Five Keys for Young Preachers to Remember

Young preachers have their work cut out for them.They sense a call to preach.  They may go to school or sit with their pastor to learn some basics about preaching.  Many scholars and pastors write books on the subject.

But the only way to really learn how to preach is to, well, preach. Even so, young preachers would do well to have a paradigm from which they work to approach their sermons.  This will help not only them, but their listeners that they so want to see know and grow in Christ.

Intention.  Preaching needs a plan.  What is your intention with your sermon?  This involves much prayer and study of the text at hand.  If you preach expositionally, you will certain have the parameters of the text from which to proceed.  But given that the Spirit has inspired the Word, you must engage in persistent prayer and study of the passage.  Cull your sermon down to one main point or intention.  Even if you use multiple points, they should all feed the main intention.

Inform.  Yes, preaching is about information.  You are passing along propositional truths.  Grammatically, these are known as indicatives—truths and objective facts of what God has revealed in His Word.  “Christ has died, and has risen, and will come again” is an example.  This speaks to what has been done.

Be careful not to bring every last thing you’ve culled in your study.  You risk being a fire hose on your unsuspecting people.  They point is not to show how much information you know, but the goal is transformation by the Word and the Spirit (Romans 12:1-2).

Inspire.  This brings passion to the propositions!  This gives heat to the light of God’s Word.  To preach God’s Word without the corresponding passion will not inspire.  The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14 says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” (NIV).  That inner drive, that inner compulsion, that inner desire to rally the troops!  This must be present—without it, it will land flat.  And there’s no reason this should ever happen.  It’s the Word!  Preach!!

Illustrate.  Preachers must connect biblical truth to present-day situations.  Illustrations aren’t selling out, as if the Word is not sufficient!  It is—and we must illustrate how the Word is brought to bear to the culture today.  Spurgeon brings his usual insight:

In addressing my students in the College long ago, I was urging upon them the duty and necessity of using plenty of illustrations in their preaching, that they might be both interesting and instructive. I reminded them that the Saviour had many likes in his discourses. He said, over and over again, “The kingdom of heaven is LIKE”; “The kingdom of heaven is LIKE.” “Without a parable spake he not unto them.” The common people heard him gladly, because he was full of emblem and simile. A sermon without illustrations is like a room without windows. One student remarked that the difficulty was to get illustrations in any great abundance. “Yes”, I said, “if you do not wake up, but go through the world asleep, you cannot see illustrations; but if your minds were thoroughly aroused, and yet you could see nothing else in the world but a single tallow candle, you might find enough illustrations in that luminary to last you for six months.”

Illustrations bring light onto the truth being preached.  You do not want to leave your people in the dark, do you?

Infuse.  I use this word as a way to infuse the power of the Word by the Spirit into the lives of the believers through application.  It’s the ‘so-what’ factor.  “OK, you’re telling me this today—so what?”  Again, this is not taking over for the Holy Spirit.  Whereas the ‘inform’ aspect is about the indicatives, the ‘infuse’ part deals with the ‘imperatives’—the commands.  “Walk worthy of the gospel.”  The Ten Commandments.  “Go, and do likewise.”  These commands are infused via the information and illustrations given.  You then inspire through the Spirit’s work in your heart concerning what God has revealed in Scripture.

Yes, young preachers have their work cut out for them—but if you have this paradigm before you, it will make the sermon easier on you—and your dear listeners.

Thoughts?  Do you remember your first sermon?  How have you changed from then until now?



Broadus Warns of the Danger of Sensationalistic Preaching

broadusRecently, I’ve grown fascinated with John Broadus, most know for being one of the founding members and later a president of my alma mater, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  He’s also known for penning one of the greatest preaching manuals in our nation’s history, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (hardcover |Kindle ).

One of the warnings he gave his students was on the danger of sensationalistic preaching, that is, preaching that strictly appeals to the emotions of the listener rather than to the mind.  Beecher Johnson, contributor to John Broadus: A Living Legacy, defines this as

… using any means to gain the ear of, or have an effect on, the audience that does not honor the sacred nature of God and the things of God or ensure singular focus on the spiritual and theological message of God in the text (216).

In the mid to late 1800’s to even now, preaching that is rooted in emotion rather than revelation of Scripture fails to honor God and will fail to change lives in any substantial way.

In that same book, Steven Lawson gives a warning to churches today:

Pressure to produce bottom-line results has led many ministries to sacrifice the centrality of biblical preaching on the altar of man-centered pragmatism.  A new way of “doing” church is emerging.  In this radical paradigmatic shift, exposition is being replaced with entertainment, preaching with performances, doctrine with drama, and theology with theatrics (Famine in the Land, p. 25, quoted in A Living Legacy, p. 213). 

Pray for preachers of the gospel, that they rely on the testimony of Scripture rather that the shifting sands of sensationalism.  That’s what the world and the church most needs.

Don’t Miss the Point of a Sermon

“The chief means of grace is the preached Word. A sermon is not only an exposition of God’s Word but is itself God’s Word. It is the Son of man preaching life into the valley of dead bones, wielding the two-edged sword that kills and makes alive. It is the Holy Spirit alone who is the effectual cause of the Word’s work, but it is administered through preaching. This is why, according to historical practice, sermons begin with the invocation, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” and end with “Amen,” or its translation, “So be it.” The sermon is the Word of God addressed to God’s people.

Sometimes we see the sermon merely as an opportunity to make the Word effective. For some, it is an opportunity for mere reflection— data processing, to put it indelicately. For others, it is a chance to make a decision. Still others see it as a stimulation to emotional experience. But whether we make our intellect, our will, or our heart sovereign, we are exchanging the glory of God for that of the creature. As Scripture presents it, the Word itself— wielded by the heavenly agent (the Holy Spirit) and the earthly ambassador (the preacher)— does what it threatens in the law and promises in the gospel. The Word itself does this work, not because it provides an occasion for us to do something but simply by its being used by God according to his own sovereign will. It is not just the content of the Word but the preaching of the Word that is central in worship and is, strictly speaking, a means of grace.

To be sure, many other methods in our hi-tech era would appear to be more effective forms of getting us to do something. Drama can entertain and inspire, emotional choruses sung in ascending chords with growing instrumental intensity can alter consciousness and moods, while audiovisual sophistication can persuade people that the Christian message (whatever that may be) is relevant in our age. A booming anthem with a pipe organ and well-trained choir may stir us. But if the primary goal is not to get us to do something that will effect our salvation but for God to plant his Word in our heart, our criteria for effectiveness and success will be rather different. It is important for us to realize that it is not only the message of the Word but the method of preaching that God has promised to use for salvation and growth. It must, therefore, be central in worship.”

A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship by Michael Horton –


Preaching That Makes One Weep

There’s a wonderful book entitled Chaplain of the Confederacy: Basil Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South, which is a biography of Baptist stalwart Basil Manly, Sr (1798-1868).  While the title may be off-putting for some (Chaplain of the Confederacy), I’ve only made it to his life in the 1820s as he just begins his pastoral ministry.  He was a preacher of the gospel par excellence, whom God seemed to use to stir the emotions of his hearers, leading to a revival in the town of Edgefield, SC, where he first served in the pastorate.  This stirring is not a bad thing.  I was talking to a friend about various aspects of preaching and worship services, and he noted how so much of what has been done in churches bordered on manipulation rather than a reliance on the Spirit’s movement in hearts from the preached Word. 

The pendulum swings back and forth between preaching to the heart (formerly known as the affections) and preaching to the head.  Yet, which should the pendulum swing?  Clearly, one generation often seeks to compensate for the perceived shortcomings of the previous one—much like the previous generation seeks to compensate for the one before it.  The goal is to preach to both the head with the truth and the heart with the love of Christ/hatred of sin (see Ephesians 4:15). 

Jonathan Edwards gives some helpful insight:

A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble broken-hearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble broken-hearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behaviour.

A preaching of the Word of God that seeks a transformation will preach to both head and heart.  It will strengthen the mind and soften the heart to the things of Jesus.  This type of preaching will help us pursue a union with Christ as Christ has pursued a union with us through the cross and resurrection and the sending of the Spirit. 

May God give preachers a message and the Spirit to strengthen minds and soften hearts to be sensitive to the truth. 


Dressing for Church: Which Way Does One Go?

pinstripe-bow-tieI cannot tell you how much time I have spent wondering how to dress for church, especially as a pastor.  Casual or no?  Suit or no? Tie or no? Khakis?  It’s maddening. In my 20s and 30s, my dress would depend on the context.  A Southern Southern Baptist Church would usually mean a suit and tie.  A church that just started and was looking to reach a younger demographic?  No tie, no suit, no how!

Have you ever wondered about this?  Churches usually slide one way or the other.  I remember going into a church plant with a coat and tie, and felt the peer pressure to take off the coat and tie.  Others wonder if they can come to an established church with anything else–even talking themselves out of coming because they don’t have “Sunday clothes.”

See the dilemma?

In Denver, I know the majority of pastors and church attenders usually wear a button down shirt or polo with khakis or jeans.  Some who have the build for it, wear T-shirts with logos that connect with a subset of our culture.  Yet, when I went back to Kentucky, I preached in the button down shirt with khakis, but at the restaurant, the majority of church folks who flooded the restaurant wore a suit and tie.  So very different from where I live, but not very different from how I grew up.

Now, I had the draft of the previous paragraphs in my draft folder for about two weeks, when lo and behold Joe McKeever, an insightful retired pastor who lives in New Orleans, put out a comment of Facebook that led to a lengthy article on his blog titled, “Does it matter how the preacher dresses?”  While many may dismiss McKeever as out of line and out of touch due to the whiteness of his hair or his advanced years, he brings much-needed wisdom to the table.  And maybe since I’m not in my 20s or 30s anymore–and this year will bring me closer to 50 than to 40–maybe I’ve mellowed as well.   But we would do well to read this if for nothing else than to interact with the topic.

Here’s McKeever’s point for pastors/leaders:  Staying dressed one step ahead of the dress of your average congregant inspires confidence in your leadership.

Let that soak in. First of all, he’s not saying coat and tie are mandatory across the board.  He’s not saying it–nor should he. Too many different contexts exist for such a blanket statement.

Second of all, he’s not saying that the way a pastor dresses will cover up other issues regarding character, care, preparedness, etc. It won’t take long for the average church attender or member to see through the charade.

My church have a few in a certain demographic that like their preacher in a suit and tie. Others in a younger demographic frankly don’t care.  They want me clean and dressed, which would be good for everyone!

Now let me stop and tell you what I’m doing: I’m spending a lot of time on this blog post, and a lot of time in my personal life over the years concerned about how my dress affects ministry.  Will my dress help connect with visitors? Will my dress be received well among our members?

It’s maddening!  And exhausting!

Over the last three weeks, I have found myself enjoying the feel of a bow tie.  I am in the process of learning how to tie an actual bow tie, but I’m wearing the pre-tied one at this point.  And the comments have come: some have told me, “Wow, you pull that off really well,” while others react as if you say, “You need to pull that off… like now!” (It’s probably about 80/20 for/against).

But it goes down to a fundamental question: what are the rules in wearing clothes to church?  And even for pastors?  Does McKeever have a point?

I think he does, and I’ll tell you why.

  1. There’s no way you will please everyone in the room.  If we have 200 people in our sanctuary, the chances of everyone of them being happy with any given thing are minimal to non-existent.  My goodness, I won’t please everyone reading this blog post even now.  My implication is not for us to stop trying, but to not make it the #1 reason for anything you do.
  2. If you’re not sure what to do, follow McKeever’s advice and dress one step ahead.  You don’t want to be the sloppiest guy in the room, but you don’t want to be two to three steps ahead.  Own your context, lean into it, and don’t apologize or worry.  I love wearing a suit and bow tie.  I can’t quantify why, I just do. I’ve almost gotten to where I can actually tie one.
  3. Whatever we do, be neat and clean.  Iron clothes, wash hair, and don’t let your attire distract.  I visited a church up the road where the pastor wore the pastor plaid and jeans (or was it khakis).  See? I can’t remember–because it didn’t distract.  Granted, some will be distracted regardless.  One couple came to our church who’d just moved up from Texas.  I had my suit and white shirt–but no tie.  They knew in their hearts it wasn’t that big a deal, but they couldn’t get past a pastor or any of the men now wearing a suit and tie when preaching.  Do I put on a tie just to keep them?  No–we’re back at square one in people pleasing.  Someone may object to my bowtie.  Do I yank it off?  No.  You just be faithful and own where you are.

The difficulty in discussing this matter is you can slide into a legalistic mindset very easily.

What do you think?  Does dress really matter?  If it does, what’s your go-to standards and practices?



Spurgeon on the Bible Defending the Bible


Tim Keller’s book on preaching is a treasure. Included is a quote from Charles Spurgeon which is also a treasure.

There seems to me to have been twice as much done in some ages in defending the Bible as in expounding it, but if the whole of our strength shall henceforth go to the exposition and spreading of it, we may leave it pretty much to defend itself. I do not know whether you see that lion – it is very distinctly before my eyes; a number of persons advance to attack him, while the host of us would defend him. Pardon me if I offer a quiet suggestion: open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself. Why, they are gone! You know sooner goes forth in his strength and his assailant flee. The way they meet infidelity is just read the Bible. The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible.

Let’s trust the Word to do its work. Let lion out!


How Efficiency in Your Organization Helps Fulfill the Great Commandment

I just finished Matt Perman‘s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things DoneThis stands as one of the best, if not the best, book I’ve read on productivity. It’s building on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, but putting a gospel-centered productivity aspect to this. I love how he showed that being productive is not just about doing things for you in a self-centered way, but is an act of loving your neighbor. That chimed with me, and may well be the final catalyst for being productive.  Below is a choice quote from the book (p. 303) about why being effective and productive is not for selfish ambition, but actually is about ‘loving your neighbor.’

How does individual effectiveness lead to the greater effectiveness of the organization? It’s not simply that by doing your work better everyone around you gets more done and thus the organization gets more done (though that is true).

It is also because personal effectiveness has an impact on the spirit and culture of an organization, creating an environment that calls forth the best from everyone. This raises the sights of everybody and creates an environment that calls forth their best. This is good for everyone individually and for the organization. As Drucker puts it, “As executives work toward becoming effective, they raise the performance level of the whole organization. They raise the sights of people —their own as well as others. As a result, the organization not only becomes capable of doing better. It becomes capable of doing different things and of aspiring to different goals” (Drucker, The Effective Executive, p. 170-71).

Thus, “executive effectiveness is our one best hope to make modern society productive economically and viable socially” (Drucker, 170).

This book will stay close by on my desk for the foreseeable future.  It provides concrete measures to help you sort through various actions and projects that will come your way.

I couldn’t recommend this book highly enough.  Blending the purpose of preaching, pastoring, and productivity is what this blog is all about–and will help all leaders lead their organization more joyfully and less stressfully.  Who knows?  We may spend some time going through this book chapter by chapter.


How Preaching Hard Texts Endears You to Your People

Whereas conventional wisdom in most evangelical circles dictates that pastors would do well to avoid the hard texts, my contention is that pastors should never shy away from this.  While the Joel Osteens and the Robert Schullers of the world will shy away from such dealings , I believe that many in our pews are just wanting a pastor who will deal directly with what the Bible says and address the issue at hand.

A case in point: in my previous church, I preached on two rather “hard texts” two Sundays in a row: one dealing with the role of women in the church, the other on the necessity of giving.  After each of those sermons, one of my deacons came out and said, “Man, I thought you’d be black and blue right now — you really laid it out there.”  But the reaction couldn’t have been different.  By the grace and glory of God, I received thank you’s for being willing to tackle such issues and helping to make things clear.  That will happen more often than not!  What joy that brings to a preacher and leader!

Why should we preach the hard texts as well as the other types to our people?

  1. Those texts are in the Scriptures! Obvious, yes.  But I have had well-meaning ministers tell me that just because it is in the Bible does not necessarily mean it will be appropriate to preach on.  This is why I make the case for expositional preaching: if forces you to deal with a text that your flesh may tempt you to avoid.
  2. For all the talk about our people despising authority, I believe they are looking for solid ground on which to stand.  We all are.  All this noise about postmodernism winning the day is far too premature.  It may be prevalent, but it hasn’t won anything.  If anything, our culture feels more in the dark than ever because many people’s spiritual journey is leading them down some deadends.  Preachers must never forget the supernatural transformational power of the Scriptures that are breathed out by the Spirit of God himself!   Never give up preaching!  The world may deem it folly, but to those who are being saved it  is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
  3. People, especially Christians, long to be dealt with honestly. Many in my generation are becoming angry at the church for their failure to teach them the things of the faith.  They praise God for churches sharing the gospel with them and showing them Jesus, but afterwards they become afraid of being too doctrinal (read: divisive) and therefore they do not “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
  4. People feel patronized when pastors fail to deal with a text or issue.  When pastors avoid these texts, they are in so many words telling their people, “You really can’t handle this right now.”  Yet, pastors who stay with their churches and invest their time in their people can take them along slowly and help them step-by-step.  Young pastors especially need to remember that you don’t need to tell them everything you know (or think you know) in one sermon.  Pour yourself out into your people and teach them with patience (1 Timothy 4:13-16).

What do you think?