Tag Archives: preaching

Sheffield Fun

I know I said that I would update on my time here in Sheffield last night, but it turns out finding free time to sit down and write is quite tricky when you’re staying with friends!

After a busy day of thinking hard we got back to Iain and Liz’s last night to be told that we were going out to a Kurdish restaurant shortly for dinner. So after a brief sit down we were out again and at this wonderful little place which served fantastic Kurdish kebabs. I was absolutely stuffed by the time we finished eating and it was a real joy to meet the owner of the place, who is a good friend of Iain and Liz (hence why we went).

Then when we did get back for the evening, Iain and Liz went out to their home group and left me and Richard, who is also on the summer school and staying in the same place, to our own devices. This resulted in us having a long and winding discussion about all sorts of theological things (as if a working day full of Bible study wasn’t enough!), including predestination, the nature of God’s sovereignty, and the destiny of the Church.

Anyway, other than all the fun at my hosts house, we have been spending the last three days working our way slowly and carefully through the book of 1 Peter. I came expecting some specific training on preaching, but what we are actually doing as a group is careful study of the Bible, and that’s all. The day is broken up by lunch and a morning and afternoon coffee break, but the rest of the time we are simply reading a little bit and discussing it in detail, ironing out exactly what Peter was saying to the Church at the time, especially focusing on more difficult words and phrases in an attempt to fully understand accurately what Peter meant. Then some of our discussion is also focused on the question “how would you preach this?”.

It’s been an eye opening experience, and an immense amount of fun. In three days we’ve just managed to get to the start of 1 Peter chapter 4, and we might even manage to finish the book tomorrow (our last day here). I feel that my understanding of the book is clear, and I would be readily able to explain it to other people now which is excellent. More than that though, I feel that I have invested a week of my life into making great friendships with a group of likeminded people, with the express intention of understanding the Bible together. This has been such a wonderful experience, and the truths we have been studying have deeply effected me already, and I know will continue to long after this week is over. More than anything it has reawakened in me the desire to really properly study the scriptures, in particular with other people and not in isolation.

When I’m back in Leicester I really look forward to grabbing my friends and wrestling with scripture together with them.

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Summer school

Just a quick post to day that I’m currently in sheffield for the new frontiers preaching summer school. During the few days I’ll be up here we’re going to work through the book of 1 peter together, exploring what it means and how we might preach through it.

I’m posting this from my mobile whilst curled up in a very comfy bed, so that’s about all I have to say tonight, but I will borrow iain’s laptop tomorrow and write up something a little longer.

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Preach the Bible

On any given Sunday it is not sufficient to claim your words are Biblical and true. You must also demonstrate that they are Biblically grounded and true by drawing them out of the text you are preaching.

If you don’t, then one of the two the following things happens:

  1. People don’t believe you – And why should they? Human wisdom is empty and meaningless compared to God’s, so unless listeners can see the truth in the words of Scripture they have no reason to trust what you are saying. The sad thing is you are probably saying true things which are found in scripture, but without that authority behind you words people will ignore you.
  2. People do believe you – Whilst the first option is sad, this is downright dangerous. If listeners are taking everything you say as gospel truth but can’t see how it comes directly from the Bible then you are cultivating disciples of yourself, not of Jesus. People must be shown that truth comes from Scripture, not from men. I pray that people would never quote me, I pray that they would see me quote scripture and do the same.

And if you are a listener, then you have a part to play as well. Weigh everything against Scripture, get your Bible open and keep it open, check that it really does say that on those pages. Make notes not just of what is said, but which chapter and verse it comes from.

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Preaching: how long is too long?

There are some preachers who determine to make their sermon last 20 minutes and no longer. There are others who never fall short of an hour. The ones who go long tend to argue that the text demands it, and that spending time on exposition is a reflection of how important we think the Bible is. The ones who go short tend to talk about the attention span of their listeners, and usually focus on a single point which is hammered home over the 20 minutes.

There are always exceptions, and that is a massive oversimplification, but I have a few thoughts on the matter.

You are the preacher!
Remember that you are preaching, not someone else. Some people are quite capable of talking for an hour on the same subject without becoming stale. Its a real blessing to hear people like that preach, but you are not them. If you cant hold peoples attention for more than 30 minutes without being boring, then for their sake dont go over the 30 minute mark! Just because the sermons on your iPod last an hour doesnt mean yours need to.

The Bible is deep.
So deep in fact that you can take a passage and spend 2 hours plumbing its depths, and still have a long way to go. You could quite comfortably spend an hour on most passages without exhausting them completely. This means a couple of things.

First of all you havent failed to do the passage justice just because you didnt say everything. You should be inviting your listeners to look at the Bible for themselves, it would be a tragedy if they thought you had told them everything so they didnt need to bother looking.

Secondly you will almost certainly have to cut out a lot of the material you covered during your sermon preparation. Cutting material which you have worked hard on during the week is difficult, but if you dont then I can guarantee that people will get bored, and your sermon will be too long.

Open your eyes
When youre preaching, open your eyes and look at the congregation. If half of them are nodding off, then you have probably been going on too long. There are lots of ways of making a sermon more engaging, but no matter what tactics you employ there will be a limit. If youre paying attention to the listeners (and you really should be), then you should be able to spot when you have reached that limit for most of them.

Theres no right answer
I would be a little worried if you never spoke for more than 5 minutes, because you cant really say much in that short a time. However, so long as you are actually talking about what the passage says, and have covered it to the extent that your listeners have understood and can do something with it, then youre probably doing fine. 20 minutes is a fine time for a sermon, and so is an hour, as long as the length is appropriate to you as a preacher, and does justice to the passage.

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Preaching should be applied, not theoretical

Application is one of the most difficult aspects of preaching to get right. It would be a travesty to avoid it altogether and leave people with nothing more than a lecture on good Bible interpretation. Similarly, it is fairly useless to go the other way and give people detailed steps on what to do next in their lives. The Bible is NOT a manual for Christian living, full of step by step self help guides. The Bible is all about Jesus, and its purpose is to continually point us towards him.

Failing to apply a passage at all gives people the impression that the Bible is irrelevant, doesnt really have an impact on their lives, and can safely be ignored. Applying a passage by handing people a to-do list gives the impression that Gods word is a self-help guide, and that with the right set of instructions we can fix all of our problems on our own.

Clearly both of these are mightily inadequate, so how on earth does a preacher give life changing application within a sermon? The key is to apply a passage in such a way that the hearers discover that they must respond to the Bible, but that their response must be via the cross. If there is some clear practical response to a passage, then it must be done in light of the cross, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed this is the only way we can truly respond to the Bible.

We mustnt leave people thinking that they have learnt a great deal about the passage and that is all. We must leave them with a sense that the passage demands some change in their lives, and that the change will come as a result of the cross, through the power of the Spirit. That means avoiding a specific to-do list, but it also means being really practical, giving clear examples ofhow a principle might work itself out in their lives, and most importantly it means bringing their focus back to Jesus.

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Preaching involves passion

I received a welcome comment on an earlier post about the hard work involved in preaching, which essentially said that preaching requires passion just as much as it requires preparation. I would like to take a moment to reflect on that.

First of all, what does passion mean? Passion is all about intense emotions, and in the context of preaching I think passion is having your heart yearn for what you are speaking about. As I have said previously, preaching is an emotional activity which should engage the heart, so I dont think for a moment that passion is a bad thing. However is passion really as important as preparation, as good as hard work?

If you have passion for the topic, but a poor work ethic then you will end up with a sermon that is highly emotional but probably thin on the ground in terms of Biblical content. You probably wont have dug into the passage deeply and much of what you bring will be personal and not Biblical. On the other hand if you work hard on a message but have no passion for the topic then you will probably end up with a great explanation of the Bible passage which will engage peoples minds, but you will almost certainly fail to touch their hearts. People will not see the passage working in your life if it hasnt hit your heart.

Which of those two is better? Well my inclination would be to say that preaching without passion is actually better, because when the Bible is taught well God uses it, regardless of how the preacher feels about the message. Obviously though, the ideal is to have both passion and good preparation. To let the word of God dwell in you richly and affect your heart.

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Is preaching central to Church services?

Something that was pondered over at the Pyromaniacs recently was the question of how should we structure a Church service?As usual the post sparked some considerable debate, and as well as the expected variation across Churches in the way they do things, there was also a wide range of opinions on why they do things too.

So here is my big question, is preaching an essential ingredient in our Sunday morning service?

And the why behind that question is by far the most important part here. If you think preaching is essential, why do you think that? Where do you back that up in the Bible? How did you come to that viewpoint? Are other forms of service without a sermon acceptable (cafe-style Church where you basically run a seminar with lots of interaction for example)?

If you think that preaching isnt essential, then again why not and how do you justify that from the Bible? Also what alternatives are there? Do you still draw the line somewhere (i.e. there must be some sort of Bible teaching, it just doesnt need to be preaching)?

I guess integral to this question as well is the question of what we call preaching, so it might be helpful when youre thinking about your answers to try and have a clear definition of preaching in your mind to start with. Otherwise how can you tell preaching has happened in a service!

I will come back to this in a few days and try to express my answers.

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Preaching happens in the context of Church

Technology is a wonderful thing, and is extremely useful for Christians. It gives us access to countless Bible study resources for free, different translations, concordances, Bible dictionaries, even some commentaries. It also gives us access to some really great preaching from the likes of John Piper, Tim Keller, and any number of others depending on your personal preference. There is a great danger here though, which we all need to guard ourselves against.

These preachers are not actually here.

Obviously I dont mean theyre dead, I just mean that arent here right now in the same place as you. They dont chat to you after their sermon, you cant ask them questions about the bits you didnt understand, and they dont see you during the week or next Sunday and ask you how youre doing. Listening to sermons outside of the context of Church can and should be a great blessing. Its a wonderful thing that we have such ready access to such great Bible teachers. But we must always remember that God designed Church to be Church, not a digital download straight to our iPods.

Sermons do not sit alone in the life of a Church, they are complemented by fellowship, by conversation, by applying what we hear to our lives during the week. We do that application together with the other people in our Church. When we get it right we rejoice together, when we get it wrong we mourn together, and pick each other up.

By all means listen to great Bible teaching wherever you can get it, but dont forget about your Church in the process.

For some more on this, here is a great post on the subject from the Pyromaniacs.

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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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