A Tool to Sharpen Your Preaching (weekend repost)

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.

Read the full post and see the sermon evaluation form here: A Tool To Sharpen Your Preaching

Do’s and Don’t’s of Sermon Introductions

Do not:

  1. Make your introduction disproportionate to the sermon. Your intro is like a porch to your sermon (the house). Make the porch fit the house.
  2. Cram details into the sermon that should more properly be placed into the sermon under a main or sub-point.
  3. Avoid eye contact or read your intro. Eye contact is important to engage your listeners. Know your intro so well that you will not need to read it. With that said, lengthy quotes are seldom appropriate in an introduction.
  4.  Introduce your first point, or a sub-point or idea in your sermon. This is confusing. Introduce the main point, which should cover your proposition and outline.
  5. Introduce the book, genre, author or audience. This material is background, but not the main idea of the text.

Do:

  1. Be clear, and concise. Make an impact that will leave your listener wanting more.
  2. Be creative. Introducing every sermon in the same manner gets as tedious as a bologna sandwich every day for lunch. Mix it up.
  3. Be careful in your use of sensational or shocking introductions. They may distract from the message proper, and if over-done will desensitize your listeners over time.
  4. Be brief. Don’t repeat yourself or use multiple illustrations. Get to the main idea and transition into your proposition as quickly as possible. Your job is to exposit the text—so move on to it!
  5. Be energetic. Nothing invites a wandering mind and a good nap than a boring preacher.

Preaching for a Verdict

An important concept that cannot be ignored in sermon preparation is the fact that the sermon needs to have a purpose–a reason for existing. A meandering monologue that seems to wander to and fro can be muddy, disorganized, frustrating, and unprofitable to the listener.

Each of the biblical writers had a reason for why they wrote their biblical texts, so too the biblical expositor needs to have a purpose as well. He must enter into his sermon preparation with a clear understanding of what he is expecting his hearer to do when he has finished explaining, illustrating, and applying the biblical text.

Whether it is to glorify God, come to repentance, understand a theological concept more clearly, obey a command, or some other purpose, the sermon needs to have a clear purpose.

Can you imagine what it was like for the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for forty years? If you’ve ever sat in a sermon with no point, then you may have felt like an Israelite for 45 minutes, and it probably felt like you were suffering for over an hour!

One way to help yourself not be “that guy” is to think about your sermon as an apologetic argument. You are seeking to prove to your listener your main premise. Not every sermon will benefit from this idea, but there are some sermon texts that will be particularly suited for this concept. I have made a graphic to help explain the idea:

If you think about your sermon like an inverted funnel, with the premise to be proven in your introduction, each successive point will develop and build up to the conclusion. The conclusion should leave your hearer with the strong evidence that your premise is true. You want them to understand that they should either accept your biblical premise or they must deny the clear teaching of Scripture.

A simple example of this type of sermon outline is:

  • Premise: Jesus Christ is the Son of God
  • Point/Proof 1: His virgin birth prophesied
  • Point/Proof 2: His sinless life practiced
  • Point/Proof 3: His resurrection proven
  • Conclusion: Therefore, you must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ

In this form of sermon organization, the conclusion is what you are seeking as your verdict. You state it, prove it, and then call your hearer to act. And this action may be simply a change of thinking as much as it could be a change of behavior.

This does not mean that your hearer will necessarily respond as you expect–heart change is the work of the Holy Spirit. But by organizing your message in this way you will make your expectations clear and prove your premise. Hopefully your making it irrefutable from Scripture.

The sinful heart may still reject the truth, but you will have accomplished your goal as an expositor to deliver the message faithfully and compellingly.

How Preparing Your Sermon is Like Spaghetti Sauce-And I Don’t Mean that it’s Spicy!

If you’re a pastor, you’ve more than likely heard the analogy of your sermon being like spiritual meat or spiritual milk. After all, those are pictures taken from the New Testament. But have you ever considered that your sermon has some similarities with spaghetti sauce?

My wife is part Italian, but she learned how to make spaghetti sauce from my dad-at least the sauce I prefer. I’m not sure where he learned to make it, but it is so good that my mouth is watering as I write this. Anyways, I have noticed something about spaghetti sauce—it is always better the second or third day after it is made (assuming there is any left over).

I think is is most likely because all of the ingredients—the spices, tomatoes, and meat—all have time to meld together in a way that they don’t have time to do when the sauce is fresh. Sure, the sauce is good when it is freshly made, but when it has time to sit for a while, it is so much better.

The same is true for sermons. A sermon that is preached is good when all of the “ingredients” are present—solid exegesis, helpful application, a pinch of humor, a sprinkling of illustration, a solid introduction and a passionate conclusion. But if you let that same sermon sit for a few days in the mind and heart of the preacher, the Holy Spirit will continue to do His work and the Word will become richer and deeper as all of those ingredients continue blending together in harmony, resulting in a richer sermon.

So, the next time you go to preach a message, make sure that you have some time to let it sit and soak in for a while. Don’t become a preaching machine that simply spits out sermon after sermon. Not only will it become less appetizing to those that listen, it is dangerous for your own soul.

For those of you that have listened to your pastor preach for a while, have you noticed that there are days when God really grips him and it affects his delivery and excitement? What do you think made the biggest difference? Share this with us in the comments.

Putting the Cookies on the Right Shelf

Have you ever sat in church and been frustrated by the sermon? How about bored? Have you ever been completely confused? If you have been any of these things, you’re not alone. Although we preachers sometimes like to think that only those who are “less spiritual” or aren’t interested in “the deep things of God” are the problem–but truth be told, many times its the preacher who is at fault. It reminds me of the pastor who stopped his sermon to tell a little boy to wake up his sleeping father. The little boy replied, “You put him to sleep, you wake him up!”

If you’re a pastor or preacher and you have seen the stifled yawns and the impatient looking at watches, I’d like to help in one area that you might need to consider–your target audience.

I have been blessed (and not-so-blessed) to hear hundreds of sermons by seminary students as a professor of preaching for 12 years. Some were confusing, others were boring, while some were too scholarly, and others were simply biblical history lessons. A good strong cup of coffee was helpful in getting through some days in preaching lab.

J. Vernon McGee used to say that a preacher needs to put the cookies on the bottom shelf where they can be reached. By this he meant that preachers and teachers need to make sure that their sermons are accessible to the common man. Dr. McGee died over 30 years ago, but his radio teaching is still popular all over the world because he made sure to teach at a level that was easy to understand.

One way to help sermon preparation hit the target of listeners is to make sure that the cookies are not only on the lower shelf, but also on the right shelf. By this I mean that every teacher and preacher should understand his audience’s spiritual maturity in order to teach in a way that everyone is fed. In a healthy church there will be several levels of spiritual maturity–unbelievers, new believers, spiritual “teens,” and spiritually mature. If you aim your teaching only at the mature, the unbeliever and the immature will be confused and not get anything out of the teaching. If you aim at the unbeliever or the spiritual infant, you will find that your more mature listeners will become frustrated, and bored.

If you are stubborn and only supply a steady diet of spiritual steak (sometimes raw) or spiritual baby food, you will find that those that are babes in Christ or those that are mature will eventually leave your church because they are not being fed in a way that benefits them. That’s not their fault, it’s yours. So what is the answer?

Put the cookies on the right shelf. In each sermon, and I’d even say in each teaching point, make sure that you speak to every level of maturity. Make sure you use theological language for the mature, but define it for the immature and growing. Give application for those that are still learning how to apply the Bible for themselves. Stretch the younger in Christ, but make sure you patiently explain the difficult concepts. Use illustrations to shed light on abstract truths, and make sure that you point to Christ so that the unbeliever can hear the message they need most: how to be saved.

When you put the cookies on the right shelf, everyone will be fed. And a well fed congregation is a happy congregation.