Preaching Myths – Part 2

Last time we thought about the idea that godly preparation precludes the possibility of evaluation.  This time let’s take an idea that is related to that:

2. If it bears good fruit then it is a good sermon.

This is a good follow up to the previous myth.  Maybe you’ve had the experience of struggling through a sermon only to discover that someone else loved it.  Fair enough, there is certainly subjectivity involved in hearing a message.  But what about when the sermon you hear is not just not to your taste, but actually contains error, and then … someone trusts in Christ at the end.  That can be perplexing!

So many things need to be taken into account here.  You could have misheard the preacher.  You could have been biased in your critical view of the message.  Your evaluation criteria may be completely off.  At the same time, the fruit that seems so surprising could be the fruit of other ministry rather than this particular message.  Or the fruit could not be genuine.  Or the fruit could be the glorious grace of God working despite a weak or flawed sermon (praise God for that if you are a preacher, you’ve probably preached some shockers too!)  There are so many unknowns in this.

However, accepting all the multiple layers of complexity, there seems to be a double-edged bottom line here.  On the one hand ministry will be judged by its fruits and this is right.  Good, faithful, Christ-centred, biblically-driven, Spirit-dependent ministry will bring genuine and eternity-changing fruit over the course of time.  On the other hand, there is not a one-for-one correspondence here: apparently positive fruit (conversions, feedback, etc.) does not mean this particular sermon was solid, neither does apparently negative fruit (no response, negative feedback, etc.) mean this particular sermon fell short.  God does a lot of unseen work through messages while preachers press on in faith without knowing if it is making the slightest bit of difference.

How have you experienced this tension?

Biggest Mistakes Preachers Make

Slip2This week I want to share some of the biggest mistakes preachers make.  Actually, these are the biggest mistakes I have probably made.  Perhaps this can help others pondering the wonderful privilege of preaching the Bible!
Mistake 1 – Simply Harvesting Imperatives
It feels easy, and it feels right, to turn proclamation into imperative presentation.  All you have to do is present the text and then make sure people know the imperatives: the “must do” or “should do” or “best do” of the passage.  Whether or not there is technically an imperative in the text, we so easily turn a passage into mere instruction and press for change as we preach.
Sidebar: Introducing the Imperative
The mood is one of several features of a verb.  In Greek, for instance, there are four moods: indicative, subjunctive, optative and imperative.  The mood presents the verbal action or state with regards to the verb’s actuality or potentiality.  The imperative mood is concerned with intention.  Thus the most common use of the imperative is to express a command.  However, it would be wrong to collapse imperative into commands (or assume all commands are imperative).  An imperative can be used to forbid an action (prohibition), to express a request (such as in prayer), a sense of resignation, a pronouncement, a condition, or even just a greeting.  So? Simply identifying and harvesting imperatives is not a shortcut to an instructional/applied sermon!

Remember the Context – Typically the epistles will offer lists of instructions, but never in isolation.  The chapter breaks and section headings may segregate a set of instructions or commands, but the letters were written as a coherent whole.  We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices . . . in view of God’s mercies.  We are to walk in a manner worthy . . . of the calling we have received.  We are to set our hearts on things above, where Christ is . . . the Christ presented in the first half of Colossians!

Remember the Mechanism – As long as we think lives are transformed by the pressure we can apply in our preaching, our ministry will be desperately restricted.  Lives are transformed by pointing the gaze of listeners’ hearts toward Christ.  In Christ, in Christ, in Christ . . . so walk worthy.  The captivating truth of what God has done in Christ is preached, the Spirit works in the heart, an appetite to please God comes forth like sap in a fruit tree, and the instructions are there to guide the growth.

Forget the Short-Cut – It feels like a short-cut: just find imperatives, or turn some content into imperative, and then pressure people.  You will even get encouraging feedback (the flesh loves this stuff!)  But you won’t see much true, genuine, abundant growth.  Forget the short-cut and preach the text, in context, pointing to the God it reveals, and the growth may be imperceptible (good fruit growth isn’t instant), but it will be definite, genuine, multiplying, healthy, Christ-honoring, loving, joyful, peaceful, etc., fruitful growth!

 

The Four Places of Preaching

There is a journey from text to message.  A journey consists of a sequence of locations, so I’d like to lay out the four places of preaching.  Perhaps this will be helpful to someone.

Place 1 – The Study

The first place the preacher needs to go is the study.  Just the preacher, the Bible, perhaps a desk, whatever study resources may be available, and a prayerful pursuit of the meaning of the text.

What is the goal in this place?  To be able to accurately state the main idea of the passage in a single sentence summary as a result of prayerful historical, grammatical, literary study of the passage in its context, with a heart laid bare before God.

Who is involved?  This place is where the preacher is in prayerful pursuit of the meaning of the passage.  So there is a historical focus, a sense in which the preacher is seeking to go back then to the time when the human author wrote the passage.  There is a deep concern with making sense of the text as it was intended, as inspired, with the historical and written context, the inspired choice of genre, the content of the passage in terms of its details and its structure or flow, and the intent of the writer.

So the preacher is studying, exegeting, interpreting.  Yet in that quiet place of wrestling with the text, the text is also wrestling with the preacher.  This is not some sort of abstract and entirely objective study.  The preacher is there.  When the Bible speaks, God speaks, and when God speaks, lives change.  So the preacher has the privilege of being marked by the text as the Spirit of God first applies the passage to the life of the preacher.

The study is a place of deep fellowship between the preacher and God.

Why, then, the study?  Should this not be the library, after all, studying involves resources?  No, this should be a study, because a library is a place of people pursuing information for a variety of purposes.  The preacher’s study is a place where the preacher meets with God as the biblical text is studied both exegetically and profoundly devotionally.

Should this not be the office, after all, ministry is a complex business these days?  No, this should be a study (whatever the room actually is), because an office is a place of action and interaction, of incoming emails and phone calls, a place where multiple plates are kept spinning.  No great and profound preaching can come out of an office.  (If your study is too much of an office, then study elsewhere – borrow a room and leave your phone behind, study in your car in the woods, but go somewhere where you can be with the Lord in a “study”.)

Tomorrow, place 2 . . .