Author Archives: Peter Mead

About Peter Mead

Delighted by God and passionate about biblical preaching. Mentor in Cor Deo, Bible teacher with OM, programme director for Pillars Training, preaching trainer with Langham Preaching, regular preacher at Ladyfield Evangelical Church. Married with five children.

Pondering Passage Purpose

arrow target2As a preacher studying a passage it is tempting to be purposeful in pursuing your own message, but to ignore the purpose of the passage. Maybe you are intrigued by the passage, or perhaps wondering how it could be preached.  Yet somehow, in the mix, we seem to lose sight of looking for why the writer wrote the text.  That is, rather than simply looking for what the writer wrote, we also need to ponder why the writer wrote it.

1. Look at the context – It is vital to look at any passage in its context.  What is going on around the text you are focused on?  What is the flow of thought or logical progression in the book?  What does the book generally say about its purpose (perhaps in the introduction, conclusion or “letter-frame”)?  If you have ever studied hermeneutics at all, you should be committed to the importance of context – not just for words, but also for sections.

2. Look at the content – This tends to bear the weight of our study efforts.  What words are used?  What are those words referring to?  How are sentences structured?  And so on.  Content is very important, especially when it is understood in context.  But combining contextual study with analysis of content is not the whole process.  Don’t miss the next one for a fuller grasp of the meaning of any text:

3. Don’t forget to consider the intent! – Content in context will do a lot to explain the “what” of a passage.  But unless we are deliberate, we can fail to recognize the “why” of a passage.  This may seem circular, but unless we are alert to the “why,” then we can’t fully grasp the “what.”  Look for clues in context, in content, in tone, in attitude, in the presence of imperatives, etc.  Some of this is hard objective analysis, some of it requires more of a subjective feel . . . which is not license to impose intent, but recognition that we must really listen to a text and be gripped by it, rather than merely passing it under the microscope of our preconceived expectations.

Passage purpose is easily neglected, but if it is, our preaching may feel like analysis . . . without vitality.  If we start to prayerfully get to grips with the intent of the original author, then we will tend to find the Divine Author getting to grips with our hearts through the passage.  Once we find some clarity on the purpose of the passage, then we also have a great starting point to consider the purpose of our message.  Pursuing the author’s purpose tends to fit with God’s purpose in my heart, and then helps with clarity on His purpose in my preaching that passage to others.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, Stage 3 - Passage Purpose, Stage 5 - Message Purpose

Creative Christmas Sermon Options

Christmas Dog2Christmas services are just a few weeks away.  You might be getting excited, or dreading another Christmas and the need to generate more messages when the obvious options feel well worn.  Here are some other angles to consider:

Prophecies - there are some key Old Testament prophecies, such as Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6, Micah 5:2, even Jeremiah 31:15.  Why not take an Old Testament approach to Christmas hopes this year?

People – maybe you have preached through Matthew’s opening chapters, but have you preached the four other ladies in Matthew’s genealogy . . . Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the one “who had been Uriah’s wife.”  Four ladies with question marks over their morality, rightly or wrongly, that set up the lady who has to be in the genealogy (also with a question mark hanging over her morality, wrongly in her case).  Or perhaps you might trace the Gentiles in the genealogy to show the greater scope of the Christmas hope?

Themes – why not track a theme this year that could be developed with one week in the Old Testament, one week in the Christmas narratives and one week later on in the gospels or epistles.  For example, consider the Immanuel theme from Isaiah 7:14-9:7, emphasized in Matthew 1, continued for our age in Matthew 28:20.

Less Obvious Passages – perhaps you might consider the less obvious Christmas passages, ie. those that aren’t in early Matthew or Luke.  You have the prologue to John’s Gospel, giving the other side of the story, if you like.  Or you have references like Galatians 4:4 and similarly Incarnation focused passages like Titus 2:11-14.

Christmas Titles – it would be interesting to explore the titles used in the Christmas narratives – Jesus, Saviour, Immanuel, King, etc.

Carol Theology – while some are keen to cut down the errors in the carols, there are some great truths encapsulated in the carols too.  Perhaps you could take Hark the Herald Angels Sing or another carol and trace the biblical background to a verse each week.  Different, but for some congregations this might be a blessing.  Remember that you are preaching the Bible, not the carol.

Contemporary Emphases - you could take key emphases in the world’s view of Christmas and present a positive biblical engagement with each one.  Gifts, peace, goodwill, family, etc.

November is here, Christmas is coming.  Let’s not have our pulpits filled with preachers trying to hide a creative fatigue over such a great subject.  Let’s take a new angle, dive into the Bible and preach with hearts spilling over!

image001

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Incarnation, New Testament, Old Testament, Preaching, Religion, Stage 1 - Passage Selection

Jesus Was Not 50% Human

FiftyPercentbThere is a phrase that I suspect we would do better without.  It is only introductory to another thought, but it tends to lead somewhere potentially unhelpful.  It goes like this, “Jesus, in his humanity…” or “Jesus, in his divinity…”

I understand why we use these phrases.  There are times when you are preaching a Gospels text and you want to underline the fact that Jesus fully entered into our world and experience (albeit without sinning), so the first phrase is used to highlight some aspect of the true humanity of Christ.  There are other times when we preach something in the Gospels and we want to underline that this isn’t “just” a human, but he is also God.

God the Son did step fully into our world via the Incarnation and this is a glorious truth, but I suspect the introductory phrase often undermines the fullness of the union.  That is, Jesus is fully God, fully man, and fully one.  But often we can give the impression it was a 50:50 split.  That is, look at the human side, then later, let’s look at the divine side.  Let me give an example that will hopefully help.

Here we see Jesus, who, in his humanity, … is feeling compassion for the crowds stood before him.”  Or “…is dreading the forthcoming agonies of the cross.” Or “…is angered in the face of death.”

Yes, we do see Jesus’ humanity as he sheds tears of compassion for a shepherd-less people, anticipates the agonies of Calvary, or is stirred by the sheer wrongness of a funeral.  We see Jesus’ humanity in every episode of the Gospels.  But we also see Jesus’ divinity in each one too.  Jesus told his slow to believe disciples that if they had seen him, they had seen the Father.  I think I am slow to believe too.  Here I am, two millennia later, still falling into wrong assumptions about God the Father, despite reading the Gospels so many times.

When we see Jesus feeling compassion for the crowds, in Matthew 9 or Mark 6, we are seeing God’s heart for the people.  If you see Jesus, you see the Father revealed.  When we see Jesus feeling the weight of what lay before him at the cross and in separation from perfect communion, we see the heart of God revealed.  When we see Jesus respond in both empathy and anger at the death of Lazarus, God’s heart is shining out for all to see.  If you see Jesus, you see the Father revealed in him.

But when we use the introductory formula, “in his humanity…” then we can inadvertently hide the Father.  Jesus, in his humanity, is feeling … but the Father remains aloof and unmoved, without passion, compassion, anger, empathy or true love?  And before we know it, without even saying it, we have reinforced the traditional view that the true essence of God is completely opposite to all we know and experience, and therefore God is really out of reach.  We should think long, hard, and biblically, before we choose to stay there theologically, or imply this homiletically.

John 1:18.  John 14:8. Colossians 2:9.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, Incarnation, Preaching, Religion, Specific text, Stage 8 - Message Detail

Preparing Christmas Sermons or Advent Reading?

image001

I just realized that Advent is fast approaching and you may well be starting to think about Christmas preaching (or Advent reading with family).  Can I make an overt promotion of Pleased to Dwell for this purpose?

1. As an Advent Read – With 24 short chapters, Pleased to Dwell, works really well as a pre-Christmas read for an individual or a family.  Engaging and high energy, the sense of anticipation builds toward the Christmas narratives and their implications for us.  I know some churches are using it as a church-wide pre-Christmas resource too.

2. For Advent Sermon Prep – There are at least four sermon series ideas developed in Pleased to Dwell.  Obviously there are the two infancy narrative sections (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2) developed in some detail, but still easily accessible.  Then there is the Old Testament section, perhaps offering a series on the coming Prophet, Priest and King.  The book also have a New Testament section with chapters some of the key epistle references to the coming of Christ (typically this would be for a preacher who feels the need for something other than infancy narratives and prophecies for a Christmas series!)

To purchase Pleased to Dwell, there are links on here for purchasing in the UK, and here for purchasing in the USA/Canada.  (If you wanted to get a volume discount here in the UK, please contact me via the comments and I will get in touch – I won’t post your comment.)

1 Comment

Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, Incarnation

Identifying with Bible Characters

film3The Bible is full of stories.  Stories are very effective ways to communicate.  When a story begins, people tend to do two things – first, they identify with (or disassociate from) characters, and second, they feel the tension in the story, anticipating the resolution.  So when we preach Bible stories, let’s be sure to help listeners connect with what is going on.

1. Don’t give a history lecture, preach the story to today.  It is easier, perhaps, to dispassionately tell what happened back then.  But it is not easier to listen to that.  It is, typically, dull.  However you may choose to do it, please make it clear to your listeners how the ancient story impacts contemporary life.  That doesn’t mean you have to constantly make up-to-date references (sometimes telling a story takes time and making lots of links to today can become distracting), but do frame the sermon with relevance so people know there is value in engaging the story fully.

2. Don’t caricature the characters, encourage identification with their fallen and frail human-ness.  It is easy to pick on one solitary feature of a character in a story, but fail to give a fair representation of them.  Peter puts his foot in his mouth, but he also has the guts to get out of the boat.  Zechariah doubted the angel, but was also a faithful pray-er over many decades.  Don’t simply beat up listeners with a quick connection to the failure of a character.  Stories work slowly as the listener engages with a character all the way to the point of resolution in the story.  Simply pointing out a flaw and applying it carries all the sermonic tension of a limp rope.  Try to reflect the fullness of the character portrayal offered in the biblical narrative and its context.

3. Don’t identify without theocentrizing.  It is also possible to present the characters effectively so that listeners can identify with them, but miss the point that God is at the center of biblical narrative.  It’s not just Joseph’s kindness and personal character quality that is significant in Matthew 1, it is also very much focused on God’s revelation of His plan to both save His people from their sins and His presence with His people.  Joseph is a great example of a “fine, young man.”  But the passage presents this fine, young man responding to the revelation of God’s purposes.  Jesus, Immanuel.  That is the information that Joseph acted upon.  The amazing thing about Christmas narratives is that the theocentric truth is bundled up in a tiny human infant.  (And we get to preach the amazing truth of the Incarnation soon!)

Christmas preached as just peace and happiness and quaint idyllic scenes is a travesty – Christmas is also a set up for theocentric preaching (but don’t lose the humanness of the other characters too).

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Audience Analysis, Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, New Testament, Preaching, Stage 2 - Passage Study, Stage 3 - Passage Purpose, Stage 5 - Message Purpose, Stage 8 - Message Detail

The JtB Principle

ForkSignYears ago I experienced a weekend of preaching that marked my own ministry for life.  Our church had managed to book a very well known speaker for its annual retreat.  That weekend, his preaching was a disaster.  As my wife and I drove home we reflected on the weekend of ministry and I knew this was a key moment in my life and ministry.  Reflecting on how he had ended up preaching like that stirred me to choose a different path.

I am convinced we all need to settle this core issue now, whatever stage of life and ministry we are at:

The John the Baptist Principle: Jesus must become greater, I must become less.

There is a fork in the road before us all.  One pathway is signposted “Jesus” and the other one is signposted “me.”  For all his good ministry over the years, this particular preacher seemed to have been okay with promoting himself through his preaching.  It felt so uncomfortable for us who were listening.  I decided that I wanted to choose the other option.  What does that involve?

Instead of seeking to impress listeners, let us seek to communicate - Our flesh and ego will be tempted to bust out our lofty learned vocabulary and heavy-duty theological terminology.  But if we are on the “Preach Jesus” pathway, then we will seek to be as clear and simple as possible.  We will be more satisfied to hear that a twelve year old listened attentively, than we will be to be told our preaching was “deep” (i.e. over the head of the person seeking to give polite feedback).

Instead of seeking to impress listeners, let us seek to equip – Again, our fleshly tendency toward pride will naturally want to make folks want to hear us again.  It is nice to think that people are dependent on you for their weekly dose of truth.  But if we are on the “Preach Jesus” pathway, then that will include a desire to equip them to read the Bible for themselves, meet Jesus for themselves, feed themselves, etc.  If every sermon is primarily about presenting God through an accurate, clear, engaging and relevant presentation of that text, may every sermon have a secondary goal of motivating listeners to want to engage with God in His Word during the rest of the week.

Instead of seeking to impress listeners, let us seek to introduce – Our fleshly inclination to present ourselves as the centre of the universe will nudge us toward assuming personal introductions are over as our sermon introduction begins.  That is, “I am here now, and I am preaching.”  This will typically be followed by an attempt to impress people with my knowledge, or my wisdom, or my suggestion for their betterment, etc.  But if we are on the “Preach Jesus” pathway, then we will feel compelled to introduce the person of our God, typically by pointing to His Son, throughout the message.  The personal introduction is the core of the message and the person being introduced isn’t ultimately us, but Him.  And when lives aren’t transformed as we prayed they would be, then our prayer will tend to be, “Lord, please help me do a better job of introducing you . . . because I know that if they could just catch a glimpse of you, change would follow.  PS Please let me know you more before next Sunday too!”

2 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion, Stage 5 - Message Purpose

Preaching Big Books

BigBook2Perhaps you shy away from preaching series from the bigger books in the Bible?  Maybe it would help to think differently about big book series.  There is more than one way to preach a series from a big book (like a major prophet or Acts):

The one way – the traditional approach would be to start at the beginning and work meticulously through each passage.  It might take a couple of years to get through, but it might be worth it.  God can certainly use a book like Isaiah or Chronicles to shape your church.  At the same time, people may grow slightly disenchanted after a while.  So perhaps you’ve avoided these longer books?

Other approaches:

1. Whole Book, Varied Text Length – Just as the label suggests, you can still preach the whole book, but don’t always preach the same length textual units.  To cover a few verses one week and a few chapters another week can add energy and momentum to a series.

2. Whole Book, Highlight Texts - Again, my labels are giving the game away here, but you can also preach the whole book by offering sample highlights from each section.  Carefully done this can motivate people to read the whole for themselves, which is never a bad by-product of your preaching.

3. Section of Book – God did give us 66 whole books, but I think it is allowed to take a key section and preach it methodically.  Some sections of books are bigger in size and richer in content than other entire books, so why not?  Just remember to keep the section in its larger context as you study and preach.

4. Whole Book in One, Plus Whatever – To start or finish the series, why not preach the book as a whole in some way?  By doing this you give the benefit of the big picture, and also have the freedom to not cover every detail in the rest of the series.

5. Section Overview, then Highlights – Another approach is to give a big picture of a section, followed by a highlight passage in that section.  Then the next two weeks do the next section.  For instance, you could preach an overview of Isaiah 1-12, followed by a week in Isaiah 6 alone.  Then overview Isaiah 13-27, followed by Isaiah 25 alone.  Etc.

There are other approaches too.  Feel free to share any ideas I’ve missed here…

2 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Preaching, Religion, Stage 1 - Passage Selection

Sermon Strategy

Strategy2Part of the preaching preparation process is the sermon strategy phase.  After studying the passage, determining its main idea, prayerfully deciding on your goal for the sermon, and the wording of the sermon’s main idea, then it is time to plot your strategy.  Here are the big questions to be asking:

1. When do I reveal the main idea?  Do I reveal it early and repeat it often?  Do I build up to it and reveal it later?  How does the text set up the communication of the main idea?  How does my audience influence when the main idea should be given?

2. When can I demonstrate the relevance of this message?  How early can I form a connection between preacher/message/Bible and listeners?  As well as the conclusion, can I show relevance in the introduction?  How about in the wording of the main points or movements?  What about in the transitions?  Can I drop hints into the explanation of the text itself?

3. How can I do what the text does, as well as saying what the text says?  Since this passage is unique, how will it influence this sermon so that it too is genuinely unique?  Since God inspired the author and God is a great communicator, how does genre choice influence the way this sermon is preached?  Where can I replicate the force of the text – perhaps the tension of a narrative, or the imagery of a poem, or the forcefulness of a discourse, or the provocation of a parable?

4. How can I reinforce the flow of the sermon with delivery details?  Can I reflect the energy or warmth of content in the manner of delivery?  Perhaps I should sit on a stool for some, or be able to put my Bible down for a part, or have the freedom to step away from the furniture, or would a prop help, or . . . ?  Am I spotting danger areas where I may feel rushed, or may become monotonous, or may lose momentum?

5. What is God’s heart in all of this?  Have I allowed my own strategic planning to become a private thought process instead of a prayerful dependence on God?  Can I talk all this through prayerfully instead of privately so that I lean on God?  Can I talk all this through with a team from my church so that I can benefit from their perspective before I preach it and enable them to pray more intelligently too?

Leave a comment

Filed under Audience Analysis, Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Preaching, Religion, Stage 7 - Message Outline, Stage 8 - Message Detail

What Does Transformational Preaching Transform?

Ripped2Almost everyone agrees that preaching should be transformational.  But we need to define what it is that we are seeking to see transformed?

1. Conduct – This is the most obvious area of transformation.  We all love to see a life transformed from worldly conduct to “christian” conduct.  But we also need to be wary.  Consider Frank.  Frank was a drinking champion.  He could drink more than anyone else and still be standing – that is how he got respect in the pub.  Then Frank saw a beautiful young lady going into the church next door.  He started attending.  He quickly realised he got no respect for his drinking abilities, but would get respect for church attendance.  Everyone in the church celebrated the transformation of Frank – “look at what the gospel can do!”  Really?  Self-concerned glory hunting gave way to self-concerned glory hunting in a new context (worldly Frank in the pub became worldly Frank in the church).  Not exactly gospel transformation.  That’s the problem with conduct.  It can be faked.  It can also be manipulated from the outside.  Peer pressure and cultural conformity can bring about impressive results.  But God’s involvement is not required.  A Christ-gripped life will manifest transformed conduct, but it also goes much deeper.

2. Character – Again, let’s both affirm this and be wary of it.  Character tends to be measured as the sum of the parts of conduct.  Consistency in multiple areas of conduct looks like character.  But if one area of conduct can be faked (for Sunday morning), then multiple areas can also be faked for each time someone is watching.  The Gospel will change a character both profoundly and gradually, but if we aim to change character in people, we are still liable to apply pressure and treat them as self-moved autonomous beings (wasn’t that part of the lie in Genesis 3?)

3. Belief – Unless people are transformed in what they believe, any change in character and conduct will remain superficial.  Belief is more than knowledge.  I can inform people with knowledge, but how do I influence what they actually believe and trust in from the heart?  That seems to go beyond what I can achieve.

All of these things are good and all will be transformed by biblical preaching in one way or another.  Ultimately though, if we are talking transformation, we have to go to the next level:

4. Affections – Call it heart, call it values, call it appetites, whatever.  The gospel transforms a life from the inside-out, from the heart outwards.  It takes the Spirit to plant an appetite (a relish) for Christ in the affections of someone.  This is where I feel relieved of the pressure to bring about transformation, but also the incredible privilege of my position as preacher.  I don’t twist arms to conform to behavioural standards for the sake of church conformity.  I do present Christ and the Gospel in all its wonder and majesty and sweetness, and I do so absolutely dependent on God to bring about transformation.

Biblical preaching transforms lives, but it occurs from the inside-out.  Anything more superficial will tempt me into acting like a mini-god pressuring mini-gods into self-moved determination and that just smacks of a fallen world perspective on the whole thing.  God’s Word invites us to trust Him, we should do the same.

2 Comments

Filed under Audience Analysis, Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Preaching, Religion, Stage 3 - Passage Purpose, Stage 5 - Message Purpose

The Biggest Lesson for Preachers from Kids Books and Movies?

movie2We live in a world that is marked more by narrative than we tend to acknowledge.  Stories are not just for children, the movie industry is massive, so is TV advertising, and sports journalism, and all of these are profoundly narratival in form.  So what might be the biggest lesson for preachers from children’s books and movies?

How about this: people still appreciate them second and third time.

I have a two and a half year old who will happily hear the same story over and over again each night.  There are numerous books to choose from, but she will often pick the same one to experience again.  Somehow knowing how the story goes doesn’t change her appetite for hearing it.

I think most of us will gladly watch certain movies again.  Even with the constant stream of new movies being released, there is something familiar and powerful about experiencing an old favourite again.  Even knowing the ending, there is always more to appreciate.

So what does this mean for preachers?  When you have a familiar narrative to preach, be sure to tell the story!

It is tempting to think that people know it and so you can skim the storytelling part and dive into some nuanced theological construct or applicational point.  Don’t do that!  Be sure to tell the story and tell it well.  Why?

1. Stories work even when people know the ending.  The point of a story is not simply to find out what happens, but also to experience the journey.  The identification with characters, the tension, the resolution, etc., will all work in people who know how it turns out.

2. God inspired many narratives because they do a work in people.  When we finish reading the Bible that does not mean we have exhausted it – we have only just begun!  God knew that life is lived in narrative and so we identify most readily with narrative.  Let the text do its work in listeners and don’t short change them.

3. There is always more to see and feel in a story.  The story may be the same as last time it was preached (although don’t give yourself or other preachers too much credit here – there are a lot of Bible stories preached poorly!)  But your listeners are not the same people they were last time . . . life has happened, their story has moved on.  So they will engage the story in a fresh way.

4. People appreciate hearing the narratives.  Our goal in preaching is not originality of content, but presentation of the gospel and transformation of life.  Telling a familiar story well will do both.

1 Comment

Filed under Audience Analysis, Christianity, Genre, Homiletics, Preaching, Religion, Stage 1 - Passage Selection