Continuing on from yesterday’s post. How can we who struggle with generating “illustrative” materials do better in this regard (to keep preaching from being historical lecture)?
Prepare Messages with Personal Sensitivity – As you prepare a message, look at your own life. Where do you see the sin, the struggles, the doubts, the hopes, the joys, etc. in your own life, in your own heart? In the past there was an emphasis on trying to keep yourself out of the sermon. I suppose the prayer we sometimes hear, “May the people not see me, but Jesus.” Very well intentioned, but people are seeing you, and hopefully more. Preaching is, by the Brooks’ definition: truth through personality. All that to say, without being a superstar or a buffoon, let listeners see you as a real, genuine, authentic and appropriately vulnerable communicator. This means being sensitive to how the text works in your life, before preaching it for the sake of other lives.
Prepare Messages with Congregation Sensitivity – The better you know the people you are preaching to, the easier it is to intersect biblical truth with present experience. This doesn’t mean preaching a message at someone in particular, nor divulging confidences, or causing embarressment in illustration specificity. However, your listeners are not the same as mine. Tim Keller’s crowd is not the same as Andy Stanley’s. Preaching usually calls us to pastoral care of our listeners, which means knowing what their life is like. Being a student of people needs to combine with being a student of the text in order to preach effectively. This does not require us to make every Biblical text into a mundane how-to list, but rather to help humans love, know and respond to a God who chooses to engage with us. (If you are new to the site, I’d encourage you to click on Audience Analysis in the categories menu to the right and see previous posts related to really knowing to whom we preach.)
Rather than looking through endless lists of “potential illustrations” in books or online, we have very fertile ground in our own lives and in the lives of our listeners. We should being looking there with real sensitivity in order to find the points of intersection that will help give our messages a contemporary and relevant feel.
More practical thoughts tomorrow, but feel free to add your thoughts . . .