7 Ways to Guard Hearts at Bible School

Classroom2After the post on guarding hearts at a Christian conference (or ministers gathering), I was asked about Bible School.  Here we go…

The opportunity to study in a Bible School (college, seminary, divinity school, etc.) is a real privilege.  I thoroughly loved my experience at two great seminaries.  To spend your best hours receiving instruction in the Bible, maybe in the original languages, in theology and church history, in personal spirituality and in pastoral equipping to better serve God in the church and in His world, this is a wonderful privilege.  Add in new and sometimes lifelong friendships, numerous answered prayers, extended conversations and seeing growth in yourself and others, and it can sound like a glorious utopian experience for the man or woman who loves Christ and wants to love him even more.

Solomon was given great wisdom, and what did he say?  Above everything, guard your hearts . . .

How?

1. Walking with Christ is not the same thing as academic exercise.  You will be hearing and reading wonderful material.  You will hopefully be expected to read your Bible and other good books.  You will be required to research, read, think and write about God.  You will also enjoy spiritual conversations with faculty and fellow students.  And you will be tempted to let all this be your devotional life. But walking with Christ is “with Christ,” not just “about Christ.”  Be sure to keep the conversation going with God in the midst of your studies.  Why not talk to Him about this question: “Father, why is it that so many passionate Christians grow dry and cold in Bible School?”

2. Human glory is toxic.  The academic environment is not positive, or even neutral, for maintaining devotion to God.  I certainly loved being on campus and enjoyed some great times with God there.  But don’t let a beautiful campus or warm atmosphere distract you from the dangers inherent in the system.  Receiving grades for your work will feed the competitiveness of your flesh.  Receiving speedy feedback and affirmation will feed your flesh’s desire to build its identity in itself and its own achievements.  The comparative environment means that you may stand out in some class or other, and thus feed the autonomy impulse of your sinful flesh.  Glory from other humans (students, teachers, and outside friends) is both toxic and addictive.  Beware.

3. Pride is profoundly destructive.  Jesus warned the scholars of his day that seeking glory from humans is mutually exclusive to a healthy relationship with God.  (See John 5:38ff) Why?  In part it is because glory feeds the prideful tendency of my flesh which thinks I am a god, and as a result push God away.  God opposes the proud, even in Bible school.  Beware of reinforcing the glory/pride system.  Seek to pray and guard the hearts of fellow students and faculty as well as your own.

4. Keep relationally Bible saturated.  Never settle for required Bible reading assignments.  Make sure that you are soaking your soul in the fresh water of the Word and maintaining that conversation with Christ throughout your studies.  Do a fast-paced Bible read through.    Keep talking with Christ about the lure of sophisticated speculation (arms length playing with ideas that no longer stir your heart).  What you need most is not successful education, or sophisticated knowledge, or academic awards.  What you need most is Christ.  Share your Bible highlights with others, other people will need to be re-infected with a simple love for Christ too.

5. Christ loves the church, stay connected.  The people at church may not know about the things you are learning.  The leaders at church may not do things the way you’ve been taught to do them.  The sermons at church may feel lightweight compared to your lectures.  Nevertheless, you need to stay connected at a local church.  Serve where you can.  Don’t be an annoying critic.  Do look to love others whenever you can.  (Incidentally, pursue learning from faculty who are actively loving the church, not distant destroyer-critics.)

6. Let the stresses push you up against God.  There will be stress at Bible School.  Deadlines.  Financial strain.  Impossible verb paradigms.  Schedule overload.  Pressure on your family. You will be tempted to grow your independence and determination muscles, as well as your ability to function on little sleep.  Instead, let the pressure push you up against God.  And by faith get some sleep!  Remember that your stress impacts your spouse, your children, your room-mate in the dorm, your church, etc.

7. Value relationships carefully. You may think it is really just about you and God.  But human relationships matter.  Value every student, not just the impressive (or attractive) ones.  Speaking of attractive, beware of the extra emotional electricity in a high spirituality environment – it is a great place to meet a spouse, but guard hearts, don’t damage them.  Value faculty and care for them, they are real people too.  And finally, know that there will be attacks from the enemy – yet another reason to stick close to Christ and draw others with you.

What would you add to this list?  I know there’s plenty more . . .

Application Is Not Always Engagement

HammerEveryone lauds preaching that connects with the congregation.  Many imply that the key to connecting is giving applications.  But is it possible to be totally applicational in a message, and yet completely unengaging?

I believe it is possible.  If there is no personal warmth between preacher and listener, and if there is no vertical warmth between the preacher and God, then a highly applicational message could easily become an instructional rant based on a text.  Listeners will not feel connected with the preacher or the preaching.  They may just feel got at.

The problem is that if we think being relevant and applicational is all it takes to connect, then we can overlook the fact that communication is best offered in the context of interpersonal warmth.  Our listeners need us to have that reality in both dimensions!

A good friend of mine has a stock of great sayings, one of which goes, when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  This is so true in preaching.  A chilling of the temperature in our personal walk with God will show in our communication with others.  Even the most winsome of texts can become an opportunity to hammer on the duty theme again, for example.

Instead of just plugging in applications, let’s pray about what it really takes to connect with listeners.  This will include our manner and delivery, sermon content and presentation of the Bible, as well as pastoral connection outside of the pulpit.  People need preaching that engages them more than just preaching that gives application.

7 Ways to Guard Hearts at a Christian Conference

Conference2Attending a Christian conference can be an incredible blessing.  The opportunities to learn, to network, to take a break from normal life, to enjoy abundant food and even to sing together with a large crowd of believers, this can all be wonderful.  But there are dangers too, and since I haven’t seen anybody writing about this, here is a set of points to ponder as you head for the next big event:

1. Don’t leave God out of your conversation.  This may seem bizarre when every session, every song, and almost every conversation is probably going to relate to God and ministry.  But I stand by the point – don’t leave God himself out of the conversation.  It is easy to neglect time with Him in order to stay busy talking about His things.  It is easy to stay up late, get up groggy and rush off to breakfast, conversations and plenary sessions.  What about time with God?  What about letting Him have a voice in your day by reading the Bible?  What about pausing to pray since He is important to you?  If your spouse were with you, your frantic intensity and neglect of conversation would do nothing for marital closeness.  So what about Christ?

2. Lean on God to navigate the stresses of networking.  If the conference is a gathering of people involved in ministries like yours, then it is tempting to buzz around like a manic worker bee trying to connect with every significant person in attendance.  In the few days you have, you may not get to everyone you think you should.  Instead of handling that by your own stress, talk to God about it and walk through the days with a reliance on Him.  He can orchestrate the connections that He thinks you need.  I have experienced both the manic version of conference networking, and the trusting God version of it.  The latter version is healthier, more faith-building and more effective.

3. Don’t feed the hype of a glory festival.  Probably the worst part of some Christian events is that they feed the hype of mutual glory hunting.  Jesus warned the religious leaders of his day very strongly about the danger of receiving glory from one another (see John 5:38ff) and yet we still fall into that trap so easily.  Christian events where leaders are gathered are often rife with the stench of human glory.  Determine not to feed it.  Don’t leave a conversation mid-sentence because your favourite author just entered the room.  Don’t ask for autographs (what is the point?)

4. Value every brother and sister in Christ.  Following on from the previous point, it is tempting to have your radar beeping for the famous or high profile people that may be at the conference.  But if you are trusting God to orchestrate your informal connections, then remember that He may be more excited about you loving an “insignificant” brother or sister than your need to shake hands with someone who is in demand.  The “least of these” applies at the conference, and it applies when Big Name is standing right next to you too.

5. Care for the “profile people” as people.  It is easy to elevate well-known speakers and authors as if they are super-Christians.  They are brothers and sisters in Christ.  If you have opportunity to interact, do so lovingly and with sensitivity to them as people.  Express gratitude for their ministry, but get beyond that too.  Show interest in them as people, not just as fonts of knowledge about your pet subjects.  If they have just spoken, recognize that they may be feeling discouraged or drained.  I stood by as one “fan” missed every cue from a “profile person” who was obviously drained and heading for his room.  After a while I was tempted to step in and rescue the speaker from the onslaught of questions and lack of sensitivity.

6. Don’t forget your family role too.  If you are married, but attending the conference alone, then be sure not to abdicate your responsibilities at home.  My wife does an amazing job at home when I am away for a few days, but it is a thankless task.  That is, unless I thank her.  Phone calls, texts, and notes, all show that you appreciate them.  Sometimes your spouse will just need to talk.  Sometimes you may need to comfort or discipline a child over the phone.  It may not feel as exciting as the opportunities in front of you, but it may be the most important ministry you do all week.

7. Be a builder, not a destroyer.  If you put leaders together, inevitably you are creating opportunity for constructive evaluation of everything about the conference.  What did you think of his third point?  Do you like the music?  What was going on with the stewards for the main meeting?  Ministry leaders can’t help evaluating ministry when we are participating in an event, but we can help the tone of our evaluation.  The insecure will criticize and tear down.  The mature in Christ will be careful to build up others in every circumstance.  There will be avenues for constructive criticism – use them to help things improve.  But don’t use conversation to elevate yourself and tear down beloved brothers and sisters in Christ.

Attending a Christian conference is an incredible privilege.  Next time you get that opportunity, why not prayerfully go through these points before you dive in to the crazy schedule?

5 Hindrances to Believing the Gospel of Done

71BuO-qnfHLI am enjoying reading David Murray’s The Happy Christian.  I blogged from an early section here, but let me ponder another of David’s very helpful lists.  What are the hindrances that prevent people in our churches from enjoying the fullness of “the Gospel of done”?  These five hindrances get in the way of people in your church, and they probably get in your way too.  Let’s pray about them for ourselves and preach to help people become aware of them too.

1. Accusing Conscience – The inner prosecutor can be most vehement!  If we don’t confront this with the gospel, then we will be forever bound in a cycle of new resolutions and personal determinations.  And guilt.  Shame.  Remorse.  But the good news is that it is finished!  And this is a cry our souls need to hear, and our churches need to ring with it lest the inner prosecutor crush the life of the Gospel.

2. A Demanding Church – This is one we definitely can influence through our preaching – but it won’t be easy.  Traditionally people have heard “Duty, duty, duty,” as the main message, or perhaps “Disobedience, disobedience, disobedience.”  Preaching in many churches is a never ending to do list.  There is a place for clarification of what it will look like to have the Gospel working in a life, but let’s make sure we preach the Gospel so that it can work in lives!

3. Work-for-Wages Culture – We live in a culture that promotes a simply concept: work leads to reward.  There is a strong case for a Christian work ethic in the Bible and we can make a case for its historical influence.  But there is also a strong case for the Gospel to be a radically counter-cultural message, a counter-fallenness message that goes against the notion that we can make a name for ourselves and be somebody by our own efforts.

4. Unbelief – Murray points his reader to the ten most disbelieved letters in the Bible.  What are they?  N . . . O . . . T . . . O . . . F . . . W . . . O . . . R . . . K . . . S  Our churches are full of people who still assume that we have to do our best and live like it.  Read the Bible until you purge your own soul of this disease and then preach the truth loud and clear!

5. Christian Failure – Some of us are convinced that God let’s us in based on His Done, but we don’t believe we stay in by His Done.  Too many churches preach the Gospel to unbelievers and an anti-Gospel to believers.

If you have read, or are reading The Happy Christian, what are you finding most helpful?

10 Pointers for Planning a Preaching Calendar

10 targetpcHere is another little list of 10 pointers, this time on planning your preaching calendar.  (I understand that some churches are tied into a lectionary, which will restrict the value of this list, but for the rest of us…)

1. Pray and ask what the congregation needs to hear in the coming months – We are under-shepherds, but the Good Shepherd has the best perspective on how to care for the sheep.  It is no more spiritual to plan at the last moment.  In fact, it may be less spiritual to work that way.  Pray and plan.

2. Be alert to the church calendar (within reason) – If people come to church just before Christmas and you are preaching part 34 in your Ezekiel series they will find that strange.  They would be right. Preach Christmas leading up to Christmas, Easter leading up to Easter, etc. Beyond those two seasons, select appropriately for your context.  A rural setting may make a big thing out of harvest time, while an urban setting probably won’t.  Some events can be marked without a full sermon (perhaps Mother’s Day?)

3. Recognize key seasons for the church – While Christmas and Easter may be prime time for visitors, other seasons are key for church life.  September and January are two key months for leadership and vision casting.  August may be the time people are away and you need to plan a series of stand-alone messages instead of a tight series.

4. Beware of extended series – Lloyd-Jones preached through Romans for many many years.  You are not Lloyd-Jones.  4-8 weeks seems to be ideal these days, with a little bit of flexibility at either end.  A new series creates energy and opportunity to invite folks (so don’t make the next new series too far off).

5. Plan buffer weeks – Having a flexible week or two between series will be useful.  It is easier to fill a week than to find a week when you need it.

6. Be aware of canonical balance over time – Different cultures, church cultures and preachers will tend toward a certain part of the Bible.  Don’t always preach Gospels, or Epistles, or 2 Chronicles.  Mix it up over time and seek to offer a balanced diet over the course of a few years.

7. Every series does not have to be the same – It is great to go through a book, or a section of a book, but it is also helpful to mix in an expository-topical series now and then (that is, a selected set of passages that are still preached carefully according to their intended meaning), or a character study, or a few key values of the church.

8. Avoid predictability within each series – Galatians in six weeks does not have to be one chapter each week.  Consider a whole book introduction or review at the end.  Preach longer chunks and shorter sections.  Preach thematically through a book.

9. Strengthen the series beyond the preaching itself – See if the music team can mark a series with a fitting song.  Tie the series together with careful branding and imagery.  Get input into the series from people in the church, or even people in the community (what would you ask God if you could?) . . . those who input tend to come and listen more attentively!

10. Plan, but be prepared to change – A national or local disaster may require sensitive reshaping of a series or preaching calendar.  Prayerfully and carefully plan, and where necessary, prayerfully and carefully adjust those plans.  The calendar is for the church, not the church for the calendar.

(Previously in this series we have had 10 pointers for younger preachers, older preacherstrained preachersuntrained preacherspreaching Easterteam preachingspecial occasion preaching and evangelistic preaching.)

10 Pointers for Evangelistic Preaching

10 targetepThere are far more qualified voices on this subject, but nevertheless, here are 10 pointers to ponder as you anticipate preaching evangelistically.

1. God can work despite your weaknesses as a communicator, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give your best – this is true in an individual message, and in a lifetime of ministry.  So look for ways to improve and grow in what you do as a preacher of the gospel.

2. The Gospel is good news, so proclaim it – somehow it is easier to talk about it, than to actually proclaim it.  We have great news to share, so let’s take the opportunity to get it presented.

3. The Gospel is a proclamation of what God has done in Christ, not what people should do in response to your message – “Repent and believe” is not good news, it is a way of phrasing an appropriate response to the news.  The good news declares what God has done in sending his Son to earth, to us, to the cross, and what that means for people today.

4. You are representing a person, not just a set of truths – Somehow people can become quite aggressive when they declare sets of truth, but they don’t when they speak of someone they love.  Please ponder the love of God for you before you proclaim the message of his love for others.

5. You communicate by more than your words – There is also your attitude, your expression, your demeanour, your tone, your body language and your personal warmth.  Please align all of these with your message.

6. Make people want it to be true before you try to convince them that it is true – There is absolutely a place for declaring the truth and seeking to be convincing about it, but remember that simply proving your point will never usher souls into the kingdom.  We flatter ourselves if we think the world is waiting for us to be clever and convincing enough before they will respond.

7. Don’t let the truth of the truth be foggy – We live in a relativistic age that assumes you don’t even really believe what you are declaring, so be sure to undermine the fairy tale/personal crutch idea and invite them to engage with truth, history, etc.

8. Be biblical in what you say, whether or not you cite your source – Some like to point to Acts 17 and suggest Paul never quoted the Bible in his message to the philosophers in Acts.  This is simplistic and misleading.  Paul’s message was saturated in biblical truth, he just didn’t give the references all the way through.  Please be biblical.  God is a great communicator.  (There is definitely a place for preaching a passage – evangelistic exposition can be incredibly powerful, but when you aren’t “preaching a passage” please be thoroughly biblical anyway.)

9. Pray for wisdom to blend patience with boldness – It is easy to assume this is the only opportunity and present awkwardly.  It is easy to assume this isn’t the key opportunity and present weakly.  Somehow we need wisdom to find the right blend.  Cumulative evangelistic ministry is very powerful, but for some people this may be a unique moment.  We need both boldness and patience.

10. Always remember that it is the Holy Spirit who changes lives – Not your technique, nor your message, nor your learning, nor your cool persona, nor your stunning powerpoint, nor your well-worked structure.  It is a work of God to save a hell-bound sinner and draw them into his family.  Pray passionately.  Proclaim persuasively.  Depend completely.

I can already think of more to add.  What would you add?

(Previously in this series we have had 10 pointers for younger preachers, older preacherstrained preachersuntrained preacherspreaching Easterteam preaching and special occasion preaching.)

3 Weird Things To Avoid Doing on Social Media

SocialMedia2It is easy to live in the moment and lose perspective.  For instance, let’s think about social media.  As a preacher or church leader, just press rewind and imagine doing the following things back in the old days (i.e. even the 1980’s or 1990’s).  What would it look like if we went back in time by a generation, thus removing social media, but still acted the same way?  Would we really do the following?

1. Mundane Info Sharing.  It’s Monday morning.  You had a busy Sunday and are not feeling too motivated to dive into another week.  So you are running a few errands for the family and decide to sit down at a cafe for a cup of (in those days) regular coffee.  Before you do, you take out your church phone list and drop a load of coins into the public phone just outside the cafe.  “Hey, Roger!  I am just going to sit down for a coffee and unwind for a few minutes.  I might look at a newspaper.  I’m just a normal person!  Thought you’d like to know!”  Several hundred calls later, you get your coffee.  Weird.  Sharing mundane info should have died out after the first six months of Twitter.  It mostly did.  Facebook is another story . . .

2. Retweeting Praise of Your Preaching.  Just as the crowded church is starting to head for the door, would you rush back up to the podium, tap awkwardly on the microphone and get everybody’s attention . . . “Hey folks!?  Before you all head for home, I just wanted to share with you what I heard Tom saying in the lobby.  He told a couple of his friends that my sermon was the best he’d ever heard!”  And would you stop on the way, get the sound guy to press the record button on the cassette, then make copies of it and send it to everyone you know?  Probably not.  It is weird. Social media doesn’t make this kind of self-promotion any more appropriate today than thirty years ago.  If other people praise you, be thankful.  But a retweet smells a lot like self-praise.

3. Name Dropping.  As you walk into the dining hall at the conference venue, you spot a “celebrity” Christian.  So you squat down next to their seat and have your friend snap a picture.  Immediately you rush to the nearest one-hour photo place and have a few hundred copies made, before posting them to everyone you know with the note, “Guess who I just met?”  Would you have done this back in the day?  Probably not.  This is also weird behaviour.  There is certainly a place for public acknowledgement of people you appreciate, but sometimes it can feel like the smiling you is the real centrepiece of the picture.

Bonus – Time Wasting.  You have two hours before your next appointment.  So you sit down to read a book.  You never get to it.  This may have happened back then, but maybe less than today?

I am sure all of us fall foul to this list now and then, but are any of these things your standard way of functioning? Social media is an amazing resource, but as preachers and church leaders, let’s be sure to use it well!

Any other weird behaviours you would add to the list?

10 Pointers for Special Occasion Preaching

10 targetsoPreaching at a wedding, a funeral, a baptism, a baby dedication, or some other special occasion is a great opportunity to preach to people who would normally not be sitting in the church.  Here are 10 pointers to ponder.

1. It isn’t about you – Don’t try to draw attention to yourself.  At a wedding, people are there for the couple.  At a funeral it is about the deceased and their family. It isn’t about you.  Don’t try to draw attention your way.  Gracious service to others goes a long way.

2. It isn’t the time to be clever – Don’t preach in character with a costume at a funeral.  Don’t attempt a complex science demonstration for an illustration in a wedding sermon.  There are times to preach with creativity and originality, but the special occasion is not one of those times.

3. It is a good time to communicate the gospel, gently – Unless strongly invited to go strong, the best approach is prayerful gracious gospel presentation.  People typically need more than one exposure, so it probably isn’t the moment for an altar call, but it is a key moment for those who are present.  Remember that pushing too hard does not increase the effectiveness of the gospel, but it might increase the negative impact for those who do not respond.

4. Your regulars don’t need originality – If you need to say things that are familiar to regulars, so be it, they will know what you are doing.

5. Don’t come across as a sales pitch – We meet at this time, we have good snacks, we’d love to see you next Sunday, etc.  Cringe.  Serve the people getting married, burying a loved one, getting baptised, or whatever, don’t look like you are taking advantage for the sake of the church.

6. Graciously demonstrate that this is not a service for hire – Visitors may assume that you are speaking because they paid a fee and therefore you showed up.  If you know the people involved, by all means let some humanness come through so visitors know that you know the people involved.

7. Personalise where you can – Was there a favourite passage or hymn for the deceased?  Does the person getting baptized have a favourite passage (less likely with infant baptism!)  I spoke at a baptism for a lady and asked about this – she loved James.  So I gulped, and preached the gospel from James.  It set her up for conversations on familiar territory with the multiple guests coming to see her baptism.

8. Recognise the uniqueness of the occasion – You may do a lot of weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc., but this is a genuinely special occasion for all involved.  Pray accordingly.  Preach accordingly.  Do not have one funeral sermon to squeeze into any funeral.  Don’t speak as if a known sinner was a secret saint.  Don’t preach about marriage to a “golden years” couple as if they are in their twenties.

9. Watch the length of the sermon – It is generally wise to be shorter than you would be on a normal Sunday, but it is not as simple as “be shorter than visitors expect.”  If they have limited exposure to some church backgrounds then anything over 6 minutes is too long.  But recognising that caveat, generally it is better to preach for 15-20 minutes than 35-45 on a special occasion.

10. Undermine expectations wisely – They may expect formal, this doesn’t mean you should try to shock with your attire or vocabulary.  However, a genuinely heartfelt message with warmth and sincerity may rock their world.  Do it.

There is much more that could be said here . . . feel free to add your experience, observations and thoughts in the comments below.

Previously in this series we have had 10 pointers for younger preachers, older preachers, trained preachers, untrained preachers, preaching Easter and team preaching.

7 Ministry Diet Tips, From David Murray

71BuO-qnfHLI have been really enjoying reading through The Happy Christian, by David Murray.  When I finish it, I will offer a review, but meanwhile I will post some highlights along the way.  Murray suggests rebalancing the diet we are taking for ourselves, and offering to others, in the following ways:

1. More Salvation than Sin

“…the gospel message must begin with “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  But we don’t want to linger there any longer than we have to.  Some preachers, teachers, and parents love to dwell in the smoke and fire of Mount Sinai more than the love and grace of Mount Calvary.”

2. More Truth than Falsehood

Here Murray suggests we learn from banks who train their workers to spot counterfeits by handling the real thing.  It is easy to give ourselves to critiquing and spotting the errors and heresies around us, but we need to enjoy the truth of what is right and good.

3, More Wooing than Warning

Murray is right to urge us to offer more of Christ than the devil, more of “the attraction of heaven than the fear of hell,” and more of the beauty of holiness than the ugliness of sin.  He urges us to show people “how much Jesus is willing and able to save and how much He desires and delights to save. He does not save because He has to but because He wants to and enjoys to.”

4. More Victory than Struggle

Do our sermons, blog posts, prayers, and songs reflect the biblical emphasis on the power of life in the Spirit, or do we lean more toward a primary focus on the struggle and difficulty?  It is right to highlight the sufferings of persecuted Christians around the world, but let’s also be informed about the number of people coming to faith and the impact of the gospel in the world.

5. More Celebration than Lamentation

Just as there’s a time to mourn, there is also a time to laugh.  “When we consider how many blessings we have compared to so many, we must sometimes sound like spoiled children, whining, whining, and whining for more. . . . Remember the apostles even managed to celebrate that they were counted ‘worthy’ to suffer persecution for Christ’s sake!”

6. More Life than Death

Murray points to the missionary death and martyr story emphasis in books, rather than the inspiring stories of lives being changed.  We need more life narratives than death narratives since most people will live ordinary everyday lives for the vast majority of their lives!

7. More Strengths than Weaknesses

It is easy to focusing on fixing weaknesses, but why not give more energy to cultivating and developing what is working well already?  Murray doesn’t deny the call to complete transformation, but he has a point in respect to where we put our energies.

While our ministry needs to include a certain amount of deconstruction and helpful critique, let’s make sure that the balance leans more toward offering the Good News of Jesus in all its richness.  Less of me and more of Him.  I imagine Murray’s list might feel quite convicting for some of us.  Let’s pray through this and be thankful that we have something infinitely constructive and helpful to meditate on ourselves and offer to others!

7 Thoughts on Relevance in Preaching

7890bWhen you are planning your message, consider your relevancy strategy.  When and how will you demonstrate the relevance of your message?

The Bible is relevant.  We don’t need to “make it relevant,” but we do need to demonstrate how it is relevant.  Here are seven quick points to consider:

1. There is a logic to the traditional Application-at-the-End strategy.  Logically we do explain the text before we can apply the text.  This means that the traditional idea of taking the final few minutes to offer some applications makes sense.  However . . .

2. There is a flaw in the traditional Application-at-the-End strategy.  If people don’t feel that the message is relevant to life, then they are unlikely to listen through half an hour of distant and theoretical material in order to still be listening by the time the relevancy is demonstrated.

3. Generally look to demonstrate relevance throughout the message.  As a general rule, seek to demonstrate relevance throughout the message.  This would include:

A. Introduction – take the opportunity to show that you are not a Bible history lecturer, but someone who is aware of real life.  Show that the message will be relevant to listeners’ lives.  Point out that the passage itself is relevant.  Three hits before the message has even begun!

B. Message Idea – make sure the wording of your main idea is contemporary.  You can support it biblically, but word it for us, today.

C. The wording of every point – word the points “us” and “we” rather than historical labels for Biblical content.

D. Explanations, Proofs and Applications throughout – traditionally called “illustrations,” make good use of contemporary experience and applicational description rather than offering lots of historical (and therefore distant) anecdotes and quotes.

E. Transitions – between each point you can offer a glimpse of the relevance of the message again.

F. Conclusion – see point #1, above.

4. Recognise that there are exceptions to #3.  If you are telling a biblical story with tension, then you probably don’t want to break that tension for an overt contemporary illustration.  Know that the story will grip people if told well.  And know that little asides can keep listeners subconsciously aware of the relevance of the message even as you tell the story.  (For instance, a passing comment that the woman who found her lost coin texted her friends to invite them to celebrate with her won’t break the story, but will show you aren’t stuck in another world.)

5. Know there are many ways to demonstrate relevance in preaching.  Forget the simplistic idea that relevance comes from exhortations to behave a certain way.  There is more to relevance than to-do lists.  It includes your attitude and manner as a preacher, perhaps even your dress sense.  It includes vocabulary.  It includes delivery style.  And then there are numerous potential approaches to explaining the text, proving the truth, and applying the message.

6. Prayerfully pursue the motivation for relevance.  That is, pray for God’s heart for the people who will be listening to your message.  If you love them, you won’t be aloof, distant and irrelevant.

7. Never dismiss the importance of this issue.  In some circles it is fashionable to abdicate this aspect of preaching with a super-spiritual idea that it is God who makes the message relevant to listeners.  You can’t change lives, God does that.  But preaching is communication of Biblical truth that is intended to change lives.  Fully preach in line with the goal, and fully rely on God to be at work in listeners.  It is thoroughly biblical to preach relevantly . . . watch the prophets, Jesus and the apostles.  Most of them were spiritual in their approach.