Preaching is a complex ministry, but one of the core ingredients is effective explanation of the biblical text. If this is removed, then it is difficult to see how what remains can be biblical preaching.
Yet it can be tempting to remove explanation. Why not simply read a bit of Bible and then say what you want to say, making the odd vague connection? This passes for preaching in many places. What’s more, surely that can be more interesting than dull explanation? Of course it can, but the answer to the problem of a poor version of something good and important is not to replace it, but to do it well. How?
1. Recalibrate your appreciation of God’s ability as a communicator. Unless you are gripped by the fact that God is a great communicator, everything else I say here will fail to register. Know that if your listeners could really see the richness and relevance of what God is saying in any passage, they would be gripped and transformed. But if you don’t see it, they are going to struggle. Many Christians trust God to have created everything, to have worked out a redemption plan and to have final justice and a glorious eternity all worked out, but at the same time to be a poor communicator. This is mystifying.
2. Give appropriate amounts of engaging context. Too much context will turn the sermon into a historical lecture. Too little will strip the text of meaning. The biblical text is not a random set of assertions that have mystical power by virtue of inspiration. God gave us inspired text that was always set in a historical and situational context. Rather than being dull background stuff, this is often a key way to forge connections between the text and your listeners. Get to know the background context and determine where the points of engagement are for your listeners today.
3. Set the scene textually. Many of the biblical books were written to be digested whole, but we tend to cut and slice. That doesn’t mean we have to preach a whole book in every sermon (although that is an option to consider sometimes). It does mean that we can’t just drop people into an alien text without any orientation. Be sure to orient your listeners to what is going on in the big picture of the book before expecting them to be gripped by the specific text of your sermon.
4. Don’t explain every word with equal effort. Recognise that in any passage there will be a gravity centre. Take people there and help them see why that is the case. Explaining seven introductory clauses to get there will numb your listeners and they will lose track of the point of the passage.
Tomorrow I will add some more thoughts to this list.
2 thoughts on “Explain Well – 4 Thoughts”
I’ve been enjoying this series, Peter. As I’ve told you many times, I learn and benefit from it even though I’m not a preacher, and it so often it is a reminder to be praying for my own pastors. I was struck by what you said about preachers sometimes reading a bit of Bible and then saying what they want, with only a vague connection. I was listening to a sermon recently where the preacher asked everyone to turn to John 17. I thought, “Oh goody! This is going to be awesome!” But then he read a single verse from the beginning of the chapter and went off on some tangent that seemingly had nothing to do with the text. I was SO disappointed! Actually, if I’m honest, at first I was annoyed. But thankfully, the Holy Spirit gave me a poke in my heart, and I began to pray that the preacher would himself see the richness of John 17 and have his own heart warmed by it. In any case, thanks for all you’ve written in this series.
Thanks Gretchen – that is a great reminder to pray for preachers that seem to be missing the wealth of the text. I find it so easy to get frustrated and then distracted, but the preacher doesn’t need my judgment or policing, they need my prayers and support. Thanks for your encouragement.