Saturday, August 04, 2018

Collected Thoughts on PREACHING

(One day I may systematize these.)

How I Prepare for a Sermon

1.  I print out the text and carry it with me throughout the week.

2.   I meditate on the text. I read it over and over and over. I let it get into me. As I am doing this, God speaks to me. I write down what God says to me.

3.   I ask these questions:
a.   What is the text saying?
b.   What is the text saying to me?
c.   What will this text say to our people?

4.   I study the text.
a.   I use biblical commentaries.
b.   The rule is: not just any commentary will do. Find trusted Jesus-following scholars who have invested their lives in studying the text. I have a list of trusted names. E.g., Craig Keener, Ben Witherington, Richard Bauckham, Craig Evans, Robert Mounce, Grant Osborne, R.T. France, Gordon Fee, Andreas Kostenberger, Joel Green, N.T. Wright, and so on…
And people the above scholars recommend.
Note: some scholars are especially excellent in certain biblical books because they have invested a lot of their lives in them. For example, Gordon Fee is especially valuable on 1 Corinthians.
c.   When God speaks to me as I am studying the commentaries, I write it down.
d.   I take notes on the commentaries. These notes appear in my sermon notes. 

5.   As I am doing these two things – meditation on the text, and study of the text – I type out the sermon, often word-for-word, that God wants to speak through me.

6.   I take these notes and walk with them…, reading them over and over…  take drives in the car with them… I preach them. It always happens that, while doing this, God preaches to me. Often, this gets emotional for me. I feel passion building towards the text, and what God has said and what God is saying to me, and what God is going to say on Sunday morning.

7.   When I preach on Sunday morning I want to know that I have given my entire self to preparing for this message. I never step up to preach without having given it my all. Average sermon preparation time for me each week is 10-20 hours. 

8.   I feel a holy responsibility in preaching. I do not want to lead my people in the wrong direction. Therefore I study long and hard. And, I pray the text,

9.   I always have the expectation that God is going to show up, and make my mere human words into words from Him, for us all.

10.               With my focus on meditating on the text, and studying the text, and praying the text, my belief is that God, in the sermon, will give me and my people words from Him that are rooted in Scripture, but manifest extrabiblical revelation – viz., now-words from God.

11.               As I preach I give God the right to lead me, even into things that I have not yet thought of. Usually, God does a fair amount of slicing and dicing my message into His message, even as I am giving it.

12.               If my people are spoken to by God, rather than being impressed with some “great sermon,” then I know the real thing has happened.

13.               I assume and expect God will do something through the preached Word. I am alert and attuned to this. Sometimes, even while preaching the message, I don’t know what God will do when the message is done. At other times I have a strong sense of what God wants to do, and I lead my people in this. In no way do I think I’m going to end the message with an “Amen” and then say “We’re out of here.” The preached word is going to bear fruit in people’s lives, immediately. The preacher needs to respond to this, and lead their people. 

Preaching Guidelines

  • Explain needed terms. Find how certain key words were heard by the listeners/readers in first-century Jewish-Greco-Roman culture. Give definitions as needed. Do not use "Webster's Dictionary." The listeners and readers of 2000 years ago were not 21st-century Americans.
  • Give context as needed. Again, the goal in explaining the text is to acquire the eyes and ears of the first-century Middle East/Greco-Roman listeners and readers. Some biblical texts demand more context than others. In this regard know your audience, and determine how much background context they will need.
  • In preaching, you are a spokesperson for God; a voice speaking for God. This has to do with the importance of preaching. Every time I step up to preach I take this seriously and joyfully. I do not want to misrepresent God. I refuse to take this lightly. It doesn't matter whether I'm preaching before 5, 500, or 5,000. Note this: most of the great moves of God in history happened when God moved in one person, or a few. They did not, mostly, happen in mega-situations. So when you preach, I fully expect that God will be saying something through you that will be for some of us, or many of us, or all of us.
  • Prepare spiritually by praying the text. For me this means carrying the verses with me at all times. I pull them out, read them and re-read them. I pray them. What does that mean? Prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together. So, preaching is a true collaborative event - me and God; God speaking to me and through me.
  • Ask, "God, what do you want to say when I preach?" In preaching there are two central moments: 1) what does the biblical text say? I want to be true to that. 2) What does God want to say through the preached biblical text? That's what I seek God for. God can reveal this to me days, even weeks, before the preaching event. Or, as he often does, he can reveal this to me as I am preaching. But here's a caution: I feel God will mostly do some on-the-spot revealing only when the preacher has prepared and prayed and studied with all they've got. I do not see God saying, "John doesn't prepared at all for these things, so I'll keep on rescuing him so people will think he's a great preacher." I don't think so.
  • The text needs to speak to you. What does God say to you, through the biblical text? If the text doesn't speak to you, and influence you in some deep way, it's hard to see how God's going to use you to influence others. When and as God speaks to you through the text, it's quite likely that what God is saying to you is going to also be a very good word for those who listen to your message.
  • Use analogies and personal examples to illustrate - as needed. This will be part of the word becoming flesh in you. The Gospels are essentially narratives. Judeo-Christian culture is a narrative culture. For we Jesus-followers, the Jesus-event is our "controlling life-narrative." "Story" is cool. Your story (what God is doing in and through you) is very cool.
  • What does God want to do after you preach? Here's what doesn't work, at least for me: "That's it, sermon's over, Amen, have a great day." No, God wants to "do" his Word in people. Of course this can and does happen before the preaching and during the preaching, and in various unknown ways in the hearts and minds of people. God's not limited in this regard. But when I am preaching I am listening for the Spirit's direction - how does God want to play this thing out, right now? This can mean, for example, that I invite people to be prayed for. At Redeemer we've seen this work itself out in a lot of different ways.

Some Thoughts on Teaching, Preaching, & Life

Randy Clark at Redeemer
Here are some things I believe are important when it comes to teaching, preaching, and living the Jesus-life.

• Give to others the best of what you have to give. I cannot think of one time I have preached and not given 100% in preparation. I never sing the worship song "Lord, I Give You My Half-Job." I never step up to the plate not as ready as I can be. Give 100% every time you teach or preach. The size or type of listeners means nothing, View every occasion of teaching and preaching as the last opportunity you will have to do this. This does not mean I preach great sermons. But I always give it everything I have. As a pastor I have weeks where I am called to help others more than usual. On those weeks I may not have the time I think I need to prepare. At that point I say to God, "You know I've done the best I can. Now come and make it better than what I have to offer." And, consistently, God does.

Don’t try to be someone else. Don't waste your time comparing your teaching, preaching, and life with anyone else. This is freeing for me because I have tried to teach, preach, and live like others. Now, at age 64, I feel less interested than ever in being like someone else. Mostly I want to be like Christ.
• Focus on pleasing God, not on pleasing people. If you are a people-pleaser you will end up saying nothing, and the nothingness that comes forth from you will displease some people. When we teach and preach God's Word, some will not like it. You will not be universally liked. Therefore be disliked for the right reasons.

Work for God, not people. Work so as to please God and experience God's pleasure, not the pleasure of people. Of course if what you do and say pleases God then real Jesus-followers will be pleased as well. Trust in God to pay you a wage. He is your Master. Desire his "well done." God’s approval is what counts, not the approval or disapproval of other people.

• What people think of you does not matter; what you think of people matters greatly. God loves people who like and dislike you. Ask God to so transform your heart that you love others like Christ does. It is freedom to be unconcerned about what people think of you. Only such a free person can then love other people. When Jesus hung on the cross and said "forgive them," behold the perfectly free person who loves even his enemies, and whose love is not a function of peoples' love for him.

 Be transparent. But remember: transparency has boundaries. Use personal examples and illustrations in teaching and preaching. It's not only OK to tell stories of personal failure it is needed so people can be free of the illusion of clergy-pedestalness.

• Don’t teach or preach your current struggles. People will begin to focus on you rather than what you want to say to them. If you are a sex addict get help. Realize if you confess your sex addiction to your entire congregation you will then become the issue. The time may come when you tell people about this. If so, it will be long after you are healed and set free. Transparency does not mean an open book for all to see everything in your soul.
• Don’t talk about other people without their permission. In a sermon, that is. In preaching never talk about other people’s failures (re. people that you know). In life strive to lift people up, not point out their flaws. If God has shown you the flaw or sin of another person it is only so that you can pray for them.

• Know your audience.

• Remember that you don’t know it all. You don’t have to. But you do have to study, prepare, and pray like crazy.

• Be clear rather than profound. In your clarity God's Spirit can move. In your profundity and obfuscation even the Spirit asks, "Huh?"

What you say needs to be coherent, connected.

• Stay on-topic.

• Make eye contact.

• Want people to understand you. Therefore enunciate, use complete sentences, get free of annoying vocal and bodily mannerisms, don't speak too fast, speak so people can hear you, go watch the movie "The King's Speech."

• Teach and preach what people are to do, not on their failures. Good teaching and preaching builds up, not tears down.

• If you fail morally, people will not listen to what you have to say. This is a sad truth. It's sad because we all fail morally. Trust will have to be regained before you have a  voice again. It can happen. This will take much time.

• Continue to grow deep. What we especially need today are more deep people, not people who know more things. Deep soul-growth will impact your teaching and preaching. Spend much alone-time with God.

• Teach and preach as a servant. Desire not to be on TV. This is not about you being viewed as some "great preacher"; it's about you preaching about a great God who is infinitely greater than your preaching.

• Teach, preach, and live with passion. Note that passion looks different in different cultures. My ancestry is Scandinavian-Finnish. We are not exactly "hopping" people. Mostly, we'd rather bale hay than talk in front of an audience. But God has placed a fire within my hay-baling heart. And you don't have to advertise a fire.

• If you teach, preach, and live so that some people surpass you in excellence, then be very happy.

• When, in your teaching and preaching you are wrong, admit it. I've done it. If you haven't then you are dishonest.

• Never talk down to people.

• You will be criticized. John Calvin, in his Commentary on 1 Timothy 5:18, writes: "For none are more liable to slanders and calumnies than godly teachers. Not only does it arise from the difficulty of their office, that sometimes they either sink under it, or stagger, or halt, or blunder, in consequence of which wicked men seize many occasions for finding fault with them; but there is this additional vexation, that, although they perform their duty correctly, so as not to commit any error whatever, they never escape a thousand censures. And this is the craftiness of Satan, to draw away the hearts of men from ministers, that instruction may gradually fall into contempt."

 Listen to your critics. Even if some of them are not loving.

• Remember: The foundation of all God-filled teaching and preaching is love. In your teaching and preaching be loving. It is, after all, possible and necessary to speak the truth in love.


PREACHING – the DEEPER ISSUES and a few smaller matters

1.   Spend much time alone with God.
a.   Real authority comes from a person who knows Christ.
2.   The goal is formation into Christlikeness, not becoming a great preacher.
3.   Let go of the need to be liked.
a.   The basic question in not “How am doing?”
b.   It's not my well-being or sense of value that is on the line.
c. This is not about you being "relevant" or cool.
4.   Keep on being changed yourself.
a.   Remember: you can’t change other people.
b.   Never preach towards a specific person or persons. Preach the text. Let God instruct or convict people.
5.   Forgive others for what they have done to you.
a.   If you are a hurting person you could hurt others in your preaching.
6.   Confess to others and asked for forgiveness, as needed.
7.   Be led by the Holy Spirit.
8.   Prepare all your life for the next sermon.
a.   You don’t just turn on preaching like flipping a switch.
b.   A sermon will be the overflow of who you have become and are as a person.
9.   Be mastered by the biblical text.
a.   Authentic, authoritative preaching is not about mastering certain techniques; it is about being mastered by certain convictions.
10.     Find your own voice.
a.   Stop trying to be someone else and let God use you.
11.     Preach with authority.
a.   Speak assertively.
b.   Articulate your words clearly.
c.   Project your voice.
d.   If people can’t hear or understand you it’s a waste of time.

12.     Preach like it’s the last message you’ll ever give.