The Effectiveness of Preaching 

I used to look forward to hearing folks say, “good sermon” or “great job preaching” when I first started out. It helped me feel like I didn’t bomb and maybe somebody got some use out of how I delivered the passage. As I look back I realize I was a little too thirsty for affirmation or at least I was looking for it in the wrong place.

These days after I have shared a message I look to see how God might use the application of his word in someone’s life. I understand that might tell me it was a “good” message for a host of reasons that have nothing to do with real life application. They may have simply just enjoyed a joke or story.  In which case I’m glad I helped them laugh, but I’d rather help them live gospel centered lives. 

I find myself praying for people while I’m preaching to them. I know these people and some of their struggles. There are a few  who it doesn’t matter what I say, if I don’t say it in the style of sermon  (and it is just a style) to which they are accustomed, they won’t hear the passage. Their tradition has so elevated the platform of a particular sub-style of preaching that they have voided the Scripture of its power and so knowing this I call them out and say, “so maybe the Word just spoke to you today” hoping that the self-righteous heart might still hear from God, though they didn’t hear a “good” sermon in the style of their favorite pastor.

Then there are the folks who I know will shudder when I say “Holy Spirit” and talk about Him in personal terms. I know that their minds will explode with either amazement or anger when I tell them that the passage teaches that He isn’t far away and doesn’t need to be “fetched” when we need something. Rather, He is in the life of a believer and can be called on, or better depended on when it comes to living a God centered life. Indeed it’s at this point a new couple walks out. Either the sermon is too long for taste or I’ve just dropped a bomb and their reaction was anger rather than amazement. I didn’t seek to offend, but sometimes the Scriptures are not palatable to our preferences of preconceived notions. My personal preference would be for people to stay but I cannot apologize for the text and if I eclipse this truth for the sake of the audience then I have no business preaching.

So these days I don’t worry so much about hearing from folks on if it was a “good sermon.” I attempt to peer more into lives afterwards to see how God might have used the effective preaching of His Word to change lives. I look for comments on how the passage we have studied together has shifted attitudes and actions. I simply and quietly praise God when I hear that someone has repented of a particular sin and found Christ as sufficient in response to the preaching of His Word.

 

How to Build a Bridge Between the Text and Context

As I teach younger men and women how to relay biblical messages one of the key things we focus on is building a bridge between the text and context. By that I mean we hold in tension the Truth of the scripture along with a keen awareness of the people in the audience. The natural tendency is to default to one or the other. You will either be so immersed in the text that you ignore the people you are presenting to or you will be so immersed in cultural context that you will ignore the depth of biblical truth in front of you. The two must relate because at the end of the day you are hoping to impress the truth of scripture into the lives of individuals and groups in modern context. Make no mistake, the scripture is the source of Truth and the audience is in need of Truth.

How to Build a Bridge Between the Text and Context

In the preparation process, after I have done some study and feel like I have the basic understanding of the text, I like to build the bridge by asking myself a simple question: “What is the problem to solve?” 

When my son was going to preschool we used to tell each other stories on the way to school. I’ll be honest, his stories stunk. Mostly because there wasn’t anything WRONG. The whole story was a happily ever after kind of deal. So I started coaching him on how to tell a story. I told him that every good story has a “problem to solve.It could be a relationship to heal, an enemy to fight, a fear to overcome, etc… but there needed to be a problem otherwise there was NO story, just information. 

I think some people sit bored in their chairs because the speaker hasn’t presented them with a problem. I know that if you are speaking out of the Bible that there will always be a problem to solve, if not immediately in the context of a story (such as getting God’s people out of bondage in Egypt), it will be in the overarching theological theme of a passage (Your sin separates you from God, you can’t overcome that on your own, you need a mediator… I can’t leave this hanging, his name is JESUS).

I know it sounds simplistic right? But it really does help me to set up how I will bridge between the text and the culture or the culture and the text. When coming from the text, “Sin” will always seem to be that problem to solve. But sin looks like a lot of different things and each text will highlight a different aspect of sin, or how it causes a separation from God, or how we are incapable of dealing with it on our own, or how people have tried to deal with sin and failed, etc. So while it may be simplistic to answer, “sin,” it is helpful to explore that element a moments and use it to build tension at the beginning of your message.

Sometimes I will begin with a personal story, “there was a time in my life that I couldn’t forgive this guy…” and let it go from there into the text, “But listen to what Jesus says about forgiveness

Sometimes I will share a more general statement like, “What do you do when everyone around you is screaming at you to do something like, ‘fight! fight! fight!’? You know that if you fight, you have given into the crowd and if you don’t, everyone is going to call you a ‘chicken’ and laugh at you.” Then I move into the text from there: “Today I want to look at a similar situation in the scripture where Jesus encountered a crowd who was pressing in and trying to trick him, instead of saying ‘fight! fight! fight!, they threw a woman out into the way and said they had caught her in the very act of…

By putting the problem to solve at the forefront of your presentation you are showing the audience right off the bat that what you have to say matters to them, it applies to their life, they are a part of this now and in the end when you call for some sort of response to the preaching or teaching of God’s Word… It will make sense to either accept or reject what you have said. There is a huge difference between sharing information and showing a man his problem and providing the solution.

 

Overwhelmed: Winning the War Against Worry (Review)

overwhelmed I was really blessed by this book. I hope a million people read it and pick up on the message! To be clear, I’m not a big Perry Noble fan, most days his speaking style annoys the snot out of me. However, I was blown away by this book (which I can only assume was based on a sermon series). Perry is an incredibly gifted writer (or he has an incredibly gifted ghost writer… who knows these days?).

I think what makes this book so good is that Perry takes you to the scripture in every chapter. This is really like an old school exposition on the book of Daniel. I think Perry also connects with readers as he walks through his own personal struggles. The book greatly benefits from Noble’s cheesy redneck humor (I was laughing with the giddiness of a school girl somewhere around page 159… so much so that my wife had to come check on me… Not bad for a book on worry).

Overwhelmed: Winning the War against Worryis a great book to have on your shelf and an even better book to read, especially if you deal with worry, depression and/ or anxiety. Perry doesn’t pull any punches and while he has you bent over laughing one moment, he’ll have you pouring your heart out to God in repentance the next. I gladly recommend it to anyone dealing with anxiety or looking for a practical level exposition on the book of Daniel. I hope it blesses you as much as it blessed me.

At the time of this post. Amazon.com has it on sale for $10.11in paperback and $9.60 for the kindle. you can also download the audio version for around $14.95 as well (which is great for listening to while your working out).

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Did you enjoy this post? Did you consider it helpful? Subscribe by e-mail on the top right of this page and get fresh articles like this one and more sent straight to your e-mail inbox. Don’t for get to share on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Illustrations and Preaching

I’ve been haunted for several weeks now and it’s time to come clean.  When prepping a message I wrestle with the desire for people to like me, think I’m a decent speaker, etc.  This isn’t anything new to young preachers, I  think it’s something we all can wrestle with from time to time.  I’ve come to really value sermon prep. time because this give me an opportunity to work through these desires and get to the text, the message, what is really important.  I’ve also come to dread sermon delivery time because I know that my flesh is raging to get out and say something silly for no other reason than to gain the favor of the audience (which is not always a bad thing and can be a productive strategy).

I guess the real struggle comes in when I ponder what people will take away.  Will the message be remembered at all?  Will the gospel be savored?  Will people be provoked to worship? Or will the take away be the wrong soundbites from the message?  Will they remember my personal illustrations, but not the point?  Will they remember that joke at the begging of the message that was loosely related to the topic of the text, but not the text?  Will lives be changed because God has spoken or will lives remain the same because in the end I’ve just been an entertainer?

To be sure, I have seen and heard illustrations that really helped bring the gospel into focus for individuals. (My pastor though years of experience is very good at this.)  I’ve also heard several illustrations that have ultimately been a distraction to the truth of the message.  It’s always fun to hear comments after preaching (less convicting when I’m not the preacher by the way) to see what people remember.  Statements like, “He sure hates cats” make me cringe because I know the observer missed the message and I’m left to conclude that either they are really dense or that I was stretching it a bit to bring my hatred of cats into the message (i’ve never heard this statement by the way… it’s an illustration… and I’m still not a fan of cats).  I can’t believe that so many people are that dense, so I’m left to admit that perhaps that was a bad illustration on my part.

My current train of thought is to explore strongly rooted Biblical Metaphor.  I had a chance to do this in the message last night with the expression, “and behold it was Leah” (Genesis 29:25) I didn’t fully exploit it at the time, but now see that I could have done more with it to help make the connection in peoples minds. (Wouldn’t you know it… the day after I preached the message I heard a Tim Keller Sermon where he does this masterfully).

This introduces the question I have for you.  What type of illustrations have driven a message home for you?  If you are a pastor or Bible teacher, what types of illustrations do you look for?

Review: “Using Old Testament Hebrew in Preaching”

Ok to be perfectly clear on this and up front.  I do not enjoy Hebrew, but I enjoyed reading this book.  Using Old Tesament Hebrew in Preaching did challenge me to be dilligent in continuing my Hebrew studies as well as give me hope that I might use my Hebrew skills for years to come.  It is a very down to earth, practical and motivating book.  I applaud author Paul D. Wegner for bringing  such a relavent and timely book to my aid when I was doubting the relavance of Hebrew in my future ministry.

The book is made up of five brief chapters that are full of encouragement and motivation for Hebrew students to press on in learning the language.  All along the way Wegner is sure to provide tools, references, and recomendations to support and encourage the student in his or her pursuits.  Above all else, he challenges the reader to press forward in studying and using a language that can be very confusing and tricky (at least to this student).  He does a great job of taking a very large challenge and stripping it to bite sized chunks.

The retail price is $17.99 (Paperback). It is also available at places like Amazon.com for $7.70 (Which is a great deal). I give it 4 stars.