Essential Ingredients of the Best Preachers

Yesterday I listed Greg Haslam’s five ingredients for good preaching.  Today I’ll finish the chapter (11 in Preach the Word), by sharing his list of key ingredients in a good preacher.  Again, I present these for your thoughts, not to agree or disagree with his list.

1.    A compelling call from God. “In my view the number one reason why there is so much bad preaching today is because our pulpits are often occupied by preachers who do not have a divine mandate to be there.”  (p.155)  He urges every preacher to ask himself three questions – who put you there?  Who keeps you there?  Who can get rid of you?

2.    A growing, varied and fresh life with God. “We can think of preaching as the run-off or surplus of all that wells up in the life of the preacher.  But, sadly, many preachers are running on empty much of the time.  They have allowed other things to crowd their time with God.” (p.156)

3.    Happy with their own identity, both as a person and as a preacher. “My plea to all preachers is: be the genuine article. . . . We do not need clones of great preachers like Dr Lloyd-Jones or Billy Graham.  Since preaching is, as Brooks defines it, ‘truth coming through human personality,’ God surely wants us to be free to be ourselves.” (p.157)

4.    Increasingly liberated from the fear of man. “In order to be faithful to God, we have to become relatively indifferent to men’s resistance, criticism or opposition to us, as well as to their flattery or ridicule.”  (p.157)

5.    A genuine love for the people. “If it is true that fear drives out love, thank God it is also true that love will drive out fear.”  (p.158)

6.    A conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit. “As preachers we always need to be aware of our true source of power and we need to tell God how much we depend upon His Holy Spirit.” (p.158)

7.    Infectious in zeal and enthusiasm. “Absorbed in what they have to say, they will absorb the attention of others.  Often, even the most casual and indifferent hearer realizes something important is taking place.  If the truth of the message does not grab you, how can it be expected to grab anyone else?”  (p.159)

Again, points to ponder, but to keep the post from becoming too long, I won’t add comments.  Would your list of seven ingredients be the same?  Longer?  Different?

Essential Ingredients of the Best Preaching

According to Greg Haslam, there are five ingredients common to good preaching.  He lists and expands these in chapter 11 of Preach the Word, the hefty book he edited in 2006.

1.    Therapeutic – “All preaching that is God-centred and leads to encounter with God will inevitably be therapeutic, or healing in its effects.” (p151)

2.    Unconventional – “Within good preaching there is an element of surprise, so that it often startles and, dare I say, even shocks the hearer.” (p152)  Haslam urges the preacher to take some risks in preaching, becoming bolder in application of the Word.  He points to Jesus for several examples of unconventional, but powerful, preaching.

3.    Lucid – “A sermon is both a spiritual and an intellectual exercise.  It will make demands on the intellect and should engage it completely.” (p.153)  Haslam goes on to describe the need for prepared preaching, with purposeful planning, memorable points, etc.

4.    Illustrated – “I would go so far as to say that without illustration it is probably not possible to teach or preach from the Bible very well.”  (p.154)

5.    Passionate – “Our preaching must contain emotion and also evoke emotion in our hearers.  It should be full of pathos, energy and enthusiasm.  In the West we urgently need to reconnect the broken circuits between our heads and our hearts.”  (p.154)

The discerning reader might notice the alternative use of a famous acrostic in this.  Nevertheless, these are points to ponder.  Would you add to the list?  What if you could only have five ingredients?

The Battle of the Pulpit

Greg Haslam’s opening chapter of Preach the Word has been my food for thought in these days.  He writes about the battle raging over the pulpit.  Since the church expands primarily through preaching, the enemy will obviously target this part of the ministry.  So we have a barrage of popular opinion that people can’t concentrate on the spoken word any more, that they need entertainment and fun.  In response, so much preaching is like firing corks from a pop-gun, or endless repeaters from paintball guns – lots of smoke, but no fire.

Here are John Stott’s words quoted to energize the preacher:

“In preaching, God is bringing to each person’s notice what holy Scripture has made publicly and permanently available, so that His timeless word comes to timely announcement, so that people believe the message and commit to the Saviour it announces.”

Earlier Haslam points out that the term homiletics can carry the sense of saying the same thing as something outside of yourself.  So?  So through preaching “we should be saying the same thing that God would say in a given situation.”

Later in the chapter he quotes William Willimon in respect to preaching, “Call it a burden, call it a privilege, a duty.  You know that it is worthy of your best talents, worthy of a lifetime’s labour and dedication.  On any Sunday you can give it your all and still know that the Word deserves more.  It is no small task that the Church has set upon your shoulders.  Being called to preach the gospel, you can do no more than to promise as long as you have breath and there is someone to listen, then by God’s grace you will give them the Word.”

How Would Jesus Preach – Part 2

Continuing the list of ten characteristics of Jesus’ preaching, as observed by a chapter in Preach the Word:

(6) Visual in its Appeal – Jesus painted word pictures.  He didn’t speak in abstractions, but he helped his teaching to form in the minds of the listeners (whether they were intended to really understand that picture is a different matter!)  For instance, imagery in Matthew’s gospel includes salt, light, gates, roads, trees, houses, foxes and birds, brides and bridegrooms, wine, farmers, weeds, seeds, bread, treasure, fishing, plants, pits, dogs, weather, rocks, mountains, sheep, vineyards and lamps.

(7) Varied in its Approach – Jesus varied and adapted his methodology, using parables, stories, proverbs, pithy statements, paradoxes, riddles, word plays, etc.

(8) Practical in its Application – Jesus taught his disciples to pray by giving them a prayer and not just a pattern or theory.

(9) Courageous in its Directness – He was through and through a God-pleaser, rather than a men-pleaser, which gave courage to Jesus’ ministry.

(10) Potent in its Impact – in just three years of ministry, Jesus’ impact far surpassed the combined decades of teaching of the finest philosophers of antiquity.  His words inspired the greatest art of history.  His teaching motivated the music and poetry of the greatest composers of the ages.  His preaching continues to change lives today.

Before we just say, “that’s Jesus, He’s different,” let’s be sure to not only praise the Lord for his ministry, but also look to learn from it as we continue to represent Jesus in preaching to the body of Christ and the world that needs Christ.

How Would Jesus Preach?

Haslam’s book, Preach the Word, has a chapter entitled “Learning from Jesus.”  To some it is obvious that we should look to Jesus, who was, after all, the finest of preachers.  But I suppose some would overlook Jesus as a model of preaching since, well, we’re not Jesus.  In this chapter, the writer points out ten characteristics of Jesus’ teaching.  It’s not an exhaustive list, but it is a list worth pondering:

(1) Revelatory in Content – intimacy with the Father added an authority to his teaching, quite unlike the teaching of his contemporaries.

(2) Anointed by the Spirit – another key element in his authority was the role and freedom of the Spirit in the empowering of Jesus’ ministry.

(3) Biblical in its Source – Jesus knew, quoted, cited, explained and preached the Hebrew Bible.  While he was able to add to it in a way we cannot, he never contradicted it.

(4) Always Relevant – Jesus knew who he spoke to and he connected his teaching to their lives.

(5) Compassionate in its Motivation – Jesus really loved those he sought to draw to faith, and it showed in his communication.

I’ll give the other five tomorrow, we already have enough to ponder for one day!

Why Preaching is Ailing – Part Me

In the last two posts we’ve considered Greg Haslam’s list of eight reasons why preaching is ailing.  I’d like to add a couple more to the list, from my perspective.  Feel free to add your thoughts.

Some don’t know how to interpret the Bible. Some preachers have the best intentions, and even good presentation skills, but are lacking in the core ability to wrestle with a biblical text and grasp its intended meaning.  It’s easy to search a text for launch pads to spiritual thoughts, but it takes some prayerful skill to grasp the point as intended by the author.  Hermeneutics is not a luxury for the preacher, it’s foundational.

Some don’t understand the biblical bigger picture. We live in a day of ready access to biblical information, but it takes more than a big virtual library to make a preacher.  Quick access to info on a passage is one thing, holding together the big picture of the whole Bible is quite another.  We need more preachers who are really people of the Book as a whole.

Some don’t know what preaching is. It’s easy to think of preaching as a form of communication, a religious pattern to be repeated each week.  But what of the core elements of true preaching: the true meaning of the text, effectively communicated through the preacher’s words and life, with an emphasis on the applicational relevance to the particular listeners present, all in full reliance on the Spirit of God.  Miss out one of these elements and preaching ails fast.

Some don’t care about their listeners. They say that church too easily reflects its culture.  Well we live in cultures often bereft of others-centered motivation.  It’s too easy to build a ministry around a core motivation of “whatever is best for me.”  Preaching withers when listeners don’t matter.

There we go . . . four more things to watch for in our own ministries.  Tomorrow I want to turn the tone so we don’t get discouraged!  And if this list doesn’t discourage you, then be careful of pride!

Why Preaching is Ailing – Part 2

Continuing Greg Haslam’s list of reasons why preaching is ailing (first chapter of Preach the Word):

5. Some are too polite and too politically correct. It is easy for the message to be so diluted that it fails to rattle or challenge listeners.  Preaching is not for cowards, but political correctness tends to foster them.

6. Some are too distracted. Things that have their place, but are not the priority.  Social life, spectator sports, hobbies and interests.

7. Some are too hard of hearing. “Waxy deposits have formed in their spiritual ears.”  Deafened by the noise of man’s opinions, some are unable to respond to the Spirit of God in the situations they face.

8. Some are disillusioned. Under-developed preaching skills, combined with little helpful feedback and the weary slog of ministry, all combine to make many discouraged ministers, desperate for personal renewal.

That’s a great list, well worth pondering.  Make sure the finger points more toward yourself than others.  This series of posts is not about condemning others, but spotting areas of potential weakness in ourselves that might be strengthened with God’s help.

Unusually Careful

Just a brief thought since it is the season for non-regular attenders at church.  When preparing evangelistic sermons it is worth being unusually careful.  Apparently, Martyn Lloyd-Jones would always write out his evangelistic sermons, rather than his edification sermons.  Remember that the real “risk” when preaching the gospel is not the preacher’s, but the church folk who’ve invited their friends.  It is so easy to inadvertently offend in the wrong sense of the term.  So with all the extra visitors in our churches this Sunday, let’s be unusually careful in preparing the messages.

Don’t Preach Lazy Apologetics

Yesterday I attended a day conference about the resurrection held in Westminster Chapel.  NT Wright and Gary Habermas were the speakers, along with a brief session with Antony Flew.  He is the British philosopher who caused a real stir a few years ago by giving up his atheistic position to state that the evidence had convinced him of the existence of God.  His position is essentially deist, but he was asked what it would take for him to accept the deity of Jesus.  “Well, I suppose it would take something on the magnitude of what you’re talking about today, an otherwise impossible thing like a resurrection from the dead.”  When asked the same question about the Holy Spirit, his response was the same – “If the resurrection is true then everything else would come with it.”

Here is a non-Christian thinking more clearly about Christianity than many Christians.  How easy it is for us to slip into a very lazy apologetic, either directly or in testimony.  It goes along the lines of, “Obviously I can’t prove my faith, it’s like a leap in the dark really, but you just believe and then you know it is true.”

This easter season, let’s be sure to clearly communicate that the Christian faith is founded very firmly on historical fact.  The biblical record carries an unparalleled historicity.  If Jesus rose from the dead, then the implications are massive, but if he didn’t really rise, then let’s give up and do something else with our lives.  As preachers we are in the prime position to communicate the facts of easter and that the Christian message is not an invitation to take a leap into the dark.  As preachers we may also need to sensitively follow up on a testimony given by someone else that both affirms them, but also clarifies that actually Christianity is based and built on fact.