10 Listener Fatigues – part 3

yawningman2We have looked at textual genre fatigues, and some preacher-related fatigues, but there are still more . . .

8. Outline Fatigue. If your sermons always follow the same structure, then you may well be draining some energy from your listeners.  I know some preachers follow a prescribed pattern and claim that listeners love to spot how they make the turn to Jesus.  But since every text has its own uniqueness, let’s look for ways to reflect the diversity of the text, and add some variety to sermon structure too.  Can you introduce an inductive approach (building to the main idea), or a combination of inductive and deductive (build to the idea and then develop the applications), or perhaps preach an epistle text with a narrative shape?

9. Text-Length Fatigue.  If you are preaching through a book, it will be easy to fall into making every text roughly the same length.  Half a chapter per week through an epistle can get monotonous.  Why not mix it up and cover a larger section sometimes, and a very tight section at other times?  Why not introduce, or conclude the series with a big sweeping overview?  Perhaps a long series needs a mid-point big picture message?

10. Disconnect Fatigue.  Listeners can’t help but grow tired if the preaching goes too long in a disconnected mode.  That is, preaching historical and explanatory information without demonstrating its relevance (or even your relevance) to the contemporary situation.  The one exception is probably narrative where it can, if told well, grip people for longer than other types of text.  Nevertheless, if you make people listen too long without any hint of relevance to them, they will grow tired of the message.

What would you add to this list?

12 Pointers for Effective Epistle Exposition (pt.3)

envelope2And to finish off this series of pointers on preaching epistles, here are the final four:

9. Root imperatives in their own soil.  It is tempting to simply harvest imperatives and preach a to-do list.  Don’t.  Instead let each imperative be felt in its own context, including the earlier sections of the epistle where our gaze was pointed to Christ.  Don’t let application sections become self-focused when they actually are intended to present guidance for what flows from the doctrinal sections.

10. Be clear.  You can never be too clear in the way you structure the message and present the content.  Look for ways to help your listeners follow you, and also follow the author in his thought.

11. Preach the text.  The church has a full history of preaching messages from texts, but instead preach the message of the text.  There is a world of difference.  God inspired the Bible as it stands, He doesn’t promise to inspire every thought that is provoked in our minds as we read the text.

12. Engage in conversation.  Don’t just sit alone with your preaching notes.  Get into conversation.  First, with God.  Second, with others – commentaries and co-preachers, as well as listeners, etc.  Conversation about your sermon will almost always improve your sermon!

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.

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?

50 Summer Preaching Tweaks: 31-35

Summer50bHere are another five suggestions to consider . . . September is almost here!

31. Add a Bible tip or two.  When you preach, don’t just explain the text and make its relevance clear, take the opportunity to equip your listeners to handle the Bible for themselves.  Don’t turn your message into a lecture, but reinforce the importance of understanding a text in context, the need to make sense of it “back then” before applying it to today, etc.

32. Express expectation and encouragement.  It is easy to turn application of the Bible into pressure and burden.  Mix in a bit of negativity and the hoped for life impact is quickly undermined.  Take the temperature of your application and conclusion – see if it can be increased.  Encourage and expect . . . perhaps it will help.

33. Learn the local lingo.  It is possible to speak a generic form of English and get by in England, America, Australia, South Africa, etc.  It is also possible to learn the local dialect and fit in so much better.  Maybe the same is true in the Bible.  Instead of just speaking Biblish, why not speak the Johannine dialect when preaching John, or Lukan when preaching Luke?

34. Simplify the message.  When we plan messages on paper we can easily make them more complicated than necessary.  Try making the structure and shape of the message as simple as possible.  This is not about dumbing it down, it is about helping listeners be able to follow, no matter how deep or weighty the content might be.

35. Map the message.  In fact, instead of outlining the message as you would an essay for college, try mapping it as you would a journey.  Where will we go first, and then, then after that?  I often end up with a sermon map on the whiteboard, rather than an outline.  Some people like to tie the landmarks to physical landmarks in the church space.  Somehow the sense of movement and progression becomes stronger with this approach.

50 Summer Preaching Tweaks: 21-25

Summer50bSummer time is a good time to tweak something in your preaching.  Here are some more suggestions as we chase the big 50!

21. Stop settling for sermon prep as Bible reading.  If you have fallen into the rut of accepting that your sermon prep is your personal Bible reading, stop.  My wife and I talk every day about church stuff and parenting stuff and house stuff and finance stuff.  That doesn’t mean we have a close relationship.  That takes heart to heart time.  Ask the Lord if He would join you on a date.  Take your Bible.  As a preacher, why wouldn’t you do this?

22. Make your points into sentences.  Simple thing, but let’s move away from summary commentary titles as points in our messages.  Paul’s Contrition.  Paul’s Consternation.  Paul’s Contribution.  These are not message points, they are titles (and not great ones).  Make the point into a full sentence that actually says something and then you’ll find it easier to actually be saying something when you are preaching.

23. Print and mark your preaching text.  Option 1 – cut and paste the passage, double space it, print it out and have at it . . . mark it up every which way to help you know it inside and out.  Option 2 – photocopy (and maybe enlarge) your actual Bible page.  Graffiti that page like crazy as you prepare your message.  When it comes time to preach it, you will find yourself leaning on the text more than your notes.

24. Adjust your proxemics. Can that be treated?  Indeed it can.  Are you raised above the listeners, on a level, or situated below them.  Each one makes a difference.  Are they close or far away?  Is there an obstacle between you and them?  Is it the size of a submarine?  All of these factors matter.  Don’t just treat your set up as a given, but ponder the possibilities and try something different and evaluate the benefits.

25. Mix up your illustration type.  Are all your illustrations from the world of sports, or from your own children’s bedtime wit, or always statistics, or always the fruit of fast google search?  Are you stick in the world of canned quotes from Napoleon and Winston Churchill?  Do you always go to another Bible passage to illustrate?  Is every illustration essentially explanatory, or supporting the truth of a point, or applying it to folks?  Mix up your approach and avoid getting stuck.

50 Summer Preaching Tweaks: 6-10

Summer50bContinuing my random assortment of preaching tweaks to consider before the next season of preaching begins:

6.  Target relevance in your introduction.  Try to plan an introduction that demonstrates the relevance of the preacher, the message and the text.  How can you make sure, in those first two or three minutes, that people lean forward because they know you are not out of touch with them, the message will make a difference to them, and the text is going to be on target?

7. Call on the REF as you conclude.  When you come to your next conclusion, call on the ref for a simple and effective wrap-up.  R stands for review – take a moment to survey where you have come together in the message.  E stands for encourage – end with an encouragement rather than critique or guilt.  F stands for finish – land the plane first time, don’t keep circling, and saying a bit more, and continuing on, and reinforcing your earlier points, and adding new materials, and . . . ok, enough.

8. Slow down through the curves.  Specifically evaluate the transitions to make sure they are not too sudden or brief.  Make sure your listeners can come with you and not suddenly wake up and wonder where they are!

9. Read a preaching book.  If you haven’t read a book to help you as a preacher lately, make the investment.  If you click on “Review” in the right hand column, you’ll find a selection on here, or ask your friends for a recommendation on facebook.  Books to help you preach better are typically not tomes, but usually beneficial.

10. Get some helpful feedback.  Ask certain people for certain feedback.  Ask about your content.  Ask about your personal warmth.  Ask about your delivery and mannerisms and gestures and so on.  Make sure they know they can be honest.  You will improve as a result.  Practice makes permanent, but evaluated practice makes for improvement!

Point 3

ExclamationFinishing off the list of potential dangers that come from pouring our efforts into generating memorable outlines, rather than seeing the sermon outline as our strategic plan (which is for us, rather than primarily for them).  The strategy and the weapon should not be confused in warfare, and the strategy / arrow confusion in preaching can undermine the process.  So continuing on:

4. The potential for present impact can be dissipated by energy poured into future recall.  Let the present message mark deeply now, rather than relying on recollection later when impact may be diminished.  In fact, preach in such a way that present impact is as profound as possible, combined with motivation to get listeners back into the Bible on an ongoing basis.  (What if people don’t feel capable of finding the three brilliantly stated points when they look at the passage again?)

5. The arrow of the main idea can be lost in the listing of lower level sub-points.  Deliver one idea effectively and you will see lives transformed.  Overwhelm people with numerous sub-points and impact won’t be the description being used of the preaching.

6. The listener can develop the notion that preaching is about poor education.  You know the type of education I mean, listening for the points that will be on the test, then forgetting everything two days later.  Preaching can imply life is like that, but it isn’t.  We need to know someone, much more than we need to know lots of things.  Spirituality is not defined by taking notes or filling in the blanks.  As I’ve written before, “It’s weird, but when my wife opens her heart to me and speaks, I don’t reach for a pad and a pencil, I open my heart and I listen.”

I could add more thoughts, but will leave it there.  Feel free to add more, or disagree, of course (after all, taking away the transfer of outlines from our view of preaching is not a small move).

Point 2

ExclamationPeriodically I like to come back to this issue of outlines and whom they serve.  The sermon outline is the preacher’s strategy, but it is not the actual “weapon.”  If we think of the message purpose as the target, and the message idea as the arrow, then the outline is the strategy.  Strategy is important, but the goal is for those on the receiving end to leave with the arrow firmly implanted in their hearts and lives.  The strategy gets it there, but if they go away with greater awareness of strategy than arrow, then something has not quite worked.

Am I suggesting that making an outline memorable is not the main goal for the preacher?  Yes.  Am I saying that a memorable outline is wrong and should not be offered?  Not at all.  If the outline happens to be memorable, that is fine.  But the preacher’s energy is better spent getting the listener into the passage and getting the main point of that passage into the listener’s heart with a clear sense of its relevance to their lives and the encouragement to respond appropriately to the God whose heart is revealed in the text.

Allow me to offer some of the potential dangers of focusing on creating a memorable outline:

1. The focus can easily be shifted from the passage to the preacher’s craft.  This is where the listener is listening for the preacher’s message based on a text, rather than looking for the message of the text.

2. The biblical passage may not be preached honestly.  This is what happens when a text is squeezed into an outline form, rather than having the message shaped and controlled by the text.

3. The listener can be drawn toward the clever preacher, rather than the wonderful God.  This doesn’t mean that we preach dull and plain so that all focus can go to Christ.  Rather, we need to beware that our cleverness doesn’t become a distraction from the God speaking in the Bible.

I’ll finish off the list tomorrow…

Point 1

ExclamationSome quick-fire suggestions to strengthen the points part of sermons:

1. Actually say something.  Don’t settle for titles, instead write full points.  Make a statement.  Declare something.  It is better to have a full sentence than a label.  Labels and titles are written communication, but spoken communication doesn’t use titles.  When we tell a story from our day, we don’t use titles:

“So while I was filling the car at the petrol station I noticed that the tyre had a bulge in the side.  I checked it, and sure enough, a hernia in the tyre wall.  Tyre Replacement.  So I took the car into town and ended up having two tyres replaced at the place next to the car dealer.  It was not cheap, I can tell you, but safer than . . .”

We don’t speak like that, so let’s not preach like that.

2. Try to make the point contemporary rather than historical.  Why talk for several minutes about the ancient near eastern historical background to a point made by a letter writer back in the day…and then make an application before moving on.  Listeners could well have moved on long before you get to the application.  Why not make the point itself relevant to us and then support that from the text?

3. If you want to write a commentary, write it, don’t preach it.  The last two points really mean that we are not called to preach a commentary (with its historically rooted titles for sections).  So while commentaries may be useful in our preparation, they can never do the work for us.

Lots more to say, what would you add?