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Preaching Methods Part 1
Turn up the music and call the dance, and then the third one is what I call “The Preach Peace Path.” I know, I’m trying to try to help you just remember these ideas. Here’s what I mean. If you go hiking in a national forest, there’s a path and usually these paths have been created by the forest rangers for a purpose. They’ll take you to see all the vistas that you most need to see.
If you’re a hunter and you go out in the woods, and you look for the paths that the animals are taking, there are well-worn paths; there are game trails in the woods because they take that deer from his bedding area to where the water is, to where the forage is, to where the girls are, and then back to his bedding area, and so you see these game trails.
I think in preparing sermons, I’ve found it to be very helpful to have a path that I am confident will take me through everything I need to have, or everything I need to see. And in the Colossians verse, Paul said … he talked about proclaiming Christ, and then he said, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy.”
There’s hard work in proclaiming Christ well, so I actually use this outline sort of like a checklist. Have any of you seen the TED Talk called “The Power of Checklists”? There’s a surgeon named Atul Gawande, he’s Indian, and just listen to this because I find it very intriguing. He’s written about researching for the World Health Organization for improving surgical outcomes in the developing world. He did a study to try to understand, what could they do around the world to lessen the negative implications of complications after surgery?
To their surprise, what they discovered was that the single most effective way to lower the complications and death rates of surgical patients was not better training for the surgeons, because most of the surgeons already had good training. The most effective thing which was resisted by the surgeons was to give them a checklist.
The checklists were resisted because the surgeons didn’t want to have to use them. The checklists were powerful because they forced the surgeons to admit humility, and to acknowledge that certain important steps, like making sure you’ve got the right patient, and were working on the right organ, and had retrieved all the implements from the body cavity before sewing them up, all of those things can slip in the intensity of being focused on the outcome.
They implemented the checklist system in eight hospitals around the world from Tanzania to Seattle, and found the rate of complications fell 35% in every hospital where a checklist was implemented. And the death rate fell by 47%.
So what I want to give you is sort of a checklist, and I think though, that sometimes pastors, like surgeons, resist the idea. I mean, you know, it’s a spiritual inspired process; kind of half artistic, half scientific thing that we do, but if you don’t like my checklist, maybe come up with your own checklist. Think through, “What are the steps that I want to make sure I accomplish in my sermon preparation?”
The one that I teach here at the seminary and that I use myself is called “Preach Peace,” and it just starts with, “Prepare yourself and your materials.” How might you prepare yourself for Gospel-centered preaching? Again, some of us have little rituals or disciplines, but as we open the text, I usually, if I know if I’m doing expository preaching Sunday night, not in a preparatory mode but in a reflective mode, I just read and have kind of a devotional time with the text that I’m going to be approaching for the week to come. I want it to be in my mind, in my heart, beating.
What else could we do to prepare yourself and your materials? For me, it could be something as simple as then on Monday morning, I know I’m preaching. Like my last weekend, I was preaching from 1 Peter on, “Let everyone be submissive, be subject to every human institution, whether the emperor, or …” I knew I was preaching on the role of government and our response to human government as Christians.
One of the things I did is, I actually downloaded a couple MP3s off the Gospel Coalition site to load on my iPhone that I can throw in my car, and just listen to during the week; by the end of the week, I would have listened to maybe Tim Keller, and Dick Lucas, or somebody else. I might not even know their name, but I saw that they had preached on that passage, or on that theme from Romans.
I grabbed some commentaries on Monday morning off my shelf, and I gave them to one of my assistants and asked her to photocopy that section on that part, and throw them into a file so I could throw them in my briefcase and take them with me. It can be that simple. You know, it’s both this combination of both spiritual preparation and getting your gear together. You know, if you do any sport and you’re getting ready to go, whether it’s hunting, or fishing, you get all your stuff together, and that’s kind of the first step: prepare yourself and your material.
Then, “Read and reflect.” This is where somebody talked about humbling yourself before the text yourself. This is where before you reach for the commentaries, or you start listening to what other people have done, you just do Psalm 1: “Blessed is the person who meditates on the law of the LORD.” You read in that meditative, reflective mode for yourself, but also to begin to surface themes, ideas, whatever you may want to develop more thoroughly.
And then for me, this read and reflect is important, especially in the sense of having time to do that before I move to E, so that there’s some opportunity to just get those first initial impressions and to write them down. I think it’s important to write them down, and some things just to me, work better hand, but it doesn’t matter whether you type it up, or whatever.
But then, “Exegete the text in its context.” Crucial step, that’s a big part of what we’re taught to do in seminary is how to do exegesis, how to begin with the background, put it in the context of history, and scripture, and then dig down into the details. Are there particular words here that I need to understand better? How does the grammar work together?
Is there a chiasm, or some kind of literary aspect that helps me identify … maybe at first, a word jumped out at me because it’s something I’m in to, but when I actually look more carefully, I realize, “It’s not really the point that Peter, or Paul, or Isaiah is making.” You know, you have to do that basic fundamental, exegete the text in its context.
But then, A is “Ask questions.” What might be some of the questions that you would want to ask? Think about what you’ve done: you’ve gathered your materials, you’ve got your commentaries, articles, MP3s; you’ve read and just reflected in kind of a prayerful mode, now you’ve done your exegesis. Pause, and before you start writing your sermon, what would be some of the questions you might want to ask?
What’s my context in terms of my particular people? We don’t have generic churches, this is the big failure in fact, if you listen to different preachers. You end up listening to Mark Driscoll all the time and you’re pastoring in Biloxi, Mississippi, and you’re going to have a problem if you just start sounding like him. If you’re listening to Tim Keller and you’re in Biloxi, Mississippi, you’re also going to have a problem.
No offense if any of you are here from Biloxi, Mississippi, but you have to understand your people, and even specific people. Alexander Maclaren used to put a chair across from his desk and picture concrete people; a woman, a widower, a man, a young person, and think, “How do I communicate this to them?” What would be some other questions? “How might non-believers hear this?”
And kind of closely related to that, defeater beliefs. Are you guys all familiar with defeater beliefs? The idea of defeater beliefs … you can google for it by the way, there’s a great little PDF that Tim Keller wrote but it originally comes from Alvin Plantinga, and it’s the idea that in every culture, there are things that are believed so deeply that they’re just assumed to be true, and if what you’re saying contradicts those things, those defeater beliefs will defeat what you’re saying.
An example would be, if in our culture, everybody is just convinced, young people are convinced, “Tolerance is good, judgmentalism is bad.” And it’s just so deeply ingrained in the culture and in their mindset, “Tolerance is good, judgmentalism is bad,” and then you get up and say, “Jesus is the only way to heaven,” or “Homosexuality is a sin,” and a defeater belief works in the sense that the person doesn’t really even have to engage with your arguments, they just think, “That can’t be true. It just can’t be true because that’s intolerant, and tolerance is good, and intolerance is bad.”
If you’re preaching in today’s culture, like when I was 24 years old and preaching in Kansas, if I was preaching through Ephesians and I came to, “Wives, be subject to your husbands,” I would do a sermon on it and I’d try to explain what it really means and what it doesn’t mean, but now in my community if I’m preaching on that, I actually may not spend less time on it, I may spend more time on it. That may require three sermons so that I can flesh out a whole biblical view of gender and put it in its context, so you ask questions. “What questions would this surface? What objections would this surface? What problems would this surface in the people that I’m called to preach to?”
And then, “Construct an outline.” I believe in outlines, I think outlines are helpful; they help people follow you and they help you unify your sermon, and they also help you. I like to be able to stand and deliver without having to look at my notes too much, an outline helps you do that.
And that leads to my next part of this, the Preach, but notice it says “Highlight and hone?” Highlight and hone means by highlighting, you surface what’s predominant, and distinguish it from what’s subordinate, because you’re going to say a lot of different things; before this sermon is over, you’re going to use a lot of words. How do you highlight what is predominant so that it doesn’t just get lost in what’s subordinate?
Some of what is your main point, and like Marty was saying, you have a single main burden of the text, everything else is supposed to be supporting that. And then honing is how do you sharpen the way you communicate it in such a way that you say it in the sharpest manner; that it’s the most compelling, concise, convicting way to communicate it?