10 Pointers for Young Preachers

10 target2This post was offered last week as a guest post on Randal Pelton’s site, www.peltononpreaching.com

I am way too young to be called a sage, but I don’t get called young any more either. So while there is better advice to be found, here are some pointers from me for young preachers:

  1. Get to know God. Never settle for knowing about God. Make it your life’s greatest ambition to really know and love the God who loves you.
  1. Be a Bible person, not an issue person. It is tempting to let certain issues define your ministry, but these will shift over the years. Instead of choosing a pet issue, develop an infectious passion for the Bible.
  1. Determine never to be a glory thief. Decide now that showing-off has no place in your preaching. Always point listeners to Christ and not to yourself. God delights to lovingly give glory, but never steal it.
  1. Learn to discriminate feedback. People will praise a public speaker. You are more likely to lose your way through hyped up praise than through nasty criticism. Learn to pursue and process genuinely helpful feedback.
  1. Don’t let your homiletical skill get ahead of biblical and theological awareness.People will praise a public speaker, but they need a preacher who is biblically and theologically healthy.
  1. Don’t let your ministry profile get ahead of your character. Let your ministry move forward at God’s pace, otherwise you may get a profile too heavy for your character to bear.
  1. Be proactive, but not self-promotional. Look for opportunities to serve, to learn, and to grow, but be wary of leaving God behind as you chase “more strategic ministry.”
  1. Learn to read wisely. Invest time in reading quality rather than quantity, widely rather than just your favorite author, and selectively rather than getting stuck in books you no longer want to finish. Prioritize books over blogs!
  1. Do not journey alone. Preaching is often a lonely ministry. Prayerfully pursue mentors and prayer partners who can speak into your life. Find a string of Bible read-through partners and chase God together in His Word.
  1. Have a lifelong conversation with God. There are too many technically capable and theologically informed preachers that have no meaningful relationship with God.

 

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 – #3

RadarScreen2So far we’ve pondered a radar needed in textual study, and another needed in considering our own theological assumptions.  As preachers we mustn’t go too far without thinking of the listeners, so here’s another early warning system to ask God to develop in you for your growth as a preacher:

Radar 3. Resistance Radar (in your listeners)

It is naïve to think that clearly explained and relevantly applied Bible passages will automatically result in changed lives.  More mature preachers prayerfully ponder where their listeners will resist what the biblical text is presenting.  This radar can only be fully developed by knowing the people you are preaching to each week.  Perhaps this radar has two tones of beep.

A. The first is a human nature beep (i.e. people everywhere tend to resist in this regard).  It doesn’t matter what the culture, or the education levels, or the demographics of the community, or the age of the listeners . . . some truths are universally resisted or twisted.  Grace is a prime example.  It is not a lack of understanding that makes us resist God’s grace, it is our fallenness.  We don’t want God to be God, and we want to be God.  But to receive God’s grace without some effort at payment or cooperation, that is to admit that I am not God and I need God.  We must not think that this does not apply to those who have received Christ and joined God’s family . . . our flesh still rebels and seeks to corrupt God’s grace into an exercise in shared effort.  It may be as illogical as a starving person turning down food, but in a post Genesis 3 world, it makes perfect sense for us to resist or twist grace.

B. The second is a specific humans beep (i.e. this congregation, or this individual, will resist this message because of such and such). When you know the people in your church, then you can better spot where the resistance will come.  Maybe it is not grace, the example I gave above, that is the point of resistance for some in your church.  Maybe it is the notion of close relationship with God.  Perhaps the notion of a loving father is frightening to some.  Maybe holiness has been perilously pickled in the perspective of some.  Perhaps legalism has turned some listeners into collectors of instruction, rather than seekers of wisdom.

Grow in understanding of humans in general, and people in your church in particular, so that this radar becomes well tuned and messages can more effectively hit home.

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.

5 Radars Every Preacher Needs

RadarScreen2

To grow as preachers, I believe we need to develop several internal radars.  Think of a radar as an early warning system that beeps when there is an issue in the vicinity.  To be without any radar is to be dangerously naïve.  This week I plan to work through five radars we can prayerfully develop in our preaching:

Radar 1. Old Testament Radar (in your text)

Sometimes Bible writers flag up their use of earlier texts, “to fulfil what was written…”  Often they simply allude to, or hint at, biblical texts that are feeding into their thought.  Biblical writers typically assumed that their readers would have a full Jewish familiarity with the Old Testament, but most of us do not have anything like a full Jewish familiarity with the Old Testament.  Hence we need to develop the radar.  Unless we do, we will miss a lot of what is sitting in the sermon text before us.

I am not suggesting that every sermon should fully develop every earlier biblical allusion in the preaching text.  I am suggesting that a preacher who is unaware of how earlier texts inform and shape the preaching text will struggle to be a good steward of the preaching text.  The best preachers do not say everything there is to say, and they do speak with clarity and simplicity.  Please preach with clarity and simplicity, but with clarity built on the richest and most determined exegetical study already under your belt.  This means lots of things, but it must include a growing awareness of earlier texts assumed by the writer of the preaching text.

For example . . . think about John 3:1-16, Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.  Nic knew his Bible, but was treated as unqualified for conversation about spiritual matters.  In the course of the conversation the text is picking up on Ezekiel 36, Deuteronomy 29, Numbers 21, and perhaps the overarching backdrop – Genesis 3 . . . (is Nicodemus dead and needing a new birth, or not?)

How do we develop this radar?  Two suggestions:

A. Read the whole Bible, a lot.  There is no tool that can compensate for a lack of personal intimacy with the Word of God.  Prayerfully and purposefully devour the Scriptures as if they are the most precious gift you have.

B. Double check you haven’t missed something with good commentators.  We need the benefit of the community of God’s people and good commentators are a real blessing.  At the same time, many do miss the influence of earlier texts and so shouldn’t be relied upon apart from A, above.

Tomorrow I will offer another radar I believe we all need to see developed in our lives.

 

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!

 

Good Exposition is not a Recipe Tour

Recipe2Some people wrongly suggest that expository preaching is like explaining a recipe, rather than letting the listeners savour the flavour of a well-cooked meal.  A good meal is the goal, not an explanation of the recipe. For some preachers this is an accurate description of their preaching, but don’t judge expository preaching by bad examples of it.

An expository preacher is primarily concerned with communicating the point of the passage, not seeking to explain the point of every detail.  Expository preaching is about effectively and accurately communicating the text, not using the text to offer a lecture in sermonic method or applied theology.

A good expository preacher knows that a story has its own way of carrying and conveying its point, and that a poem works in a different way.  Thus a good expositor preacher, preaching a story, will not dissect it into a lifeless and experience-free recipe, but will communicate the story as effectively and accurately as possible.

1. We start with the text as it is.  Expository preaching is about the text being boss of the message, not the message squeezing the text into an outline or idea that doesn’t quite fit.

2. We ponder what needs to be added to help the text communicate effectively.  Is any explanation necessary to allow it to communicate?  Perhaps an underlining of the point, exposing it for clarity, yet timed appropriately to not undermine the impact of the text?  Maybe it would help to make explicit the contemporary relevance of the story, or maybe how it fits into the bigger story of God’s Word and our world?

3. We try to avoid any undermining material.  Unnecessary and endless explanation of details, numerous unnecessary or disconnected illustrations, ill-timed statements of the main thought, commentary style titles for each segment of the passage, or even a personal delivery manner that contradicts or leeches away the emotion, tension or energy of the text.  Anything unhelpful should be purged from the message so that we are preaching the message of the text, not preaching a message using a text.

When you preach a story, or a poem, or whatever, be sure to be expository . . . but not the wrong kind that feels like the explanation of a recipe!

 

Neither Commentary Smoothie Nor Sermon Safari

Smoothie2Preach somewhere between commentaries and sermons.  Huh?  Don’t we read commentaries and preach sermons?  Perhaps.

Most commentaries are very atomistic.  In a sense, they have to be.  The writer focuses in on each verse, or sentence, in turn.  They try to plumb the depths of lexical, semantic, syntactical and cultural meaning.  Once that verse is exhausted they probably deserve a fresh cup of coffee and a break.  When they return it’s on to the next verse.

Commentators are a real blessing to us and we should be exceedingly grateful for the range and quality of commentaries available (never forget how greatly blessed we are if we can read English since the resources available are so numerous).  At the same time, let’s be wary that we don’t just preach a commentary (or a blend of information garnered from several commentators).  Our task is not to exhaustively present every detail, neither is it to place historic labels over sections of text, nor to give mini word studies for underlying Greek or Hebrew terms.

Commentaries are there to help us, but good preaching is not dramatic commentary reading or providing the equivalent of a commentary smoothie.

On the other hand, there are many sermons that are anything but atomistic in the way the text is handled.  They bounce off a text and range to and fro all over the canon without rhyme or reason, like mining ships exploring the outer reaches of theological possibility.

Somehow our preaching needs to fit between these two extremes.  We preach a text (or texts), but we need to present them in their context.  This means making sense of them in the flow of the book, and appropriately making sense of them in the flow of the Bible as a whole.  In effect we need to cut the log both in slice-ward directions, but also in long cuts along the grain.  How we balance those and make sense of the passage is part of the science and art of preaching.  But somehow that fits between the often necessarily atomistic approach of commentaries and the unnecessarily free movement of many sermons.