Archive for June, 2007

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Six Months Old

June 18, 2007

On the 11th of December 2006 I felt the strong urge to start a blog. Such a strong sense of compulsion does not usually typify me, and on many themes – almost any theme – I’m sure I would not have had the enthusiasm to blog consistently. The difference has been that my aim was to discuss preaching, something I love and value highly. I thank God that I have learned a great deal during these last months while reflecting with you on some of preaching’s various components.

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This week being the 6 month anniversary of Unashamed Workman, I would love to get some feedback. It really helps to know what the regular readers (about three hundred of you daily) think about the content. I’ve got three main questions.

1) What aspects of the blog have you found especially helpful?
2) Is there anything you haven’t liked?
3) Is there anything I am not covering that you would like to see featured?

Thank you for reading.

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Featured Toolbox: Preaching Resources

June 16, 2007

For this Saturday’s Featured Toolbox, I’d like to point you to the excellent “Resources for Preachers” page, maintained by Peter F Whyte of Gilnahirk Baptist Church, Ireland. This page contains a raft of links to articles, sermons, and lectures about preaching, and also recommends helpful books on the subject. In many ways, it is similar to the page over at Monergism, but more extensive.

Other Toolbox This Week

A Timely Reminder – The Gospel Is the Power of God
Monergism June Update
Ruth Bell Graham Dies
RTS Reading List
Audio – Defending Penal Substitution
Death By Ministry – Driscoll (part one)
Soul Care Resources – Pawlinson
Discerning Reader Book Opportunity
Oh Dear…Preach My Sermon
50 Questions For Pastors to Ask
Accepting Your Church Size – Keller (*)
No Notes Preaching
Does Doctrine Really Matter?
A Bereans Discernment Tool for Purpose Driven Life
Religion vs Gospel
Derek Prime – Recommended Reads

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Preachers: Read Your Audience

June 15, 2007

Speaking personally, it’s a rare occasion when I don’t modify my written-sermon to better communicate with the audience in front of me. The reason is simple: even with message and messenger prepared I can never fully anticipate the congregation that will sit before me (And even if I know the congregation, I don’t know what condition I will find them in!). So while preachers should never depart from their essential message, they must sometimes make small adjustments in light of ‘congregational mood.’

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Let me give five examples of where some adjustment might be necessary:

1. The weary audience
It never ceases to amaze me just how much ‘physical conditions’ can negatively effect even the most attentive congregation. A few Sunday’s ago I preached on a very warm evening. As I scanned the congregation, ready to begin my introduction, several people were already asleep! To make things worse, the rest seemed destined to follow. Usually not one to skimp on length it nevertheless seemed prudent to keep up my pace, shorten a few minor points, and make sure I wasn’t ponderous. I’m glad to say that about half the audience eventually woke up!

2) The bored audience
If led poorly the opening part of the service can leave people in a very lethargic state; hardly ready to hear a sermon. Richard Bewes describes both the condition and the remedy:“Everything is sopoforic, boring and flat. A new dynamic is needed, and you are the one to provide it. Begin at once, cheerfully, buoyantly and with gusto. On ocassions I have started talking even before I had reached the speakrer’s place, so concerned was I to wake the room up!” (Speaking in Public Effectively, p86)

3. The distracted audience
It may be the sound of a siren, the cry of a young child, or the elderly gentleman fainting on the back row. Whatever the case, a whole variety of things can serve to distract our audience from the task at hand. At such moments, will it be a good idea to drop our voice and whisper our most significant point? No! We must slow our pace, patiently re-state the point at hand, waiting until the heads return to face us. Of course the distraction may be such that people cannot ignore it. In that case, our own personal intervention may be required.

4. The confused audience
It seemed so clear in our notes! But sometimes it becomes evident that our point is not so clear to our listeners. More often these days I take time to rephrase points I’m making when my audience emit the appearance of confusion. As much as is possible, we should work to work to dispel the mist, rather than leave our people in a fog of unclear ideas.

5. The sad/joyful audience
For a variety of reasons a congregation may convey a corporate sense of sadness on the one hand, or elated joy on the other. Either way, this is something we should take account of. There may be a mood of grief that we have to contend with: perhaps there has been a dreadful bereavement of a young one, the news of which has just been released minutes earlier. Or we may be visiting a church which has just gone through an agonizing departure of a pastor, or a church split. On such occassions, we wish to gently lift people’s spirits as we encourage them with the word of truth, but it is no time to be jovial. On the other hand, if it is a church anniversary, our dull tone will seem totally out of place. Though we should not be restricted by the mood of the congregation, we must nevertheless respect it in our approach.

[This is part two of a short Friday series, Expect the Unexpected. For part one.]

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What’s So Special About Preaching?

June 14, 2007

Read this excellent inaugural lecture from the EMA by David Jackman:
What’s So Special about Preaching?

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Inspire Me, Don Carson!

June 13, 2007

Even as one who believes in preaching’s importance, I fairly regularly need to refuel in terms of my motivation. Doing the same task every week, whether something mundance or majestic, still requires fresh inspiration. So now and again I feel the need to reflect on some of the reasons why preaching is so important.

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For this purpose I have several talks I often return to. My all time favourite has to be John Piper’s “How Expositional Preaching is Particularly Glorifying to God” which I’ve listened to more times than I can count. However, another wonderful set of talks were given by Don Carson at the 1995 Desiring God Conference. The first of these replenished my enthusiasm last evening. Why not listen in for yourself and be (re)inspired!

The Primacy of Expositional Preaching (part one) – Don Carson
The Primacy of Expositional Preaching (part two) – Don Carson
The Primacy of Expositional Preaching (part three) – Don Carson

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Biblical, Contemporary, or Both?

June 12, 2007

John Stott’s new book – The Living Church – is well worth a read. Having nearly completed it, I’ve been challenged by practically every chapter to have a more balanced ecclesiology, whether on the issue of evangelism or ministry or giving.

However, Stott’s chapter on “Preaching” would alone be worth the guide price. In fifteen short pages, he lays out five paradoxes which stand in tension to make effective preaching: Biblical and Contemporary, Authoritative and Tentative, Prophetic and Pastoral, Gifted and Studied, Thoughtful and Passionate. For today’s Classic Materials, here is a short quote from the first paradox. That is, the challenge to be both biblical and contemporary.

I like to imagine this [preaching] as a picture, of a flat territory deeply cut by a canyon or ravine. On the one side is the biblical world, on the other side the modern world, while between the two there is a deep gulf, two thousand years of changing culture.

Evangelical believers live in the biblical world. That is where we feel comfortable. We believe, love and read the bible. We are essentially a biblical people. But we are not so comfortable in the modern world. We feel threatened by it.

So how should I dray our preaching on this picture? It all comes out of the Bible. We would not dream of preaching and never quite lands on the other side. We are biblical, but not contemporary.

Liberal preachers, on the other hand, make the opposite mistake. They live in the modern world and do not feel threatened by it. They read modern poetry, philosophy, psychology, science and novels. They are moving with the moving times. But their situation is that they have largely jettisoned the biblical revelation. So when I draw their preaching on this picture, it all lands in contemporary reality. But where it comes from, heaven alone knows; it does not come out of the bible. They are contemporary but not biblical.

This simple picture illustrates one of the major tragedies in the church today. Evangelicals are biblical but not contemporary, while liberals are contemporary but not biblical. Comparatively few are building bridges.

But authentic Christian preaching is a bridge-building operation. It relates the text to the context in such a way as to be faithful to the biblical text and sensitive to the modern context. We must not sacrifice either to the other.

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Strange Moments…

June 11, 2007

For those of you who don’t usually read the “comments” section, I thought you might receive some light relief today by reading several relating to Friday’s post “Expect the Unexpected.” Here are some of our rather unusual moments in the pulpit.

Last year, in the “covenant affirmation” service of our new church plant, I was in the last application point of my message, ready to drive the point home when the fire alarm started buzzing really loud. Some kid in the nursery pulled the fire alarm. We had no idea how to turn it off (we meet in an elementary school) so we had to conclude the service (including the Lord’s Supper) outside.Needless to say, the sermon was dead at that point. You cannot pick up your conclusion with the same force after a 10 min delay! God is good and sovereign! (Justin Childers)

I once asked rhetorically in a message what the name “Philadelphia” meant (”the city of brotherly love”), and someone yelled out, “A great cheese steak!” It took me about 5-10 minutes to get my focus and concentration back on the message. (Ray Fowler)

My Rudy Guliani moment. Preaching through a passage in Ephesians, lightning struck the broadcast antenna at the church. We lost lights and sound for a couple of minutes. I think I said something like, “looks like the Lord is editing the sermon” and kept preaching. In His kindness, we only had a couple minutes left on the sermon and the lights were back up before we went to prayer. (Thabiti)

Early on in my preaching days, I was preaching to a crowd, 1/2 of whom were teens. I asked rhetorically, “What is faith?” (going on to Hebrews 11). A teen who was fairly new to church, not yet a believer, starts something like, “faith is blind…you really don’t know…blah blah blah”. After that, I was stunned. I’ve heard that argument, but it was so off topic for my sermon. The only good that came out of that was that I learned in all future sermons, either to state questions in statement form, or to be darn prepared for all possible answers. Also, preaching on stewardship once in a new ministry, towards the end of the sermon and elderly lady interrupted, “If you’re done about now, I’m going to walk out of here. All you do is talk about money, money, money” I replied, “M, I am about done, and this is the first time I’ve preached on money here, so please let me finish.” I wrapped up, “damage” was done. but afterwards, I asked her to stay while I greeted the congregation, then had a visit with her, when I found out that it was the anniversary of her husband’s death, and she didn’t really want to hear about money then. (pastabenblog)

My worst moments have often come from my own mistakes. Instead of saying John the Baptist ate locusts and wore camel’s hair. I said he wore locusts skins. I had no idea of my mistake and no idea why the congregation was laughing. The sermon went downhill from there. (Steve June)

Probably my own strangest experience occurred whilst speaking on the reliability of the bible at a Christian University Union. We lost all the lights except the rather dim lit emergency exits. Once we realized this was a permanent problem, we improvised and I actually completed my talk with the help of a mobile phone’s screen light, illuminating the notes in front of me. (Colin Adams)

I look forwrad to reading this. I have never had what is depicted in the picture of Wesley, but I’ve come close. May I comment on this and relate it to sermon preparation? I reserve Friday and Saturday for sermon preparation exclusively. But our church is small and there are many unexpected things that I cannot assign to others. This morning a man whose son just got fired and is suffering from severe depression came in to talk. One cannot say “sorry, this is my sermon preparation day”. So I spend the time with him. Less than half an hour later a lady who hasn’t attended here for about three years knocks on the door wanting to talk and asking how she can get back on track spiritually. We came up with something to help her but it is now almost noon and I haven’t made any progress with the message. But how could I ever say “this is sermon preparation day” to her? I suppose this might fall under “chaos in the congregation”. Pastoral ministry is a glorious work and I have been loving it for thirty years. The Lord will come through again for me the rest of the day and tomorrow and early Sunday morning as I get this important message finished. The interruptions just prove out I Corinthians 1:26-31. Now then – don’t ask why I am in a website on sermon preparation day. (Ken June)

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Featured Toolbox: Rightly Handling the Truth

June 9, 2007

More often than not Steve Lawson finds his way into my i-pod these days. Today’s Featured Toolbox links you to a series of three talks this pastor from Mobile, Alabama gave on the theme “How to Understand the Bible: Keys to Rightly Handling the Truth.” Covering 20 keys to biblical interpretation, these are not only useful refreshers for preachers but also a vital study for all members of the congregation.

Keys to Rightly Handling the Truth p. 1 mp3
Keys to Rightly Handling the Truth p. 2 mp3
Keys to Rightly Handling the Truth p. 3 mp3
(HT: Faith by Hearing)

Complete Toolbox for this week:

Basics Conference Messages
Blog Writing Debate
Review – Him we Proclaim
No to Nooma?
Handling the Imprecatory Psalms
Hate the Prosperity Gospel?
Tips for Better Blog Writing!
Church Planting in Major City Centres – Keller
Sermons For Little People
Staying Put In A Text (part one)
How Do You Fight Lust?
Alistair Begg MP3 Links
What’s Wrong with Gender Neutral Bible Translations?
Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World DVD
Why Join A Church?

Where Christ is Not Preached
Online Theology Courses At I-Tunes
Feeling Busy?
Excellent Resource – Religion facts
Exegetical Preaching vs Topical Preaching
The Preacher’s Choice – Keller
Happy Birthday Pure Church!
Latest Sermon: Jeremiah 26
Reformation 21 – latest issue

Resources for Preachers
Top Ten Books on Piety
Free Download: Best of Edwards Sermons
Insight into a Pastor’s Heart
How many New Christian Books?

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Expect the Unexpected (pt1)

June 8, 2007

Over the next few Friday’s I’m hoping to compile a short series entitled “Expect the Unexpected.” As the name suggests, these will be reflections on the ‘unplanned’ aspects of the preaching experience that nevertheless occur. Since preaching is a ‘live’ event and involves a genuine interaction with a large group of people, anything can happen. (NB: John Wesley is being attacked in the below pic!)

The topics I have in mind currently include emotion in pulpit and pew, adjusting to audience response, and chaos in the congregation (including everything from fainting fits to fighting!). You may have more suggestions to throw into the melting pot, and I’ll be most interested to hear over the week’s how you’ve dealt with some of the above.

I wonder then: what has been your most unexpected experience in the pulpit?

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Conrad Mbewe – 1 John 5:13-15

June 7, 2007

Quotes like the following brought me into contact with our preacher today:

“CONRAD MBEWE SLICES THE air with his hands. His booming baritone soars to a frenzied pitch. “I ask, what is your attitude to authority in your home?” he says. “What is your at-ti-tude? If that’s what characterizes your life, stop cheating yourself that you’re a Christian.” The congregation’s eyes follow every jab of his finger, every sweep of his hands. They’re hearing—and watching—a regular Sunday sermon from their pastor. But he also happens to be the Spurgeon of Africa.” (World Magazine, March 29th, 2003)

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So here is a brief review of his sermon based on 1 John 5:13-15. Find a detailed list of Conrad links here. Pastor Mbewe pastors Katwaba Baptist Church in Zambia.

What was the opening sentence? ‘We’re continuing in our series of messages under the theme: “the things most surely believed among us”‘

What was the introduction about?
This was a recap of the previous week’s sermon that assured believers that if they are truly Christ’s, then what he has begun, he will finish. This week the theme will be: that God wants all those who are saved, to know they are saved, in this life.

What was the outline?
1. Who does John wants to assure?
Only those who are “believers” are promised full assurance (1 John 5:13). But there are frequently two forms of self-deception, which blind people to the fact that they are not believers:
i) they think they can be saved by outward actions
ii) they think they can be saved and sin with impunity

2. How are they to know it?
i) Loving the brethren (1 John 3:10)
ii) Peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17)
iii) Inwardly our spirit cries out “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15)

What aspects of Mbewe’s style did you appreciate?
a) Interaction with the congregation. Talks near the beginning of the sermon to an imaginary objector, who doubts the fact that Christians can be assured. This kind of dialogue returns throughout the sermon.
b) Flat out earnestness. This guy can preach!
c) Use of questions in application. Rarely have I heard a preacher so relentlessly question his congregation, and to such effect.
d) Mbewe’s concluding appeals. Really, you should all listen to this…!

What will you remember in a week’s time?
The rising of Dr Mbewe’s voice as he pleads with the congregation.

What one aspect of Mbewe’s preaching will you seek to adopt into your own? His excellent use of questioning. Surely this is one way to press the soul of the hearer! A good explainer of the text must know how to question his text and his hearer.

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Ten Questions for a Young Expositor

June 6, 2007

Both John Brand and Scott Hamilton recently asked me if I would personally complete the 10 Questions for Expositors. Since I have been dishing these questions out to others, it seems only fair that I answer them myself. So for what its worth…

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1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
Preaching must be prominent because God’s Word births and nourishes spiritual life. Jesus once declared that human beings truly live through feeding on the word of God (Mat 4:4). Paul expanded on this when he spoke of how the Scriptures make us wise unto salvation (2 Tim 3:15). Furthermore, our Lord showed the ongoing importance of God’s word when he prayed that the word of truth might “sanctify” believers (John 17:17). No wonder then that Jesus’ repeated command to the apostle Peter was “feed my sheep.” (John 21:15) In addition, the same urgency remains in the post-apostolic era. It is from apostle to pastor-teacher that Paul charges Timothy: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2).

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
As a child, a lady in my church told me I was going to be a preacher. I’m not sure how she knew, except that I probably could talk for Scotland! Seriously: I received opportunities in my home fellowship around the age of 17 to preach short messages and this grew to preaching in other congregations thereafter. By the time I was 19 I was sure I had some kind of preaching gift, but I completely lacked the exegetical foundation to produce solid sermons. I went to seminary at that point!

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
Its impossible to put an accurate figure on it as I’m constantly working on my sermon either consciously or unconsciously. However, when it comes to planned study time I spend between 20 and 25 hours on each sermon. I study and write my messages between 9.00-12.30 Tuesday through Friday mornings and go over my message in a more revisionary fashion on Saturday morning and early Sunday.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I agree with others who have answered this question that it is important not to force the passage into a mold. But I usually find that most passages do have one main focus, and the question what was the author’s intention in writing the section often unveils this. In practical terms, I find that having one essential point almost always works better in terms of clarity and force. John Piper is a master of this. One of the reasons his sermons are so memorable is that he almost always has one – often quite narrow – idea that he explores from various angles and applies incessantly.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
He should avoid seeking to entertain the congregation but shouldn’t go out of his way to bore them! Our prime focus should be the message but we must work to deliver it in an accessible manner. Some preachers, then, need to spend more time on getting the message right. But others, who are weaker on presentation, may need to give more time than they are doing to thinking about how they will present the material. I would also add that preachers must exude a certain amount of conviction about what they preach. There should be an evident confidence in the Word, that may of course be expressed differently from preacher to preacher. But if the person in the pulpit isn’t gripped by the authority and urgency of the message, the congregation will readily tell.

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I write out my sermon in full to clarify my own thinking and provide a fall back if I blank. I try to make my notes as discreet as possible and endeavor not to read them. One aid to this is that I highlight the key fragment (sometimes just a few words) in each paragraph, so that I can use my notes almost as bullet points. Although one can over-practice, I also find that a couple of run-throughs helps me not to rely on my notes.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
Pride when you’ve preached ‘the best sermon they’ve ever heard’, and despondency when the message is received with anger or apathy (the latter is worse, incidentally). I find myself fluctuating between these two dangers, sometimes fighting them respectively on back to back Sundays!

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
I guard my mornings like a treasure chest and give my afternoons to other tasks. This can be tremendously difficult, especially when you’re instinct is to check your email and get the apparently ‘urgent’ tasks out of the way. But since mornings are my freshest time, I’ve found that the practice of deferring other matters is an absolute must. Like some of the other people interviewed, I also enjoy the great benefit of working as part of a team, with some administrative staff to help.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
Bryan Chapell’s “Christ-Centered Preaching” is what I would give to any new preacher on the block. For the motive and manner of preaching, John Piper’s “The Supremacy of God in Preaching” is a modern classic. Like many others, I am also a great fan of “Lectures to my Students” (Spurgeon) and “Preaching and Preachers” (Lloyd Jones)

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing of future preachers?
I guess blogging is a first step! This year I’ve been part of a team who have put together a young leaders training course, but next year I’m hoping to start a young preacher’s group. Do pray for this endeavor.

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Good Preachers; Poor Prayers

June 5, 2007

I came across a gem of a quote while reading Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology yesterday relating to the preacher’s prayers. If nothing else, read his six pointers for public prayer.

“While teaching should be, as it clearly was during the apostolic age, the prominent object in the services of the Lord’s day, the importance of public prayer can hardly be overestimated. This, it is often said, is the weak point in the worship service.

It is probably true that there are more good preachers than good prayers. The main reason for this is that the minister devotes a great part of the labor of the week to the preparation of the sermon and not a thought to his prayers. It is no wonder, therefore, that the one should be better than the other.

The situation can be remedied by keeping the requisites of edifying public prayer in view:

1) The officiating minister should have a truly devout spirit; the feelings and desires of which the prayers are the utterance should be in exercise of his own heart.

2) His mind and memory should be well stored with the thoughts and language of Scripture. Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Their utterances, whether in adoration, thanksgiving, confession, or supplication, were controlled by the Spirit of God. Hence they express the mind of the Spirit; they are the most appropriate vehicles for the expression of those feelings and desires which the Spirit awakens in the minds of God’s people. No prayers, therefore, are more edifying, other things being equal, than those which abound in appropriate use of Scriptural language.

3) The prayer should be well ordered so as to embrace all the proper parts and topics of prayer in due proportion. This will prevent its being rambling, diffuse, or repetitious.

4) It should also be suited to the occassion, whether that be the ordinary service of the Lord’s day, or the administration of the sacraments, or the special service on days of thanksgiving or of fasting and humiliation.

5) It is hardly necessary to say that the language employed should be simple, solemn, and correct.

6) The prayers should be short. Undue length in this service is generally due to useless repetitions.