Category Archives: Audience Analysis

Preaching Christmas

MangerJesus2Christmas is an amazing opportunity to preach to people who normally wouldn’t be coming into church.  Here are seven top suggestions for making the most of the opportunity:

1. Pray a lot – there is a spiritual battle going on and the enemy wants to keep people distracted from the truth of the gospel. In the busy world of Christmas service planning, he can also keep preachers distracted from the wonder of the gospel too!

2. Preach fact – the Christmas message is not, as most tend to think, another holiday season fairy tale and religious myth.  Luke launched his gospel with a declaration of the trustworthiness of his message, let’s take a leaf out of his book.  Look for ways to make it clear that there was an original Christmas.

3. Correct carefully – nobody likes a cavalier critique of comfortable traditions, so be careful when you point out that Jesus was not born in a cattle shed, or that Mary wasn’t timing contractions as she arrived in Bethlehem, or that the Wise Men actually arrived months later.  One of these “facts” is probably wrong, but even truth can be unhelpful if people think you are just being critical, or there is no benefit in the clarification you bring.

4. Celebrate sensitively – it is easy to hype up Christmas like a children’s TV presenter, but for many people it is a bittersweet season.  Be sure to take a moment in the message, or in a prayer, to recognize the difficulties as well as the joys.

5. Proclaim good news – yes, Christmas is a season of giving and cheer and peace.  Yes, this is a good year to mention the famous Christmas truce of 1914.  But remember that Christmas is not about stirring sentimentality and periodic pauses for peace, it is ultimately about something on the vertical plane and not just the horizontal.  Jesus came to us to bring us to God.  Don’t preach just a nice message, be sure to preach the best news!

6. Undermine assumptions – as well as communicating the gospel message in some way, remember that there is also an opportunity to undermine some common assumptions.  Making clear that there is a historical reality to the Incarnation is a good idea, and why not take the chance to clarify the nature of God’s character too?  Everyone comes into church thinking they know what God is like.  If they don’t really know Jesus, then they don’t.  Christmas is a great moment to point people not to speculations about the Majesty of God, but to bring them to the manger to meet the One who makes God known to us.

7. Worship personally – if the Christmas message has grown old for you, then you can’t preach it well.  Take some time out with your God and let Him stir your heart afresh.  Then you can preach Christmas.

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Prayerfully Pondered Impact

impact2For many years people considered communication to consist merely in the transfer of propositions from one mind to another.  Many preachers still do.  Actually there is a lot more going on.  Without getting too technical, Speech-Act Theory analyses communication using three measures instead of one.  There is quite a bit of scope for this communications theory to help preachers consider their task.  Here are the three measures:

A. There is the actual set of words that comprise the communication, which can be evaluated for meaning, but only incompletely.

B. What the theory underlines is that speech doesn’t just say something, it is always delivered with the intent to do something.  Some acts of speech are typically used as clear examples, such as, “I pronounce you husband and wife” … in the right context, those words actually do something.  In reality every act of speech is given with the intent to do something.  There is the intended impact of the speaker that is communicated with and by the actual words used.  So you might use the same set of words, but with different intent depending on numerous other factors, to communicate the following: a threat, a promise, a flirtatious hint, etc.

C. Once we open up the realm of the intent of the speaker beyond mere analysis of propositions (which we automatically do as listeners), then there is a third measure to bring into the mix . . . the actual effect of the speech-act.  What actually happens may be intended or unintended, and it may be multi-layered.

If you want to chase Speech-Act Theory, by all means search for it, or for the terms locution, illocution and perlocution.  For now I want to probe this final element described in respect to preaching…

Do the actual effects of our preaching match our intended effects?  Obviously we have a significant added dimension as preachers – that God brings conviction, transformation and growth.  Nevertheless, it is definitely worth pondering our impact prayerfully.  Here are some possibilities:

1. Do people take our tone in the way we intend?  You might mean to come across as loving in what you say, but actually be felt to be antagonistic, negative or aggressive.  You might intend to couch certain content in a tone of hope, but come across as uncertain and hesitant.

2. Does the main goal of the message get through?  We do look to God to bring about transformation, but that doesn’t excuse us from prayerfully intending certain impact.  Are we seeing that impact over time?

3. Do secondary but significant goals get achieved in your preaching?  For instance, you might intend for your listeners to be motivated to read their Bibles during the week, but does your preaching bring about that motivation?  Prayerfully pondering actual impact might lead to some tweaks in your preaching that will help your church.

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Filed under Audience Analysis, Christianity, Homiletics, Preaching, Religion, Stage 5 - Message Purpose, Stage 8 - Message Detail

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).

 

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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

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?

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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.

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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.

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

Never Lose This!

never-lose-300x200Following on from yesterday’s link, here is a recent post I wrote on the issue of losing our first love.  Again, important for preachers to ponder prayerfully for ourselves, and for our listeners!  Click here to go there.

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The Greatest Peril for Churches and Preachers

peril-300x300I just posted a blog over on Cor Deo that is getting some good feedback from folks.  I entitled it, “The Greatest Peril for Bible Churches?” . . . it would all be equally true for preachers.  Click here to go over and take a look.

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Darrell Bock – Lessons About the Incarnation from Luke 1-2

darrell_bockToday’s guest post in the Incarnation Series is from Dr Darrell Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary.  As well as Darrell’s great commentaries on Luke and Acts that I have appreciated so much over the years, be sure to check out The Table – a weekly podcast on God, Christianity and Culture.  His latest works are the co-authored Truth in a Culture of Doubt (UK Link, USA Link), and Truth Matters (UK Link, USA Link).  I am grateful to Darrell for offering this succinct post on the Incarnation in Luke 1-2 as we mark the release of Pleased to Dwell.

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God keeps his word. In Luke 1-2, this is the theme that surrounds the incarnation. Jesus’ birth is shown to be part of a divine plan that involves both John the Baptist and Jesus. Jesus’ birth is shown to be superior to John. John is a prophet, while Jesus is Son of God. As hard as some of what the angel says to Mary is about how the child will be born, the refrain is that “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

Three hymns sing out the refrain that God keeps his Word. Mary’s hymn speaks about how God lifts up those who fear him in line with covenantal promises made to Abraham and his offspring (Luke 1:54-55). Zechariah’s hymn highlights God’s visitation to his people showing mercy to the fathers and keeping the covenant (Luke 1:68-75). Simeon’s hymn affirms that the psalmist’s eyes have seen the salvation of God when he sees the baby Jesus (Luke 2:30). The child is light, revelation to Gentiles and glory for Israel (Luke 2:32), for God has kept his word to deliver his people.

We tend to forget when we think about the incarnation that the arrival of Jesus is part of a plan God had and that he represents the keeping of promises and divine commitments made long ago. This is why Luke 1:45 says of Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” John 1 calls Jesus the Word, but Luke 1-2 argues that in Jesus God kept his word. God is faithful. Underneath all that is the incarnation that comes from God stands God’s faithfulness to keep his pledge and to perform his word.

The coming of Jesus means God can be trusted to care for us for in Jesus’ coming that is exactly what God has done––just as he promised he would do. As God is trustworthy, all that is left for us is to trust his promise and live with hope.

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88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference – III

Questions2Let’s conclude the list of questions to ponder about effective delivery:

14. Are your word choices appropriate for subject and audience?  Is there an appropriate combination of dignity and authenticity?  Do you sound like an academic?  Do you sound like a stereotypical preacher (whichever stereotype comes to mind)?  Are your words understandable, condescending, flippant, crass, attention-seeking, natural, coherent?

15. Do you actually make sense when you speak?  Are your sentences fully there?  Do you rely too much on people to get what you mean, or can you consistently say what you mean?  Do you lose volume or change pace at the end of your sentences?  Do you garble words, or skip them entirely?  Do you rely on awkward filler terms like, well, you know, so, umm, like those?

16. Is what you wear appropriate for your listeners or distracting?  Do you fit with the culture of your church?  What message does your attire give off?  Are listeners thinking about your excessive formality, your unkempt appearance, your distracting clothing choices?

17. Do you have any idiosyncratic quirks that should be eliminated?  It could be in your voice, vocabulary, expression, gesture or movement, but if people have heard you a couple of times, could they name something distracting about your delivery?

18. Is the combination of everything we’ve seen already coming across as genuine?  Do listeners meet the same you when they talk to you afterwards?  Does your spouse or child recognize the person preaching in the pulpit?

19. How goes your prayer about delivery?  Do you pray out of love for self and your reputation?  Do you pray with a heartfelt concern for your listeners?  Do you pray for your fame, or God’s?  Do you pray about delivery at all?

20. What is your strategy for developing as a public speaker?  Do you seek feedback from helpful people?  Do you give them permission to be honest about delivery issues with you?  How often do you listen to yourself preach?  When do you plan to get videotaped and see yourself?  Do you have one or two things that you are consciously working on and praying about at the moment?

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