Posts Tagged preaching
James MacDonald recently posted “Five Things We Do Instead of Preach.” I won’t reiterate the points he made, all of which are valid.
I once had a pastor tell me that he was too busy to prepare sermons, which was why he bought and borrowed series from well-known ministries rather than write his own. Sure, he spent a little time customizing the messages for his congregation but the most important thing was that he was sharing Jesus with people, right?
There’s nothing wrong with using canned messages, but call them what they are. That’s not preaching, and it’s not teaching. It is recycling. You heard something that you thought was good and you’re sharing it with your congregation. As my daughter tells me, “Reduce, reuse, recycle.”
Here’s the thing for me. I was trained to preach, not recycle. I went to Bible college and seminary to learn how to proclaim the Scriptures boldly and plainly. My father was one of the best speakers I have ever heard share the Scriptures, and I learned a lot from his old school ways. Call it what you will, but I like to preach.
There is something deep inside of me that rejoices in unpacking a text, mulling over meanings and nuances, and then bringing that text to light on a Sunday morning. There’s no glitz or fancy videos. I don’t even use Powerpoint for bullet points (largely because I usually only have one point anyway).
A message during our worship gatherings is me and my Bible, the congregation and their Bible, and the Holy Spirit speaking through his word.
Styles vary, and maybe you like Powerpoint and moving backgrounds. Maybe you communicate with your videos and dramas. That’s great. God be praised. But that’s not preaching. That’s media. Those things don’t take the place of God’s man before God’s people, opening up the Scriptures and giving understanding (Nehemiah 8:8).
The Church of 2012 doesn’t need more self-help or missional strategies. It needs the Word of God, preached by God’s man through the Scriptures. (In case you missed that nuance, the Word of God is Jesus Christ.)
I was once told by a fellow pastor, “I don’t teach deep stuff. I just preach Jesus.”
That sounds great on a surface level, doesn’t it? Let’s just preach Jesus because He is after all the Savior of mankind, right? If people believe Him, then they can sort everything else out eventually, right?
Jesus does not exist in a vacuum. The gospels occur within a massive supranarrative (many writers would say metanarrative but they would be using that word incorrectly). The Church is born and flourishes within a greater story, a symphonic movement of harmony, dissonance, leitmotif and crescendo. To dismiss the Scriptures as secondary to “preaching Jesus” is to do a poor job of preaching Jesus.
That is not to say that the Gospel is not, at its core, Jesus Himself. The apostle Paul wrote that in Corinth he “decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) But before we use this as a proof text for a sort of “nothing but Jesus” philosophy, let’s not forget that this same Paul plumbed the depths of Hebrew Scripture, Greek philosophy and Roman culture. This is the same guy who wrote things that Simon Peter said were, “hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)
Paul was not a simplistic preacher with a one note repertoire. He brought to bear some formidable knowledge of the Scriptures, and he was not afraid to teach it when necessary.
And here’s the thing. The Gospel is the culmination of the Hebrew Scriptures, and without them, it is not much of anything. While the Gospel of Luke certainly frames Jesus as the Messiah of all mankind and leans heavily on pagan culture, he cannot separate Jesus from the context in which He lived or the Scriptures which He fulfilled. Even Luke must place Jesus in context with the Hebrew Scriptures.
So a supposed Bible teacher who does not dive headfirst into the Hebrew Scriptures and saturate himself with the supranarrative will teach a shallow Jesus.
If you ask me for advice about pastoring, I will tell you that you must know the Bible. You must immerse yourself in it and have the intestinal fortitude and spiritual integrity to allow it to change you. The Revealed Scriptures must have your absolute, undying devotion. You must be willing to allow the Spirit of God to discipline, chasten, correct and encourage you. You must never have an opinion that cannot be altered by a deeper understanding of the Word of God.
You should bow to the ground before the authority of the Scriptures. They must be your schoolmaster and you must ever be their servant. You must be conformed by the written Word in order to be conformed to the image of the Living Word.
Acquire knowledge of history and language so you can understand the Scriptures. Read them in translation. Read them in the original languages. Read them silently and aloud. Teach them constantly and receive teaching from them. Heed the wisdom of those who have spent their lives immersed in them and reject those who handle them lightly.
The older I get the more I realize the foolishness of my youth – pursuing trends and methodologies under the mistaken belief that those things would “build” the church. I have little patience for people who tell me they are too busy to “be deep.”
Get out of the ministry if you don’t have a passion for the beauty of the Scriptures. You are supposed to be ministering the Scriptures to people, not feel good sentiments and leadership strategies.
Preach Jesus. Yes! But preach Him from a place of deep, growing commitment to the Scriptures that reveal Him. Otherwise, you will preach a Jesus conformed to your image rather than being conformed to His.
Michael Hyatt recently posted a summary of what he believes is the four keys to effective communication:
- Effective communicators know how to prepare a message with a singular and crystal clear focus.
- If you know where you are going, you can take anyone with you.
- If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.
- Effective communicators know how to read an audience and are able to customize their presentation to make that audience want to listen.
- Until the audience is engaged, communication has not taken place.
- An engaging presentation puts people on the edge of their seats.
- Effective communicators are passionate about their subject.
- They pour every part of their being into the presentation.
- If the subject is not worthy of your passion, it should be distributed in a memo.
- Effective communicators leave the audience no doubt about how to benefit from the objective of the talk.
- They call people to action.
- They make it easy to respond.
I never took a course with Michael, but I have to say that I have long tried to practice these four things. Generally speaking, when I speak I have one single point to get to; I always adapt to the audience; you can always tell if I am passionate about the subject; and no one is ever left with ambiguity about what we are discussing, even when I leave things open-ended.
That’s my own self-evaluation anyway. I am always trying to get better at communicating. What do you think?
My friend and brother in Christ, Eric Davis shares some thoughts on the way extreme fundamentalism often becomes exactly what it was started to oppose.
Check it out here.
At Bedford Road, we finished up Luke 5 yesterday. To be honest, I am still a little surprised that it took me so long to work through the chapter but there is just so much depth to these first encounters with Jesus. The way Jesus turned these people’s lives around, and then he encounters a group of self-righteous, religious bigots and shakes his head saying, “Once you drink the old wine, you won’t like the new.” That’s master teaching, right there.
In the message yesterday, I mentioned that Luke does a little word play with the Greek words for good and Christ, so I thought I would put them up here for you to see.
Good = χρηστός
Christ = χριστός
And like I said on Sunday, both η and ι are pronounced as a long e sound in Greek, so the pun is complete. It is one of those things that really makes you shake your head and wonder if Jesus was speaking Greek or if Luke noticed the pun when he was composing his gospel and chose to insert it.
This morning, I want to encourage you to head over to Justin Taylor’s blog and read on “How to Listen to a Sermon”.
This is a repost of an article I wrote back in 2009, addressing the problem of preaching. Since I grew up in a pastor’s home, I got to hear a lot of good preaching. Unfortunately, I heard an awful lot of terrible preaching as well. My dad and I would often analyze a preacher’s approach to the text and to his listeners, and I learned a lot about engaging listeners. Out of that and my experience as a preacher myself, I started to rethink preaching and came up with the idea of “irreverent homily.” Here is the article, which originally appeared on April 20, 2009.
The Return of the Homily
The sermon is a method of persuading people to believe what you want them to believe. It was a classic form of rhetoric which Jesus was apparently unfamiliar with and used only sparingly by his more Hellenic followers.
The homily was a much more common type of teaching. It was highly relational, with the teacher [didaskalos] presenting his listeners with a passage of the Writings, a series of brain-bending thoughts, a parable or even just a question. Then the community, teacher included, would sort through this together.
Whereas sermon is primarily focused on the rhetorical skill of the presenter, the homily is much more complex and free form. It is also much more difficult to do right. What is modernly called a homily is really just a sermon with no point. The ancient homily requires extensive study and preparation, a thorough knowledge of human nature and a desire to see one’s followers truly engaged.
Where Does Irreverence Come In?
By irreverence, I do not mean blasphemy or disrespect to the Writings or to the Lord. Instead, I mean irreverence to so much of what is considered “necessary” to understand the Writings.
Most preachers – no matter what tradition they come from – learn to understand the Writings from a handful of sources. What they consider new and fresh insight is really just OLD insight wrapped up in new words. How often have Baptist preachers quoted Charles Spurgeon, Reformed preachers Calvin or the Puritans, Methodist preachers Wesley or one of the great revivalists, Catholics quote Aquinas or Augustine or the Church Fathers?
In many ways, we have perpetuated the medieval Jewish pursuit of commentary, seeking some new Halakha or Aggadah to add to the secondary canon. The old commentary is reinterpreted, the original often lost in the muddle of secondaries and tertiaries.
An irreverent homily ignores all of these traditions, or perhaps places them beside the simple reading of the Writings. The teacher learns the language and culture of the original writer and audience. He places himself in that context and knows the core of what he is reading, then sifts through all the commentators. The commentators become other teachers making comments in their own context, speaking to the world they lived.
The Example of Strong’s Numbers
In 1890, Dr. James Strong (1822-1894) published his life’s work, his magnum opus. He and a group of nearly one hundred collaborators compiled an index of every major word in the Old and New Testament. Each word was assigned a number. Along with the index, the collaborators included a lexicon of the words, allowing the reader to see how words were generally translated in English.
A lexicon however is not a dictionary. Many unlearned teachers view Strong’s lexicon as defining Hebrew and Greek words. They have built entire doctrines on perceived definitions.
Then secondary authors have read the work of these unlearned men and treated these definitions and doctrines as authoritative. (Another case like this is the Jehovah’s Witnesses use of Vine’s definition for the word cross as definitive.)
Although Strong’s is only 100 years old, it is treated by some as an absolute, unchangeable tool. In reality, it is simply a magnificent work of scholarship, with all the weaknesses and problems of any modern human work.
I know one preacher who will define words only with Daniel Webster’s 1828 dictionary because it is the only way to truly understand what the Bible writers meant. This position has so many problems I can’t even begin to list them.
This is what we need to treat irreverently. Although I’ve used extreme examples mostly from a small niche of the Christian world that I grew up in, the problem exists across traditions. There are many of the “emerging” preachers who repackage the same old commentaries with powerpoint and flashy graphics and people eat it up as if it is authoritative.
Where is the passion for the Apostles’ Writings and the Tanach? Every time I open my Greek New Testament, I am astounded by how much I miss in English, how much of my thinking is tainted by these secondary sources.
Hey, I’m a preacher.
But I’m also a human being, and sometimes I make mistakes.
I am not going to get into a long-winded diatribe on everything that can go wrong in extreme fundamentalism, but I happened to watch one of Pastor Scott Anderson’s videos. Pastor Anderson is the pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, and a couple of years ago, he garnered some internet fame for his outrageously titled message “He Who Pisseth Against the Wall.” It’s on Youtube, and you can check it out if you really want to.
Anyway, I decided to check his youtube channel and I came across this video of him preaching Genesis 1. You don’t have to watch it if you don’t want to.
Here’s the problem. In the first few seconds of his message, Pastor Anderson says:
Genesis chapter 1, beginning in verse number 1, the Bible reads, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’ And of course, those are some of the most famous words in the entire Bible – the words that start out the Bible.
And it’s amazing because there are so many phony, false versions of the Bible out there today – if you don’t have a King James Version. And they already start tampering with God’s Word in this verse. Unbelievably, I mean just right out of the gate, Genesis 1:1, they make a change to this verse.
You see, the Bible says that in the beginning, God created the heaven – singular, not plural. He created the heaven and the earth. And that’s very important because what God created there in verse number one is not referring to the sky and the earth. It’s actually referring to the heaven as in the place where God lives.
So, what is my issue with what Pastor Anderson said? I don’t really have an issue with him, but the Hebrew Scriptures do. You see, what he says disagrees with what appears in the actual Hebrew text.
The word translated as heaven in the King James translation is ha-shamayim. You see that last bit – the yim at the end? That is the Hebrew equivalent of putting -s on the end of word to make it plural.
The reason that other translations of the Scriptures translate ha-shamayim as “heavens” is because it is plural in the original language.
I don’t know Pastor Anderson, and to be honest, I don’t really mind that he is a King James Only fundamentalist. My point is not to ridicule him.
My point is that even pastors and preachers can make mistakes. Don’t accept things they say – whether it is some famous megachurch pastor or the pastor of your local congregation – wholesale without question.
In Acts 17, we see an example of how we should approach preaching:
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness,examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
When Paul went to Berea (a small town to the east of Mount Olympus in Greece), he preached the gospel to the Jews there. Instead of just saying, “Oh, Paul looks respectable and is interesting. He must be right!” the Berean Jews daily examined the Scriptures. They tested what he had to say against the Scriptures.
Lazy Christians will fall for false teaching.
Take the time to interact with the Scriptures as a community, not just as an audience. Ask questions. Dig deeper. Have discussions. Grow together.
Sunday night, I started doing my preliminary reading of Luke’s Gospel. This year, we’re going to do something a little different for Advent and Easter, incorporating the two seasons into a single teaching series from that Gospel. We haven’t come up for a title for the teaching series yet, but the idea is to create an overarching study – with a weekly discussion guide for people to have with them when they come together during the week to pray. (I should mention that the series will be concurrent with an emphasis on gathering with other believers in the congregation during the week to pray.)
So, why am I intimidated? The short answer is that a study on the life of Jesus is pretty daunting. There’s no way around it. The longer answer is that Luke’s Gospel is particularly unusual. It is the most Greek of the Gospels, and in many ways it is more similar to a Greek tragedy than to the Hebrew Scriptures. It is part musical, part drama, part morality play, and part theological text.
This is one rich book.
Most traditionalists steer clear of Luke except on Christmas, when they have to read the first couple of chapters. This is probably because it also contains some pretty crazy stuff. There are lots of cast out demons and Holy Spirit kind of things that are a bit off-putting to the casual reader who wants a nice, neat Jesus who always fits the family Bible stereotype. On top of that, Luke changes the order of events from Matthew and Mark, muddying up attempts to synchronize the Gospels into one big, happy story.
For this reason, a lot of modern commentators insist it was the last of the three Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke). I think they miss the point of the book entirely, but that’s neither here nor there.
Anyway, I digress.
Here’s to a couple of weeks of intense reading and planning to get ready for the coming seasons!
Something worth hearing. Preachers tend to make our dialogue one of questioning rather than one of declaring. We are free to question man’s wisdom; but we should confidently declare God’s.