On Sermon Preparation

So it comes to this. The preparation of sermons involves sweat and labour. It can be extremely difficult at times to get all this matter that you have found in the Scriptures into this particular form.

It is like a potter fashioning something out of the clay, or like a blacksmith making shoes for a horse; you have to keep on putting the material into the fire and on to the anvil and hit it again and again with the hammer.

Each time it is a bit better, but not quite right; so you put it back again and again until you are satisfied with it or can do no better. This is the most grueling part of the preparation of a sermon; but at the same time it is a most fascinating and a most glorious occupation.

It can be at times most difficult, most exhausting, most trying. But at the same time I can assure you that when you have finally succeeded you will experience one of the most glorious feeling that ever comes to a man on the face of this earth.

To borrow the title of a book by Arthur Koestler, you will be conscious of having performed an ‘Act of Creation’, and you will have some dim understanding of what the Scripture means which tells us that when God looked at the world He had created He saw that ‘it was good’.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How do you feel about your own sermon preparation?

Resources

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 90.

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10 Preaching Lessons from My First Year

Bible on Pulpit

Next week, I will celebrate my one year anniversary at my first church. Over the last year I have learned many valuable lessons, especially when it comes to preaching. Let me share with you some of the main preaching lessons I learned this last year.

10 Preaching Lessons from My First Year

(1) Be Yourself in the Pulpit

God has made us all different. Trying to sound like your favorite preacher will not work. Believe me, I have tried and I have failed. It is taken a year, but I am just now getting comfortable with being myself. It has made a difference in my preaching, as well as it has allowed me to connect with the people in a way I have not connected in the past.

(2) Get to Know Your People

The only way to know the questions your people are asking and the things they are dealing with in their personal, public, and family lives is to be around your people. If you want to make your applications pertinent, your illustrations connect, and the text come alive, you need to know your people.

(3) Use the Sermon Template You Get from Preaching Books, but Don’t be Afraid to Modify It

Most introductory preaching books and classes will provide you with a basic outline – Explain the text, Illustrate the text, and Apply the text – for each major point in your sermon. I believe that is a good rule of thumb, but don’t feel like you have to follow it to a “T”.

For instance, I have found that I can’t always think of an appropriate illustration for one of my major points. When I first started, I thought I needed one no matter what, so I would force an illustration in a section. The result was an awkward illustration that did not add much to the sermon. Over time and through loving, constructive criticism from my wife and others, I have learned that if I can’t think of an illustration, I should not force one.

(4) Know Your Time Limit and What Your People Can Handle

Don’t think you have to preach for forty-five minutes, or an hour, just because your favorite preacher does. If you can hold your people’s attention for twenty minutes, then preach for twenty minutes. If you can hold their attention for thirty or forty minutes, preach for thirty or forty minutes. Preaching to meet a self-imposed time limit is neither wise nor helpful.

Along with knowing your time limit, you should also be sensitive to what your people can handle. If they are accustomed to listening for thirty minutes, don’t come out of the gates on your first week preaching for an hour. It takes time for an attention span to grow. If you recognize this and slowly creep up to your target time limit, you will serve your people better and insure they will get more out of your sermons each week.

(5) Preach Different Genres and Both Testaments

Your yearly preaching schedule should include more than one genre and both Testaments. Doing so will not only help you develop your skills, but it will teach your people the importance of both the Old and New Testaments, as well as how to interpret all of Scripture.

(6) Limit Your Use of the Original Languages from the Pulpit

It is only natural to want to reference the original languages in your sermon. After all, you have probably spent several years in seminary talking through the text in Greek or Hebrew. While these languages should play a major role in sermon preparation, they will quickly cause your people’s eyes to glaze over if you refer to them too much. A wise preacher limit’s his use of them to times when they will help their people understand the text better.

(7) Commit to Preaching through Books

Working through a book from start to finish will serve to challenge both you and the congregation. When you commit to preaching a book, you are forced to deal with every verse in context. Doing so will help you grow in your understanding of Scripture, allow you to preach difficult and pointed texts your congregation needs to hear without feeling attacked, keep you from preaching only your interests, and give you a better chance of accurately interpreting God’s Word.

(8) Read Both Commentaries and Other’s Sermons, but Don’t Preach Them

Commentaries are a preachers best friend. They help us understand difficult texts and think of applications we may not have thought of otherwise. Likewise, reading sermons will help you to understand and apply the text, as well as help you to pull back from the technical nature of most commentaries and give insight into how best to structure your sermon. While commentaries and other’s sermons are helpful, it is important we don’t preach them, but do our own work.

(9) Don’t Forget the So What

It is important and necessary that we tell our people why the text matters to their life, how it applies to their situation, and how they might implement its teaching. If we don’t, we are not fully expounding the text and we are short-changing our people.

(10) Seek Out Constructive Criticism

Let’s face it, no one is a great preacher from the start, unless you are Charles Spurgeon. It takes time. I have found, however, you can increase your preaching skills more quickly by seeking out constructive criticism. My wife, friends, and trusted congregates all have given me feedback over the last year, which has helped me to right the wrong more quickly.

The goal is not self-glorification, but rather congregational edification. Removing those things from your preaching that hinder others from understanding the text is what you are after. There is no better way to understand what those things are than to ask those who are listening to your sermons.

Question for Reflection

  1. What would you add to my list from your own experience?

Resource

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Don’t Forget the “So What”

Bible on a Pulpit

Every Sunday 1000’s of sermons are preached and heard, and just as many Sunday School lessons and Bible Studies are prepared for and taught. Even though sermons are preached, lessons and studies are taught, many do not address the “so what” of the text. In other words, they do not tell the people how to apply the text to their life.

On Friday’s a few men at our church gather at iHop to discuss Scripture. It is a great time of Christian fellowship and an opportunity to learn from one another. Last Friday, one of the guys reminded me of the importance of the “so what.” He said:

I enjoy hearing the history, and the Greek or Hebrew behind the text. These things are necessary to understand and learn, but one thing I want to know before the sermon, Bible study, or Sunday School lesson is over is why does this text matter to my life?

In other words, he was calling preachers and teachers to provide the “so what” of the text. I agree with him. It is important and necessary that we tell our people why the text matters to their life, how it applies to their situation, and how they might implement its teaching. If we don’t, we are not fully expounding the text and we are short-changing our people.

Challenge

So this week as you prepare your Sunday School lesson, Bible study, or Sermon, make sure to provide the “so what.” Tell the people why the text matters to their life, and help them apply it.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you make the “so what” explicit?
  2. Do you help your people apply the text to their life?

Resource

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Sermons, Cultural Studies, and the Heart

Heart and the City

Studying culture is necessary when preparing a sermon. Pastors, including myself, read and devour everything in culture to ready themselves for their sermon. While it is profitable for pastors to know what is going on around them, I think we have to be careful what we take in. Consuming everything is not profitable, and it may even be a subtle way for us to make way for our sin.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount tackles these subtle sins of the heart. Here is what he has to say:

You have never been guilty of adultery? All right. Would you then answer me this simple question. Why do you read all the details of divorce cases in the newspaper? Why do you do it? Why is it essential that you should read right through these reports? What is your interest? It is not a legal interest, is it? or a social one? What is it? There is only one answer: you are enjoying it. You would not dream of doing these things yourself, but you are doing them by proxy.

You are sinning in your heart and mind and in your imagination, and you are therefore guilty of adultery. That is what Christ says. How subtle this awful, terrible thing is! How often do men sin by reading novels and biographies. You read the reviews of a book and find that it contains something about a man’s misconduct or behavior, and you buy it. We pretend we have a general philosophical interest in life, and that we are sociologists reading out of pure interest. No, no; it is because we love the thing; we like it. It is sin in the heart; sin in the mind!

Could we actually be making way for sin in our sermon preparation? Could we be disguising our cultural studies as a way to make room for our heart to fulfill it’s lusts and desires? I don’t believe that is always the reason we study our culture, but these paragraphs gave me reason to pause and consider the reasons behind the cultural studies I do. It gave me reason to check my heart and see what sin I may be feeding. I hope it gives you reason to do the same.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Why do you study culture?
  2. Have you ever stopped and considered that some of your studies might be done to make way for sin?

Resource

Martyn-Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 239.

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Are You a Berean?

Berean Congregation

Week in and week out church members listen to sermons, sit in on Bible studies, and attend Sunday School. They receive teaching, but what do they do with that teaching afterward? I am afraid most members do nothing more than casually mention to their family over lunch that the sermon was good this week.

Scripture tells us that is an inadequate response. It calls us to do more than listen to the sermon on Sunday, even though that is a good start. What else should we do? Let’s look to the book of Acts and see what our friends the Berean’s did.

The Bereans as Our Example

After leaving Thessalonica, Paul and Silas came to Berea. Luke tells us after arriving Paul and Silas…

… 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 (Acts 17:10-11).

The Bereans model for us what we should do on Sunday morning. What is that?

Here are the three things they did that we should be doing:  

(1) They Eagerly Received God’s Word – They came to the synagogue hungry for the preached Word. Preaching wasn’t the part of the service they endured. It was a part of the service they eagerly anticipated.

(2) They Listened Attentively – Not only did they desire to hear God’s Word taught, but they listened attentively. Limited edition Berean Moleskine’s sat in every listener’s lap being filled with notes from the sermon. Daydreaming, counting the pews for the 100th time, or catching up on their beauty sleep was far from their mind. They listened to the exposition of God’s Word attentively.

(3) They Examined the Teaching they Heard – Not only did the Bereans receive the Word with all eagerness, listening attentively, but they went home, opened their Bibles, and examined Paul and Silas’ teaching. Was it accurate? Did it coincide with the rest of Scripture? Was it applied rightly? These are the questions they probably asked and more.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you hunger to hear God’s Word proclaimed?
  2. Do you listen attentively during the preaching of God’s Word?
  3. When was the last time you went home and examined the sermons content for accuracy?
  4. Are you a Berean?

Resource

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Faithfully Preach the Text

I was sent the following quote as an encouragement this week. It is by John Broadus, who was the President of Southern Seminary from 1889 to 1895. Read what he has to say regarding our faithfulness in preaching the text:

It is so easy and pleasant for men of fertile fancy to break away from laborious study of phraseology and connection, to cease plodding along the rough and homely paths of earth, and sport, free and rejoicing, in the open heaven; the people are so charmed by ingenious novelties, so carried away with imaginative flights, so delighted to find everywhere types of Christ and likenesses to the spiritual life; it is so common to think that whatever kindles the imagination and touches the heart must be good preaching, and so easy to insist that the doctrines of the sermon are in themselves true and Scriptural, though they be not actually taught in the text, – that preachers often lose sight of their fundamental and inexcusable error, of saying that a passage of God’s Word means what it does not mean. So independent too one may feel; so original he may think himself. Commentaries, he can sneer at them all; other preachers, he has little need of comparing views with them. No need of anything but the resources of his own imagination, for such preaching is too often only building castles in the air.

Resource

Quote originally published at For Christ and Culture