7 Waste Points on Your Preaching Clock

Some preachers are incredibly aware of the clock as they preach.  For manuscript readers, the clock can be entirely predictable.  For others of us, time tends to move past quickly and sometimes erratically.  It is helpful to figure out where the time actually goes.

Here is one approach that could be helpful.

Step 1 – Before preaching try to anticipate how long the message will be, and how long will be spent on each section of the message (introduction, background, first point, second point, etc.)

Step 2 – After preaching try to evaluate how long the message was (if possible don’t check your watch!), and write down how long you felt you spent on each section of the message.

Step 3 – Using an audio or video recording, take notes on actual timings of each section and the whole message.

With these three steps under your belt, you are now in a position to evaluate the whole process.  Where did reality (step 3) differ from steps 1 and 2?  You may find that you are fairly careful with your timings, but lost track of time in one section.  Or you may find that time is lost repeatedly throughout the message.

Here are seven common trouble spots:

1. Introduction – Sometimes we can struggle to generate momentum at the start of a message.  Maybe more crafting and rehearsal is needed for a strong start.

2. Textual Background – Some of us get very excited when we have a chance to dive back into the biblical world and we end up giving more background than is needed for this message.  What is the most pertinent and helpful information for this message to communicate?

3. Illustrations – Sometimes illustrations just need too much time to explain, especially if our listeners look less familiar with the context of the illustration than we anticipated (beware of needing to tell whole Bible stories to make sense of a biblical illustration, or telling a whole movie plot, plus comments about spoilers, for the sake of a movie illustration).

4. Humour – Perhaps illustrations are ok, but when you say something a little bit humorous you can end up circling around that moment for too long?

5. Explanation – Some love nothing more than making sense of a biblical text for our listeners, but are we labouring the point longer than the majority need?  We would be surprised how long it takes to be truly heard, but how quickly we can annoy our listeners if we lack momentum.

6. Transitions – Perhaps your content is crisp, but your transitions involve too much review of earlier content?  It is easy for time to drift as we try not to rush ahead too quickly at transitions – a good motivation, but may need some work to do effectively.

7. Conclusion – Would your message be better if you simply landed the plane more directly?

5 Preaching Paradoxes

John Stott listed five paradoxes in preaching.  This is his list, but the comments are mine:

1. Authentic Christian preaching is both biblical and contemporary – We will tend to incline one way or the other.  Are you strong on biblical studies but not so in touch with the world of your listeners?  Or are you in touch today, but weak on the biblical side of this?  The solution is not a 50:50 formula for study time.  However, it would be wise to prayerfully take stock every so often.

2. Authentic Christian preaching is both authoritative and tentative – What is your dominant tone?  Some have learned to speak everything with unsupportable authority. Others seem hesitant to suggest anything for fear of coming across too strongly.  Listen to a recent sermon and take stock of your tone – there should be both authority and humility.

3. Authentic Christian preaching is both prophetic and pastoral – Preaching should speak into the world of your listeners with declarative and incisive authority, like a prophet of old.  At the same time, these sheep really need the tenderness of a self-sacrificing shepherd.  Perhaps it is worth asking some listeners how they feel when you preach?  Is it helpful confrontation by the truth of God’s Word, or is it the tender care of God’s shepherd heart?  Remember, they need both.

4. Authentic Christian preaching is both gifted and studied -I was always impressed by my teacher’s ability to both preach and teach preaching.  He was clearly gifted, but he also really knew his stuff.  Some good preachers are poor teachers of preaching.  But that double dynamic is at work in preaching too – we need the gifting God has given us (personality, ability, strengths, etc.), and we need to do the work in our study to be able to preach well.  Have you started to lean on your gifting to the detriment of study?

5. Authentic Christian preaching is both thoughtful and passionate – Just thoughtful becomes ponderous and sends you to sleep.  Just passionate can get very loud and annoying when the absence of substance becomes obvious.  Learn what you need to learn, but make sure that study, prayer and life work together in you to generate a passion for what you preach.  They can’t catch the disease unless you are properly contagious.

I am not a fan of balance as a default, but in these five areas, I think Stott’s list is really helpful.

5 Radars Every Preacher Needs – #3

RadarScreen2So far we’ve pondered a radar needed in textual study, and another needed in considering our own theological assumptions.  As preachers we mustn’t go too far without thinking of the listeners, so here’s another early warning system to ask God to develop in you for your growth as a preacher:

Radar 3. Resistance Radar (in your listeners)

It is naïve to think that clearly explained and relevantly applied Bible passages will automatically result in changed lives.  More mature preachers prayerfully ponder where their listeners will resist what the biblical text is presenting.  This radar can only be fully developed by knowing the people you are preaching to each week.  Perhaps this radar has two tones of beep.

A. The first is a human nature beep (i.e. people everywhere tend to resist in this regard).  It doesn’t matter what the culture, or the education levels, or the demographics of the community, or the age of the listeners . . . some truths are universally resisted or twisted.  Grace is a prime example.  It is not a lack of understanding that makes us resist God’s grace, it is our fallenness.  We don’t want God to be God, and we want to be God.  But to receive God’s grace without some effort at payment or cooperation, that is to admit that I am not God and I need God.  We must not think that this does not apply to those who have received Christ and joined God’s family . . . our flesh still rebels and seeks to corrupt God’s grace into an exercise in shared effort.  It may be as illogical as a starving person turning down food, but in a post Genesis 3 world, it makes perfect sense for us to resist or twist grace.

B. The second is a specific humans beep (i.e. this congregation, or this individual, will resist this message because of such and such). When you know the people in your church, then you can better spot where the resistance will come.  Maybe it is not grace, the example I gave above, that is the point of resistance for some in your church.  Maybe it is the notion of close relationship with God.  Perhaps the notion of a loving father is frightening to some.  Maybe holiness has been perilously pickled in the perspective of some.  Perhaps legalism has turned some listeners into collectors of instruction, rather than seekers of wisdom.

Grow in understanding of humans in general, and people in your church in particular, so that this radar becomes well tuned and messages can more effectively hit home.

Resolved: Preach Christ

resolved2Here’s another resolution to throw into the mix as we head into another year.  How about making a prayerful determination to preach Christ, rather than the tempting alternatives?

Here are some tempting alternatives that are worth dumping in favour of Christ:

1. Don’t preach issues – It is tempting to be contemporary and to buy into the idea that what people really value above all else is contemporary relevance.  Of course the Bible is relevant and Christ is relevant, but that doesn’t mean your preaching should be salted with relevance like meat in a medieval barrel.  Some preachers are so concerned about being up-to-date that they lose sight of what they have to offer those sitting before them.  Relevance is important, but it is not the primary and central goal in preaching.

2. Don’t preach tips – Of course God’s way is the best way and lives gripped by the Gospel tend to work a whole lot better than lives lived according to the values of the world.  And yes, the Bible does include a lot of insight into living life, both legitimate and moralized.  But our job is not to be the weekly top tip provider for a people totally absorbed with successful living.  There should be a huge difference between our preaching and the self-help guru folks may pay a fortune to hear on Friday night.  The gospel will transform lives, but we are not called to be known as life coaches.

3. Don’t preach pressure – With all the best intentions we can easily undermine the work of the Gospel in the lives of those we preach to each week.  That is, we want them to be thriving spiritually and in life.  We know the damage sin can do.  So we will always be tempted to twist arms and pressure people to conform to an outward Christianity.  It makes church life easier if all messes are hidden and people act appropriately.  But pressure preaching assumes that listeners can fix themselves and that we can achieve God’s goals without any meaningful involvement from Him.  There will be moments where we seek to appropriately apply the pressure of God’s Word, but that is not what defines us as true Christian preachers.

4. Don’t preach yourself – Over the years our own flesh has this amazing ability to get used to being the centre of attention.  If you are naive enough to believe the polite comments you receive after preaching are objective evaluations of your ministry significance, then you can easily start to buy into your own hype.  Please don’t.

5. Do preach Christ – The Gospel is not a self-starting life-change program, it is good news that involves us introducing listeners to God in Christ.  Don’t preach self-help programs, or church programs, or Christian morality, or even Christianity . . . preach Christ.  Make 2015 a year marked by a weekly introduction to a heart-capturing Saviour!

Homo Homileticus

Still I withhold the name of the book I’m reading, but I’ll share another thought nonetheless.  In fact, I’ll quote (and if you want the source, you’ll have to ask, although I’m on vacation and won’t check comments until the end of the month!)

“Homileticians as a caste are extinct in the UK.  Not in a single theological or Bible college, or university, will you find anyone whose full time job is to teach homiletics.  Makes you think that there ought to be a homo homileticus on display in the British Natural History Museum, the skeleton of W.E. Sangster perhaps!”

Now I wouldn’t want to overstate the importance of this, but it is interesting.  Equally I cannot validate the truth of this statement since I have not searched every possible faculty corridor in order to “prove” the extinction of this breed.  The general perception, though, is that anyone can step out of their own discipline and teach preaching.  Perhaps the general fruit of such a perception is worth evaluating?