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Monday, August 22, 2011

Sermon Planning: A Well-Balanced Diet

The effects of not having a balanced diet can be harmful to the body. If my body does not get one or more of the nutrients from the basic food groups it will not grow and will be susceptible to various health problems. The same is true with the church body. If the church you lead doesn’t get all of the various nutrients necessary for health, it will become imbalanced and prone to all kinds of church diseases.

One of the ways the preacher can facilitate health in the church body is by providing a well-balanced diet of Scripture. A thoughtful preaching plan, then, is necessary. Every preacher has favorite go-to themes, which some might call a soap-box. One of my soap-box themes is obedience. Obedience is a central Gospel theme, but if it is the only food group the preacher provides then the church body will miss out on some other key Christian nutrients like grace, for instance. This imbalance might lead the church to become ill with legalism.

As I reflect upon my preaching over the years, I don’t believe anyone would accuse me of not teaching sound doctrine, except for the one guy who sat in the back pew with his arms crossed all the time. However, I could be accused of not preaching comprehensive doctrine. We preachers, if we’re not careful, can get in the habit of a tunnel vision focus on the 2, 3, or 4 doctrines or themes we most want to preach about. If we don’t catch ourselves doing this, our congregants might end up misguided or imbalanced in their faith. Do we preach about sin and grace, faith and works, imparted and imputed holiness, justification and sanctification, heaven and hell? Do we preach from all the various genres and sections of the Bible or just the passages with which we are most comfortable?

Most preaching pastors spend some time, usually in the summer, sketching out a sermon plan for the year. Here are a few tips to assist you in providing a well-balanced diet for your church body:

Incorporate a Variety of Biblical Genres: If I had my way, I would preach entirely
from the Gospels of Luke and John. Perhaps you would pick the prophet Jeremiah as the text from which you would preach sermon after sermon, year after year. However, a well-balanced diet requires that preachers provide nutrients from all the genres of the Bible. The bible contains a variety of genres such as poetry, history, narrative, parable, epistle, apocalyptic, proverb, and law. Each has a unique richness that, hopefully, will surface in the sermons developed from each of these literary forms.

Follow the Christian Calendar: If you follow the Christian Calendar you know that it
journeys down the main roads of the Gospel narrative. The two major sections of the sacred calendar, Advent and Lent, consist of ten weeks total and provide helpful direction for the preaching plan. As Christians we don’t just experience a day called Christmas, we celebrate a season called Advent. Advent is the four weeks preceding Christmas and focuses on the advent, or “coming,” of Christ into the world. Lent is the 40 day period leading up to Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from death to life. Repentance that leads to spiritual growth is the focal point of Lent. Generally, Advent is a good time to preach evangelistic messages that talk about the hope and significance of Christ’s coming into the world. Lent is the perfect season to preach a discipleship-oriented series of sermons challenging believers to grow in grace.

Include Major Christian Doctrines and Themes: Classic Christian doctrines and
themes answer the questions that the human race has been asking for thousands of years. Preaching on major doctrines can ensure that our sermons have theological substance, that they say something about God and living in relationship with Him. Here are some of the Christian doctrines and themes that transcend denominations, ministry styles, and trendy topics: creation, sin, grace, salvation, justification, holiness, restoration, sanctification, mission, and worship, to name a few. While I think it’s important to use Christian language when speaking of these doctrines, it is also necessary to articulate these doctrines in a contextual manner. That is, if you are preaching to the youth group on the doctrine of sanctification you had better describe and apply the doctrine in a manner that connects with 21st century American teenagers. If you don’t, you can expect their minds to wander and their fingers to text.

Explore Urgent Topics: Reflect upon the needs of your people. What questions
are they asking? What struggles are they experiencing? What dreams are they chasing? Jot down all of the topics you can think of tackling through your preaching plan. Here are a few possibilities for your congregation: friendship, dating, marriage, parenting, suffering, sex, finances, leadership, loneliness, depression, etc. Once you develop an extensive topical list, consider distributing it as a survey to the people of your church asking each of them to circle their 2-3 preferred topics. Tabulate the results and see what topics rise to the top of the list. You may want to preach on the 4-6 most important topics to your flock in the summer when people are more likely to skip church.

Study Bible Characters: The Bible is full of characters whose lives highlight
important themes and doctrines like sin, grace, and redemption. You can find some rich character studies in all genres of the Bible, so be sure to pick characters from the Old Testament (Law, History, Poetry, Wisdom, Prophets) and the New Testament (Gospels, History, Epistles, Apocalyptic). You can travel through and teach lots of Scripture as you delve into the lives of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Esther, Elijah, Mary, Peter, and Paul.

As you consider the ideas above you will have more than enough genres, seasons, doctrines, topics, and characters from which to build an annual preaching plan. I suspect you might even end up with a two-year preaching plan. Whether you develop a one or two-year plan, I hope this resource will assist you in developing a well-balanced diet for your body, the church body that is.
• Begin to sketch out some immediate thoughts under each of the categories above.
• Now, develop a one or two-year preaching plan that provides both a well-
balanced diet of the biblical narrative and addresses the unique needs of your congregation.

© Lenny Luchetti

Friday, August 12, 2011

Jesus Christ Crushes the Stones that Cut Us Inside

Some time ago I preached a message called The Jesus Factor from the story of the demon-possessed madman in Mark chapter 5. For some reason, I felt drawn to go back and read that sermon today. Maybe I needed to be reminded of the power of God to do for me what I could never do for myself. Here is an excerpt from that message that encourages me and, I hope, will encourage you too.

“A force stronger than the force that had kept the man down set the man free- that force was the Jesus factor! You don’t have to stay in the tombs, you don’t have to keep crying and cutting, you are not trapped, you are not stuck, you are not left for dead in the place of death, there is a force that is greater than all the forces doing their best to rob you of peace and keep you down and that force is Jesus Christ, the name that is above every name, the one through whom all things were made, the alpha and omega, the light that shines in the darkness, the one who is seated on the throne, the one who really is in control, the one who is ridiculously willing to cross into our region to get out of his holy boat and step into our tomb, into the graveyard of our situation and bring life out of death, causing dead bones to live again, he is the author and perfector of our faith and he loves us more than we love ourselves and he can do for us what we could never do for ourselves, and he is for us not against us, and if you let him have you, in time you will find that, no matter what circumstances surround you, you can be at peace in your right mind! Only Jesus can give pervasive peace; drugs, alcohol, sex, success, money, and therapy can only give temporary relief through diversion but when you lay your head on the pillow at night or wake up in the morning if you want the kind of peace that wipes out isolation, the crying and cutting that’s going on in the basement of your soul, then give yourself to Jesus, fall upon the rock that crushes the stones that cut you inside.”