Tomorrow I will be a guest speaker in a homiletics class at Oklahoma Christian University. The professor emailed some questions he would like for me to address, and I thought I would write out my answers here on my blog as a way of helping me prepare for the class with the bonus of also providing content to the blog:)
This will probably be boring to most people, so I totally understand if you don’t want to keep reading. If you’re leaving, thanks for checking in and please check back on Wednesday. If you’re staying, I hope you enjoy this inside look at preaching.
Why did you decide to go into ministry/preaching?
When I think about this question, the words of 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 come to mind: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
I truly love Jesus and I am inspired by the gospel story of Christ. I sincerely believe that the gospel is “good news” for all people, that the cause of Christ is the greatest thing to which a person can give his or her life, and that the church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. And I want to be part of it! I still consider myself blessed to be able to make a living by telling others about Jesus and helping others experience the hope and healing that Jesus provides.
And it’s all compelled by the love of Christ. That’s so important because ministry is difficult and demanding, and if you aren’t compelled by the love of Christ you won’t last and you won’t be effective in ministry.
I also had people in my life who encouraged me to pursue ministry, and as I did God kept affirming that path for me. That affirmation, combined with my passion for God’s Word and my love for Christ, produced a sense of calling that drew me into full-time ministry.
What do you know now about ministry/preaching compared to what you thought you knew in college?
Everything I know about ministry now is completely different than what I thought I knew about it in college! My college education gave me a certain set of tools by which to perform a certain set of tasks and it gave me a structured way of thinking that has been very beneficial, but it did not prepare me for the things I actually encountered in church work.
Specifically, what I know now is that you must earn the right to minister to people, to lead people, and to speak into the lives of people. In college, I naively thought talent was all you needed. That if I was a good speaker, people would listen. That if I had the best idea or the best argument, elders would support my vision. That if I was better than other ministers, people would follow my lead.
None of that was true.
You have to earn the right to be a minister and a leader. And you earn the right to speak into people’s lives by authentically caring for people, by being willing to do the “little” things, by being a servant, by being a team player, by being professional, by listening to people’s stories, and by being faithfully present in the lives of others. The church doesn’t want a person on the stage who thinks he is better than them, and if you think you are better than the people to whom you’re preaching then you don’t deserve to be on the stage.
What is your overall philosophy and approach to preaching?
My overall philosophy and approach to preaching can be summarized by the words of 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”
That verse reminds me that all my life is a sermon – that how I live, how I treat others, and how I present myself is just as important as what I say in a Sunday morning sermon. It also reminds me that the purpose of preaching is to correct sinful behaviors and attitudes, to rebuke false teaching and teachers, and to encourage Christ-followers to stay faithful to their Lord. But how that is done is just as important, and this verse also reminds me to be patient in my preaching and to pay careful attention to the craft of preaching.
My approach to preaching has also been shaped by my life experiences. Before I became a preacher, but while I was in another full-time ministry role, I had a son who died. And for a long time I was angry with God, so I was that person sitting in a church pew listening to a preacher and thinking, “Does any of this matter?” That experience taught me first-hand that most people sitting in the pew are dealing with circumstances so difficult that they are simply trying to get through the day or get through another week. So, now, when I preach I always try to give that person a reason to hope and a reason to keep hanging in there with God for another week. Because that used to be me.
How do you typically choose topics and series to preach?
I usually preach two main expository series a year and fill in the rest of the dates with topical series that are not as lengthy. I develop my sermon calendar a year in advance, and the subjects are chosen through a combination of conversations and a season of discernment. I am a local preacher for a local congregation so I choose topics that are aimed at the spiritual development of my congregation and the furthering of our vision.
How do you typically prepare a sermon?
One of the advantages of preparing my sermon calendar a year in advance is that I am never starting from zero each week, so I don’t waste time during the week deciding what my subject will be on Sunday. This also allows me to be reading ahead and collecting stories and illustrations well in advance of when I preach a particular sermon. In that regard, I am constantly in a state of preparation for sermons.
I usually prepare one sermon at a time on a weekly basis because I want the sermon I preach each Sunday to be fresh on my mind and heart. I manuscript my sermons and write for clarity and simplicity. I don’t always read from the manuscript on stage but the discipline of writing the sermon out helps me to clarify what I want to say in the preaching moment.
I really try to allow the text to guide me in the shaping of the sermon; therefore, the way I build sermons varies depending on how the text hits me, what I want to highlight from the text, or how I think the text can be best presented.
My “heavy” writing day is on Tuesday each week, and on that day I work outside of the office in order to minimize distractions. I get in an environment where I can do “deep work” and spend large amounts of uninterrupted time in concentration.
Internalizing the sermon is also part of the preparation, so I spend quite a bit of time rehearsing the sermon out loud. This helps me to recognize places in the sermon where I can use pauses, voice undulations, or other “tricks of the trade” to make the presentation more effective.
What important elements do you try to include in a sermon to make it effective?
As I said before, I am a local preacher for a local congregation. The reason this is important to know is that it forces one to take a long view of preaching. This long view of preaching is helpful because it takes the pressure off of feeling like you have to incorporate into every sermon every element that can go into a sermon. I like to incorporate humor, stories, testimonials, object lessons, videos, songs, readings, dramatic elements, props, and other elements into my sermons – but not in every one.
However, each sermon, for me, has to include these elements to be effective: (1) a text; (2) an explanation/illustration of the text; and (3) an application/call to action. I preach for life transformation and not simply to pass on information, so those elements are important to me. These elements allow the sermon to cast a vision of how life should be, inspire a person to act in accordance to God’s Word, and provide an anchor of hope that will keep some pursuing God for another week.
How would you describe your “voice” or style as a preacher?
Along the continuum of preaching styles, I would probably be in the camp of prophetic preaching in terms of tone and purpose. Walter Bruggemann writes, “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us…and such countercultural witness will necessarily involve criticizing the old order and energizing hearers with a hope-filled vision of the new reign of God.”
That tone and purpose of preaching fits my personality, thus creating a preaching “voice” and style that is authentic. When I preach, I am not trying to be somebody else or imitate another preacher. While I learn things about preaching by watching other preachers, I do not try to duplicate what another preacher does. I filter those lessons through my own personality and abilities.
The amazing thing is that God uses a variety of people and a variety of styles to preach his Word. There is not one style or “voice” that is better than another; the key is finding yours, developing it, and being genuine when you preach.
What makes a good sermon introduction and a good conclusion?
A good sermon introduction is one that grabs the audience’s attention, creates anticipation in the audience for the sermon’s journey, and builds a bridge to the biblical text of the sermon. If you preach to, virtually, the same audience week in and week out it’s important to vary the mode of the sermon’s introduction and not fall into the rut of starting the sermon the exact same way each time.
A good conclusion is one that brings all the elements of the sermon together into one coherent message and calls people to action. Brian Larson says that there are four purposes of a good conclusion: (1) To finish the application; (2) To give a sense of closure; (3) To give a burning focus to the takeaway of the sermon; and (4) To round out the sermon. If this is not achieved, the goal of the sermon will not be clear to much of the audience. You can do this in a variety of ways, and it should be done in a variety of ways. The conclusion should be worked on just as diligently as the introduction.