Archives For Preaching

Typesetting

When big news happens — civil unrest, natural disasters, terrorist attacks — pastors usually start an internal dialogue about the coming Sunday’s message.

Do I preach the message I’d planned on preaching? The one I had announced and slotted perfectly into our current series? The one I’ve already spent a couple of early mornings and late nights working on?

Or do I preach a message that addresses this current cultural crisis?

The question isn’t as simple as you might think, or as some leaders make it out to be in social media posts.

Does every significant cultural moment require us to abandon the pre-planned message for a “hot topic” message? Not necessarily. It all depends.

Here are a few questions that guide me when I’m deciding whether or not to address a particularly prominent news story . . .

Does this crisis affect my congregation more than the topic I’d planned on talking about?

If I happen to be preaching on the topic of marriages in trouble or how to recover from financial failure, should I switch to a topic that might actually be less deep for my congregation? Could the conversation about what’s in the news actually just be a distraction from what…

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Prayer on the Beach

“I will . . . station myself . . .” (Habakkuk 2:1 NIV).

If you want to get God’s vision for your life and ministry, you must want to hear it, you must withdraw to hear it, and then you must wait to hear it.

The New International Version says, “I will . . . station myself“( Habakkuk 2:1 NIV). What does it mean to station yourself before God? It means stay put. It means, “I’m not moving.” It means, “I’m going to be still. I’m going to sit here and I am not going to move until I hear from you, God.”

Hurry is the death of prayer. And, as pastors, we feel all kinds of pressure to get in a hurry. Yet God won’t speak to us as we run out the door. He wants us to care enough to linger and listen in our prayer time.

So many times, we’re running so revved up, we can’t slow down enough to tune in to God.

So, how do you slow down? You calm your mind by relaxing your body. You take deep breaths and you relax your muscles and let the…

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Sermon Cards

I attended a book-writing workshop recently that revolutionized how I write sermons. Let me explain.

The instructor had a great way of mapping out a book using what I would describe as a “building blocks” approach. Apparently, this is not a new technique, but it was new to me.

To accomplish this method, you take index cards and write every thought, every story, every illustration, and every quote on individual index cards, color coordinating them as you go (illustrations in green, your quotes in red, and so forth).

Once you’ve written it all down, you begin to assemble your thoughts and your cards piece by piece, in the order you want.

She explained that most people use Microsoft Word to write a book, which is incredibly slow and cumbersome because you have to copy and paste anytime you want to move your copy around. Additionally, you can only see a small amount of your work at a time.

Using her method makes it a lot easier because it allows you to lay it all out and organize it before you ever start writing.

As I was sitting in her workshop I thought, “This would be a…

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People with Needs

Pastors are called to feed, lead, and intercede for the church. When we have the privilege to stand before the people of God and share biblical truth with them, we must do so with the greatest skill entrusted to us by the Lord. This requires from each preacher due diligence in his study, spiritual preparation in his life, and total commitment from him through his delivery. When the Bible has been proclaimed faithfully and the people of God have been fed spiritually, there is a healthy spiritual satisfaction that rests upon the preacher.

The challenge of preaching is to communicate to the varied levels of maturity from those who hear us proclaim the Word. If all were on the same level, the preacher’s challenges would not be as great as they are. In the public worship services in our churches, it is our desire to have the services filled with those who are mature, those who are not as mature as they should be, and those that are absolutely there in search of God. Though it is a challenge to speak to these various levels of where people are with…

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Bird Feeder

Each spring I set out a red bird feeder in my backyard. It is a red metal box that stands affixed on a five foot pole. I always position it so we can see the swarm of birds that come to it through our kitchen window. I’ve always felt that that bird feeder is the simplest metaphor for understanding a preaching audience that I’ve ever witnessed. Here’s why.

When the bird feeder has food, birds magically appear. Without any marketing effort on my part, within two days of setting out the feeder birds are swarming all over it. I’m convinced there are two reasons for that. One is birds, need to eat. Second, birds follow each other to where there’s food. People are a lot like birds – if you are setting out fresh bread each week, and don’t grow weary, over time people will come and bring friends.

When the bird feeder is empty, birds simply go away. The same drive to eat is the same drive that causes birds to look elsewhere when their food source is gone. I’ve noticed that when the feeder empties, birds will fly back to it off…

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Aim

One of your jobs as a preacher is to teach your listeners how to live out the truths you preach from Scripture. If your goal is simply to educate or inform your audience so they can be more knowledgeable, then stop preaching. Preaching, of necessity, requires application. We’re preaching for life-change. We’re preaching to make the written Word become the living Word in people’s daily lives.

But the application part of the sermon is often the most difficult to execute well. I once listened to a sermon where the preacher concluded with a list of thirteen ways to apply the message. Thirteen ways! Most people struggle to remember thirteen different truths from one sermon, much less apply them. He was well meaning, but the buckshot approach just doesn’t work.

With that said, drilling down on just one application seems too narrow. You have a varied audience with varied needs. The text has one meaning, and hopefully your message can be summed up in one big idea, but the ways the text can be applied to someone’s life are innumerable. You can’t list every possible way it could be applied, but you want to get your…

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It is not easy to suggest to people in our congregation that we learn how to practice God’s presence together. After all, for many, the idea of spending a moment-by-moment life with God doesn’t sound exciting.

It can help that different voices out there describe their experience with God’s presence as pleasurable. Slowly, we and those we serve can apprentice with these kinds of voices in order to take small steps of grace toward what they point us to.

One of these mentoring voices says of God: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; At your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). For this person, it was like God’s face peeked through into the dark world. The experience was like seeing one’s covenant love or dearest friend after a long absence. We run to meet them.

“Being with God feels good. He ravishes every bit of my soul. He satisfies me like nothing or nobody else can. When I’m with God I see the wholesome enjoyment I long for. With God I learn to believe again that original and delicious goods still exist and will not quit on me. His presence tantalizes and relaxes me all at the same time.”

I’m…

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Recently my church hosted a leadership conference to encourage and equip our lay leaders and staff. One of the speakers at the event, Nikki, impacted me with her engaging presentation. She spoke for nearly an hour training our leaders how to do ministry effectively in our context. About halfway through her presentation I had filled my page with notes and was eager for more. I started to think about what made the experience so captivating. I turned the page over and jotted down some notes that I want to share with you. Nikki embodied the four irresistible traits of speakers who connect with their audience.

Speakers who connect:

1. Relate to their audience. Irresistible speakers know how to relate to their audience. They understand the need people have to feel understood, and they make an effort to demonstrate to their listeners that they get them. When Nikki spoke that day it impacted me because I was convinced that she understood me. The subject matter was sensitive and controversial. She was speaking as an authority on the subject, so if I didn’t think she understood where I was coming from I wouldn’t have trusted her…

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It’s more important than ever before to work on gaining and keeping the attention of your listeners while you preach. Capturing and maintaining attention is one of the most difficult things a communicator must do. But I don’t think this difficulty has much to do with attention span. Some will say that it’s just because people have shorter attention spans than a generation ago. While attention spans may be shorter, this doesn’t tell the whole story. I do believe shorter sermons are almost always better, but what makes them better has more to do with how it makes the preacher deliver a better sermon when he has less time to waste with filler, rambling, and incoherence.

The reason we have to work harder to gain and keep attention has to do with what competes for the attention of our people every time we preach. Our listeners are so distracted, and we need to know what we’re up against. Some of these distractions are new, and some are as timeless as humanity, but they are all present every time you stand up to preach. Here are four things competing for your people’s attention during…

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Church Building

This week, walk around your church campus and try to see it through the eyes of a first-time guest.

We become so familiar with our surroundings that we become oblivious to the faded paint, the frayed carpet, the chipped pulpit, the stack of stuff on the piano, or the burned-out light bulbs overhead.

One way to combat this tendency is to do an Environmental Impact Report on your church. Take pictures throughout your facilities and show them to your leaders in order to figure out what needs to be changed.

Here are some environmental factors to pay close attention to:

1. Lighting: Lighting has a profound effect on people’s moods. Inadequate lighting dampens the spirit of a service. Shadows across a speaker’s face reduce the impact of any message.

Most churches are far too dark. I’ve noticed that even churches with plenty of windows often cover them up. Somehow, churches have gotten the idea, maybe from funeral parlors, that dimming the lights creates a more “spiritual” mood. I completely disagree.

I believe that church buildings should be bright and full of light. God’s character is expressed in light. 1 John 1:5 says, “God is light; in him there is…

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pastor

Truth: Your pastor is weak. He’s flesh. He’s human, frail, and doesn’t always have it all together. He may be faithful to God and thereby filled with the Holy Spirit, but there’s always a secret side to him. He will probably never mention it in a sermon or a deacons meeting. Chances are, he won’t even tell his wife, but he endures battles.

I’ve been a pastor since I was 19 years old, and I’ve fought these battles for all that time. I want to advocate for your pastor today to tell you a few things you probably weren’t aware of.

Your Pastor Battles Loneliness

Pastors are surrounded by people who love them, but who often don’t know them intimately. They are celebrated on Sunday, but wonder on a slow Friday morning if they’ll ever enjoy a deep friendship with anyone. Call him and encourage him.

Your Pastor Battles Feelings of Inadequacy

Most pastors today are expected to be great preachers, teachers, counselors, hospital chaplains, advisors, financial managers, publicists, apologists, scholars, organizers, recruiters, and sometimes maintenance men. That’s a lot of pressure. Most pastors are hardwired to do one or two of those things well, so it’s a virtual…

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Why do people go to church?

A recent Gallup study found that 76 percent of people who attend church at least once a month say that sermons that teach them more about Scripture are the primary reason they go.

Plus, 75 percent also listed sermons that help them connect their beliefs to their lives as a major factor for attending.

The study confirms what I have been saying for years: Preaching is the number one reason people go to your church. And it’s not just any kind of preaching, but biblical teaching that’s relevant to their lives.

It’s not the music (38 percent), community (49 percent), service opportunities (59 percent), or kids and youth ministry (64 percent).

All of these are still important. But the primary reason people listed for going to church was good preaching.

Some will be quick to argue that people should go to church for more than preaching. “It’s about Christian community! It’s about loving the bride of Christ!”

True. Church is about more than preaching. But it doesn’t change the fact that three-quarters of people come to church because of the preaching.

There’s no substitute for a good sermon.

Preaching Is a Pastor’s Primary Responsibility

This Gallup study…

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