Monthly Archives: August 2009

Preaching should impact the congregation

Yesterday I wrote about taking the congregation into account when you preach. I also mentioned that this relationship between preaching and Church life is two-way, so today I want to discuss the impact that preaching should have on Church life.

A wonderful and dramatic example of this on a large scale would be when Simon Pettit preached at the Brighton Leaders conference in 1998 on Remember the Poor. The impact this had on New Frontiers was enormous, God spoke through that message and the whole of New Frontiers was transformed. Social action now is a massive part of the ministry of New Frontiers, and I believe always will be as a result of Simons talk.

Of course its unlikely that we will see changes so dramatic as this in our local Churches, but there should at least be some signs of change. This is good news for Church leaders, because the pulpit is a truly effective place to lead from. If there are issues of disunity within the Church they can be addressed from the pulpit, if there are is a lack of zeal for evangelism then it can be addressed from the pulpit. Lets not forget though that the work has to begin with the preacher, in wrestling throughsermon preparation the life changing effect of the word should have begun before Sunday morning so that the congregation dont just hear it, they also see it worked out in his life.

This is also useful in some ways as a litmus test for your preaching and for the spiritual life of the Church. If you are seeing very little change resulting from the preaching then something is probably wrong. Not necessarily your preaching itself, but that would be agood place to start looking.

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Preaching should be impacted by the congregation

Preaching is important, and I believe hearing preaching should be a central part of Christian life. It is also important to place preaching in its proper context, which is as a part of Christian life, and in particular as a part of Church life. Preaching does not sit alone and isolated from the other aspects of being a Christian, and it doesnt stand above the rest of Church life, untouched by it.

This works in both directions, the life of the Church must have an impact on the preaching, and the preaching must have an impact on the life of the Church. As a Church you might be in the process of moving buildings, or perhaps working through planting a Church elsewhere, or maybe are involved in merging with another local Church. Maybe you are growing rapidly, maybe slowly, maybe not at all, or maybe even you are shrinking in size. Perhaps its the middle of thesummer and your congregation has halved due to everyone being away. Maybe youre just approaching Christmas or Easter and the Church typically swells for a few weeks.

All of these things should have some impact on your preaching, because they are all having a significant impact on the people who are listening. This doesnt mean pandering to the itching ears of the congregation (2 Timothy 4:2-4), we still need to preach the truth that people need to hear, not the niceties they want to hear. This does mean though that when the topics and Bible passages are being chosen, and when the sermon is being prepared, we need to take the audience into account, we must consider those who will hear.

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Preaching should be questioned

Preachers are not perfect, not by a long shot. Not even the really, really great preachers who seem to churn out amazing sermons week by week are perfect. Not even the most revered preachers of the past who have produced thousands of outstanding sermons in their lifetimes were perfect.

Consequently, preachers are not always right. Heck, not even all of the Apostles were right all of the time, so you cant really expect yourself to be, nor can you expect it of the person standing in the pulpit on Sunday morning.

Because of this, preaching should always be received with care and discernment, and most importantly with reference to the Bible. If the preacher says something that isnt in the Bible, then you have permission to question it, indeed it makes you noble to do so as it says in Acts 17:11

Now these Jews were more noblethan those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Be sure though to do this questioning in love. Its no good questioning every word the preacher says just to make yourself feel theologically superior, and it certainly isnt building you up if youre tearing them down. Aligning yourself with the Bible means being discerning, but it also means giving people the benefit of the doubt. Dave Bish wrote in a recent post today I choose to assume the best of others, this is a sentiment we would all do well to adopt.

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Preaching should always be about Christ

All of scripture is about Jesus, as we see in Luke 24:13-27. And since I firmly believe in expository preaching, and that Christ is the centre of the Bible, there is only one conclusion, that Christ must be the centre of every sermon.

Recently Tony Reinke blogged a few choice quotes from Spurgeon regarding his opinion on Christless preaching, this being the general flavour of the quotes:

The motto of all true servants of God must be, “We preach Christ; and him crucified.” A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.

Check out the rest of the post

I heartily agree with the sentiment, and the one thing that frequently appears in my sermon notebook is the phrase what about the cross?. It warms my heart to know that most of the time when I write that down, the preacher goes on to answer it later in the sermon.

As I blogged a few days ago, the gospel is the answer to every problem in the world, so what use is a sermon without the gospel in it? What use is a Biblical view on an issue if that view does not include the cross.

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Preaching should engage the heart

There are those who would suggest that preaching should be a purely cerebral activity, laying out Gods truth for people to understand clearly and make sense of. They might suggest that emotion plays no part in true preaching because emotional manipulation is dangerousand our goal as Christians is to present the truth clearly before all men.

In some ways I dont disagree with this sentiment, manipulation by playing on peoples emotions is a disgraceful thing and certainly has no place in true preaching. But to remove emotion altogether from your preaching is a knee jerk reaction and probably needs reconsidering. The gospel is not an intellectual exercise, it isnt something that can be dissected and presented as a series of undisputable facts. The gospel is completely rational and in line with our intellect, there is no leap of faith involved, but the gospel also touches our hearts and this is an essential part of preaching.

Giving someone a message which is entirely intellectual and in no way affects the heart means you have given someone a message which will in no way affect their lives. Preaching must deal in some way with the heart and emotions which are present in the Bible passage being dealt with.

On the flip side of that, preaching which is entirely emotional and carries very little intellectual weight is generally of the manipulative kind and will be too flimsy to have any lasting impact. Our hearts much be tethered by the truth, which is something we hold in our minds.

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Preaching is really hard work!

Heres something that may come as no surprise, preaching is really hard work. If you have ever preached a sermon you will know the hours of preparation that go into those 20-60 minutes, and how painful it can be to work through the message in your own life.

I am by nature quite a lazy person, and I relish the thought of taking shortcuts and doing everything at the last minute. This very rarely pays off, and has in the past resulting in some very disappointing exam results among other things! This is something that does not work at all in preaching, because the message needs time to work itself out in the preacher’s life, in their heart and mind not just in the words they write.

Figuring out what the passage is all about takes time and care, and once you have that sussed it takes even more time and care to work out what that means for yourself and for the congregation. It then takes even more time to condense that idea, the meaning, into a short (and yes, even 60 minutes often feels like a short time to speak on a passage for) sermon which includes meaningful application.

Preaching is an exhausting exercise, the preparation takes all week (or longer), and delivering the sermon is a draining experience. That is thenusually followed by numerous conversations with members of the congregation which sap you even further. This whole process is a joy, but there is very little about preaching which could be called easy.

If you preach, well done for enduring, and may you long continue in Gods strength. If you do not, spare a thought for the guy up at the front on Sunday, it wasnt easy for him to get there.

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I don’t generally pay much attention to blog stats, but occasionally I will check them out to see interesting things like which websites are linking to me the most, and what people are searching for when they find my site.

I don’t really care that much about readership, but stats intrigue me in general, and often amuse me in particular.

The biggest referrers to my blog are not surprising, they’re the new frontiers and UCCF blog aggregators respectively, and I thank Dave Bish for them, they’re a great idea and make browsing the blogosphere that little bit simpler.

As for search terms, people are generally looking specifically for me using either my name or spiderscripts, I also had a couple of hits from posting the new word alive video. The amusing part though is some of the oddball one off search terms recently. These are genuine things people searched for and somehow arrived at my blog with (my comments in brackets):

  • i hate christmas parties (song lyrics)
  • the bigist spider in the world (nice spelling there…)
  • computers internet blog (goodness me they must have gone through a lot of blogs first to reach mine!)
  • the welsh learner’s dictionary (I think this is the result of my amazon widget, not sure though)
  • on july a letter was mailed
  • ring wrestling (I have no idea…)
  • gordons beer (ah yes, my really old beer reviews)
  • scotch gordon beer

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Preaching should be expository

I love the Bible, it is the inspired word of God and is the source of truth and the final authority for Christians. As a result preaching should be expository, which simply means that it should set forth, or explain the Bible. More specifically, exposition of a Bible passage means to clearly explain what the original author of that passage was writing about.

The reason this is so key is that when you are explaining the original intent of the author, you are explaining the truth. Whereas if you dont work at a passage and figure out what the authors intent was when it was written, then what you are explaining when you preach is simply your own personal thoughts and ideas. The obvious problem then is that you may not be speaking truth, whether this is your intentionor not, but this is not the biggest problem. The real issue is that even if you are saying stuff that is completely true, if you arent drawing that truth out of the passage, then you are teaching people that the Bible is not your final authority, and that what it says is not really important!

This is the point where you object because topical preaching is often good and wholly appropriate (especially in response to something specific in the life of the Church, perhaps a death in the family, or some city-wide event). And of course I believe that too! How I have defined expository should not restrict the form of a sermon, and certainly allows for topical preaching. It does however make a truly topical sermon much more difficult, because you bring the topic to the text instead of drawing the topic from the text, so picking your passage and working hard at the original intent becomes more difficult, but certainly not impossible.

Peter Mead has been very helpful to me in forming this idea of expository preaching, and anyone interested in preaching would do well to check out his blog

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For a long time I have been interested in preaching, way back when I was a teenager in Nottingham my youth leader gave me the opportunity to preach a few times at my Church, and since having that door opened up to me I have spent a fair bit of time reading and thinking about preaching.

My view on what constitutes good preaching has changed a lot in those years, and as I have had more opportunities to preach my own personal approach to preparation and delivery has changed too. I make it a habit to listen to a variety of great preachers, but remain convinced that the most important preachers to me are the ones who preach at King’s Church Leicester on Sunday mornings and care deeply for them. I praise the time and effort they put into preparing and preaching at Church, and I love it when they show concern for their own preaching. When I remember (which to my shame isn’t very often), I pray for the guys who preach at King’s Church, and I thank God for every message they bring, whether it was delivered skillfully or not, whether I agreed with it completely or not, whether it moved me or not.

I am going to attempt to be disciplined and write a series of blog posts on preaching. There are a few different topics I want to cover, and I’m hoping to condense my thoughts on each of them into a few short paragraphs.

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Always the Gospel

Here is a wonderful truth, every Christian in the world holds in their hands the solution to every problem in the world. There is no problem in any persons life which is not answered by the gospel, and there never will be. Neither is there any problem in nature that is not addressed and solved completely by the gospel.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are the solution to all problems ever.

If you ever deal with a pastoral issue in someones life without applying the cross, then you have not offered a solution, you’ve at best presented a “cure” for the symptoms. If you ever try to deal with the brokenness of the natural world without looking to the resurrection then you will miss the fact that this world was broken by sin and will be fixed completely soon (at least, soon by God’s timescale).

Never move on from the Cross of Christ, never look for the other solutions beyond the Cross, never search for the deeper truths outside of the Cross. Everything is in Christ and his Cross.

Colossians 2:6-7

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