Tag Archives: Haddon Robinson

Extended Gestation

Somebody has likened (with all the necessary caveats and apologies) preaching to pregnancy.  You know the elements of the analogy: something growing within, the building excitement, that something has to come out at a specific point in time, with the resulting post-delivery tiredness and even sometimes the post-partum blues.

Among other elements where the analogy breaks down, there is one that I’d like us to ponder today.  The length of gestation.  Real pregnancy has a consistency of length, preaching preparation doesn’t.  It is easy to fall into a cycle of preaching preparation, from start to finish, taking only five to six days.  This fits between Sundays, but it creates issues.

Is the message able to fully grow, and specifically, is it able to fully grow and work its way into your life if you’ve only been working on it for five days?  “I’ve been studying this passage for the past few days.  I’ve lived with it since Tuesday, and have been applying it consistently since yesterday morning.  Listen to my powerful message from 24 hours of experience . . . ” We don’t say this when we preach, but sometimes we say it by our lives.

Haddon Robinson suggested using a ten-day preparation cycle.  This means doing some preparatory exegetical work on the Thursday of the previous week.  This give it time to stir in the heart and mind before launching into preparation in the week before preaching.

Some preachers suggest planning a preaching calendar a year in advance, allowing for time to do initial study, ongoing research/collection of information, and personal application.  Some advocate taking a week to do preliminary work on all messages to be preached as part of this process.

What do you do?  How long do you take to allow the message to grow, and to make sure it has time to make a mark on your life, before you commend it to others?

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Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Preacher's Personal Life, Preaching, Religion, Stage 2 - Passage Study

Projected Perspectives

I think most preachers who have some level of commitment to an expository approach to preaching are fairly clear on the importance of understanding the Bible and their listeners.  It is the two worlds that John Stott referred to in his great book on the subject.  I suspect most preachers are less aware of the inner world that Haddon Robinson refers to – the inner world of the preacher.

It is easy to assume that I know more about me than anyone does, except God, of course.  To a certain extent that is true.  The problem is in the blind spots.  We all have them.  We all struggle to spot them or recognise their influence on our preaching.  Let me suggest a few aspects of the inner world of the preacher and how such things will influence our preaching.

The Value System We Assimilated Growing Up - Perhaps you grew up in a family situation where some things were valued higher than others.  Actually, you did grow up in such a situation, for good or bad.  Perhaps a strong work ethic, or a weak one.  Perhaps a high concern for what others think.  Perhaps task over people.  Perhaps a view of the class structure of society.  Perhaps a skewed definition of success.  Perhaps under the pressure of perfectionism.  Perhaps in an atmosphere of racism, or sexism, or any other -ism.  Whatever value system you absorbed, it is influencing you.  Even if you think you’ve processed, rejected, reacted, or adjusted, it is still important to be aware of the grid through which your value system may process information, situations, biblical texts, and applications thereof.

The Emotional Baggage We Carry From The Past – Some of the items listed above result in emotional baggage.  So too does past trauma, relational breakdown, personal sin, the sin of others, abuse, grief, loss, etc.  While some of us have been spared the agony that others have had to face, and the burden they’ve secretly carried, none of us are free of emotional baggage.  Guilt, pressure, failure, pain, loneliness, grief, hurt, etc., will all influence our preaching imperceptibly (to us, but listeners will pick up a vibe at some point).  It is easy to project hidden issues onto texts and application.  We need to prayerfully and conversationally process these things in order to know the inner world of ourselves as preachers.

The Personality Preferences and Tendencies We Assume To Be Normal or Right - Everyone else has issues.  I’m normal.  You probably are too.  But actually we need to be aware of our own quirks in order that we don’t press them onto others.  Introvert or extrovert.  A way of thinking.  A sense of humour.  A view of the world.  An inner wiring to desire to be liked, or to be right, or to be accepted.  An approach to interpersonal communication.  A preferred conflict resolution style.  A level of energy or enthusiasm for certain things.

I don’t want to advocate for self-absorption or self-obsession.  We need to keep our gaze fixed on Christ.  Nevertheless, as we look to Him, let’s be honest with Him and ask Him to help us be aware of how the inner landscape of our lives might be influencing how we handle the text, how we preach it, how we live it.

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Praise God for Influential Preachers

I just read an article from Preaching magazine -25 Most Influential Pastors of the Past 25 Years. The title should be “preachers” rather than “pastors” in any strict sense of the term’s current usage. Anyway, it is worth reading.  I’m sure some would be quick to criticise how American the list is, but that is always a cheap and easy critique.  What struck me was how many of these preachers have blessed me in recent years (and I don’t spend much time listing to famous preachers).

I would encourage you to read the article and give thanks for these and other well-known preachers who have faithfully sought to serve God through their ministries.  It is easy to critique the famous, but actually it must be hard to be in their positions, perhaps facing some unique stresses that most of us don’t face.

Perhaps the list might suggest some names that you haven’t heard before, leading you to trawl the web for a sermon by E.K.Bailey, or W.A.Criswell, or Fred Craddock.  Or someone who doesn’t fit in your theological or ecclesiological comfort zone . . . anyone from Adrian Rogers, to Bill Hybels, to William Willimon, to Stephen Olford, to Warren Wiersbe, to Rick Warren, to Jack Hayford, to Tim Keller, etc.  Have you observed Andy Stanley preach?  Have you

Maybe this kind of list has a handful of preachers that you have really been blessed by over the years – stop and give thanks for them.  I’m delighted to see Haddon Robinson on there, I know many who would give thanks for the influence of John Piper in their lives, I have friends who have been so blessed by John Stott, and other friends who have faithfully tuned in to Chuck Swindoll, and of course, there are numerous people I know who would count Billy Graham as the preacher God used to reach them with the gospel.

As with all lists, we could add others who would be on our personal list. Famous, or not, we do well to pause and give thanks for preachers God has used in our lives over the years.  I fondly remember the hours I spent listening to George Verwer messages while going through university – how making a quick meal of pasta could stretch into the afternoon as God dealt with and encouraged me through George’s preaching.  Or the Calvary Chapel preacher whose tapes I would rewind incessantly as I took copious notes in my black chair with my feet on the bed.  Or the seminary prof who preached in class every morning at 8am . . . Bruce Fong it was a pleasure to study God’s Word with you, man O man, what a privilege!

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Too Obvious To State?

I was in a conversation with a friend the other day and his question prompted a response that I heard previously from Haddon Robinson.  Interestingly, I don’t remember Haddon overtly teaching this concept, but it came out several times in responses to questions he was asked.  Perhaps these three principles (from Aristotle, I believe), are too obvious to state.  Let me state them anyway:

A message needs unity - that is, a message should be about one thing.  Not three things, or numerous things, but one thing.  A sense of unity is important.  If it’s missing then the listeners will supply an imposed unity (often in the form of only remembering your most poignant or amusing illustration . . . which can be frustrating when you are later met with, “Hi!  You’re the preacher who preached the message about the child lost in the funfair!”, when actually you were preaching about salvation but didn’t make that clear by presenting a united message!)

A message needs to be in order – Often a message that makes total sense in the order of 1, 2, 3, 4, simply does not communicate  when it is structured 1, 3, 4, 2.  Or even worse: 1, 3, part of 4, part of 2, rest of 4, etc.  The speaker should think through the order of the message and make sure it makes sense.

A message needs a sense of progress – It needs to be going somewhere.  Without progress the message is about as enjoyable as treading water, in a confined space, with limited air (perhaps it’s only me that feels claustrophobic in a too slow message?)  The preacher needs to give a sense of going somewhere so that the journey through the message can be more satisfying than enduring the ticking of the clock.

Unity, order and progress.  Basics.  Obvious ones, perhaps, but probably worth stating to ourselves now and then!

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Filed under Christianity, Delivery, Homiletics, Preaching, Religion, Stage 7 - Message Outline

The Theology Bridge

When we think through the expositional process, we are really concerned about three stages.  The first stage is understanding the text (exegetical).  The final stage is producing the sermon (homiletical).  The link between the two is the bridge in John Stott’s metaphor (in Between Two Worlds).  The bridge is the theological abstraction process.  In Haddon Robinson’s book you’ll find reference to the exegetical idea, the theological idea and the homiletical idea.  You could equally refer to the “at that time” – “timeless” – “at this time” progression of the stages.  This basic concept is important to grasp.  In order to accurately preach the message a passage today, we have to first consider the timeless theological abstraction of the main idea.  Here are a couple of questions to consider as you move from the exegetical to the theological stages of the process:

1. What does this passage say about God? Whether God is mentioned directly or not, every passage should be considered and preached theocentrically.  The Bible is God’s self-revelation, and since He doesn’t change, the timeless truth of a passage will relate to God in some respect.  This does not mean that the passage is stripped of human interest, but that God is recognized as the key character, whether or not He is mentioned in those specific verses.

2. What does this passage say about humanity in relation to God? Throughout the Bible we see humanity interacting with God.  Some respond with faith, others with self-trust.  Some love Him, some hate Him.  Bryan Chappell refers to the Fallen Condition Focus that can be observed in each text.  In respect to a fallen humanity’s response to God, contemporary listeners will always have a point of connection.

3. Where does the teaching of the passage fit in the flow of progressive revelation? It is always worth thinking through where the passage sits chronologically and progressively in God’s plan of self-revelation.  Technically I suppose that asking this question in the exegetical stage of the process might lead to presenting the meaning of a text in a way that the original readers could not have understood it.  Nevertheless, contemporary readers have to understand a passage in light of the whole canon.  Whether the broader understanding needs to be emphasized will depend on the particular passage and audience.

We study the text to understand what the author meant at that time (exegetical idea).  We abstract the timeless theological truth of that idea (theological idea).  Then we shape our presentation of that idea for our particular listeners at this time (homiletical idea).

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Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Preaching, Religion, Stage 2 - Passage Study, Stage 4 - Passage Idea, Stage 6 - Message Idea

Overly Narrow Application of a Principle

I’d like to build a little on the post from three days ago.  Here is a post I wrote a while back, but am fairly sure I forgot to post on the site.  It offers another angle on the challenges of application, again overtly leaning on Haddon Robinson’s work.

In simple terms the homiletical process involves three stages.  The first is the exegetical work of determining the original writer’s meaning.  The second stage involves abstraction of that meaning via theological principalization to derive a timeless truth.  The final stage is the earthing of that principle for the listeners sat in front of you – the homiletical application stage.  At this point our task is to not only demonstrate the meaning of the passage, but also to emphasize how it is relevant to the listeners.

Application is set up for illustrative material.  By definition, application involves demonstrating how the biblical principle might be applied in a contemporary setting, what difference it makes to us today.  At this point in the message, it makes sense to use illustrative materials.  But beware, there is a trap that is easy to fall into.

The incomplete variety of application error.  The meaning of a passage, and the derivation of principle, are both inclined toward single statement results.  That is to say, there is one meaning.  But how is that principle applied?  There are usually numerous possibilities.  If you only present a single example application, even if you state that this is one possible application, listeners will tend to presume that is specifically what you are preaching (or even, what the Bible is teaching).

Haddon Robinson gives the example of “honoring your parents” in a Pulpit Talk audio journal.  One possible application he gives from his experience with his own ageing father – that he ended up in a nursing home.  Another possible application he gives from their experience with his mother-in-law – that she was cared for by Haddon’s wife in their house.  To give one example without the other runs the risk of communicating only one option for applying the principle derived from the passage.

When you are applying a passage, demonstrating and emphasizing its relevance for your listeners, be sure to indicate the variety of possible applications, rather than leaving people with a faulty understanding of the passage because of an overly narrow applicational example.

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Excessive Abstractions and Principles Too General

Preaching an ancient text to a contemporary congregation will usually require some level of abstraction.  To preach an ancient instruction simply as it stands is to present a historical lecture, rather than a relevant presentation of inspired truth.  Some preachers simply say what is there and effectively offer historical lecture.  Other preachers abstract from historical specifics to timeless abiding theological truth, but end up preaching vague generalities.

To grasp what Robinson calls the “exegetical idea” and move through the “theological idea” to get to the “homiletical idea” is not easy.  The end result needs to be clearly from the text or the authority has been lost.  Yet the end result has to be specifically clear in its emphasis on the relevance of that text to us or the interest is lost.  One temptation is simply to play it safe, perhaps too safe.

What I mean by that is that we might derive a general, borderline generic, principle from a passage and move from historical explanation (often curtailed) into general application of this general principle.  Was the message true?  Yes.  Biblical?  Yes.  Relevant?  I suppose so.  Life-changing?  Probably not!  Sometimes it is a fear of fully engaging the text that can lead to this “generic” preaching.  Other times it is a fear of fully engaging the listeners that leads to it.

John Stott’s metaphor of the preacher as bridge-builder is helpful here.  The best preaching will not only touch both the world of the Bible and the world of the listener.  The best preaching will be firmly rooted, planted, engaged with and connected to both worlds.  Let’s not preach vaguely biblical abstract generalities.  Let’s really preach this text to these people!

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3 DQ’s – Dynamite Questions

Okay, that should be “developmental questions,” but they are dynamite.  Sunukjian and others have followed Robinson in making quite a fuss of these three questions.  I would encourage you to do the same.  The questions represent the three ways in which a stated idea can be developed.  There are no other ways to develop an idea than in these three directions:

1. What does it mean? (Explain)

2. Is it true? (Prove)

3. What difference does it make? (Apply)

The great thing about knowing these three questions is that they are so versatile:

Use them in studying the passage - Unless the writer is moving on to a new idea, these three questions can help you understand what is going on in the passage.  Not only do they move you toward an understanding of content, but also authorial intent – which is so valuable as you wrestle with a passage.

Use them in developing your main idea – Consider your listeners in order to determine which of the three developmental questions are needed to develop your message.  If they don’t understand the idea, there’s no point jumping to application without further explanation.  Just because people understand what you are saying, it doesn’t mean they are convinced – perhaps proof and support is needed?

Use them in developing each movement in the message – What works on a macro level also works in the chunks.  With these three questions as keys to developing your ideas as you communicate, you need never scratch your head for things to say (few of us struggle with that), or simply pad the message with pointless filler materials (some of us may struggle with that!)

I don’t advocate a predictable and slavish repetition of these three questions under each point of a message.  I know some that do and the result is both predictable and often unengaging, not to mention how it can turn every genre into a dissected discourse.  However, it is not a bad discipline to be asking yourself these three questions, both in study of the passage and in preparation of the message.

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Surfacing Needs vs Felt Needs vs No Needs

Which approach do you take in your introduction?  If you are typical, you probably fall into the third category – no needs.  Most preaching tends to begin with some form of engaging content followed by the text, or even just straight into the text.  Whether or not people want to listen to that text preached is apparently a mute point (unless you could see into the heads of the listeners, then you’d probably never ignore the issue of “need” again!)

Some cling to a “no needs” approach to sermon introduction because they are concerned about a “felt needs” approach to preaching.  After all, we do not really start with the listener and then preach only to that which they feel they need.  We want to do better than that.  So perhaps its better to just get into the text and the message, rather than trying to address the needs of the listener in the introduction?

Thus Haddon Robinson carefully speaks of “surfacing a need” as a preacher.  It is not that the listener’s felt need determines the choice of text or even the meaning assigned to a text.  Nor does the speaker have to create a need for the text.  No, the text speaks to a need inherent in the creature, a need that the self-giving love of the Creator will meet.  So the preacher surfaces the need to which the text speaks.  This approach starts from the text, but the sermon starts with the listener.

So I suggest we don’t start disconnected (“ok, enough irrelevant humor, let’s have a reading” or even “last week we were in Lamentations 3, please turn to Lamentations 4.”)  Nor should we start with “felt needs” (“alright, you’re all asking me on facebook how to make life more comfortable and still be able to afford entertainment during the economic downturn, let’s turn to Judges chapter . . .”)  I strongly suggest trying to start by “surfacing the need” addressed by the text.  In your study it begins with the text.  Then in your message you start by highlighting the need in the listeners life so they are thirsty for the passage and the message.

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Filed under Christianity, Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Preaching, Religion, Stage 8 - Message Detail

Review: Preaching for Special Services, by Scott M. Gibson

gibsonspecialservices

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  In this case I think you shouldn’t judge a book by its size.  This short one-hundred page book is well worth having for several reasons that I will list below.  Honestly, I only picked it up in order to scan it and make space for a new book on my “preaching books to read” shelf.  I’m glad I did.

This book is focused on “special services.”  That means weddings, funerals, baptisms, infant presentations, the Lord’s Supper and a selection of other events in the final chapter including evangelistic sermons.  In each chapter Scott Gibson presents a brief but well-informed history of preaching on that occasion in Jewish and Christian history.  He briefly outlines elements of a theology of preaching for such an event.  Then he addresses the issue of developing the sermon, before the closing section on delivering the sermon.  There is a sensitivity and gracious spirit throughout.  The book follows the Haddon Robinson approach to sermon preparation.

Three reasons why I’m impressed with this little book:

1. It gives specific, helpful and gracious instruction for how to prepare and present a biblical sermon at these special services.  For many preachers these events tend to be an extra burden in the schedule, but for those present or involved, these events are long remembered.  Gibson offers help to the preacher, who will remain in the shadows of the event and yet brings a word in season for those gathered.

2. I suppose this book could be written simply with the sections on how to develop and deliver the messages.  I certainly wasn’t expecting the valuable historical and theological elements in these chapters.  Although short, these concise sections add great value to the book.

3. Scott Gibson does not try to re-create what Robinson has done so well in terms of the big idea approach to sermon preparation.  What Gibson does throughout the book is concisely and helpfully integrate and contextualize Robinson’s model (for example the careful concern for a sermonic purpose statement in each chapter).  Some who have read Robinson may find that elements “click” in their understanding when reading Gibson’s specific-occasion application of that model.

(And, a minor fourth point, unlike Gibson and Willhite’s Big Idea of Biblical Preaching, this book was almost bereft of editorial oversights.  There’s a sermon purpose statement error on page 97, and an extra word in a book title on page 99, otherwise the book seemed “clean.”)

(Published in 2001)

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