Category Archives: Audience Analysis

Christocentric, Christiconic, … part 2

img_privilege_3d_02Yesterday I started a list of five alternative labels to ponder for the preacher.  Rather than the Christiconic model espoused in Abraham Kuruvilla’s, Privilege the Text, why not consider these labels for the goal of our preaching?  Are we representing individual facets of Christlike morality in each pericope that we preach, or is something greater going on?  Yesterday we thought about Christotelic and Christodoxological preaching.  Here are three more labels, this time ones I have never heard used elsewhere (you will understand why!)

3. Christopisteuic (Preaching that aims for faith in Christ) – Faith is the gaze of our heart and soul on the provision of God in Christ.  So let’s preach each passage in such a way that the text is honoured, but the listener is not pointed to themselves, their effort, their application, their duty.  Instead point them to Christ that they might believe in Him.  It is a life captivated by Christ that will manifest a self-giving and therefore genuinely Christlike morality that may shock onlookers.  (People are used to seeing self-focused morality that is profoundly unattractive.)

4. Christ0-agapic (even Christofileic) (Aiming for the love of Christ, or brotherly love of Christ) – I am getting closer to the title I really like.  The greatest commandment is to love God and love neighbour.  If anyone does not love Christ, he is accursed (1Cor.16:22).  Let’s make the love of Christ our saviour, our friend, our groom, our brother . . . let’s make that our goal.

5. Trinitari-koinonic  – I think this is my favourite label describing the goal of preaching.  Fellowship with the Trinity.  What an honour!  So as we preach the revelation of God’s heart in the Scriptures, let’s be sure to recognize how each text is revealing God, pointing to his values, recognizing his provision in both Christ and the Spirit, and delighting in his goal to bring us into the embrace of the Godhead by union with the Son through the Spirit.  It is in union with Christ that we discover true life change, because it is only in union with Christ that we can know life itself.  By our union with Christ we can share in the fellowship of the Trinity and thus see radical life transformation.  Anything less, and looking anywhere else, will always disappoint.

Any other suggestions welcome.  Preaching Christ in His Word is such a privilege, and Kuruvilla is right that we have to think carefully how we do that.

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Multiply Ministry Beyond the Pulpit

Multiply2I was just pondering the extensive opportunities for ministry beyond the pulpit.  This may not seem relevant to a preaching blog, but I think it is.  As a preacher, you have many opportunities to serve God and others beyond the ministry that you give in preaching.  Let’s chase some ideas together and maybe one or two will spark something for you.

First, what about ministry directly linked to your preaching:

1. Written - The days of simply transcribing and publishing sermons are probably long gone for most, and yet there could be some scope for producing written materials that flow out of our preaching ministry.  Getting published is not the easiest challenge, but perhaps there is a venue for carefully written synopses.  (And I would imagine that if you have a good editing PA you might be able to churn out as many books as your favourite preacher/writer . . . but you need to think about what your theological message is.)

2. Online – Full sermon manuscripts will get very little traffic, since sermons are not written to be read.  Perhaps blog length summaries could serve a purpose?  Perhaps tweet length big ideas would be of benefit to others?

3. Recorded – It is easier than ever to record, lightly edit and upload your messages to the internet.  Don’t do it just because you can, but if there are people that want to hear them, why not let the same sermon do its work again?

4. Taught – Why not gather one or two interested parties to talk through your message and make it into a training exercise?  Could be potential preachers.  Could be people learning to handle the Bible for themselves?  In fact, get some feedback and you will benefit too.

5. Further Preached – Sometimes we leave a set of exegetical notes too soon.  Maybe a further sermon building on the message and developing the application, or maybe a discussion, a Q&A, or a small group Bible study?  There are no medals to be won for multiplying work unnecessarily.  If you put hours into a message, it may well have further work to do before you lay it to rest.

Next time, I want to ponder five ministry multiplication options that complement a preaching ministry . . .

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Gospel Preaching – 2

GospelPreaching2So how do we preach the gospel to believers?  Or even, do we?  I grew up in a church setting where there was a great chasm between the Sunday evening gospel service (an ABC’s presentation of the gospel and how to become a Christian) and the midweek believers Bible study (often a gospel-less teaching of some biblical section).  We naturally divide gospel from teaching and consequently end up with a view that the gospel is for newcomers, while a different message is needed for spiritual maturity.

With the different message often comes an apparent contradiction.  Now you are saved by grace, here’s the work list for you to do.  Your growth is up to you.  Work hard now.  Get your pen and paper because I have a to do list for you this week.  It is different than the gospel, but that is okay because you have now graduated from needing the gospel service to needing training in the believer’s service.

The glorious indicatives of Paul’s letters now give way to the pressure of the imperatives as believers need to buck their ideas up and press on to maturity.

Hence we come to the great debate.  Do we grow by obedience to instruction?  Or do we grow by learning our new identity?  (*And is there a third option that nobody seems to mention?)

The tension over sanctification is not one that started brewing three years ago.  It was a debate a generation ago under different labels than it is today.  It has been a debate between preachers for generations.  It was an issue during key moments in previous centuries, a point of division after the Reformation, a disagreement at the start of the second millennium and a source of disagreement right back in Augustine’s day.  Actually, it was an issue as the New Testament was being written.

So which way should we lean in the debate over the nature of our ministry?  Do we have to decide between obedience and identity?  Is the motor for Christian living self-effort or gratitude (*or is there a third motor that is going unmentioned today?)

 

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Gospel Preaching

GospelPreaching2It might seem obvious, but evangelical ministry is about preaching the gospel.  Life transforming good news.  Surely everyone agrees at that basic level?  Apparently not.  There is significant debate swirling about what it means to preach the gospel, not only to unbelievers, but especially to believers.

There is generally a greater degree of consensus about preaching the gospel to unbelievers.  The gospel is the good news of God’s grace in Christ.  It is focused on Christ’s death and resurrection, and it calls for people not to work for salvation, but to trust.  By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

But there is debate, of course.  Is the gospel a proclamation of what God has done in Christ, or is the gospel a call to repent and believe?  Is it just semantics to argue over whether the call to repent and believe is the gospel, or whether it is the appropriate response to the gospel?  I don’t think so.  This is important, because it demonstrates the preacher’s underlying assumption about how humans function and how salvation functions.

At Pentecost Peter stood and preached a proclamation of what God had done in Christ and the culpability of those present in their rejection of Christ (*and another ingredient that apparently has now been removed from gospel discussions – more on that later).  The repent and believe element came in answer to their question of what they should do.

As you read on through Acts, the preaching of the gospel is repeatedly seen to be a declaration of who God is, what he has done in Christ, that Christ is raised and so on.  Repeatedly we read of sinners who turn, or repent, toward God.  It is a personal and relational turn from self or from rebellion against God or from idolatrous ignorance.  The repentance theme in Acts is not one associated with sinful behaviour and a turn to good behaviour.

Paul makes it clear in his epistles that his preaching ministry was one of heralding Christ and him crucified.  As he speaks of his preaching ministry he says a lot about his motives, his methods and his content.  He proclaimed Christ and him crucified.  He didn’t let his focus shift onto pressuring and controlling responses from his hearers, allowing God to generate the response rather than playing the role of ultimate persuader.  As he applied the gospel to the situations in the churches to which he wrote, Paul’s focus was explicitly on Christ (*and another ingredient that seems to have been removed from gospel discussions – more on that later).  The imperatives that flow out of the indicatives of gospel proclamation tend to describe what is expected of those “in Christ,” rather than an action list that loses sight of Christ as the focus shifts to self-determined effort and the hard graft of sanctification.

Underlying the way we preach the gospel is our view of how humans work, the nature of sin and the nature of salvation.  More tomorrow.

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Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – Part 5

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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Continuing the list of areas for special attention, so far we have had beware of self-improvement, beware of making promises out of proverbs, and preach thought units.  Last in the list:

4. Consider what it means to preach a reflective genre… reflectively. We have already seen that wisdom literature requires reflection. How might this impact our sermons in this genre? We need to give serious thought as to how we can encourage reflection in our listeners, even if it is only for the time we are standing up there preaching. Two thoughts on this; firstly avoid information overload. This is true for preaching any genre, but nowhere is it more important that in preaching wisdom.  Don’t bombard people with dozens of different thoughts or ideas; it doesn’t encourage reflection, it encourages confusion, headaches and people to stop listening altogether.

Conversely then, create space. Create space to work out illustration and application – “You cannot serve both God and money” isn’t a proverb, but it is a good example of a relatively short journey from original context to contemporary application. But wisdom like Proverbs 15:5 “A fool spurns a parent’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” will take some time to unpack. How does it apply for people who don’t have God-honouring parents? What about people whose parents have died or who no longer under their parents’ authority in the way they once were? Does this proverb no longer apply to them? If so, how? And what are the subtle ways we all try to squirm out of correction – wherever it comes from? Be creative, take time to explore this piece of wisdom from as many angles as you can. Finally, create space to think, respond, pray. Why not give people time to do this at some point in your sermon (and not necessarily just at the end)?

5. Identify the central issue of a book. This is crucial. In a book like Job, it is easy to forget that the central tension of the book is presented very clearly in chapter 1, Satan says to God that Job loves God not for who He is, but for what He gives Job. The accusation is that Job loves God’s stuff more than he loves God. And the tension of the rest of the book is, in many ways, an exploration of that accusation – will Job’s faith stand up to the accusation, or not? It’s important to work out everything which follows in light of this. In Ecclesiastes you have to go to the end of the book to find the central issue – (12:13–14) Keep this conclusion as your focal point as you drive those windy roads of Ecclesiastes!

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97 Luther Thoughts for Preachers – Conclusion

97LutherSo for the past couple of weeks I have been blogging through Luther’s lesser known 97 Theses.  Let’s finish them up and wrap up the series.

(93)-94. This holds true also of the saying that the love of God may continue alongside an intense love of the creature.

Luther refers to “a kind of subtle evil” in arguments that try to balance what he sees as mutually exclusive.  In this case, he wants to push away from some kind of balancing of love for God and love for non-God.

95. To love God is at the same time to hate oneself and to know nothing but God.

Loving God is seen as the opposite of sin, which is self-love and hatred of God.  When we reduce sin to misdemeanors and “sins” then we can easily lose sight of this.  At the heart of the human problem is the human heart and the problem is profound!  A lot of Christian preaching leaves listeners very content with their elevated view of themselves, and the teaching easily turns into top tips to be a better you.  We must not let humans be the residual focus of our preaching.

(96-97). Luther ends with two theses that urge the reader to conform their desires, using the language of will, in every respect, to God.  It is clear for him that Christianity cannot be about dutiful obedience running parallel to rebellious heart inclinations.  If we are His, then our will really should desire what God does.

I hope these posts have been helpful.  At the very least, may this nudge us to take a look at Luther’s 97 Theses and wrestle with what he was proposing for debate.  Perhaps his poking at foundational questions will make a difference to us in our understanding of Christianity, of humanity and of ministry.

It isn’t enough to educate and encourage conformity of external behavior.  That option may be tempting, but it isn’t what the Gospel is all about.  Too much of Christianity is shaped as much by unquestioned assumptions as it is by Scripture itself.  The devil would love to keep us thinking highly of ourselves and little of God.  Sadly, as preachers we can so easily fall into serving that hellish agenda.

May our hearts be drawn to Christ, and may our preaching offer the radical balm of the gospel to a profoundly sinful humanity.  People desperately need what they will never find in themselves or their own behavioural resolutions, but only in Christ himself.

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97 Luther Thoughts for Preachers – Part 9

97LutherLuther’s 97 theses, for preachers. Give some thought to this one:

76. Every deed of the law without the grace of God appears good outwardly, but inwardly it is sin. This in opposition to the scholastics.

Was Jesus ever satisfied with external conformity? Or did Jesus go after the inner issues in the religious folks he spoke with? Strangely we can be tempted to settle for mere outward godliness in our churches. Why? Maybe because it is easier to pastor superficially? Thank God the Good Shepherd doesn’t pastor us this way.

77. The will is always averse to, and the hands inclined toward, the law of the Lord without the grace of God.

Amazingly, we are always going to be drawn by the lie of autonomy, of independence, even in respect to godliness. Instead of just speaking of others, let me ask us as preachers, do we ever lean toward good behavior in our own strength so that we can function with God at arms length?

78. The will which is inclined toward the law without the grace of God is so inclined by reason of its own advantage.

So are some people just more spiritually sensitive and “naturally” good? Not according to Luther. Unless God is at work, every one will be completely self-serving, however it may manifest itself.

79. Condemned are all those who do the works of the law.
80. Blessed are all those who do the works of the grace of God.

There are two types of people in the world, and in the church. It isn’t younger brothers and older brothers, at least not in the sense of the way we think of them. On the one side there are sons sat at the table in the embrace of their father. On the other there are older and younger brothers living in rebellion, hidden or overt, who want only the benefits of their father.

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97 Luther Thoughts for Preachers – Part 8

97LutherContinuing my preacher’s journey through Luther’s lesser known 97 theses:

68. Therefore it is impossible to fulfill the law in any way without the grace of God.

The gravitational pull of a post Genesis 3 world will always pull us toward a morality that is bereft of the presence of God. This is the tendency we have: to try to be like God, apart from God. Let’s never settle for obedient compliance over genuine relationship with God by His Spirit.

69. As a matter of fact, it is more accurate to say that the law is destroyed by nature without the grace of God.
70. A good law will of necessity be bad for the natural will.
71. Law and will are two implacable foes without the grace of God.

I want to leave these theses rather than summarizing them. As a human being I am naturally in total opposition to God being God. Telling me to behave by his rules will only incite rebellion, or . . .

72. What the law wants, the will never wants, unless it pretends to want it out of fear or love.

Unless the person is fearfully self-protective, or loving self in some way. Thus the written code will gain a variety of responses, from younger brother rebellion to older brother self-righteousness, but nothing on this continuum is actually a good result. Seems hopeless?

73. The law, as taskmaster of the will, will not be overcome except by the “child, who has been born to us” [Isa. 9:6].

Our only hope is Christ himself. Apart from him we are deeply in trouble with a terrible foe. So as a preacher? I must, must, must preach Christ – the only hope. But if I reduce Christ and start to preach law in some way, the result will not be greater godliness.

74. The law makes sin abound because it irritates and repels the will [Rom. 7:13].
75. The grace of God, however, makes justice abound through Jesus Christ because it causes one to be pleased with the law.

Only the grace of God can create a new taste, a new inner relish…hang on, I am drifting into Jonathan Edwards now. God can do what the law never could, stirring the heart with a new appetite for good.

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97 Luther Thoughts for Preachers – Part 7

97LutherWe are moving into the sixties, at least in respect to Luther’s 97:

54-59   – Luther pursued the issue of the grace of God, not as a character quality, but as a spiritual presence.  Either we are self-determined individuals, or we function by the presence or absence of grace.  It is too easy, and natural, for us to preach the Bible in such a way as to make demands of listeners that pressure them to perform.  In preaching moralistically we deny the very core of the gospel itself.

(60-)62. And that therefore he who is outside the grace of God sins incessantly, even when he does not kill, commit adultery, or become angry.

Luther takes aim again at the desire to combine law and grace.  That is our human default so we need to think before dismissing him here.  Outside the grace of God we sin incessantly?  What about my upstanding neighbour?  While there are some non-Christians that have better morals than some who identify themselves with Christ, this is not the point.  Apart from me you can do nothing.  We have to watch our tendency to equate external morality with spirituality.

63. But it follows that he sins because he does not spiritually fulfill the law.

So someone may do the right thing, but not from the heart, not spiritually.  Preachers will always be tempted to preach toward the shortcut of behavioural compliance.  It is not a shortcut to anywhere good.

64. Spiritually that person does not kill, does not do evil, does not become enraged when he neither becomes angry nor lusts.

Luther is one of those people in church history who views the affections as the source of action.  If you chase others who thought the same, you end up with quite a hall of fame!

(65)-66 It is the righteousness of the hypocrite actually and outwardly not to kill, do evil, etc.

Choosing to not “do” a sin can be an expression of corrupt affections.  This is a warning to us preachers who might be tempted to settle for a compliant congregation who do not do wrong.  It is possible to fill a church with people who do the right thing, but do so from a hypocritical heart.  Is that the legacy we want?

67. It is by the grace of God that one does not lust or become enraged.

Hence we must preach Christ and him crucified, not moral codes and humans pressurized.

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97 Luther Thoughts for Preachers – Part 6

97LutherWe are now into the second half of this series of posts on Luther’s 97 Theses.  You will probably need to read the earlier posts to make sense of the series, but more than that, I’d suggest you read the theses themselves.

41(-42). Virtually the entire Ethics of Aristotle is the worst enemy of grace. This in opposition to the scholastics.

These snippets should make you want to read more of Luther.  I wonder how much we tend to blend common sense or philosophy with biblical revelation?

43. It is an error to say that no man can become a theologian without Aristotle. This in opposition to common opinion.

44. Indeed, no one can become a theologian unless he becomes one without Aristotle.

For some, this kind of provocation might make us go back and ponder our blending of natural reason with biblical revelation in respect to our preaching.  For others, it might make us want to take stock of our entire theological education and library!  Luther is certainly provocative.  In those days everyone studied Aristotle as a staple in their theological training.  These days most don’t take classes in Aristotle’s work, but has his influence shaped anything which we do study in formal theological training?

45-49 – Luther goes after an essentially idolatrous lauding of the human mind.  There is something strangely magnetic about taking pride in human intellect.  As preachers lets be careful not to treat intellectual pride as somehow more acceptable than other sins.

50. Briefly, the whole Aristotle is to theology as darkness is to light. This in opposition to the scholastics.

This kind of statement prompts me to ponder just how profound the Fall of Genesis 3 was for humanity.  Our best and brightest analyst of human life, from Luther’s perspective, was at the opposite extreme from light.  How easily does our perspective automatically assume it has light when it is really still in darkness.  As preachers, we need to pray for real clarity lest we promote darkness unawares.

51-53 – Luther knew his history and knew that some influences in the history of the church have been downright dangerous.  Some preachers live under the impression that anything old and known must be good and helpful.  Let’s pray for discernment.

Part 7, coming up . . .

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