This is the middle post in a series of three on Big Idea preaching. Specifically, I’ve been struck by how many people recommend Haddon Robinson’s book, yet seem to not have grasped what it teaches. I understand that they are impressed by the well written chapters dealing with various elements of sermon preparation and delivery (I was impressed first time through), but the powerful notion of the Big Idea is not instantly grasped (took me a while!) So yesterday we thought about The Big Idea being about communication. But more than that . . .
Not really a post, but thought you might appreciate this. Here is a post from Darryl Dash who has taken something from this site and is using it in their preaching. Thanks for the encouragement Darryl!
Somebody has likened (with all the necessary caveats and apologies) preaching to pregnancy. You know the elements of the analogy: something growing within, the building excitement, that something has to come out at a specific point in time, with the resulting post-delivery tiredness and even sometimes the post-partum blues.
Among other elements where the analogy breaks down, there is one that I’d like us to ponder today. The length of gestation. Real pregnancy has a consistency of length, preaching preparation doesn’t. It is easy to fall into a cycle of preaching preparation, from start to finish, taking only five to six days. This fits between Sundays, but it creates issues.
Is the message able to fully grow, and specifically, is it able to fully grow and work its way into your life if you’ve only been working on it for five days? “I’ve been studying this passage for the past few days. I’ve lived with it since Tuesday, and have been applying it consistently since yesterday morning. Listen to my powerful message from 24 hours of experience . . . ” We don’t say this when we preach, but sometimes we say it by our lives.
Haddon Robinson suggested using a ten-day preparation cycle. This means doing some preparatory exegetical work on the Thursday of the previous week. This give it time to stir in the heart and mind before launching into preparation in the week before preaching.
Some preachers suggest planning a preaching calendar a year in advance, allowing for time to do initial study, ongoing research/collection of information, and personal application. Some advocate taking a week to do preliminary work on all messages to be preached as part of this process.
What do you do? How long do you take to allow the message to grow, and to make sure it has time to make a mark on your life, before you commend it to others?
I think most preachers who have some level of commitment to an expository approach to preaching are fairly clear on the importance of understanding the Bible and their listeners. It is the two worlds that John Stott referred to in his great book on the subject. I suspect most preachers are less aware of the inner world that Haddon Robinson refers to – the inner world of the preacher.
It is easy to assume that I know more about me than anyone does, except God, of course. To a certain extent that is true. The problem is in the blind spots. We all have them. We all struggle to spot them or recognise their influence on our preaching. Let me suggest a few aspects of the inner world of the preacher and how such things will influence our preaching.
The Value System We Assimilated Growing Up – Perhaps you grew up in a family situation where some things were valued higher than others. Actually, you did grow up in such a situation, for good or bad. Perhaps a strong work ethic, or a weak one. Perhaps a high concern for what others think. Perhaps task over people. Perhaps a view of the class structure of society. Perhaps a skewed definition of success. Perhaps under the pressure of perfectionism. Perhaps in an atmosphere of racism, or sexism, or any other -ism. Whatever value system you absorbed, it is influencing you. Even if you think you’ve processed, rejected, reacted, or adjusted, it is still important to be aware of the grid through which your value system may process information, situations, biblical texts, and applications thereof.
The Emotional Baggage We Carry From The Past – Some of the items listed above result in emotional baggage. So too does past trauma, relational breakdown, personal sin, the sin of others, abuse, grief, loss, etc. While some of us have been spared the agony that others have had to face, and the burden they’ve secretly carried, none of us are free of emotional baggage. Guilt, pressure, failure, pain, loneliness, grief, hurt, etc., will all influence our preaching imperceptibly (to us, but listeners will pick up a vibe at some point). It is easy to project hidden issues onto texts and application. We need to prayerfully and conversationally process these things in order to know the inner world of ourselves as preachers.
The Personality Preferences and Tendencies We Assume To Be Normal or Right – Everyone else has issues. I’m normal. You probably are too. But actually we need to be aware of our own quirks in order that we don’t press them onto others. Introvert or extrovert. A way of thinking. A sense of humour. A view of the world. An inner wiring to desire to be liked, or to be right, or to be accepted. An approach to interpersonal communication. A preferred conflict resolution style. A level of energy or enthusiasm for certain things.
I don’t want to advocate for self-absorption or self-obsession. We need to keep our gaze fixed on Christ. Nevertheless, as we look to Him, let’s be honest with Him and ask Him to help us be aware of how the inner landscape of our lives might be influencing how we handle the text, how we preach it, how we live it.
I just read an article from Preaching magazine –25 Most Influential Pastors of the Past 25 Years. The title should be “preachers” rather than “pastors” in any strict sense of the term’s current usage. Anyway, it is worth reading. I’m sure some would be quick to criticise how American the list is, but that is always a cheap and easy critique. What struck me was how many of these preachers have blessed me in recent years (and I don’t spend much time listing to famous preachers).
I would encourage you to read the article and give thanks for these and other well-known preachers who have faithfully sought to serve God through their ministries. It is easy to critique the famous, but actually it must be hard to be in their positions, perhaps facing some unique stresses that most of us don’t face.
Perhaps the list might suggest some names that you haven’t heard before, leading you to trawl the web for a sermon by E.K.Bailey, or W.A.Criswell, or Fred Craddock. Or someone who doesn’t fit in your theological or ecclesiological comfort zone . . . anyone from Adrian Rogers, to Bill Hybels, to William Willimon, to Stephen Olford, to Warren Wiersbe, to Rick Warren, to Jack Hayford, to Tim Keller, etc. Have you observed Andy Stanley preach? Have you
Maybe this kind of list has a handful of preachers that you have really been blessed by over the years – stop and give thanks for them. I’m delighted to see Haddon Robinson on there, I know many who would give thanks for the influence of John Piper in their lives, I have friends who have been so blessed by John Stott, and other friends who have faithfully tuned in to Chuck Swindoll, and of course, there are numerous people I know who would count Billy Graham as the preacher God used to reach them with the gospel.
As with all lists, we could add others who would be on our personal list. Famous, or not, we do well to pause and give thanks for preachers God has used in our lives over the years. I fondly remember the hours I spent listening to George Verwer messages while going through university – how making a quick meal of pasta could stretch into the afternoon as God dealt with and encouraged me through George’s preaching. Or the Calvary Chapel preacher whose tapes I would rewind incessantly as I took copious notes in my black chair with my feet on the bed. Or the seminary prof who preached in class every morning at 8am . . . Bruce Fong it was a pleasure to study God’s Word with you, man O man, what a privilege!