If we want to improve in any skill, we must practice. This axiom is also true for preaching. If you don’t get many opportunities to preach, them you won’t be able to grow as an expositor. But there is an additional tool beyond practice that is also needed. As a matter of fact, it goes hand in hand with practice. It’s feedback. We need help with seeing our blindspots and our weaknesses in our sermons and delivery. One good place to get helpful feedback is from our church–those people that love us and want us to grow in our skills.
Now I understand that going to someone in your church and asking them to critique your preaching is a scary prospect because we are opening ourselves up to someone when we are very vulnerable. But we need the feedback if we are to get better and improve our preaching skills. So here is how you can being:
Find two or three people you trust will be both kind and honest with you as they critique your preaching.
If you have an idea of where you might need to improve, try working on this skill set for a month. Don;t try to change too much too fact or you will freeze up with the “paralysis of analysis” syndrome. Once you get a skill under your belt, you can move on.
Explain to those people who are giving you feedback what they should be looking for. They need to know how to identify weakness in you beyond what they like and don’t like. It needs to be defined and measurable.
After they give you feedback, thank them and assure them that you will take their comments into consideration and work on these things. Then do it!
I have created a simple form to give to those in a church with helpful areas for them to take notes. I would suggest that you not only explain what they are looking for, understand that they are helping you out, so don’t demand that they spend too much time distracted with the critique so that they get nothing from the message. In fact, you might want to rotate those that help you with feedback so it isn’t the same people week after week. Here are the questions I include on my form:
Preacher’s name: _____________________
Sermon title: _________________________
Sermon main text: ____________________
Date preached: _______________________
Did the introduction lead to the main idea of the text?
Was it interesting?
Did it include enough background info to give context without bogging down the sermon?
Was there a clear outline?
Was the outlining of the sermon choppy?
Did the preacher point us back to the text to prove his point?
Did he stray from the text or explain it?
Were there sufficient illustrations to make the abstract ideas concrete?
Was there appropriate application given?
Was the main point of the text the main point of the sermon?
Was there doctrinal error?
Was the explanation of the main doctrines clear?
Was the gospel somehow included in the sermon or conclusion?
Was this message God-centered?
Was this message overall clear, somewhat clear, muddy, or confusing?
Was the hearer given something to do or believe?
(The one giving feedback should be instructed to write out your outline as they heard it. This should help you evaluate how successfully you gave out the outline in regard to repetition, and clarity.)
We have been considering the need for the Church of Jesus Christ to preach the Bible faithfully, in full dependence upon God and the power vested in His Word. In the first article, I wrote that we must preach the Bible because it is our only authority. Without that divine Book, no man standing up on a Sunday morning has any authority. Secondly, we must preach the Bible because the Bible alone demonstrates divine power. Manipulation, oratorical skill, and emotionalism will only get you so far. Today I want to look at one last reason why we must preach the Bible.
3. It Demands Divine Duty
The hard soil of men’s hearts is not something unique to the 21st century. It is as old as humanity itself. This fact needs to sink into the heart of the pastor who is looking for low-hanging fruit when he seeks a ministry. God has not called most of us to a large pulpit ministry, nor world-wide fame. But He has called every one of His ministers to faithfully proclaim the Word wherever we are sent. Hard hearts, gang violence, poor attendance, meager offerings, inadequate facilities, nonexistent leadership, are all realities that can make ministry challenging, but none are reasons to walk away from a church or a community. As a matter of fact, all of these are reasons that a faithful Bible preaching, gospel-saturated church is needed in that place. The marks of this divine duty require us to preach faithfully, preach plainly, and preach patiently.
Preach Faithfully (Ezek. 2-3; 2 Tim. 4:1-5)
Facing the rebellious nation of Israel, the Lord clearly told Ezekiel what he must do, “And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezek. 2:7, ESV). Over and over again, Ezekiel was told that Israel was a rebellious house, impudent, stubborn, and hard-headed. And yet, his instructions were clear, speak God’s words to them. Though they would not listen, and though they were so hard in heart, it did not change the directive—be a watchman (3:17) and speak the words of impending judgment (v. 19) no matter what. Faithfulness is what God requires (3:19, 21).
As the Apostle Paul faced his own death, he exhorted Timothy to continue to persevere in the ministry of the Word in season and out of season. For Timothy, Paul’s imprisonment and coming death was a very real illustration of the threat to the gospel ministry. Paul didn’t instruct Timothy to move to a safer territory nor did he instruct him to avoid suffering, but instead encouraged him to keep preaching even when people will no longer endure it and that this might include the need to endure suffering for the sake of Christ. Paul was faithful to preach the whole counsel of God and he would receive his reward in due time (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
Preach Plainly (1Cor. 2:1-5)
Plain preaching is not the same as bland preaching, nor does it mean to preach simplistically. Paul’s desire to give Jesus Christ all the glory required him to make sure that his own preaching did not put the spotlight on his considerable education, gifts, and talents. Although the so-called super-apostles had a low view of Paul’s presence and preaching ability (2 Cor. 10:10), he placed his full dependence upon the power of God’s Spirit working through the Word of God. In doing this, Paul put the cross of Christ on full display. Plain preaching is not flashy, gimmicky, or self-seeking. Simply put, plain preaching is Spirit-empowered, not man-centered. The Puritan Richard Baxter wrote, “It is no easy matter to speak so plain that the ignorant may understand us, so seriously that the deadest heart may feel us, and so convincingly that contradictory cavaliers may be silenced.” (Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, (Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, 2012), 695).
Preach Patiently (2 Tim. 4:2)
Our duty to preach the Word must be done with the reminder that we do not preach ourselves nor do we preach our words. Pastors are under-shepherds that are to lead without being domineering. We are to be loving examples to the flock that has been placed in our charge (1 Pet. 5:2-4). This means that we must teach the Word of God with the patience of our Master (2 Tim. 4:2), and that is easier said than done, particularly when we are facing the growing challenges of ministry today. Nevertheless, we must teach and preach with great patience, waiting upon the Word and Spirit to do their mighty work.
Although the reasons that we preach the Word could be multiplied, these three should stand out for us—it is our authority, our power and our duty. And as we faithfully proclaim the Word, we can expect that it will do its mighty work of reviving the soul and enlightening the eyes (Ps. 19:7, 8). The benefits of doing so will manifest themselves in due time, showing us that as we sow the seeds of the Word into the hearts of our congregations that all our efforts are profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and will accomplish the will of God in the end (Isa. 55:11).
As William Gurnall wrote a long time ago, “The Word of God is too sacred a thing and preaching to solemn a work, to be toyed and played with” (Ibid., 685). May we pick up our Swords and faithfully execute the ministry that the Lord has called each of us to do, for His greater glory and for the good of the Church.
Why do we bother preaching the Bible as divinely authoritative? If you listen to what came out of many pulpits yesterday, you might think that preaching deep and doctrinal truth from the Bible is optional. In this three part series I want to argue that preaching deep and expositional messages from the Bible isn’t simply a personal preference, but is actually the necessary requirement of any man who is called of God to proclaim the Word of the Lord. In my last blogpost (you can read it here: Why We Must Preach the Bible (part 1), I argued that we must preach the Bible because it declares with divine power. This isn’t whipped up by yelling in the pulpit, lighting packages, emotion-driven love songs to Jesus, or “authentic” talks meant to motivate. We need to preach the Word of God because it is the only thing that can cut into the hardest heart. Secondly…
2. It Demonstrates Divine Power
If we understand that all of unregenerate mankind has been blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4) and are dead in their trespasses and sin without Christ (Eph. 2:1), and that even after we have come to know Jesus as Savior we are still in need of the Spirit’s illuminating power (1 Cor. 1:12-13), then we also will understand the need for the divine power of the Word that can overcome the devastating spiritual effects of the Fall.
The Power to Open Blind Eyes
In the aftermath of the resurrection of Christ, there was a lot of confusion among the disciples of Jesus. They had begun to recall the words of Jesus about His rising from the dead, and they had also heard the seemingly outrageous stories from the women who said they saw angels who told them about the risen Christ (Lk. 24:1-9, 22-24). As two disciples puzzled over the events of that first Easter morning, they moved along the road to Emmaus where they encountered a fellow traveler, the resurrected Christ, who was veiled to their eyes.
As they spoke to Jesus, they explained the confusion and the promises and the grief they shared over having lost their dear Master. Jesus gently rebuked the men (v. 25) as He explained from the Old Testament how the Scriptures needed to be fulfilled concerning the Messiah (v. 27). After Jesus’ sudden self-revelation and departure, these two men discussed what they felt as the Scriptures were opened to them: “They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”” (Lk. 24:32, ESV). Their experience was not simply an emotional response, but the active working of the Spirit in revealing truth to their blind eyes, which now could see.
Another example of such power to open blind eyes can be seen along a riverside just outside of the city of Philippi where the Apostle Paul and his team proclaimed the gospel message to a small group of women who had gathered there to pray on the Sabbath (Acts 16:11-13). As Paul preached, Lydia’s eyes were opened by the Lord, causing her to pay attention to the message that Paul preached. Immediately she was changed as she gave her life to Christ. She was baptized and hosted Paul and his companions in her home (v. 15).
Why do we preach the Bible? Because it is the only means that God has given us to open blind eyes.
The Power to Bring Revival
Our God is not a genie that we can simply schedule when we want Him to show up. Biblical revival cannot be stirred up by man, for “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:8, ESV). But this truth does not mean that there are not elements of true, biblical revival that accompany God’s work in bringing about a genuine work of God. The Old Testament gives a few prominent examples of revival that came to the people of Israel, and each one was accompanied by the proclamation of the Word of God. I want to highlight two of those examples so that the power of the Word might be shown in how God brings about genuine revival.
Josiah (2 Kgs. 22-23)
Having found the Book of the Law while making repairs to the Temple, King Josiah was undone when it was read in his presence. As he listened to the reading of the Book of the Law, the king began to see more clearly how disobedient Judah had been in God’s eyes (vv. 10-13). After seeking the prophetic Word of the Lord, Josiah was humbled, and he actively began seeking to eradicate the wicked idolatry that had been rampant in his kingdom. Along with cleansing the land of false worship, he also sought to restore the approved worship that the Word of God directed to his people. Think about it, the Word wasn’t preached, it was simply read. No fancy outlines, no illustrations or catchy titles or PowerPoint slides. The Word was read, and the Spirit did His convicting work in Josiah, moving him to reform the whole kingdom.
Ezra (Neh. 8-9)
Under the leadership of Ezra, the priestly scribe, and Nehemiah the governor, the returning exiles longed to hear from the God of their Fathers as they had begun to see their need to be a separate people from the pagans all around them. God had begun to restore the nation, but not without challenges from their enemies. And so, as Ezra opened the Law and the elders explained its meaning to the people (8:3), the people began to sense their spiritual thirst and their parched souls began to be refreshed as the Spirit began to move them to understand the great and tender mercy of their God (8:9-12). Following a short time of rejoicing, the people began to reinstate the holy practices that had been long lost and forgotten (vv. 14-18) and began to openly confess their sin with grief and contrition (9:1-4). The brokenness of the people led to worship that was filled with confession, restoration, cleansing and rejoicing. The power of the Word had broken the hardest hearts and restored them like nothing else could.
In the modern church today, there are all sorts of man-made methods and programs that seek these kinds of results but fail to make any lasting change. Pragmatism, that philosophy that seeks to determine value based upon the success or failure of end results, is not a Christian concept. Where was the pragmatism in the prophet Isaiah when God said to Him, ““Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isa. 6:9–10, ESV)? There was no revival in the land, but God still called for faithfulness in the ministry of Isaiah.
And where can we find a pragmatic approach in the ministry of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who mourned over the sins of God’s people for their sin, but was mistreated and scorned and seemed to have been ignored by nearly everyone (Jer. 38:6)? And what about the testimonies of those spoken of in Hebrews 11:36-38?
“Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb. 11:36–38, ESV)
There is still power in the Scripture, and it is to be preached whether revival comes or not, because Scripture carries with it a divine duty for God’s people.
Tomorrow’s post will conclude this series with our final reason we must preach the Bible. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to subscribe to received reminders when I post new material.