Monday, July 22, 2013

10 Preaching Tips (Part I)

I love preaching. There is nothing else in all the world I would rather do with my life than preach Christ crucified and resurrected. I consider myself a student of preaching. I am always seeking to learn and get better at this high calling. If you are reading this, you probably feel this way too. I also believe I have a stewardship to train and help other preachers. This is not because I am the expert on preaching, rather I feel a responsibility to share any knowledge I have acquired to help others.

At my church, The Journey Church, we take training preachers serious. We raise up preachers from within our congregation and give them opportunities to actually do it. We have preaching seminars where we train them and give them chances to practice. We also give these men chances on Sunday mornings and Wednesday night services. Our church is only seven and half years old, but we have raised up and trained 24 different men in our church to preach. In those seven and half years, we have only had one person from outside the church come and preach. We highly value training up men in this way.

I want to share 10 Preaching Tips that I have learned along the way, either from experience or from others. They are not in any particular order, nor are they exhaustive. I hope these tips can help you as you labor to proclaim the excellencies of Christ (1 Peter 2:9) in whatever setting he has you. This post is Part I, Part II is here.

1. Pose a Problem and Offer a Solution

Preaching is ultimately about offering a solution to a problem. Proclaiming the good news comes on the heels of sharing the bad news. For example, if your doctor came in the room and said, "Congratulations, I have the injection you need right here. You are going to be just fine." You would probably be caught off guard, a little confused, and questioning why you needed this injection. However, if the doctor would have come and shared with you that you have a serious illness, and if untreated it would lead to your death, then he told you he had the injection you needed, that would be good news.

It is vital when preparing sermons, whether we begin from a text or a topic, we need to answer the question: what problem does this raise in the lives of the people I will be preaching to? I need to show them that they have a very real and serious problem facing them, but praise be to God, my sermon, and (most importantly) the truths contained in it, hold the solutions for that problem. Introducing a problem that everyone faces on the front end of a sermon also serves to catch people's attention. It tells them why they need to be paying attention to what you are about to say. Peter's sermon in Acts 2 demonstrates this approach very well. The people were cut to the heart, asking, "what shall we do?" Peter then gives them the solution (Acts 2:37-38).

2. Anchor Yourself to a Text

Regardless of whether you are teaching through books of the Bible or doing topical series, it is crucial that every sermon be anchored to a text. I understand there may be sermons that bounce around to different passages of Scripture throughout its entirety, but that should not be the norm. A good sermon will be anchored to a text of Scripture.

Why? First, because if Scripture is not central in your preaching, you should reconsider your definition of preaching. We are proclaimers of the Word of God. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Jesus prayed that the Father would "sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth. (John 17:17)." It is the God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) Scriptures that transform people's dead hearts and make them alive. We should stand on Scripture in our sermons. The second reason to do this, is that having a central text keeps you in between the guardrails while you preach. A text can keep you on track and keep you from getting into the ditch with rabbit-trails and wandering off-topic.

3. Resist the Temptation of Preaching for Approval

I have been preaching for almost ten years and I still have this temptation. It happens very subtly. You find it sometimes in your sermon preparation time. You will be working through ideas and writing your sermon or jotting down notes, and without realizing it, you are thinking about whether people are going to agree with you. "Will they like this?," or perhaps even more subtle, "Will they like me if I say this?," begins to creep into your mind. It can also happen as you are preaching. You start judging people's facial expressions and body language and start trying to appease them, rather than envisioning God's posture to your message.

I recently found out from some friends that a sermon I had preached had offended a few people and they were mad. Their accusation against me was off-base and showed they had not listened to what I actually said. However, I still found myself battling internally over not winning the approval of these people. I knew my message was honoring to God. I knew I could test everything I had spoken against Scripture, yet I was wrestling inside over people not agreeing with me. (Tip #10 will deal more with this)

We must keep in mind that the temptation to preach for approval is not just avoiding saying offensive things so that people will continue to like us. It is not only about preaching in a way that people don't get mad. We also fight the temptation of preaching so that people will think we are really something special. You are preaching for approval when you are subtly thinking, "how many people will tweet this quote?" or "how smart or profound do I sound when I make this statement?" Oh friends, the temptations to preach for approval lie in wait around every corner. May we resolve to preach with a heart to please God.

4. Keep the Cross & Resurrection of Christ in View

In our preaching seminar we teach the guys that if any good Jew, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, or Muslim can say "Amen" to your sermon then you did not press the cross and resurrection of Christ to the forefront well enough. It does not matter what text or topic we are dealing with, we must do as Spurgeon said, "make a beeline to the cross." One of the greatest dangers we face in a sermon is to stand and make a lot of great points about life, truth, and any number of things, but never get to the good news of Christ.

We are not self-help counselors. We are heralds for the King. We have an announcement to make to the world from the King of Kings. That message: "Jesus Christ is Lord; he died in our place and rose from the grave. Salvation is in him alone. Repent and believe the good news." When doing sermon preparation, keep asking yourself the question, "Am I establishing the necessity of trusting the finished work of Jesus, through his death and resurrection?" If your sermon does not need to hit on those points,  you need to throw away your sermon.

5. Preach with Heightened Affections

The preaching and teaching that inspires me the most is affection-driven preaching. When I can smell that a guy loves the Lord and loves proclaiming the gospel, I love his kind of preaching. We are preaching the most glorious truths in all the universe. How could we ever preach them in a dull manner? How in the world is it possible to preach truths so glorious and a message so good as the gospel in a boring way? A guy can stand up all day long and talk about true things, but if his demeanor does not match the realities of what he is proclaiming, I don't believe him. Either the truths he is proclaiming are not as glorious as he says or he does not believe the glorious truths that he proclaims. I hope you get the gist of my point. Yes, tell me what is right and true and what I should believe, but show me how much you love these things! Show me these things are eternally important. Let me feel the gravity of these truths in your voice, body language, and affections.

I certainly do not suggest that anyone should fake affections. So this leaves us with a constant challenge. We need to be spending time with the Lord. We need to prepare our hearts just as thoroughly as we prepare our content. We need to work our affections up to a fervent pitch before stepping into the pulpit. These truths matter too much to be read like a menu at a restaurant. Exhort them as if you truly believe them and their implications.

 Which of these tips are most helpful to you? I'd love to hear your feedback.

Part II of this post contains tips 6-10

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