Category Archives: Audience Analysis

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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88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference – II

Questions2Continuing our list of 88 questions, grouped into 20 . . . all to nudge us to evaluate our delivery as we preach:

6. What do your feet do while you preach?  Do you pace?  Do you rock forward and back?  Is your natural stance, well, natural?

7. And what about your hands, do they fit with your communication?  Do gestures fit naturally or look forced?  Does time go from left to right or right to left?  Which way do you point when you talk about creation, or Christ’s return?  Do your hands do anything weird, repeatedly?

8. Does your facial expression reflect your heart? (And does your heart reflect Christ’s?)  Do you look angry most of the time?  Do you vary from whatever the default expression is?

9. Do you pause at appropriate moments for sufficient length?  Are your pauses ruined by verbal filler?  Do your pauses give people space to breathe, or do you generate nervousness by your apparent anxiety?

10. Is your pace appropriately varied and is the average about right?  Do you go so fast that people can’t keep up, get breathless, or switch off?  Do you slow down through transitions so that listeners can tell the message has shifted into a new phase?  Do you generally go so slow people get frustrated listening and waiting for you to say something?

11. Does your volume make listening easy?  Can your listeners hear you without effort on their part?  Are you too quiet so that people get tired concentrating?  Are you too loud so listeners feel defensive or annoyed by the power of your presentation?

12. Is the pitch of your voice easy to listen to, and do you vary it?  Would anyone describe you as shrill?  Does your voice sound natural and genuine?  Do you sound robotically stuck, whatever the pitch?

13. Does your posture generate comfort, tension or nervousness?   Do you come across as nervous and twitchy so that listeners feel the same?  Is your posture stiff and awkward so they aren’t sure how to take what you say?  Is your posture aggressive or over-confident so that they feel intimidated in some form?  Would you be ok with a picture of your standard posture being shown around?

And tomorrow we will finish the list!

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88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference

Questions2How many good messages have been wasted by poor delivery?  You’ve probably heard the old statistical misquote that content equates to only 7% of communication.  There are so many flaws in applying that study to preaching, but don’t make the big mistake of thinking that content is somehow only 7% of the equation.  Yes, body language and tone will overwhelm and negate content, but the visual and vocal will never fix or replace the verbal.  Content matters massively.  While a lack of content can’t be fixed by delivery, good content can be lost in delivery.

Here is a quick checklist for self-evaluation.  There are 88 questions grouped into just 20.  Remember, your self-evaluation is probably unrealistic.  You probably think you are doing better than you are.  You think pauses are longer than they feel, tone is more varied than it sounds, smiles are more noticeable than they are.  Nonetheless, evaluation is worth it.  Evaluate your own delivery and look for an area or two to prayerfully focus on and improve.  Also ask a listener or two to look at this list for you – they may be polite, but any hint they give is worth following up on!

1. What does your tone and manner do for the listeners?  Do they feel secure, loved, protected, safe?  Do they get nervous, agitated, upset, or got at?  Your tone and your manner make a big difference to the listeners, so do you think about these elements of your preaching?

2. Does your delivery flow, or does it feel like you get stuck?  Why?  Can you maintain momentum through the whole message in a natural way?  If you get stuck, can you handle that without generating nerves in others?  Do you know when you typically get stuck?  Does explaining the text trip you up more, or is it thinking applicationally?

3. How is your eye contact?  Are you looking at notes, over peoples’ heads, at one section of the room only?  Is it fleeting, forced, intense?  Can you look at people without closing your eyes or other awkward habits?  Do you over-stare and create awkward intimacy for some or a sense of aggression to others?  Which part of the room feel ignored as you preach?

4. Speaking of notes, do they really work for you?  Do you know how much you look at them?  When you look at them, do you lose momentum?  Do they enable you to preach unnecessarily complex messages?  Does your preaching feel canned rather than authentic?

5. Does your preaching furniture create unnecessary distance and function as a barrier between you and your listeners?  Could you come out from behind that thing?  Could you communicate better by being on the same level as the listeners?

We will continue the list tomorrow . . .

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