Idea as DNA

The goal of the passage study process is the single sentence summary that distills the message of the passage into a short statement.  This sentence then acts as sheriff of the sermon preparation process, determining whether each element of the message should be there or not.  The sermon is all about the effective delivery of the main idea.

If you have thirty seconds to preach, then the main idea is the message.  Given the bonus of two more minutes, then you can give an overview of the text to support the main idea.  Given the frivolous extravagance of an extra thirty or forty minutes, you can develop every element of the structure in order to drive home the main idea as effectively as possible.

In the message preparation process you begin with one concise, pregnant sentence.  As you move through the process, the message grows and develops.

My wife has been pregnant four times.  Each time it is exciting to consider the growth of the child inside.  Now it is too small to see, now it is the size of a peanut, the size of a strawberry, like your fist, the size of your outstretched hand, etc.  When that baby is born it seems so tiny, but then it grows and grows.  All the necessary information for that unique individual is contained in the individual imperceptible cell at the beginning of the journey.

The same is true of a message.  The short, pregnant sentence of the message idea is ready to grow and develop into the message.  So no time spent on the formulation of that sentence is wasted.  Rather it is an investment in the message to come, with all its uniqueness and biblical potency.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Sharing Posts

Until recently I included a rather obvious Sharing button after each post.  This is no longer necessary as WordPress has included a helpful share feature.  If you read a post and want to share it on facebook, email, twitter, etc., just click on the title of the post, and then you’ll see the share feature at the bottom of the post.


10 Ways to Make Your Listeners Uncomfortable – cont.

Continuing ten ways to disturb the comfortable with your preaching:

6. Don’t make it clear when you are starting a rhetorical question. If the question slips in and people miss it, they then land in the pause as uncomfortable outsiders, unclear what it is they are supposed to be responding to.  Be sure to verbally, vocally, or even non-verbally, mark the start of a question intended to engage (even if rhetorical and they aren’t expected to answer out loud).

7. Give the impression that the answer to a rhetorical question is obvious, when it isn’t. Nothing like making people feel thick to add discomfort to their emotive experience inventory.

8. Give the impression that you need their facial response, but you’re not getting it. If you need it, look around and find someone whose face is encouraging (sometimes the grisly faces are grimacing in concentration – it’s the totally uninterested faces to be concerned about!)  If you request response too much and give the impression that you’re not getting it, then your listeners will grow uncomfortable trying to make you comfortable.  That’s not really their job.

9. Give a series of “it/this” statements without being clear what the “it/this” was. If they missed your original reference and then you string “it” sentences together, they’ll feel lost for long enough to grow uncomfortable.  “What difference would this make in our church?  What would it do in our nation?  What if your family put this into practice?  How might it change your life? Etc.”

10. Go for a big finish after a message that has barely got out of second gear. I was taught to make my introduction proportionate to the message – i.e. don’t overpromise and under-deliver.  The same is true of conclusions: don’t under-deliver then finish with an excessive bang.

There are other things, but I suppose I’d summarize some of this in this way.  Don’t be dependent on your listeners wanting you to succeed and being willing to go hunting for the message in what you are trying to say.  Instead prayerfully seek to be an arresting, engaging, confident, winsome, human and compelling communicator.  If you are uncomfortable, they will be doubly uncomfortable.  Once for themselves, and once for you.


But Wait, They Can See My Notes

Yesterday I wrote about some of the challenges that come from our listeners not being able to see our notes.  We preach orally, but tend to prepare in literary forms (manuscript, indented outlines, etc.)  I mentioned the issue of transitions – very different animals in spoken than in written communication.  I mentioned the need to indicate sense of progress, or purpose of illustration.  But wait, isn’t there a shortcut to circumvent this whole issue?

The Potential Powerpoint Shortcut – Wouldn’t it be better to just project your notes so they can follow along on a powerpoint sermon outline?  I would urge you not to make a projected outline your strategy to overcome these issues.  Your outline is for you.  If you use powerpoint, use it well (i.e. for images, minimal words, lots of blank screen, perfectly timed, etc.)

What Happens if You Powerpoint Your Outline? Projecting your outline will give the impression your primary goal is to educate and inform, it will spark frenzied note taking, it will cause people to try to memorize three sub-points rather than being marked by the one main point, it will distract from the deeper impact and applicational emphasis of your message.  What’s more, what is gained in visual communication via the screen is typically lost in visual communication and connection via the preacher.  It takes real skill to powerpoint in a connecting and engaging manner (a skill rarely found in ecclesial settings).

So I Should Never Use Powerpoint? Use powerpoint by all means, but usually not for your outline.  The outline is a skeleton, it is for you and it is for you to think through how to communicate as effectively as possible.  One of the first posts I wrote was entitled “What do you want them to remember – the outline?”

The Height of Application – 2

On Friday I wrote about raising the bar without just cranking up the pressure. But any talk of application must also bring us back to take a prayerful look at ourselves.  I read a comment in Michael Quicke’s 360-Degree Leadership, a quote from someone, R T Warner, I think.  It said that the early church “out-lived the pagans, and out-died them, and out-thought them.”

Many of us today are living in unprecedented luxury compared to the rest of the world today and throughout history.  We have access to resources, and standards of living, and health care and on and on.  We shouldn’t feel bad about all that, but give thanks and make the most of the blessings we’ve been given in order to bless others.  However, we don’t want to become spiritually lethargic unawares.

We can urge others to respond to the teaching of God’s Word with total abandon, with radical commitment, etc.  But in a very real sense we can only “raise the bar” for others to the level it is raised in our own lives.  We don’t need to flaunt our own commitment or sacrifices, but they do speak loud and clear to our listeners.  So we should be sure to prayerfully take stock of our own responsiveness to the Lord.

Here’s a quick checklist:

1. Walk with God – all that is involved in that . . . listening to His Word, prayer, intercession, meditation, etc.  Do we . . . as much or more than we urge others to . . .

2. Resources – use of time, of money, of energy, of abilities, etc.  Just because some of us have more time freed up for ministry, doesn’t mean we are giving more.  Remember the widow’s offering – how would that apply to our use of time and other resources?

3. Sacrifice – do we really, or do we just, you know, sort of?

4. Holiness – easy to bang on about pet peeve sins, but how is the Lord dealing with issues in your life?  You know you’re not perfect, but are you complacent because your sins are not those sins?

5. Okay, I’ll stop, but we do need to prayerfully address the whole issue of personal “application” in response to God’s Word.  Actually, conversing with the Lord about these things can be such a blessing . . . perhaps it should really be an ongoing conversation – not about me, but about my response to Him.

Evening Seminar – Chicago Area

Just a quick post to say that we are planning to visit the Chicago area in the first half of May, 2010.  If you’d be interested, I’d be happy to offer an evening seminar on some aspect of preaching, or a full Biblical Preaching Seminar, in your church.  If you are in the Chicago area and might be interested in hosting a day or evening seminar, please contact me via the comment option below.  Thanks.

FYI: Comments Delayed

Just a quick FYI – any comments submitted to the site during the second half of March will not be approved and appear until the end of the month.  I’ll be unable to access the internet for about two weeks, hence the delay.  I’ve pre-loaded posts to keep appearing, so please keep visiting and please keep commenting, even if there’s a delay before comments appear.  Thanks for making the site what it is!

Pre-Review: Preach the Word, edited by Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson

Subtitle: Essays on Expository Preaching in Honor of R. Kent Hughes


This recent volume from Crossway just landed on my doorstep.  I have not read it, hence this is a “pre-review.”  However, since I’ve not added a review for a while, and since Christmas is fast approaching, I thought I’d highlight this book’s existence just in case you need an idea for a Christmas gift (for yourself, or another preacher!)

Kent Hughes recently retired after a quarter of a century as senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton.  He has preached, taught and written very significantly in the area of expository preaching over the years of his ministry.  This book is a collection of essays from an impressive list of friends and colleagues.  (The list of contributors includes Wayne Grudem, John MacArthur, John Piper, Duane Litfin, JI Packer, David Jackman, Phillip Jensen and DA Carson.)

The book is divided into four sections.  The first addresses hermeneutics and exegesis under the title Interpretive Principles and Practices.  The second is entitled, Biblical and Historical Paradigms, providing frameworks and paradigms for the preacher’s ministry.  The third section on Contemporary Challenges and Aims engages with the particular difficulties facing the contemporary expositor.  Finally, the fourth section is entitled Training and Example, addressing the oft-neglected area of developing preachers.

The book has a timeless dignity about its appearance, and an apparent unity, even quality, in its content.  In due course I will complete this post with a true review, but right now it may be worth taking the plunge and buying a copy for Christmas – perhaps even a Christmas gift to yourself for your ministry?  Since this is a pre-review, all I can say here is that having looked at it, I am motivated to read it!