- Seek to give a consistent diet – it is not good to vary meals between a few scraps one time and gorging on overly rich fare another. Seek to preach so that listeners have a consistency in their diet.
- Seek to give a cumulative diet – it is not possible to give everything that is needed in every meal, or in every message. Seek to preach so that listeners experience a cumulative growth in their biblical awareness and their relational knowledge of God.
- Seek to give a healthy diet – no normal parent balances vegetables with poison. Do not accept heretical content, even if it is wrapped up in the salad leaves of Gospel truth. Don’t blend curving your listeners inward with drawing them out to Christ. Preach Christ and him crucified. Don’t preach Christ and effort intensified.
- Seek to give a timely diet – some fare fits in certain seasons and when it is missing something does not seem right. In my culture we tend to expect Turkey and mince pies in December, and more salads in the summer. Whether or not your church follows the church calendar, at least in some basic points, your listeners do. Christmas and Easter at least deserve some appropriate messages, perhaps harvest or mother’s day is a must too? Don’t disappoint, there’s nothing to be gained.
Many Christians feel slightly awkward about the idea of receiving a crown or reward from God. For a quick check, take a look at James 1:12, 2 Timothy 4:8, 1 Peter 5:4, and Revelation 2:10. Crowns for loving God, for loving the appearing of Christ, for serving as an elder, for remaining faithful to the point of death . . . crowns, for people. Awkward. Surely crowns should only go to God?
One of the great challenges we all face is extricating ourselves from the brine in which we are pickled in this world. Actually, we can’t do it. We are so immersed in the glory grabbing ethos in which we live that we can’t see any other way. This world has become our home and we need someone from outside to come in and rescue us. God has done that in Christ. Without that rescue we have no hope of understanding how heavenly crowns work.
So we are here, in a fallen world where power is corrupted, where power is abusive, and where power is always linked to clambering over and suppressing others. If someone is at the top of the pyramid, then they must have stood on others to get there. In this world it is hard to see how power can ever not go hand in glove with corruption and selfishness. That’s this world. What about in another and better world?
We should take the angst we feel about crowns and rewards and then let that energy drive us into the Bible to explore what God is like. How does God wear His crowns? Why would He ever give any away?
The Bible’s presentation of God gives to us the fact of three persons within the one God. The Father is ever the initiator. Surely He has the right to demand His position, the worship of everyone else and an exclusive right to eternal preeminence. Indeed He has every right, but what does He do? He elevates, honours and glorifies the Son. He gives everything to the Son. He puts all things under His feet. He gives Him the name above every name.
Alright, so the Son is the ultimate pinnacle of the heavenly pyramid. Fine, all crowns to Him then. But what does the Son do? Ultimately the Son will subject everything, and be subject, to the Father. In the most humbly glorious way imaginable we find the heavenly interchange to be “to me, to you” as the Son receives and reciprocates the totally giving and selfless nature of the Father.
Fine, but what about the Spirit? Is there not tension within the Trinity because the Spirit is never crowned or elevated like the Son is? There would be if the Spirit was from us. But the Spirit is also forever proceeding from both the Father and the Son, so His nature is like theirs, so He too is humbly preferring the other – the Holy Spirit is the humble Spirit because that is a key feature of the holiness that is uniquely God’s. No clamour. No grabbing. No “me first.” Glorious divine humility.
So, what about us then? Surely we can’t come into that world and do anything but corrupt it, can we? We certainly would if we entered unchanged from this world. If God gave me a crown right now I know I would make a mess by immediately feeling the powerful impulse of my rebellious flesh to honour myself. God is wise enough not to give us crowns too soon. Once the transformation of our life, in full heavenly sanctification is complete, then we can receive crowns and rewards.
In that day we won’t consider elevating ourselves. Neither will we bring with us a false humility that rejects the crown. Instead we will handle crowns and rewards in a way that befits the heavenly world of God’s love that we have entered.
Crowns, for people. Awkward. Surely crowns should only go to God? Ultimately they will. Surely the heavenly way is to take off the crown and give it away as we see in Revelation 4:10. And in casting our crowns at His feet we will have joined in the love-driven glory-giving life of the Trinity.
Some preachers see themselves essentially as life trainers. They know Christianity brings transformation, they long for their listeners to be changed and they know they have a key role to play. Consequently it is always tempting to take on the responsibility for life change through direct and clear instruction, moral pressure and vocal encouragement, along with the necessary warnings about the dangers of living in other ways. Is this your model of preaching? Are you conformity coaching? If this paragraph describes your ministry then it is time to prayerfully take stock and investigate more intently how Christ changes lives.
Some preachers see themselves essentially as teachers. They believe in a God who has spoken and whose Word is the treasure they share from the pulpit. They know that a life is transformed as the truths of Scripture take root and weed out the rubbish of life lived according to the many words of the world, the flesh and the devil. Are we information investing? We should be, but it should be more than that.
Some preachers know their role is primarily introductory. That is, they know that what brings change is not merely Christianity, nor even Christian teaching, but rather Christ Himself. It is as we look on His glory that we are being transformed. Thus the preacher’s role is more humble than conformity coaching since what is needed is transformation at a far deeper level – something we know we cannot achieve by our instruction, pressure and exhortation. The preacher’s role goes beyond information investing to something much more personal. The preacher’s role is primarily that of match-making . . . let me point you to Jesus and how wonderful He is.
Whatever label you want to use, make sure you understand the difference between conformity coaching, information investing and match-making. The difference can make all the difference in the world.
A preaching ministry is built on a whole set of convictions. Convictions about God, the Gospel, about people, about ministry. It is right that we let these convictions grow over time as we spend time in the Bible, and learn from mentors, from experience, from life. In this post I’d like to flag up one of these convictions.
Here it is: God is a good communicator.
This seems so obvious, but so many build a preaching ministry without this conviction in place. Here are some implications of this conviction to ponder:
1. No matter how clever you are, what you can make it say is not as good as what God made it say. So do your best to preach what the text is saying. Do your best to let the details, and also the form of the text influence how you preach it. Try not to just say what it says, but also to do what it does. Seek to re-create the effect and the affect of the text!
2. Our job is not to make the Bible interesting. Whatever other good reasons there are for using “illustrations” in your preaching, this is not one of them. We should seek to explain, prove and apply as well and as interestingly as we can, but first of all we must be gripped with enthusiasm for God and His Word if we are to communicate it with any contagious influence. Simply trying to add interesting material like spicing a bland steak is not our calling.
3. We do not make the Bible relevant, we demonstrate and emphasize its relevance. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful. All of it. Our task is to help people see that.
4. Reading the Bible is not a curse. Forget preaching it for a moment, some of us seem intent on convincing Christians that reading the Bible is a negative thing. I’ve heard well-meaning Christians teach that it is hard to enjoy the Bible, so just go for the smallest goals possible. If we give the impression that reading the Bible is a drudgery that can only be achieved by courageous acts of self-determination, then let’s not be surprised if people don’t spend much time in it.
God is a good communicator. That conviction is critical for effective preaching.
1. Know yourself. Some preachers like to ruffle others all the team. Other preachers never ruffle anyone. Know your default and beware if you are at either extreme.
2. Be so biblical the argument is with the Bible, not with you. It is tempting to make polemic statements, but there is much greater authority if you present a solid biblical case.
3. Look for ways to deconstruct first so that the Bible answer is needed. On the other hand, it is tempting to blast with the Bible, but it is better to show the need for the biblical case before presenting it.
4. Use story to get past defenses. When a subject is potentially hard to take, take a lesson from Nathan’s approach to King David. He was able to present painfully personal conviction without a defensive reaction through the telling of a compelling story. Remember that effective use of narrative can bring down the defenses of your listeners.
5. Love the people. When you bark at them, they sense you don’t love them. Then the issue will not be your content.
6. Build connections. Jesus had some tough things to say to several of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. He did not jump straight into rebuke. He built that on a foundation of “I know you!” This can be relational, or it can be manipulative. That probably depends on your motivation.
7. Drip feed whenever possible. Does the issue have to be hit head-on this Sunday? As someone wisely said about preaching in general, ‘we tend to overestimate what we can achieve in one message, but underestimate what will be achieved through five years of biblical preaching.’
8. Understand why they are where they are. It is relatively easy to go after an issue, but to be effective in this pursuit we have to understand why people are where they are.
9. Don’t do everything from the pulpit. A lot of issues in the church are complex, but we can easily fall into thinking that our only output is from the pulpit. Could you gain more traction in a one-on-one conversation?
10. Pray. The most important in the place of final emphasis. There is a lot that can be done outside of preaching – conversation, interaction, etc. But the greatest element of any change will come not from our confrontation of it, but from our expressed absolute dependence on God to bring about the change.
Here are some other 10 Pointer posts for you to check out:
The church is the greatest news story, even though it is never reported. Lives are changed, peoples are united, society is helped, and preaching is at the heart of all of it. But preaching is not inherently powerful.
The church is not a society generated by, united through, and stirred to give of itself by human social engineering. It is possible to produce something by the skill of natural man as we exhort, encourage, celebrate and direct from the front. But ultimately preaching is not the true story because the church is not about sales technique, social engineering, or motivational speech.
The true church is supernatural and therefore the true story of the church is the story of God at work. God opens blind hearts to see the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God unites believers as the Spirit unites their spirits with Christ and with each other. God’s love spills over from churches that are loved by Him so that His love can make a mark in society through social care and moral influence.
Preaching the Word of God is at the heart of the life of the church, but preaching in and of itself is not powerful. And that is why we pray.
Yesterday evening a group of us enjoyed four and a half hours of Bible reading together. No preaching, just reading. We read John’s Gospel, and then from James through to Revelation. We paused briefly to share reflections three or four times, followed by brief comfort breaks, but otherwise kept reading.
Here are a few reasons why I think mini-marathons like this one, or even longer Bible reading marathons are a great idea for your church:
1. It is good to experience Bible books as a whole, instead of only ever hearing them in shorter sections. For example, the letters were written to be heard in one go. We can easily lose the overall flow when we only ever focus on one section at a time.
2. It is good for people to experience Bible reading “in the zone.” To put it another way, even the most diligent Bible in a year reader may only ever experience reading the Bible during the relatively noisy first 10-15 minutes. A Bible marathon is a group experience of reading beyond that noise and enjoying the feast that comes when you are reading “in the zone” (i.e. focused).
3. It is good to have a proper soaking. Most people live in a noisy and busy world these days. This means it is difficult to carve out longer chunks of time to pursue God in His Word. A Bible marathon like this is like a spiritual spa, allowing the washing with the water of the Word to cleanse at a deeper level.
4. It is good to enjoy God together. Too often Bible reading is treated as a lone ranger experience, but it is good to have the gentle spur to focus of being in the group. Last night our group included an 11-year-old, as well as a student who is rarely home. Another time maybe we will get someone who struggles to read (and can therefore enjoy listening), or a brand new Christian, or someone in a highly pressurized career, or whatever . . . every group will be special because of the individuals involved, because of the group dynamic, and mostly because of the God we are encountering in His Word!
Sometimes it feels like we are living in an age of prayerless and therefore relatively powerless ministry. We live in an age of increasing noise and preachers crave efficient preparation. In this post I would like to narrate the journey from passage to pulpit in terms of prayer. Maybe this can help nudge us toward the kind of preaching we all want to experience.
“What Shall I Preach?” – before the process of preparing a message can really begin, we have to select the passage or passages that we will study and preach. New preachers tend to get stuck at this stage. “Lord, give me a good sense of what they need to hear,” combined with “Father, stir my heart for Christ so I can preach out of the overflow of my own heart,” should help with picking a text or texts. If necessary add this, “Ok Lord, I’m struggling to pick, so on Tuesday evening I am going to make a choice – would you please be in that decision!”
In the study – Now it is time to turn off all distractions and get alone with God and the Bible. Your goal is to understand the text, and to meet with God personally. “My Father, please give me eyes to see the meaning of this text as you intended when you inspired it. And please give me eyes to see your heart revealed in this text. And please change my heart in the process. Give me determination to do the work necessary with the passage, and may the fruit of this study so stir and lift my heart that I am deeply changed…”
Before you move into message mode – You have the fruit of your study, and now you consciously reintroduce the listeners to your prayers again. “O Lord, I am thankful for what this text has already done in my heart, but now I pray for my listeners. I don’t love them as you do, please give me your heart for them. How can the main idea of this text be a gift from you to them this Sunday?”
Shaping the message – It is time to form and shape the message – it’s purpose, main idea, structure and detail. “Our Father, I so want this message to communicate with the hearts of my listeners. Please give me wisdom to know how I can shape this message as an act of love for them.” And as you go, detail by detail, “Lord, will Steve understand it if I put it that way?” and “Father, you know how Sarah is hurting at the moment, how can I say that sensitively for her sake?”
Delivery time – Both before and during delivery we can be praying continually, even if only in arrow prayers…“May we see you!” and “Protect us from distractions,” and “Help the guys on sound to sort that annoying hum,” and “Guard my heart heart from pride in this,” and “I feel like I’m rushing, help me pace this better,” and “Lord, John seems troubled,” and “Protect us from the evil one,” and “Lord only you can give them eyes to see the glory of your grace in this,” and “Change lives, Lord!” and so on.
Preaching is about exegesis and communication and pastoral care and evangelism and leadership and discipleship . . . but it should be preeminently about prayer.