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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Thoughtful Review of Preaching Essentials

Dr. Dwight Moody received a vision, some years ago, to encourage, equip and empower young preachers to proclaim the Gospel of Christ with all that is within them. So many of our brightest and best young people do not see preaching as a viable vocation through which to transform society. Dr. Moody wanted to do something about that trend and indeed he is. The Festival of Young Preachers is coming to Indianapolis in 2014. If you know of any gifted young preachers with a call to preach, send them to this event.

Dr. Moody has reviewed and recommends my book, Preaching Essentials, to aspiring young preachers. Here is his kind and thoughtful endorsement:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Preaching Tip: Create Contextual Connectors

While your historical and literary exegesis of a particular biblical text will not change much, unless you develop new skills for deeper digging, the context of the people to whom you preach is always changing. The contemporary context, then, should have significant bearing on how the biblical exegesis is shaped and delivered through the sermon. Using language that contextually connects with the specific people to whom you preach is the difference between a mediocre sermon and a great one.

Contextual connectors are those tactile, imagistic words strategically placed in sermons that earth the values of God’s kingdom within the realities of the listener’s life. These connectors avoid conceptual generalities that can only be heard in the ear but not seen in the mind’s eye. One of the ways to discern the level of your contextual connectivity is to ask yourself regarding the last sermon you preached: Could I preach this sermon to any group, regardless of the age, ethnicity, socio-economics, and education level of the group without changing any of the sermon’s language? If the answer is “no” then you’re on the right track. If you answered “yes” then the following exercises can help you connect with the diversity of people to whom you preach.

-Pray the sermon through the church directory: Once you have an idea of the focus (what the sermon will say), pray the focus through the church directory. As you look at the pictures or names of people, pray the sermon focus into the specific situations of peoples’ lives. This practice prevents the sermon from becoming generalized pie in the sky and grounds the real Gospel in the realities of the real people to whom we preach. Words and phrases will surface that connect to the specific people in your preaching context.  

-Consider contextual circles: With your sermon focus in mind, prayerfully reflect upon the following questions: How does this sermon intersect with my life? How does this sermon engage the hopes and hurts of the Church? How does this sermon intersect with the needs of my Community, Nation, and World? Carefully pausing to exegete your circles of context (personal, church, community, nation, and world) will only accentuate the power of your biblical exegesis.

So, let’s say you’re preaching from Genesis 3 about the fig leaves Adam and Eve used to cover their sin and shame. The fig leaves also became a barrier to the intimacy they craved with each other and with God. What are the fig leaves we use to cover our nakedness that keep us from the intimacy we crave? Well, the fig leaf should change based upon the context of the specific group to whom we preach. If you’re preaching to teens, the fig leaf might be popularity and possessions. If you’re preaching to white collar, well-educated people, the fig leaf might be accomplishments. If you’re preaching to rural farmers, the fig-leaf might be land and livestock. If you’re preaching to senior citizens, the fig-leaf might be wealth. You get the idea. The context should shape the sermon.  

The best preachers are the best listeners. Through conversations with the people and with God, the preacher has listened long and hard to the hopes and hurts, dreams and disappointments of the people. The listening preacher is the one who can proclaim Christ with pinpoint profundity on Sunday morning.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Want to Improve Your Preaching? Find a Preaching Coach

The business world has caught on to the concept of coaching. Many middle and top level executives now hire a coach who will help them reach their potential in the corporate world. Many of these coaches get paid big bucks for their services. People who want to get in shape hire a coach as well, usually called a trainer. Some of my friends who like to golf and want to reach their full potential in hitting that little white ball into the slightly larger hole several hundred yards away, hire a coach too. Many are willing to go to great lengths, incur significant expense, and devote lots of time to being coached toward their potential.

I wonder how many preachers have a coach. According to my observations, not many have a preaching coach. Yet, preaching has more potential for eternal impact than business management, fitness, and golf combined. What is more, utilizing the services of a preaching coach can be low cost or even free of charge. So then, why do so few preachers have a coach? The answer, in my estimation, is simple. We don’t like it when people critique our baby, our sermonic baby that is. The sermons we preach, unless we take shortcuts and download them from, are born from the DNA of our soul. The sermons we birth are really a part of us, like one of our children. And we preachers will do most anything to avoid hearing someone suggest that our sermonic baby is not as cute as we think she is.

Get over it, preachers! There is too much at stake when it comes to preaching for us to worry about our fragile ego. Ministry is perfectly designed for the crucifixion of the ego, and this is especially true for the minister who happens to preach. Those preachers whose best sermons are before them and not behind them, usually have some sort of preaching coach who critiques and commends their sermons. Have I convinced you yet? If so, here are some practical ways to benefit from a preaching coach.

-Recruitment: A preaching coach can be another pastor who serves with you on staff, a thoughtful lay person in your church, a homiletician who teaches preaching, or an effective preacher from another congregation. The key when it comes to recruitment is to find someone who is mature and secure enough to both critique and commend your preaching. If someone is either critique-happy or commendation-sappy, they should not be recruited as your preaching coach; that coach will only give you half of what you need.

-Structure: Meet with your coach at least once per quarter. You buy the lunch or breakfast, but meet in your office as opposed to a public setting. You should give your preaching coach some sort of feedback guide, like the one found in Preaching Essentials pp.196-197. Listen to or, preferably, view the sermon with your preaching coach. Then, following the sermon, graciously remind the preaching coach how much you value their honest feedback. Simply listen to the feedback of your coach. If you interrupt and get defensive or try to explain yourself, you will seriously diminish the potential for substantive feedback. If you must respond, it should only be to gain clarification on something your coach says. While your coach is giving you feedback, you will want to take copious notes. This will serve you well in the future as you look back at your notes from each session to see patterns of strength and weakness in your preaching.    

-Follow-Up: After you meet with your coach, set aside a day to prayerfully process the feedback. As you prayerfully reflect, consider what steps you need to take to improve the areas in which you are deficient and to maximize the areas in which you are strong. What can you add to your weekly homiletic process that addresses the feedback from your preaching coach?

Get started. Have fun. Find a preaching coach today. You and the people to whom you preach will be so glad you did.