One of the great dangers in preaching, particularly when you are new to the experience, is that of padding out your message. You feel that you don’t have enough material and will not go the distance and so you add extras in to the message.
I have written here about the issue of pruning in preaching. In that instance there is the problem of having gathered too much detail into your sermon. In speaking of padding out your preaching I am dealing with the reverse problem. Although they very much bear on the same issue; that of making sure you have the appropriate material in your preaching.
All messages need to properly be developed so that they are suitable for the context in which they are preaching. Giving consideration to this is all a proper part of preparing. I have written here about the issue of contextualising preaching. Having navigated through all the issues of preparing properly then there is the need evaluate that you are presenting a message which is suitable.
If we conclude rightly or wrongly, that we have too little material, there is a tendency to pad out our message so that we fill out the time. This leads to extraneous material getting into the sermon and the sermon becomes clogged with all sorts of stuff which take away from the message God has given you. It is better to be too short than to be too clogged.
There are no doubt many fine balances here. But we need to fight against the issue of unnecessarily bolstering a sermon. Develop the sermon fully, but don’t pad it out.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it (2 Tim. 3:14). In this scripture Paul is supporting his insistence that Timothy keep with the Word of God by reminding him about who he had learned that Word from, This instructs us that the character of those who teach us the Word gives extra reason for us to believe that Word.
This is not to say that if the Word is brought to us by someone who we know to be an infidel, or afterwards proves to be an infidel, that we reject the Word. Our Lord said in Matthew 23:2-3 that The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. The Word must be obeyed because it is the Word of the Lord.
Nevertheless we should be doing what we teach. The Word that we teach should be modelled in our lives. This is a big issue for parents and all who teach the Word to others. But it is also a critical issue in our witness generally. It is the power of a godly life which lives out the gospel, that gives credibility to that same gospel when it is shared with others. And thereby there is effective ministry which attracts people to our Lord. It may even be that someone’s sweet testimony for Christ led to you seeking the Lord.
The implication of this is that we must be aware of our proneness to hypocrisy and be vicious in rooting it out in our lives.
This also has implications for the manner in which we conduct our affairs before God. We live in an age of the all-pervasive internet and social media. It has became easy in this digital age, to meet in cyber churches or to get our spiritual food from our favourite Bible teacher online. In such a situation we very likely have no knowledge of the charachter of those who are teaching us. It should not be this way. Knowing the charachter of our teachers is a God-ordained way in which he verifies His message.
This, therefore, gives strong impetus to the need for us to be based in local churches. And in those churches we need to have leaders who do not “ivory tower” themselves. We need those who move among the people so that their lives can be seen. Paul speaks in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 about Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. The leaders were among the church in Thessalonika and that is the way it should be. If you are a church elder you need to be among the people so people can see your character.
This also cautions us against churches becoming to big. If church members are not interacting with those who teach them because the church is simply too big, then means should be put in place to resolve this situation. That may mean refining the organisation of the church,or planting another church.
I am often left in a bit of dismay after reading books on sermon preparation. This is because the usual formula which is presented, is that you work on the text yourself first and only then turn to commentaries as a cross-check. I know this is a crude generalization, but I do find this approach deflating. The reason for my deflation is because this is not the way I tend to do it and I am left feeling that I have got it wrong. However, when I come to my senses and ponder on the matter I do feel there is a legitimacy in turning to commentaries first. So here are a few observations;
- In looking at the text, commentaries immediately put me on the right track in understanding the text. I am not left to drift down some cul-de-sacs of my own making. They direct me to immediately get into the text.
- This means that you generally need a range of commentaries to consult. Through this, you get different perspectives which can help in assimilating the meaning of the text. It would be wrong just to be in the thrall of one commentator.
- Some may say that you are not depending on the Lord through His Holy Spirit to direct your understanding. What I would say is that God has given these writers the gift of understanding the text; the Holy Spirit has guided them. In a sense, we are standing on giant’s shoulders.
- I still have to come to an understanding of the text; I cannot just leave myself in the hands of others. However, these others are my helpers in understanding the text.
- There must be discretion in choosing which commentaries to use. We must go for those who have a high view of Scripture and are suitably gifted to explain it.
- For me, in ploughing the text into my mind for preparation, I am continually reading these commentaries through. Thus I trust under God, I am coming to understand what is God’s mind in the text.
- We always need to be praying for the Holy Spirit to give us illumination. Commentaries compliment the Work of the Spirit; they are not a substitute for the Spirit.
In making my observations on the use of commentaries, I realize that everyone has to choose an approach which works for themselves. There is a danger of pontificating that my way is the “only” way to prepare sermons. This can be so intimidating. In the end, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Are we producing sermons which are exegetically accurate, bring out the meaning of the text and are being used of the LORD. May the LORD bless you if you are a preacher whichever way you go about preparing.
(Originally publishes at venabling on September 5 2013)
There is a certain type of preaching that is biblically sound and acceptable to the people of God, but it just floats. This type of preaching exegetes the bible in a faithful way. It originates in scripture and therefore is expository. But it lacks bite.
Such preaching is very acceptable to the carnal believer who does not want to be challenged by the Word. Such people are living insipid half-hearted Christian lives. And, sadly, they convince themselves that this is acceptable because they never hear any preaching of the Word that disturbs them. The Word never gets beneath their skins. Rather, the preaching that they do hear gives a regular massage to their compromised torsos and they go away thinking all is well.
The problem is that the preaching is just left to float into the air above the congregation. What is missing here? It is the “You are the man (2 Sam. 12:7b) that Nathan uttered to David. Previous to this as Nathan the prophet, brought the Word to David he had happily engaged with the blandishments (as he perceived them) that were being brought to him. But then Nathan hit him with the challenge. He dug the Word right into David’s soul. David could no longer be detached. The Word was upon him.
We need the “you are the man” in our preaching. We need to go for people’s hearts; we need to go for their sins. Do we love people so little that we will content to offer them up wimpish orations which would not disturb a seeded dandelion?
Think of Peter preaching the first two sermons of this gospel age. In both he brought the Word home to His hearers with challenge. So in Acts 2:40 we read With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation. Then take a look at Acts 3:11-26 and listen to Peter preaching. I feel the words are so pointed and evocative you can almost hear him as you read. Acts 3:14-15a records him saying to the assembled Jews You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.
Brothers, I know that so many of the Lord’s people just want the Word to be left floating. But really this is not good enough. A preaching that challenges the people to follow the Lord’s way is a loving ministry because it wants the best for the people. Take a look at Acts 3:11-26 again and you will see that Peter is only being so direct because he longs for them to come to repentance and faith; he wants the best for them. So let’s drill the Word down into people’s hearts. Let them know that there is a God in heaven who hates sin. Let us tell them that the ointment of God’s grace, sealed in the blood of Jesus, is sufficient to heal all the wounds of their sin.
And if you feel that this might make you unpopular, brother preacher, then remember you are not in a popularity contest. Rather you are called to love the people under your care and do them good through the faithful preaching of the Word.
(Originally published at venabling on July 29th 2013)
Jeremiah in Lamentations 2:14 informs the people of Jerusalem about how:
The visions of your prophets
were false and worthless;
they did not expose your sin
to ward off your captivity.
The prophecies they gave you
were false and misleading.
This strikes me forcibly as regards to the character of my preaching. Do I have a sin exposing preaching ministry? If not, it is very likely that my preaching is a means of harm to the people who hear me. To fail to address what is wrong in peoples’ lives is to fail to give them a way of rectifying their lives for good.
Jeremiah says concerning the prophets who had belonged to the people of Jerusalem that they had not exposed sin. This was not a matter of indifference because it had very serious consequences. The judgment of Babylonian captivity fell as a result. No exposure of sin leads to no repentance for sin and that in turn leads to judgment against sin.
In place of sin exposing preaching there seems to have been lifestyle affirming preaching. False and misleading is how Jeremiah describes their prophecies. We will always be on the slippery slope to falsehood and deception when we do not have the Word of the Lord at the centre of our preaching.
So let us be concerned, fellow preachers, about our preaching. Let us consider that we may be facilitating a descent into hell among our hearers because we have not preached the truth about sin, their sin, to our hearers. Love and passion must be involved in this. But preach judgement against sin we must.
If there is no preaching of sin there can be no meaningful preaching of the balm for sin in the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Am I better at praying or preaching? If you are a better preacher than you are a prayer then be careful. If you excel in your preaching over your praying then your preaching may not what it should be. Your preaching in such a case, rather than emerging from the energy of the Spirit, may well be being carried off because of the impressive oratorical skills that you possess.
Prayer gives the fuel for the exercise of our gifts. This is because prayer brings us to know and experience God. If there is no fellowship with God in prayer then everything will shrivel and perish in our ministry. That may not be visible to human eyes, but it will be visible to the unseen eye of our all-seeing God. We may be able to carry things off and show ourselves to be very impressive, but it will all be show.
This reminds me to mention the frightening assessment of our Lord who warns in Matthew 7:21-23:
‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
Impressive activity does not mean spiritual acceptability. Dare I say, many impressive preachers may well ultimately be in the “I never knew you” camp. And that is very sobering!
O Lord may I excel in knowing you through prayer.
Oh to have more Spirit anointed suitable gifted servants of the Lord out in our town centres declaring the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus. The mandating of this ministry by the Lord is clear in Proverbs 1:20-21 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech.
What I want to address here though is the way in which this ministry is undertaken. The matter has recently garnered some publicity through the arrest of a preacher outside Southgate Tube Station . One report of the incident is here.
Immediately I want to make clear that I commend and admire street preachers for their courage in declaring the Word in the public square. However, it is the conduct of the preachers that I want to muse upon.
In watching the arrest of this man I am struck by the fact that there is plenty of truth, but little grace, I admire the truthfulness, but recoil from the gracelessness. We need to remember that the Saviour we serve was full of grace and truth (John 1:14b). Furthermore, the call of the Lord through Paul in Colossians 4:6 to us (including all street preachers) is Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
It is one of my concerns in respect of street preachers who have been arrested or taken to court, to consider in what way have they conducted themselves. It is easy for the Christian media and twitterverse to make headlines out of the arrest of a Christian preacher, but we should want to know what actually happened to lead to the arrest. Of course there can be times when police officers can be vindictive and wanting to humiliate the Christian preacher. However, very often they are responding to a complaint and seeking to reasonably investigate a situation.
The gospel is not recommended when we deliberately are offensive or conduct ourselves in a way that is just simply annoying.
A final point I would want to make is that as Christians we are called to be those who respect those in authority (see Romans 13:1-7. I feel the gentleman arrested in Southgate was less than respectful. To gently interact with a police officer about what he is doing and your “rights” is very different from his finger-wagging intimidatory approach. Further, in this anti-authoritarian age we do the Lord’s cause no service when we brazenly display little respect for those in authority ourselves.