines (or traffic lanes), the one you were in will always move faster than the one you are in now (works every time).
Law of the Bath – When the body is fully immersed in water, the telephone rings.
Law of Close Encounters – The probability of meeting someone you know increases dramatically when you are with someone you don’t want to be seen with.
Law of the Result – When you try to prove to someone that a machine won’t work, it will.
Law of Biomechanics – The severity of the itch is inversely proportional to the reach.
Law of the Theater – At any event, the people whose seats are furthest from the aisle arrive last.
The Starbucks Law – As soon as you sit down to a cup of hot coffee, your boss will ask you to do something which will last until the coffee is cold.
Murphy’s Law of Lockers – If there are only two people in a locker room, they will have adjacent lockers.
Law of Physical Surfaces – The chances of an open-faced jelly sandwich landing face down on a floor covering are directly correlated to the newness and cost of the carpet/rug. Also- if you smear jelly on a cat’s back, and drop the cat, will it land on its feet?
Law of Logical Argument – Anything is possible if you don’t know what you are talking about.
Brown’s Law of Physical Appearance – If the clothes fit, they’re ugly.
Oliver’s Law of Public Speaking – A closed mouth gathers no feet.
Wilson’s Law of Commercial Marketing Strategy – As soon as you find a product that you really like, they will stop making it.
Doctors’ Law – If you don’t feel well, make an appointment to go to the doctor, by the time you get there you’ll feel better. Don’t make an appointment and you’ll stay sick.
During my daily commute I am currently listening to the audiobook, Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell’s premise is that success is not merely a matter of IQ and talent. Instead, success is a confluence of circumstances including cultural upbringing, community, practice, experience, and other hidden advantages. One I found particularly intriguing is that rather than be discovered as an “overnight success,” success comes to those who have completed 10,000 of practice. The author illustrates this principle with athletes, musicians, and software engineers.
That “Ah ha!” moment caused me to understand why I am just now feeling comfortable with preaching. While I have been in ministry for almost 25 years, I have only been preaching full-time as a senior pastor for the past 5+ years. As an associate pastor, I remember a fellow associate and I wondering aloud if we would ever hit our stride in preaching. I don’t know if I’ve found my stride yet, but I’m not huffing and puffing as much as I used to when preaching.
After 5+ years of preaching week in and week out, I’m finally learning how to budget my study time; what tools, translations, and commentaries are most helpful; where to find the best illustrations; how to craft and deliver an introduction and conclusion; how to read the audience during the sermon; what style of preaching best fits my personality and what people respond to; as well as how to balance the demands of study, preaching, administration, counseling, visitation, staff meetings, and all the other responsibilities of ministry.
That knowledge and comfort level has only come through practice, experience, evaluation, practice, experience, evaluation, and more of the same. Turns out there is a reason why I felt I was a late bloomer.