5 Radars Every Preacher Needs – #5

RadarScreen2This is the last of our five radars we should be prayerfully collecting as preachers.  They are early warning systems that will make us better preachers.  There are probably many more, but hopefully these five will prompt us to pray and help us to grow.   So far we’ve thought about an OT radar, a hissing radar, a resistance radar, and an obfuscation radar.  How about one more where we are likely to have blind spots?

Radar 5. Rationalizing Radar (in your personal application)

Before we preach to others, we must first be on the receiving end of God’s transformative work ourselves.  Starting a sermon on Saturday night does not allow time for personal application, hence we should start sooner. However, we can be preparing a sermon for weeks and still fail to hear the message ourselves.  Why?  Not because of a lack of time, but because of our fleshly capacity to rationalize our own lack of application.  What we might see clearly in others, we often see in a rose-tinted mirror in regards to ourselves.  The solution to this is not to try harder, but to engage more with God in the conversation.  What I am calling a rationalizing radar is really a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit as He searches and tries our hearts, gently convicting us so that we can first hear, before we also speak.

5 Radars Every Preacher Needs – #4

RadarScreen2This week we are collecting radar equipment.  Better, we are compiling a wishlist to bring before God and ask Him to develop in us as we grow as preachers.  Early warning systems that will make us better preachers.  So far we’ve thought about an OT radar, a hissing radar, and a resistance radar.  How about one regarding our own delivery?

Radar 4. Obfuscation Radar (in your delivery)

def. to make something confusing or difficult to understand.”  Most preachers don’t do this on purpose.  In fact, most preachers’ sermons make good sense to the preacher.  But good preachers’ sermons make sense to the listeners too.

How can we grow in this area?  Chase helpful and specific feedback, listen to the audio of your message, watch a video of your preaching, do whatever you can to develop discernment as to your own obfuscation tendencies.  Do you speak too fast?  Do you pause too little?  Is your energy incessant?  Are your transitions too brief?  Are your gestures distracting?  Is your sermon structure complex?  Is your vocabulary too lofty?

Prayerfully and conversationally (i.e. with friends) develop a radar that will beep when your delivery is, in reality, not as clear as your pride tells you it is.

5 Radars Every Preacher Needs – #2

RadarScreen2The second of five radars may well be the most important and the most difficult to develop.  Yesterday’s radar considered one aspect of our textual study skills, but this radar is about our underlying assumptions about everything.  I think we should all prayerfully ask God to develop in us:

Radar 2. Hissing Radar (in your assumptions)

The most dangerous assumption we can make is that we are neutral and can think clearly.  Every one of us has spent our entire life swimming and soaking in the brine of a post-Fall world system that hisses constantly with The Lie of pseudo-godlike autonomy.  The serpent introduced skepticism about God’s word, God’s character, and invited humanity to dive into a totally new version of godliness.  This new godliness meant that we humans became the image of the god of this age – self-absorbed, autonomous and overly confident in our own independent capacities.  We live our lives deafened to the hiss of our serpent-shaped existence.

The Gospel doesn’t save us from one or two sins we have done, but from the absolute self-loving, God-hating, autonomy of our spiritually dead hearts.  The problem we have as believers is that we tend to think we are somehow now immune to the subtle influence of The Lie.

Our flesh has been pickled in the subtle but sour vinegar of that original Lie.  As we seek to grow, let’s pray that God will develop in us a radar that will hiss when our assumptions evidence that serpentine autonomous impulse.

Here are some quick flags to highlight areas this lie often surfaces:

  • God can be a source of resources for us, but always from a distance.
  • With suitable resourcing I can do the job myself . . . i.e. sanctification.
  • I can be a good Christian, but I don’t need any sort of relational closeness to Christ.
  • I don’t need you (where you is God, or you is other believers).
  • I make independent and uninfluenced decisions, and therefore I am alive.
  • If my preaching can offer practical guidance, then individuals can make the decision to apply the teaching and be successful at living their individual and independent lives.
  • Etc.

May God develop in us an early warning system that hisses whenever our assumptions are dangerously autonomous and self-glorifying.

8 Ways to Become a Warm-Hearted Preacher

Hot2John Stott wrote that a preacher is a bridge builder. That is, in the act of preaching, the preacher is seeking to build a bridge between the world of the Bible and the world of the listeners. A good biblical message will be solidly earthed in the biblical text, but it must also fully embrace the listeners in their world.

Effective communication requires that we know about those who are listening to our message.  However, the preacher is not a politician, nor a salesperson.  The preacher is a shepherd of souls.  God invites us not only to know the listeners, but to really love them.

Here are eight nudges in that direction:

1. We love, because God first loved us.  We cannot self-generate love for God or for other people.  Love is a response to the love God has first poured out for us.  As we fix our gaze on Him, our hearts will begin to beat with His.  He loves our listeners, so we can too.

2. A lack of love for others indicates a problem. We can’t claim to love God, but not love our brother.  Let coldness toward others stir you to ask God to search your heart.  Take coldness seriously, God does.

3. Loving those we pastor is sometimes challenging.  Loving strangers is a challenge for a visiting speaker.  Loving people you shepherd can be harder. Vulnerable sheep can bite.

4. We can connect because we are not in a separate category.  Maintaining a permanently stoic resolve does not make you a great leader, it makes you a distant one.  You experience many of the same challenges and struggles others face.  Be honest with yourself about what you do face, and what you don’t.

5. Diligently study your people. Don’t be a master exegete of the text, but oblivious to your people.

6. Before you talk in the pulpit, listen carefully. Most people don’t necessarily want to be seen, but they long to be heard.

7. Sharing life experience helps massively. Remaining distant is easy, but harmful.  Have folks over, visit them at home or at work. Share sport, share celebrations, share sorrow, share life.

8. Pray for people. It’s easy to pray a “God please bless all the listeners on Sunday” kind of prayer.  I think God can spot the value you place on people by the prayers you pray for them.

7 Ways Preachers Read the Bible

ReadingBook2Preachers tend to read the Bible like preachers.  We can’t help it.  But this is neither automatically good nor bad, it all depends what we mean.

Here are three wrong ways to read the Bible like a preacher:

1. Always look for a sermon when you read.  Some texts are easily preachable, others more challenging for sermon construction.  Don’t settle for an outline or struggle for an outline, read the text and look for what it is saying to you about God.

2. Always look for the sake of others, but not hearing the message for you first.  Your listeners need you to be hearing and responding to God in your life, not just hunting on their behalf.

3. Always force the text into some sort of sermonic shape – i.e. looking for the “third point” when the passage may not be structured that way.

And here are four right ways to read the Bible like a preacher:

4. Always expect the Bible to communicate because God is a great communicator.  Don’t quit trying to make sense of it just because it isn’t immediately obvious.  Trust that God knew what He was doing and that studying the text will be worth any effort involved.

5. Always anticipate inherent unity in a passage, rather than chasing down every tangent that the details might bring to light.

6. Always look for order and progression in the text to see how the author develops his thoughts.  Is he explaining, proving, applying, or moving onto a new, but connected thought?

7. Always be sensitive to the author’s intent and tone, as well as his content and structure.  He was writing for a particular audience and wrote in a loving way for their sake.  Don’t treat the Bible as mere data, but as heartfelt communication.

If you are a preacher, then hopefully you read your Bible.  When you do, you will read it like a preacher, but be sure to make that a positive thing!

 

Resolved: No Resolutions

resolved2To finish this week of posts I want to re-visit one I wrote two years ago and develop it slightly.

Resolved: To make no New Year’s Resolutions for me to do, but to cling to the One who is at work in and through me according to His perfect plans for 2015.

A while back I really enjoyed reading the masterful biography of Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden.  It is fascinating to see the early resolutions of Edwards give way to a mature spirituality that was delighted in and by Christ later in his life.

Let’s face it, there are so many good resolutions that we could make as we head into another New Year.  Bible reading commitments, wider reading plans, personal prayer schedules, pursuit of ministry training ideas, grow theologically intentions, find a mentor strategies, evaluation and feedback gathering plans, sermonic self-improvement schemes, pastoral ministry visitation goals, personal fitness/diet/exercise/rest regimes, family scheduling tactics, and on the list goes.

All of these would be good ideas.  But making these determined and resolute teeth-clenched-and-muscles-flexed kind of personal commitments may well not be the best way to go.  That is, if we aren’t the autonomous self-made individualists that our culture and our fallen world like to convince us that we are.

Our life and ministry is much more about response to God’s Spirit at work in our lives than it is about our responsibility to act like the god of our own lives.  We are not the captain of our own destiny.  We are not sheriff of Me-ville.  We are lovers defined by who and what we love.  And as those who know and love the Triune God, we are in the best possible place to face a new year of uncertainties, trials, complexities and challenges.

My loving response to God’s love for me will result in some determined lifestyle choices and evidences of personal discipline.  This will also be true in my married life too – my loving response to my wife will look disciplined and diligent.  But I won’t talk about it in those terms.  At one level there is no real sacrifice involved in responding to the God we have.  Yes, it may look costly at times, but from the perspective of a captured heart?

As we head into 2015, let’s hold all our resolutions with a very loose grip, but squeeze tightly on the hand of Him who holds us, our families, our ministries and our year ahead in the palm of His hand.

Can we even begin to imagine what our Lord might do in us and through us in 2015?  Exceedingly, abundantly beyond all that we ask or even imagine . . . and certainly more than we can achieve by our own self-determined productivity and improvement plans!

 

Resolved: Read God’s Heart

resolved2Three years ago I wrote a post that really polarized readers.  I wrote a critique of a famous Bible reading plan.  If you want to see that post, click here.  As we start a new year, many of us, and many in our churches, will be making the determination to read through the Bible.  For some it will be the first time.  For many it will be a repeat attempt.  Sadly, for many, they will have failed more than they succeeded.

Here’s the bottom line for me – I want people to be reading their Bibles.  Whatever else goes into the mix of a personal devotional life, being exposed to the Scriptures is a critical ingredient (really it is the “without this, nothing” ingredient in the recipe for relationship with God).  Now it may be that someone you know is not a confident reader for whatever reason . . . know the audio options and be ready to promote them (even good readers would benefit from listening to the Bible too!)

Motivation Issues - I know the motivation of reading plans is to help give some structure and sense of progress to readers.  That is great.  My concern is that the plan can easily become both the focus and a taskmaster.  We should be concerned when there is a lack of motivation for God’s Word – both in our own lives, and those we care about.  A lack of motivation is not an irrelevant emotional blip that can be overcome by our great diligence, determination and accountability.

Motivation Matters - Let’s treat a lack of motivation as a flashing light on the dashboard of our lives.  When the oil light flashes I don’t “obey” it and choose not to drive the car.  Equally I don’t disregard it and press on.  I address the issue.  It is the same with a lack of motivation for Bible time . . . don’t simply obey it, nor ignore it, but address it.

Addressing Motivation – The best way I have found to address this motivation issue is to talk to God about it.  Be honest.  Out loud.  Tell him what is more attractive to you than His self-revelation.  That will typically be convicting and bring us back in humility with brokenness and renewed, albeit weak, hunger to hear from Him.

Best Motivation - The best motivation for Bible reading is a hunger to know God more.  Therefore the best motivator for stirring others to read their Bibles is to know God more and be infectious with it.  When you are captured by a person, others will want to know Him too.  This is a far cry from language of diligence, duty, discipline and so on.

Marital Accountability? - I don’t ask my friends to hold me accountable to pretend to love my wife and listen to her.  I may ask them to point out if they see me rationalizing a drift from healthy relationships though.  It is the same with the Bible reading.  I don’t need someone to crack the whip to make me do it, but I am wide open to hearing from a friend that I seem touchy or less excited about God than is normal.

I would love our churches to be filled with people eager to hear God’s heart as they chase Him in His Word.  I know that for our churches to be filled with this kind of people we will need our pulpits filled with this kind of preacher.

 

Resolved: Preach Christ

resolved2Here’s another resolution to throw into the mix as we head into another year.  How about making a prayerful determination to preach Christ, rather than the tempting alternatives?

Here are some tempting alternatives that are worth dumping in favour of Christ:

1. Don’t preach issues – It is tempting to be contemporary and to buy into the idea that what people really value above all else is contemporary relevance.  Of course the Bible is relevant and Christ is relevant, but that doesn’t mean your preaching should be salted with relevance like meat in a medieval barrel.  Some preachers are so concerned about being up-to-date that they lose sight of what they have to offer those sitting before them.  Relevance is important, but it is not the primary and central goal in preaching.

2. Don’t preach tips – Of course God’s way is the best way and lives gripped by the Gospel tend to work a whole lot better than lives lived according to the values of the world.  And yes, the Bible does include a lot of insight into living life, both legitimate and moralized.  But our job is not to be the weekly top tip provider for a people totally absorbed with successful living.  There should be a huge difference between our preaching and the self-help guru folks may pay a fortune to hear on Friday night.  The gospel will transform lives, but we are not called to be known as life coaches.

3. Don’t preach pressure – With all the best intentions we can easily undermine the work of the Gospel in the lives of those we preach to each week.  That is, we want them to be thriving spiritually and in life.  We know the damage sin can do.  So we will always be tempted to twist arms and pressure people to conform to an outward Christianity.  It makes church life easier if all messes are hidden and people act appropriately.  But pressure preaching assumes that listeners can fix themselves and that we can achieve God’s goals without any meaningful involvement from Him.  There will be moments where we seek to appropriately apply the pressure of God’s Word, but that is not what defines us as true Christian preachers.

4. Don’t preach yourself – Over the years our own flesh has this amazing ability to get used to being the centre of attention.  If you are naive enough to believe the polite comments you receive after preaching are objective evaluations of your ministry significance, then you can easily start to buy into your own hype.  Please don’t.

5. Do preach Christ – The Gospel is not a self-starting life-change program, it is good news that involves us introducing listeners to God in Christ.  Don’t preach self-help programs, or church programs, or Christian morality, or even Christianity . . . preach Christ.  Make 2015 a year marked by a weekly introduction to a heart-capturing Saviour!

Resolved: Preach the Text

resolved2I am not a huge advocate of resolutions.  But since everyone will be talking about resolutions this week, why not offer some nudges here?

Here are some preacher resolutions that might grab your attention:

Perhaps to pray more specifically and fervently, to apply your preaching more directly, to call for response more overtly, to preach from a book you’ve never touched before, to continue to develop by reading a preaching book (or maybe one each quarter).  Maybe you want to spend some time with a preacher who can shape your theology and influence your preaching?  (Perhaps Luther, Sibbes, Cotton, Newton, Edwards, Spurgeon?)  Maybe you could resolve to attend a conference or training event for further equipping, to take a formal class or distance learning course, to get specific feedback or pre-sermon input every other month, to begin the process of mentoring another preacher during the year, to get more involved in your church small group program so as to get to know your people more fully, to read through the Bible in English a couple of times or more, to read the New Testament through in Greek, to approach someone and request their input as a mentor, to preach first person properly for the first time, to preach from a difficult genre, to refresh or stretch yourself in exegetical skills, theology or some other area of “divinity” studies.  Do you have a resolution?

Here’s one you might like to try on for size:  Some time back I finished preparation for a Sunday  sermon on Hebrews 13:20-21.  I had some spare time and was curious what other preachers have done with the text since it is not a typical epistle paragraph.  So I did a search and a quick skim through about ten sermons on the text.  I entered the process with a small amount of interest, but I finished with a large amount of concern.  Some of the sermons had good content, they very orthodox, theologically solid, but why was it that none of the examples I looked at seemed to be trying to preach what the author intended?  Why did they feel like Bible truths strung together with passing reference to these two verses, rather than actually preaching the intended truth of these verses?

A suitable resolution for 2015 would be to always genuinely seek to preach the meaning of each text as intended by its author.  Let’s not preach messages from texts, or messages based on a text.  Let’s preach the message of the text.

 

10 Questions for Your Preaching Year Review

TenbAs we come to the end of another year, it is good to look back and take stock.  Be careful though, it is easy to do this in a way that isn’t helpful.

As you look back, don’t emphasize things like ‘what fruit has my ministry produced?’, or ‘which was my best sermon?’, or ‘whose life has changed the most under my ministry?’  These kinds of questions put your focus entirely on yourself.  Negative versions of the same questions still do the same.

The right way to look back is in conversation with God.  Here are ten questions that may help:

1. What am I thankful for in respect to the opportunities I have had to preach?  Whether you have preached a couple of times, or a couple of times a week. Whether it has been to one church, or to multiple groups, give thanks.

2. Where have I seen prayers answered in respect to my preaching?  Take time to reflect on prayers answered as you look back over the specific preaching opportunities you have had.  Were there some challenging sermon preps that came together as you prayed?  Did certain people hear certain messages?

3. Where might my prayers have been answered without me knowing during this year?  This is the important impossible one – what might have happened that you don’t know about?  A lot.  Ponder and pray about that.

4. What sermon preparation has most stirred my heart during this year?  A specific text, or a certain series?

5. What lessons does God want me to learn from what has happened this year? Lessons about preaching, about life, about ministry, about yourself, about Him?

6. What life change have I seen that I can give thanks for?  It could be gradual or sudden, salvation or growth. Give thanks for the privilege of being a part of what God is doing!

7. How has God protected my integrity during this year of ministry?  You could be out of the ministry right now. How has God guarded you from that?

8. How has my intimacy with Christ developed (or faded) during this year?  Don’t automatically self-evaluate. Ask God to search your heart and show you His perspective on this.

9. What should I be thankful for in terms of provision to allow my ministry?  Whether it is paid employment that allows you little time to prepare, but pays the bills, or ministry-related income that makes it possible . . . give thanks.

10. Is there anything else that I should give thanks for as I finish my review?  Family support? Key friends? A mentor? A preacher you look up to and learn from? A book that has helped?  Challenges that have shaped you?  Take time for God to bring to mind whatever has been missed in the earlier questions.  Gratitude is the critical ingredient in a truly faith-driven ministry.  Give thanks.