Archives For Preaching

Questions“…knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance….” (James 1:3)

Pity the church with an immature pastor. He can drive good people crazy.

His ego is always out there seeking a caress, his stubborness could put a mule to shame, and his unteachable spirit frustrates even the saintliest. He thinks of himself first of all, what effect something will have on his career secondly, and of the church a distant third.

A few days after Hurricane Katrina went through our part of the world and left New Orleans flooded and hundreds of thousands of people homeless and vast numbers of churches destroyed, I had a phone call from one of our young pastors. His church had come through fine, but his members were scattered and some were not coming back.  He said, “Joe, I worry about the effect this will have on my future prospects. I mean, this will not look good on my resume’.”

Yes, he actually said that.

I replied, “My friend, you don’t have a resume’. You’re still in seminary.” I let that soak in, then added, “If you will do this right and be faithful, you will…

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Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

JesusJesus: A Theography (Thomas Nelson, 424 pages, hardcover) is the new release by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola (authors of Jesus Manifesto). This new book uniquely tells the story of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation, connecting all the dots together, showing that the Bible is one beautiful narrative of Christ.  The following is an excerpt from chapter 11, “Jesus: Preacher and Teacher.” Click here to read a sample chapter along with details, resources, and discounts.

The greatest communicator who ever lived – Jesus of Nazareth — had a nontraditional communication style. Jesus did not speak as other speakers or as an exegete.

He did not present Himself as a footnote to other rabbis (such as, “Rabbi Gamaliel says on the authority of Rabbi Hillel”). He did not engage in “Midrash Pesher” on Hebrew Scripture.

What He is, however, is a storyteller, metaphor maker, and sage who is always ready with a proverb, aphorism, riddle, and other one-liners. Whether the Sermon on the Mount was one cohesive unit delivered on one specific occasion or a Matthew miscellany of Jesus’ favorite sayings, the whole “sermon” can be found mostly…

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Good title, right?

Now a confession. I was never afraid to stand in front of a group and speak. Not ever. In fact, quite the opposite.

As a fourth grader in our little West Virginia schoolhouse, teacher Margaret Meadows would periodically invite class members who had read an interesting story to stand and share it. I recall Violet Garten (love that name!) was so good at it. But when she called on me (I’m the guy frantically waving my hand) and I walked to the front of the class, I broke the rules.

I did not relate a story I had read somewhere.

I made one up on the spot.

That is serious something or other, I don’t know what. Was it a love for being the center of attention? Self-confidence on steroids? Not given to introspection, I’ve never tried to answer that, but I am confident that little snapshot reveals a world of insight on the man I became. Positive and negative.

In high school, one of the requirements for presidents of local chapters of the FFA (Future Farmers of America) was that we be able to address an audience of our members…

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Old PewsEverybody worships. Not everyone believes in God, or in gods, or in the God of the Bible, but everyone worships. Everybody ascribes worth to something, which is one of the basic definitions of worship.

My favorite book about worship, outside the Bible, is Warren Wiersbe’s Real Worship: Playground, Battleground, or Holy Ground?. Wiersbe offers this concise definition of worship…

Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are—mind, emotions, will, and body—to what God is and says and does. This response has its mystical side in subjective experience and its practical side in objective obedience to God’s revealed will. Worship is a loving response that’s balanced by the fear of the Lord, and it is a deepening response as the believer comes to know God better.

As my favorite Worship Pastor on the planet likes to say, “worship is both revelation and response.” It’s tuning in to listen to a holy God, and it’s responding to what I hear and see. Genuine worship results in a net increase in my personal awe of God and ultimately changes my life in…

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By Bryan Cribb

Maybe I’m alone in my struggle, but in the preaching task, I’ve always had difficulty with illustrations. I don’t quite know where to look for them. I’m not a natural storyteller. And I always botch the proverbial punch lines.

Yet this same illustration inadequacy has driven me to what I believe is perhaps an even more effective way of communicating and illustrating the message of a biblical text. That method involves describing in a vivid manner the original context of the particular passage. My conviction is that this oft-ignored and untapped approach to preaching can make a text come alive and make its message stick in the minds and hearts of the flock.

Let’s say I find an old love letter — worn with time, riddled with holes, but obviously full of passionate prose of a man for his wife. If I try to explain that letter to you, I could obviously exegete its contents. I could even give you personal examples and modern illustrations of what it means to love someone as deeply as this letter relates.

Would you feel the impact of the letter and its…

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Growth“Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation….” (I Peter 2:2).

The bane of the church today is immaturity.

A Sunday School class is asked to relocate so a growing class can have a larger room and it sets off a firestorm of belly-aching.

A longtime church leader does not get the recognition he feels is his entitlement and his family threatens to leave the church.

The pastor teaches a rich lesson from Romans or Hebrews and the congregation isn’t capable of understanding it. The sermons they prefer include “four reasons to be saved today” and “the sin which God hates above all others.”

The preacher brings a message on the tithe and church members criticize him for emphasizing money. At the monthly business meeting, they gripe because the church’s income is lagging.

The church hears a missionary’s report on a great harvest of souls in Singapore and balks at being asked to receive an offering on its behalf.

The pastor is asked by an influential group in the church to invite a flashy, carnal evangelist whose message is God-wants-you-to-prosper. When he hesitates,…

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There has been a lot of talk in recent years about making the Gospel announcement of Jesus Christ front and center in our preaching and teaching. As our society becomes increasingly post-Christian, it is critical for us to not assume lost people know who God is, what He is like, and what He has done for us. We need to be clear in what we teach, with a laser-like focus on Jesus Christ our Savior.

But how do we make sure that Jesus is center-stage in our church? How do we keep other things from taking His place in our sermons, our Sunday School classes or our small groups? In other words, how do we maintain Christ-centeredness when there are so many other good things vying for our attention and time?

As editor of The Gospel Project, LifeWay’s new curriculum for Sunday School classes and small groups, I’ve wrestled with this question. It’s one thing to have “core values” like “Christ-centered” and “mission-driven” written on the page. It’s another thing entirely to make sure that these values are actually expressed in the lessons. To help our writers, we’ve…

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I’m in the middle of delivering my sermon from my shiny new iPad. I’m focused on making the point and communicating God’s truth from His Word to His people. Then my preaching device sings a loud “ding!” Up pops a notification badge: “Want to get away from it all? Cruises for as low as $399!” It took every ounce of self-control not to break out laughing. The funniest part was watching some of my older parishioners looking around to see which kid in the congregation was playing a game. I never told them the kid was me.

For the past 15 months I’ve been preaching from my first-generation iPad. It truly has been a gift from God, a tool that helps me be even more effective as a communicator. I use my iPad rather than paper notes for 3 reasons. First, it saves me time and money. Connecting the word processor from my laptop to my iPad through iCloud means no more printing and cutting. Second, it provides me the opportunity to make last minute edits right on my iPad.

Third, and this is the most important reason, it gives my parishioners permission…

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SermonsIn the process of wrestling with God over Mission, Vision and Direction, I “fell into” a new sermon outline that has proved to be extremely helpful to me. And I love its simplicity. It goes like this…

  1. Story-Opened
    • Open with a story that has enough weight to carry the entire sermon. It can be the context of Scripture you are preaching, but doesn’t have to be. But the story must be “heavy” enough to thread through the entire sermon.
  2. Head
    • This is what some are thinking  now. The wrong frame of thinking in their heads that is producing the wrong beliefs and wrong actions.
  3. Heart
    • This is that God says we should be thinking and believing. The real Truth that will bring transformation to those who receive it.
  4. Hand
    • This is what we should do with this new revelation of Truth
    • Many times I will break this up
    • A challenge to those Outside
    • A challenge to this Inside the Kingdom
  5. Story-Closed
    • I like to go back and tie a knot in the thread of the story that has been woven through out the sermon. And end it in a way that adds an urgency to the previous challenge.

I’ve been using this for…

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Sermon NotebookHave you ever read something and all the bells went off inside you? “That’s it! That’s what I’ve been thinking!” The author has been reading your thoughts.

That happened to me recently.

Warren Wiersbe was the culprit, the reader of my mind. His book is titled “Preaching and Teaching with Imagination.” I notice that he autographed it to me, but have no memory of the occasion when that happened. Mostly, I wonder why I delayed reading this incredible book. (Published in 1994, it’s been around long enough for you to purchase it for a song at or your favorite used book source.)

Dr. Wiersbe put this insight in the form of a story. I suspect it’s a parable, meaning he fictionalized it in order to make a point. (He has good precedent; our Lord did this.) Briefly, what he told was this:

Grandma Thatcher sits in church with a number of hurts and spiritual needs. Although she’s lovingly known throughout the congregation as a saint, she gets nothing but harassment and trials at home for her faith. When she gets to church, she needs a word from…

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I remember the first time I preached a sermon, though it’s unlikely anyone else does. In fact, I’m actually relieved that no record remains of its existence. I was asked to preach one time and, like many other first-time preachers, I brought everything I knew into that message. It was long, painful, and scattered — but a kind group of older adults not only invited me to preach, they also patiently sat through my message — though they never asked me back.

Preaching a stand-alone message can be tricky. For me, they generally fall in between sermon series (as I much prefer to preach) or when I am invited somewhere as a guest preacher.

Sometimes, as a guest preacher you are part of a series. For example, at one church, I simply continued the series (though I was a little bitter with the passage I was assigned). This isn’t too difficult– you listen to a few messages before, tie in to those, and help the pastor along the way.

However, it’s harder when you are the guest preacher with a single topic. I think you can go about it…

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If your sermons are meant to transform lives, then the titles you use must relate to life. Writing a great sermon title is an art you must constantly develop. I don’t know anyone who has mastered it. We all have our hits and misses.

But if the purpose of preaching is to transform, not merely inform — or if you’re speaking to unbelievers — then you must be concerned with your sermon titles. Like the cover of a book or the first line of an advertisement, your sermon’s title must capture the attention of those you want to influence. In planning appealing sermon titles, I ask myself four questions:

1. Will this title capture the attention of people? Because we are called to communicate truth, we may assume unbelievers are eager to hear the truth. They aren’t. In fact, surveys show the majority of Americans reject the idea of absolute truth. Today, people value tolerance more than truth.

This “truth-decay” is the root of all that’s wrong in our society. It is why unbelievers will not race to church if we proclaim, “We have the truth!” Their reaction will be,…

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