We want results. And we want them fast. The trouble is we often have to wait. Whether in traffic, at the deli counter, at the pharmacy, at a restaurant, in a conversation, or for a website to load–we have to wait for things.
This is a problem for most of us. We tend to not like to wait. Conditioned by the technological improvements of our microwave society we have a reflex where we feel entitled expediency.
As a pastor I feel this pinch of impatience in a pronounced way. Pastors work all week-long putting their heart, mind and souls into their teachings for the week. Every time we open the Bible to preach God’s Word we feel as though it is the most important thing that we have ever said and will ever say. Preaching and teaching the Bible is an urgent and important matter. Like the Old Testament prophets we have a tremendous burden from the Lord that needs to be preached, heard, received and applied.
But here is the tension: we go to bed on Sunday night and wake up Monday morning and nothing has changed. We meet with the same people during the week and they seem like the same people. We see them again on the next Lord’s Day and they still seem the same. We want to microwave sanctification but we can’t. It takes time, oftentimes a lifetime.
This is why one of the most important decisions that the preacher will make each week will come on Sunday …
It is Sunday morning, nearly 168 hours from the beginning of last week’s sermon. It is about time for you the preacher to take that walk again. You are going to walk alone to the sacred desk to preach. Are you ready? As you reflect on this question you realize that your mouth is dry and don’t have any water. Your opening to the sermon just got eclipsed by the reminder of a heavy pastoral concern. But you have to take this solitary walk. It is time. Are you ready? As you walk you throw up a petitionary flare, “God, help me.”
This question of readiness is really subjective. Some guys will answer it by considering what they have done in sermon prep. They have spent adequate time in prayer, studied the text, made a sensible outline, drew out some practical implications, and are ready to help people to understand God’s Word.
These are all good, even very good things. I aim to do them all each and every week. However, I wonder if sometimes we miss a very important aspect to sermon prep. Preachers should be wrecked and rebuilt by the text before preaching the text.
Be Wrecked by the Text
When you are wrecked by the text you have been stripped of your pride. Like a divine power-washer, the Bible has blasted off the mildew, dirt, and residue of self-reliance. The text has shown you God’s character and made you feel very small. You have been made to see something of …
I enjoy watching swimming. Not being much of a swimmer myself, I’m fascinated by how fast and fluid good swimmers are. It appears like an aquatic art form as they splash minimally, move rhythmically, and at the right time grab a breath of air like it’s second nature. One of my favorite things to see good swimmers do is push off of the wall and do a return lap. When they come towards the end and do that flip-sping-thing underwater and then accelerate into the next lap. It’s beautiful. Of course it is not only beautiful it is strategic. Pushing off that wall is an efficient way to turn and it provides a proper push into the next lap.
I have a similar reaction when listening to particularly solid preachers or reading helpful (Christian) writers. In the midst of communicating they seem to effortlessly, but not unintentionally, push of the gospel wall as they steam ahead. It is a beautiful thing.
Some may call it gospel-grammar: we need to have our indicatives (the facts of what Christ did) informing our imperatives (what we must do as Christians). This is the pattern of the New Testament. The Apostles have a gospel reflex. They keep going back to the truth of Christ’s work to inform the priority of our work (consider the commands to husbands and wives in Eph. 5 for example).
You also have the gospel-identity. The fact of what Christ did shapes who we are. Ephesians does this repeatedly. Consider how many …
Last week Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush was giving an important speech in New Hampshire. He was into it. He had a lot of things to say about jobs, the economy and healthcare. However, as he was delivering his speech the cameras caught a few people nodding off. One lady in particular looked like she was just about in full REM sleep before she quickly awoke and checked her watch. Many people, including Donald Trump, have seized this opportunity to poke fun at Bush and even try to discredit him as a candidate. I see it as an opportunity for us who are in ministry or who teach God’s word to be reminded of the importance of honest self-evaluation in view of not being boring.
Many of us who preach can identify with ole Jeb: we are sometimes kind of boring. And listen, you know this when you look up and see people fast asleep (hint: they are not praying for you when their eyes are closed). So we have some preachers who have a style and voice like Jeb Bush. It’s kind of dull. What can we do?
We all have blind spots. We have our issues. Whether we are talking about personal, social, or theological blind spots, we have them. And to say you don’t, is to, well, make my point.
The important thing for us to look for said weaknesses, identify them and replace them. This is living life as a fallen sinner it is reality.
But sometimes our blind spots are our hobby horses. And this is a problem.
I can remember arguing about abortion with a friend who is pro-choice. In the midst of the discussion (it was civil) he called me out on my flippancy concerning life in the various wars that the US is involved in. He had a point. My issue was inconsistent. I had a blind spot.
Outspoken Bible Guys
I think there are people who are outspoken in their passion and devotion to the Bible. They are proponents of taking the Bible literally, being black or white and trying their best to obey what it says. We might call them evangelicals, fundamentalists, or simply Protestants. There really are many names and stripes available.
These guys (and ladies) will rightly go after those who compromise the Scriptures. They call out those who deny the Bible’s inspiration and inerrancy. They oppose people who inject their ministries with pragmatic methods. They decry the moral compromise in and around the professing church. All of this to say, no one would accuse them of being unbiblical. In fact, this is their cry, “we are just being biblical.”
And quite frankly, …
It is a problem that all pastors doubtless face, “How can I make sure that I am feeding all of the people that God has given me?”
When I look out upon our congregation on Sunday morning I see a wide spectrum. I see faithful and mature folks who have been walking with the Lord for decades and then some who have been Christians for only a few months. I see people in their 60’s and then folks in their 20’s. In addition to that there are many little 5 year-olds staring up at me trying to understand. There are people from a completely biblically illiterate background and then there are those who have grown up in evangelical churches but never heard the gospel. Then there are many guys who are running hard theologically and wanting to be challenged and fed.
And so I push back from the table, exhale, put my hands behind my head, and wonder to myself about how to best deal with this good problem.
I was sharing this dilemma with a friend recently. He would be in the ‘running hard theologically’ category. He smiled and said, “Just make good fish and chips every week. If you make fish and chips well then we will all be happy and fed.”
His point was this, regardless of what you are used to, expecting, or really want, you always appreciate a well-made plate of fish and chips. It seems to have that unique ability to simply ‘hit the spot’ every time …
We like shortcuts assuming that they get us to where we are trying to go. If they do not then they are dangerous, unproductive detours. In his book The Priority of Preaching, Christopher Ash argues that there are no shortcuts for preaching with authority. He writes, “The authority is a wonderful authority, but it is an authority borrowed only at great cost. This is why there are no shortcuts that work.”
Ash then helpfully warns preachers of three common shortcuts that preachers are tempted to take. I’ll state his points and briefly summarize them.
1. Beware of the shortcut of individual interpretation. This is the notion that we can just beaver away at the passage like we were the first person to ever read it. Many, many Christians have gone before us and wrestled with these same passages. No matter how trendy it is today to have our own interpretation of things Christians preachers must know that they we are accountable to God and one another to hear what the passage really means. “We must not be lazily idiosyncratic.”
2. Beware of the shortcut of second-hand interpretation. When listening to others we must not just copy others. Ash tells the story of how early in his ministry he heard a famous preacher nail a sermon and figured that he and his hearers would be better served if he just copied the sermon and delivered it as his own. The result was a true failure. Why? First the context was completely different, so the style didn’t …
This November Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Nebraska will host a Simeon Trust Workshop. I am very excited about this as I think about Omaha and its surrounding area. Like many others I am burdened for the gospel to go viral. We know that God uses preachers bring about such revival. Therefore, the training and refreshing of preachers is vital to gospel expansion.
What is Simeon Trust? They are workshops that help pastors and Bible teachers to learn methods of expositional preaching, be encouraged through sitting under God’s Word, and gather in small groups with the aim of sharpening each other’s teaching.
Below is a video from David Helm describing the Simeon Trust.
Personally, I have greatly benefited from the Charles Simeon Trust. The workshops remind Bible teachers of the importance of exposition while equipping us with the proper framework to do it ourselves. Unlike many courses on preaching Simeon Trust is not concerned primarily with the delivery of the sermon but the building of the sermon. You come out of the workshop refreshed in the power and primacy of God’s Word.
One of the ways they do this is by putting preachers together with other preachers. In smaller group sessions we sit together to deliver 5 minutes of “sermon work” on our text of Scripture. This covers the passage’s structure, emphasis, context, gospel implications, and principles. After delivering this the preacher is given feedback by another brother. This constructive feedback is gold.
The training in November is the 11th -13th. David Helm will be joining us along with …
Preaching has fallen on hard times in our day. Many insist that pulpit ministries are boring, ineffective, outdated, and irrelevant. And if you listen to a sampling of sermons from various pulpits, there is an element of some truth to the frustrations.
So how does the preacher who wants to preach the word of God not get in the way and make the sermon become the Sunday morning equivalent to the flight attendant’s reading of the pre-flight safety instructions?
Author and pastor Jack Hughes has some ideas. He has written a very helpful book entitled Expository Preaching with Word Pictures. Hughes is convinced for the need of more colorful and descriptive preaching in our day. To help with the task he enlists the pen of Puritan Thomas Watson. Watson is renown for his ability to carve spiritual truth into our minds through powerfully weighted words.
Consider these examples:
“Zeal in a minister is as proper as fire on the altar. Some are afraid to reprove, like the swordfish which has a sword in his head, but is without a heart. So they carry the sword of the Spirit with them—but have no heart to draw it out in reproof against sin. How many have sown pillows under their people, Ezek. 13:18, making them sleep so securely, that they never awoke until they were in hell!”
“The sins of the wicked pierce Christ’s side. The sins of the godly go to his heart.”
“A godly man loves the Word preached, which is a commentary upon the …
Preachers love to preach. We love to dive down deep, mining God’s Word for glorious, eternal treasures and then to swim back up to the service, sharing them with our church each week. But sometimes we get a little preacher’s cramp in so far as what to preach next. After preaching through Ezra and Nehemiah, I am thoroughly convinced that pastors, in particular those who are in the work of church planting revitalization, should prayerfully consider preaching through these books.
Here are some reasons…
New Beginnings: Ezra starts out with the people of God in Babylon. Within a verse or two God is stirring the heart of a pagan King (Cyrus) to send his people back to Israel to rebuild the temple and reestablish the covenant community. It is time for a new day. In particular for a church plant or revitalization, this helps to show how God works in people and communities to build something new.
Idolatry: The books are replete with examples of what idolatry is. Everywhere from the negligence of the weak in Nehemiah 8 to the ignorance of the Sabbath in order to make wine in Nehemiah 13, God shows how the elevation of good things to ultimate things is actually a replacement of what is ultimate, namely the worship and adoration of the Lord God. This primes the pump for a crucial discussion on idolatry.