Discussing Preaching: Mike Reeves & Peter Mead

It is always a pleasure to converse with my good friend, Mike Reeves.  On this occasion we just happened to be on camera as we chatted about Bible teaching and preaching. Ok, so the situation did not “just happen,” but the conversation did.  It lasts about half an hour and I hope it can be both helpful and encouraging.

Click here to go to the discussion.

 

 

 

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Not Every Exhortation is Necessary

Haddon Robinson uses an illustration to make this point. He imagines a friend borrowing his car and then finding they have a flat tire. They call for advice. So over the phone he tells them where the spare is, where the tools are, how to release the spare wheel from its cage, and so on. At the end of the explanation he suggests it is not necessary to finish with the exhortation, “Now I exhort you: change the tire!”

That friend is already motivated to put the instruction into practice, they just need the instruction to be clear. In the same way there are some things that are preached with great life impact simply through clarity of explanation. The listeners are already stirred and motivated to implement the teaching in their lives as soon as they understand it. If that is the case, the added exhortation may do more harm than good.

This is something for us to ponder not only in respect to the practical applications for believers, but also in respect to the offer of the Gospel. We should be persuasive and there will be times when an exhortation is exactly what is needed. But there will be others times when bringing clarity to the message will be all the motivation that is needed to bring about life change.

Let’s learn to sense when our exhortation is helpful and when it might only antagonize or patronize our listeners. Let’s also make sure that our explanation is so clear that people are really understanding what is being said. Let’s pray for sensitivity to people and to God so that we know when to exhort, when to invite, and when to let clarity do its deep work in souls.

Hungry People Pay Attention to Food

I read an article Jeffrey Arthurs wrote about getting and keeping listeners’ attention. He built his article around the point that hungry people pay attention to food. It is so true. Recently I sat in a home where I was being hosted for a meal, waiting for the final guest to arrive so that we could sit down and eat. I was hungry. Consequently every waft from the kitchen, every comment about final touches to the meal, every hint about what was to come had my full attention.

The same is true of preaching. Listeners can ignore Bible passages for years, but when a preacher helps them to see that this passage is relevant to their deepest needs, they will give it their full attention. But this is not easy to do. Too easily we settle for an introduction that is interesting, but doesn’t surface a need. It is not enough to introduce the context for the text back then, we need to show the context for its relevance today.

How can we do that? One key skill is to incorporate awareness of what Haddon Robinson calls the Depravity Factor into our passage study. What is the impact of Genesis 3 on this passage? How does fallenness in this passage mirror brokenness in our contemporary world? It is not always sin that presents itself, sometimes it is hurt, it is need, it is fear, it is inadequacy … but always the fallenness of this world shows in the passage you are studying.

A study of the passage and of our listeners should yield complementary facets of fallenness. Help people to taste their need for security, for hope, for forgiveness, for life, for whatever this passage will address, and then watch them care about the passage like never before.

“Welcome to today’s sermon, turn with me to Bible Book chapter 4, verse 1…” Stop. Start that sermon again. Not just with a joke or an anecdote, but with a real taste for the goodness to come. Help the listeners sense their inner craving for that goodness and your sermon will be off to a much better start!

10 Pointers for Older Preachers

10 targetcI offered 10 pointers to young preachers without being old enough to be a sage. There will certainly be better advice out there, but I am going to take the risk of offering some thoughts to older preachers before I fully arrive in that category:

1.    Keep getting to know God. You may know more than others, but you never know God enough. Keep your life ambition to really know and love Him, and the impact of your life and ministry will keep growing!

2.    Doggedly maintain a teachable spirit.  This will allow you to keep teaching others.  If you stop learning and growing we can tell, but we can’t tell you.

3.    Never trade a goal of gospel transformation for behavioral conformity. As energy for leadership and ministry wane, so pushing for conformity in others will become more attractive.  Hold out the gospel always!

4.    Embrace the transition from king to sage.  Too many leaders have undone their good work by resisting this transition and clinging to power. As we age, “strategic ministry” shifts from a position and office to an attitude and role. We need sages freed from leadership responsibilities, who have a fresh passion for the gospel, and enthusiasm for the next generation of leaders!

5.    Become a champion, not a liability. You have seen older folks become crotchety/awkward/negative and others age with dignity/delight/enthusiasm. You already know what I’m asking.

6.    Always be a Bible person, not an issue person. It is tempting to let issues define your ministry, and these will shift over the years. Instead of heralding a personal pet peeve, keep growing an infectious passion for the Bible.

7.    Please stay humble. Even with all your experience and insight, God still doesn’t need you.  But He really loves you.  The kingdom of self is ugly at any age. Those of us who are younger need the humble you.  Your experience and insight, salted with humility, is priceless to us.

8.    Don’t try to be cool, but do stay up-to-date. This applies both to wider culture and to theological content. The greatest examples of older preachers have always been refreshingly aware, rather than defensively resistant, to a changing context.

9.    Discriminate feedback. People will praise any public speaker. Just as people automatically encourage a young preacher, so the polite thing to do is thank an older preacher. Don’t maintain a ministry on a diet of ambiguous politeness.  Get genuine and honest feedback.

10.    Past ministry glories don’t shine from your face, but a close walk with Jesus does.  There are lots of older preachers feeling frustrated as their energy and opportunities for ministry fade.  The few who love Jesus more than ever are one of God’s greatest gifts to the church.

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.

10 Questions for Your Preaching Year Review

TenbAs we come to the end of another year, it is good to look back and take stock.  Be careful though, it is easy to do this in a way that isn’t helpful.

As you look back, don’t emphasize things like ‘what fruit has my ministry produced?’, or ‘which was my best sermon?’, or ‘whose life has changed the most under my ministry?’  These kinds of questions put your focus entirely on yourself.  Negative versions of the same questions still do the same.

The right way to look back is in conversation with God.  Here are ten questions that may help:

1. What am I thankful for in respect to the opportunities I have had to preach?  Whether you have preached a couple of times, or a couple of times a week. Whether it has been to one church, or to multiple groups, give thanks.

2. Where have I seen prayers answered in respect to my preaching?  Take time to reflect on prayers answered as you look back over the specific preaching opportunities you have had.  Were there some challenging sermon preps that came together as you prayed?  Did certain people hear certain messages?

3. Where might my prayers have been answered without me knowing during this year?  This is the important impossible one – what might have happened that you don’t know about?  A lot.  Ponder and pray about that.

4. What sermon preparation has most stirred my heart during this year?  A specific text, or a certain series?

5. What lessons does God want me to learn from what has happened this year? Lessons about preaching, about life, about ministry, about yourself, about Him?

6. What life change have I seen that I can give thanks for?  It could be gradual or sudden, salvation or growth. Give thanks for the privilege of being a part of what God is doing!

7. How has God protected my integrity during this year of ministry?  You could be out of the ministry right now. How has God guarded you from that?

8. How has my intimacy with Christ developed (or faded) during this year?  Don’t automatically self-evaluate. Ask God to search your heart and show you His perspective on this.

9. What should I be thankful for in terms of provision to allow my ministry?  Whether it is paid employment that allows you little time to prepare, but pays the bills, or ministry-related income that makes it possible . . . give thanks.

10. Is there anything else that I should give thanks for as I finish my review?  Family support? Key friends? A mentor? A preacher you look up to and learn from? A book that has helped?  Challenges that have shaped you?  Take time for God to bring to mind whatever has been missed in the earlier questions.  Gratitude is the critical ingredient in a truly faith-driven ministry.  Give thanks.

Preaching Holiness – part 4

Holiness2This week we have been pondering the preacher and the theme of holiness.  There is so much more that could be said about each point, but hopefully we have had something to think and pray about.

15. Every sliver of unholiness will be judged and purged.  We really have no clue of how good that will be!  (That includes the unholiness of “older brother” religiosity . . . which means more of our lives will get there “as through fire” than we probably realize.  Nevertheless, what an utter relief the purging of all sin will bring to ransomed souls.)

16. When we make holiness sound like sour pickled vegetables we don’t motivate anyone to think beyond this life.  The New Creation will be wonderful in many respects, not least because of the total absence of sin and pain and tears, as well as the presence of Christ Himself.  Too many in our churches still have lingering images of sterility and fun-free hymnathons.  The Bible gives a lot of future glimpses to motivate us in the present.

17. Jesus was holy and magnetic, often our version of holiness is anything but.  The truly holy person is fully alive.  At the same time that person will be profoundly attractive and deeply offensive.  (And if the Gospels are an indicator, then such Christlikeness will be attractive to needy people, and offensive to religious people.)

18. The great threat to holiness in the church is not just the worldliness of culture, but also the pseudo-holiness of church culture.  Just as a weekend of binge behavior in a degraded society is horribly empty, so too is a relationally empty performance devoid of meaningful engagement with God and others (sometimes polite conversation can be empty too).

19. Preaching for holiness cannot be restricted to applications of conduct, nor even of conforming the mind…it must seek to engage and stir the heart.  It is not what goes in from the outside that defiles a person (i.e. religious duties and traditions), but what spews forth from the heart.  So preach in such a way as to engage the heart.  Informing the mind and pressuring the conduct will never suffice when the heart of the problem is the, uh, heart.

20. The overwhelming use of the term “Holy” in the New Testament is in reference to the Spirit of God.  Let’s be sure that our preaching is pursued with a thoroughly biblical and growing understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in respect to our sanctification.  Too much Christianity still ignores the Spirit or turns Him into some sort of battery pack (either highly visible or highly invisible).  It is by the Spirit that we are united to Christ.  True relationally rich holiness is our privilege in the Gospel!

21. If you long for greater holiness in the lives of people in your church, don’t preach for “holiness.”  Instead, pray and preach for spiritual vitality in their relationship with Christ.  If we, and they, will love God, then what we want to do will be profoundly holy.  The Gospel does a work on our wants!
So much more could be said, but let’s pray for the beauty of God’s holiness to pervade our lives, our ministry and our churches . . .

Bruce Fong – Inspirational Incarnational Influences on Expository Preaching

a9a01de9-2aa2-44ea-a921-0f1077786e8b-220My first ever seminary class was with Dr Bruce Fong sixteen years ago.  It was such a joy to walk through half the Bible under Bruce’s contagious laugh and delight in the Scriptures.  We have both changed jobs a couple of times since then, but he is now the Dean of Dallas Theological Seminary’s Houston Campus.  Bruce blogs regularly on brucefong.com.  As we continue this series marking the release of Pleased to Dwell, Bruce shares with us some thoughts on the difference the Incarnation makes to expository preaching.

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Every preacher is challenged to build a bridge between the sermon and the souls of people.  These two worlds of earth and eternity were stunningly linked by the life of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself when He was incarnated at His birth.  The Scriptures tell us that He gave up the expression of who He was as the Son of God in order to identify with mankind and ultimately sacrifice His life on their behalf.  This incarnation of the Christ to be Jesus of Nazareth is a model for every preacher to do the same.

When an expositor successfully follows the example of Jesus’ incarnation they ultimately blend culture with the Gospel by way of four emphases.  He modeled each of these qualities in His coming to earth. They are humility, a new mind, a renunciation and a new identification.

First and foremost of these incarnational elements is Christ’s example of being sent to be born as a human.  He did not argue, complain or resist the Father’s plan.  Instead, He humbled Himself and became human so that He could die as a substitute for sin in our place.  The expositor lives a humble life in compensation, Spartan lifestyle and public affirmation.

Second, somewhat related to His humility Jesus Christ demonstrated a new way of thinking.  His incarnation led to an existence that was never self-absorbed.  He did not worry about losing public status but instead was absorbed with an unending interest in His assigned mission, bringing the Gospel to the whole world.  In the same way expositors by virtue of their mission selflessly bring attention to their Lord.

Third, before Christ came to earth as a Galilean Jew He first “emptied himself”.  This was a sacrifice.  He renounced His status, his independence and his immunity.  Voluntarily He set aside what was rightfully His.  Pride and the pursuit of fame has no place in the life of an expository preacher who is following the incarnational model of the Savior.

Fourth, Jesus had a genuine solidarity with man by becoming a true human, sharing in the limitations of flesh and blood, through both life and death.  He lived among the people, embraced them and served them.  Expository preachers will be more effective when they live among and embrace the people to whom they bring the Word.

The incarnation that Jesus followed and modeled is our example of His devotion for us.  Furthermore, it is the example that should be the driving motivation for every expository preacher.

Andy Stanley’s 7 Guidelines part 6

411J3RGXsVL._SL500_So to finish off Andy Stanley’s list of seven guidelines for preaching to the unchurched, here is number 7…

Guideline 7: Don’t go mystical . . . unless you want a new car.

I have resisted the urge to quote too much, so I’ve earned some quoting credit.

If you are serious about your weekend service serving as a bridge for those who are returning to faith or exploring faith for the first time, stay away from the mystical.  Even if you are in a highly charismatic church, stay away from the mystical.  You don’t live that way.  Nonbelievers don’t live that way.  So don’t preach that way.  Mystical just puts distance between you and your audience.

Now, on the other hand, if you are into positioning yourself as “God’s man” or “God’s anointed mouthpiece” or other such nonsense, then mystical is the way to go.  Mystical communicates that you have an inside track; you are closer to God than the people in the audience could ever hope to be.  Mystical creates . . . mystery!  And with mystery comes fear!  And that puts you in the driver’s seat.  Once you get your people thinking you are something special, they will treat you special.  Throw in a little prosperity theology and in no time you will be driving in style, dressing in style, and the people close to you will never question your decisions.  How could they?  You are God’s man.  It’ll be awesome.

Now, your spouse and kids will know you are a poser and a phony.  But eventually your spouse will get so accustomed to the fortune and fame, he or she won’t say anything.  Your kids, on the other hand, well, they’ll be a mess.  But you’ll have the resources necessary to ensure they get the best treatment options available.  Wear contacts.  Avoid reading glasses.  Get yourself an entourage, an Escalade, and some armor-bearers, and you will be good to go.  Oh, one other thing.  Stay away from the Gospels.  Things didn’t go well for those guys.  Stick with the Old Testament.  The Gospels could be hazardous to your charade!

While many may not quite follow through to that extreme, there are many who offer a mystical charade as a means of multiplying the sense of authority in what they say.  We need a radar for this kind of stuff in our own hearts and lives.  Actually, we have a radar.  He’s called the Holy Spirit.  So while a false mystical approach can be so damaging, a humble walk with the One able to search us and know us is so important for communicators.

Beyond Guilt – Part 2

This week I am pondering how to preach with a more nuanced approach than mere guilt pressure.  As I’ve written already, there is a place for genuine conviction of sin, and I am not hiding from that.  But equally, I am not just hiding in that, nor avoiding the danger hiding in a non-nuanced guilt approach.

How can we hide in a guilt approach?  I suspect some see no other way to help lives change than to pile on the pressure.  Every passage is turned into a guilt trip.  Doesn’t matter what tone the passage takes, the message will have been filtered into a guilt and pressure tone.

And what danger is hiding in such an approach?  There is an implicit danger with guilt focused messages.  I say you should feel guilty.  If I convince you, then you feel that you must change.  Guilt alone will not drive people to God.  It will drive them to despair or to efforts of the flesh.  Neither result is good.  Guilt has to come in a package with hope, with grace, with access to life transformation that has to come from God, not from self.

So, yesterday we looked at the issue of stance.  Here’s another element, perhaps an obvious one, but still important nonetheless.

2. The Preacher’s Tone.  Too many people think too simplistically.  As if communication is about information transfer.  But the truth is that communication involves a complex of signals, some of which can override others.  So my body language can contradict, and overwhelm my words.  So too can my vocal presentation.  Voice and body language combine in regards to the tone of my communication.

If my tone is close to that of an angry prophet, that will override the most gracious of poetic content.  If my tone is akin to that of a Victorian school master, then my words, my message, will take on a whole new meaning.

Children know this.  If a parent says their name with a certain tone, they know they’re supposed to feel guilty.  It’s voice, expression, posture, etc.  But it boils down to tone.

Do you have a default tone that is guilt inducing?  Can you make the most encouraging passage into a pressure text?  Can you turn Psalm 23 into a rebuke for not being a good sheep?  Can you take Jesus’ yoke and burden, which are easy and light, and make them tricky to put on properly if your listeners aren’t living just right?

Let’s be sure that when we preach, it is not just our words that reflect the meaning of the text, but that our tone also reflects the tone of the text, and the tone of the God who is speaking to these people on this occasion.

Stance and tone can be adjusted to avoid a guilt-only approach.  They can be factors in a better motivational methodology.  But tomorrow we’ll zero in on a key factor in preaching to encourage and motivate.

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