Category Archives: How to . . . ?

Bruce Fong – Inspirational Incarnational Influences on Expository Preaching

a9a01de9-2aa2-44ea-a921-0f1077786e8b-220My first ever seminary class was with Dr Bruce Fong sixteen years ago.  It was such a joy to walk through half the Bible under Bruce’s contagious laugh and delight in the Scriptures.  We have both changed jobs a couple of times since then, but he is now the Dean of Dallas Theological Seminary’s Houston Campus.  Bruce blogs regularly on brucefong.com.  As we continue this series marking the release of Pleased to Dwell, Bruce shares with us some thoughts on the difference the Incarnation makes to expository preaching.

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Every preacher is challenged to build a bridge between the sermon and the souls of people.  These two worlds of earth and eternity were stunningly linked by the life of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself when He was incarnated at His birth.  The Scriptures tell us that He gave up the expression of who He was as the Son of God in order to identify with mankind and ultimately sacrifice His life on their behalf.  This incarnation of the Christ to be Jesus of Nazareth is a model for every preacher to do the same.

When an expositor successfully follows the example of Jesus’ incarnation they ultimately blend culture with the Gospel by way of four emphases.  He modeled each of these qualities in His coming to earth. They are humility, a new mind, a renunciation and a new identification.

First and foremost of these incarnational elements is Christ’s example of being sent to be born as a human.  He did not argue, complain or resist the Father’s plan.  Instead, He humbled Himself and became human so that He could die as a substitute for sin in our place.  The expositor lives a humble life in compensation, Spartan lifestyle and public affirmation.

Second, somewhat related to His humility Jesus Christ demonstrated a new way of thinking.  His incarnation led to an existence that was never self-absorbed.  He did not worry about losing public status but instead was absorbed with an unending interest in His assigned mission, bringing the Gospel to the whole world.  In the same way expositors by virtue of their mission selflessly bring attention to their Lord.

Third, before Christ came to earth as a Galilean Jew He first “emptied himself”.  This was a sacrifice.  He renounced His status, his independence and his immunity.  Voluntarily He set aside what was rightfully His.  Pride and the pursuit of fame has no place in the life of an expository preacher who is following the incarnational model of the Savior.

Fourth, Jesus had a genuine solidarity with man by becoming a true human, sharing in the limitations of flesh and blood, through both life and death.  He lived among the people, embraced them and served them.  Expository preachers will be more effective when they live among and embrace the people to whom they bring the Word.

The incarnation that Jesus followed and modeled is our example of His devotion for us.  Furthermore, it is the example that should be the driving motivation for every expository preacher.

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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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Overcoming Preacher’s Block – III

Block2We are coming to the end of a list of suggestions for overcoming preacher’s block . . . how about:

7. Sleep.  Sometimes when you are stuck, you can be tempted to work late and miss sleep.  Don’t.  Get good sleep and then work productively tomorrow.  We are designed to need sleep.  It can be a real step of faith to leave an issue like this with God and curl up in His arms for the night.  Sadly, too many preachers seem to think God is impressed by sugar and caffeine fueled fatigue that results in a vicious cycle of tiredness and inability to concentrate.  We don’t get medals for staying up late and preaching poorly as a result.  Don’t turn the chance to preach into an opportunity to play a mini-martyr.

8. Confess.  Sometimes preacher’s block is really the fruit of indiscipline, inappropriate distraction, laziness, or some other sin.  I don’t want to come up with a pseudo-solution to avoid facing that.  If you have sinned and become aware of it, then deal with it.  Confess it to God, come back to the cross, repent and lean into His care for you again.  This isn’t some sort of mystical purging ritual.  It is healthy relationship.  You need to walk through the preparation and preaching with God close, so if you don’t feel close due to sin, then get it sorted.  Any short-cut or detour that tries to hide distance in this sense will be an unwise path to take.

What would you add to the list?  What do you do when you get stuck?

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Overcoming Preacher’s Block – II

Block2Continuing our list of suggestions for breaking out of preacher’s block.  Yesterday we thought about Pray, Break and Talk.  Here are some more ideas:

4. Read.  Sometimes it is time for a fresh perspective.  Maybe another commentary on a key section.  Perhaps check some biblical studies books to see if the text appears in the scripture index.  Maybe try a lighter commentary for how they handle this section.  But beware, sometimes the last thing you need is more information in.  This is an option, but it may be the wrong option.  If your block is from a massive input of data and no clarity on how to let the right stuff out, then maybe steer clear of the books at this stage.

5. Write.  Sometimes I get stuck on an outline, or a certain part of a message.  Switching to writing may be helpful.  Perhaps you are struggling with the big picture of the message and need to switch to working out wording.  This may free you up to keep making progress on the message rather than staying stuck on an aspect of the message.

6. Preach.  We are a bit obsessed with “writing” our messages.  Whether it is outlines or manuscripts, we can easily lose sight of the orality of preaching.  The goal is not to write a sermon, but to preach one.  So sometimes the best thing to do is to step away from the keyboard or pen and start talking out loud.  If you were up now, what would you say?  Things that seem so clear on paper sometimes can’t come out of your mouth.  Paper is only one step better than in your head (who hasn’t had clarity in their minds that simply won’t get onto the page?  Well, spoken communication is a step beyond that.  You can feel clear on paper, but still not be able to express what you intend.  Once you hear yourself getting stuck, you know you have issues on paper.  And once you are trying to say it, sometimes you can find a quick detour that makes for an effective message! (Then go write it down.)

We’ll finish the list tomorrow.

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Overcoming Preacher’s Block

Block2Writer’s block is a famous challenge, but I suspect preacher’s block is an equally frequent occurrence.  The time ticks by and Sunday’s deadline keeps approaching.  What should you do if you feel stuck?  Here are eight suggestions.

1. Pray.  Seems obvious, but I need to make this overt.  Pray.  And pray honestly.  Stop praying nice little “Lord I commit this process to you for your blessing and glory” prayers.  Start praying really honestly.  “God, I am really struggling here!  I don’t know what the problem is and I am scared that I won’t be ready in time . . .” – or whatever is on your heart.  Sometimes praying something through out loud means that it is not only God hearing your heart, but you hearing your heart.  Maybe you’ll end up praying about some sin struggle, or about some fear, or a false motivation driving you, or whatever.  Pray as if God is able to take an honest statement or two – the Psalms and Job and Jeremiah suggest that He is.

2. Break.  Sometimes the best thing to do when stuck is to stop trying to move forwards.  Go for a walk, run an errand, read a book unrelated to the message, do some mindless sorting of the admin that has been piling up.  You could say that any break is worth it, but maybe not.  Five minutes on social media could expand to fill the next hour, watching a Youtube clip can be dangerous to your ability to focus, and beware that there is a difference between taking a break and becoming distracted in aimless, or purposeful, procrastination.  A genuine break can really help.

3. Talk.  Who turned preaching into such a solitary pursuit?  Sometimes the very best thing to do is talk to someone about your message.  Either what they say or what you say will be helpful to regenerate momentum.  It could be your spouse, a friend, another preacher, a mentor.  Sometimes talking about the message, the challenge you feel and what still needs to come together, will break open the logjam and help you start moving forwards again.

Tomorrow I will add some more suggestions . . .

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Multiply Ministry Beyond the Pulpit 2

Multiply2Some years ago I had the privilege of living next door to a well known Christian leader and communicator.  Watching him close up made clear to me how he had had such a significant impact on the world.  It was not just his preaching (although he did lots of that).  There were five noticeable areas of complementary ministry that are open to all of us.  If only more of us would invest our energies in these five areas, it is hard to imagine what could be achieved:

1. Intercessory Prayer – I would hope we all pray for those we minister to, but what about others who God brings across our paths?  We could quickly compile a large connection collection – people we can bring to God in prayer on a regular basis.  My friend is highly purposeful in this ministry . . . photos on the phone for when he loses a signal on the train (allowing him to pray for people), photo albums, lists.  How can the impact of this loving ministry be measured?

2. Deliberate Networking – You may have the same reaction to “professional networkers” that I do, but “humble Kingdom building networkers” . . . that is altogether different.  Person X has a passion for a certain area of ministry.  Person Y might be the ideal resource person or connection for person X.  If you know both, shouldn’t you be introducing them?  Like the ingredients of fireworks, sometimes it is about bring certain folks together for explosive impact.  I suspect a lot of us preachers have largely untapped networks.  Maybe we are not imagining the possibilities?  Maybe we want everything to revolve around us?  Maybe the greatest ministry impact you will have this year will come from introducing X to Y, or Saul to the believers . . .

3. Funding Conduit – We easily get caught up in the financial needs of our own family and our own church.  But there is so much that could happen if funds were released.  What if we all wanted to be used in this area?  Choose to live on so much, and be diligent in recycling everything else.  Hard to imagine how much could be moved on with this approach!

Two more to finish my list next time.  Maybe you have more ideas to add . . .

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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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The Missing Dimension in Biblical Interpretation

hermeneutics2Interpreting a biblical passage is a critical element of the preacher’s task.  Principles of hermeneutics should be readily accessible to the good preacher, second nature really.

Numerous hermeneutics textbooks list the principles – awareness of literary form and the influence of genre; concern for the grammatical choices made the author in his efforts to be understood; the significance of authorial intent; knowledge of the relevant historical background factors influencing the meaning of the text – such as geography, religio-politics, culture, etc.; deep sensitivity to the written context, both immediate and within the flow of the book as a whole; recognition that scripture does not contradict scripture, but does interpret scripture, yet the importance of remaining focused on the particular text, and so on.

But there is one key dimension that tends to be overlooked in hermeneutics texts and yet should be front and centre in our concern as preachers.  Perhaps we should call it the moral blindness principle, or the interpreter’s heart principle.

Jesus put his finger on the issue in John 5.  As he spoke to the trained religious elite of his day, he turned defense into attack.  He had been accused of breaking the Sabbath, to which he made sure they accused him of something more substantial (see v18).  Then he laid out some key truths in respect to the Father and Son, around issues of life-giving and judgment (see vv19-29).

From verse 30 he started pointing directly at his accusers and speaking in the first and second person.  He called his witness in support of his claim, (acknowledging John the Baptist in passing), who was first and foremost his own Father.  Yes, there were the works he did, but the focus is really his Father.  But then he made it very personal.  He told the Jewish leadership that they had never seen him, didn’t know him and didn’t have his word in them.  That is strange, these were the Bible quoting leadership fraternity of Jerusalem.  How could they be accused of not having the Bible down?

Jesus threw a hermeneutical failure at them.  They were certainly diligent, searching the Scriptures for top life tips, but they missed the person revealed there.  How?  Because they did not have the love of God in them.  How could that be?  Because of a mutually exclusive issue that might be one of the greatest dangers we face as preachers . . .

They were concerned about the horizontal reality of what people thought of them, which meant they were not concerned about the vertical reality of what God thought.  They loved getting glory from each other, rather than the glory that comes from God.

That is moral blindness.  That is the principle of the interpreter’s heart.  If my heart is concerned about what people think of me, I may well be blind to the truth of the text I claim to understand and then proclaim to others.  If you preach, ponder this principle prayerfully – it is one we cannot afford to miss.

 

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