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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?

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A Walk Through Ephesians

Going back to Stott’s statement that the key to the secret to effective preaching is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by core convictions, I want you to indulge me in something that’s designed to just deepen that conviction in you. Because there are a lot of things out there about how to do Christ centered preaching but I think the single most important thing and the reason I like to use this analogy is that if it becomes a core conviction that you must both turn up the music and call the dance, I believe you’ll find a way to do it.

Here’s the exercise. I want us to look at one of the most famous church renewal pastors and church planters and how he does it in one of his most famous books, the book of Ephesians. I’m talking about Paul. In Ephesians, part of the beauty of Ephesians and why I want to do it is there are six chapters. I think in the first three chapters, what you have are the riches of God’s love in Christ, and the last three chapters, the expression of Christ in our lives. Here’s what I want us to do for just a minute though, to see how Paul does this, let’s think about how Ephesians 1 through 3 reveals the grace of God. If you have a Bible, turn to Ephesians 1, if you don’t have a Bible just remember because I’m sure you know Ephesians. What are some of the expressions of the grace of God that we are given in Ephesians Chapter 1? Is there any grace in Ephesians Chapter 1?

He starts off by saying, “Blessed be, the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” He’s putting all of this in the context of praise, which by the way there’s an application for all of that. He says he chose us before the foundations of the world, he pre-destined us, there’s an inheritance there and in verse 5 through 7, he says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace which he lavished on us.” Lavished mean just like “Whoo!” Is there any other grace anywhere else in Chapter 1? We’re predestined for the adoption of sons, what comes right after that? Inheritance? What else? Sealed by the spirit who’s the earnest of our inheritance into the day of redemption. That’s a tremendous outpouring of the grace of God right there, so much so that what does Paul do at the end of the first chapter? He’s caught up in praise and he turns into prayer for his spirit of revelation in the knowledge of Christ so that we would grasp the richness of his power at work within us.

That’s chapter 1. Is there any grace in Chapter 2 of Ephesians? Starts out, “You are dead in your trespasses and sins. You walked according to the course of this world. The prince of the power the air, children of wrath.” This is that powerful, powerful but God… But God. Then how does he describe God right after he says, “But God”? Being rich in mercy. Then, what was motivating when he acted? Because of his great love with which he loved us? This is amazing. Made us alive together in Christ, by grace you’re saved.

A little bit later on in the book of, in Chapter 2, what else does he say are some of the things that are true of us, like get down around verses 19 and 22? You are without hope and without God in the world but you’re no longer foreigners and strangers, there’s reconciliation. What’s the image that he uses in that passage? The dividing wall of the temple and Christ as the cornerstone that Isaiah had talked about. In Chapter 3 he says, verses 1 through 6, who shares together in the promise of grace. Look in Chapter 3, we’ll move a little bit more quickly, if you come down to chapter 3 verses 7 through 13, what is the result in terms of how we can approach God? Different versions will put it a little bit differently. How can we approach God because of this? With boldness, confidence, some versions have with freedom and boldness or freedom and confidence.

Does anybody know how many imperatives, how many commands are in Ephesians Chapter 1 through 3? The only command for three chapters is to remember where you used to be before you got the grace of God in Jesus. That’s the music. At the end, he comes to the end in Chapter 3 and he gives a prayer, we’re going to come back and look at that prayer but then he says, “I, as a prisoner of the Lord, then”, and the then softens it. This is the NIV but a lot of versions, it’s the therefore. “As a prisoner of the Lord, therefore, I urge you live a life worthy of the calling.” Worthy, I think in our modern culture that almost makes it sound like … I think it throws you a little bit. It’s the idea of a life that’s in keeping with or appropriate to what you just read and everything that came up before this.

Here is what I want to do now though. One imperative, only one imperative in the first three chapters and that’s the imperative to remember that formerly, you were without Christ. Now, are there any imperatives in Chapter 4? We got one. “Live a life worthy of the calling that you’ve received.” Think about it or look if you have Ephesians 4 in front of you and quickly, let’s begin to itemize some of the imperatives. What else are we told to do?

I’m not just looking for implied imperatives but just explicit imperatives. Forgive us Christ, forgave you, do you know where that is? Twenty eight, I think. Before we get to 28, let’s back up and go through it. “Be patient with each other”, where’s that? Verse 2. “Guard the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, be humble and gentle, bear with one another.” Then there’s a little section in there where he talks about Christ ascended and poured out gifts and apostles and prophets for equipping of the saints, but then right after that, begins more imperatives. What’s some others?

Is there anything between verse 15 and 24 that’s an imperative? Speak the truth in love, no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, be renewed in your mind, lay aside the old self put on the new self. I don’t want to just do one. There won’t be anything to work with. Then we’d get, be angry and do not sin, don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Then right after that, there’s a bunch of others aren’t there? What are some of the other ones? Don’t steal. Don’t steal but labor. You get that series of “don’t do this but do that”, replace this old behavior with this new behavior, is that it? What comes after “Don’t steal”?”

No unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, only what’s good for the edification of others. What else? Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit. Do you see how many imperatives now where you go from three chapters where there’s basically no imperatives. Then, here we are in the first 20 verses, I think we just named almost 20 imperatives. But does it end there? No. If we go back and we look, what are some of the other ones in Ephesians 4? Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you. Before that he says, there’s a negative before that, get rid of all what? Malice, brawling, slander. In this church, the brawling has to stop. Be kind to one another, imitators of God as dearly beloved children. Walk in love just as Christ loved us.

Now we’re into chapter 5 aren’t we? What comes after that, “walk in love just as Christ loved us”? No sexual immorality, and then he talks about your speech. Then we’ll go a little bit faster but if you read on, he talk about such a variety of applications. Be circumspect in how you walk redeeming the time for the days are evil. Do not be drunk with wine but be filled with the spirit. Submit to one another out of fear of Christ. Husbands love your wives. Wives, love and respect and submit to your husbands. That ends Chapter 5.

He’s talked about substance abuse, he’s talked about marriage, he’s talked about time management, he’s talked about sexual immorality, lying, stealing, unity, love, forgiveness, bitterness. Now we get into Chapter 6, are there any imperatives? Children, obey your parents, fathers raise your children and nurture the discipline of the Lord, put on the armor of God, fight these spiritual battles, praying always. There’s just this incredible, I think it’s Sinclair Ferguson says that it is as if in Ephesians, what you get is this beautiful white light of the Gospel that passes through this prism and it just spreads it into this entire spectrum of every single aspect imaginable, pretty much of life.

We left out the part about masters and servants, so you’ve got the workplace, the home, substance abuse, time management, sexuality, your words, your heart, laying aside all malice, it’s just every single aspect of life is affected by the music. That’s the dance. That’s all the dance and it’s all important. Preaching the Gospel doesn’t mean that you somehow diminish the imperative nature of those imperatives.

What percentage of obedience do we aim at? 100% obedience, from the inside out, 24/7. But what Paul is showing us is that dance, the God who choreographed the dance composed the music that goes with it and that is intended to inspire and empower it. We can’t dance the dance well unless we’re listening to the music.

Look at this prayer. This is the hinge between those two chapters. He says, “I pray that out of his glorious riches”, this is the end of chapter 3, last thing before he gives the beginning of the imperative. “He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit and your inner being.” It’s interesting also, we’re talking about dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Sometimes when people think of the power of the Holy Spirit, they may think of many different things in life but he says that what he’s praying for is that this empowering will result in Christ dwelling in your hearts through faith.

We know earlier in Ephesians 1:13, he said that, “If you have heard and believe the Gospel, the Holy Spirit has sealed you and you the indwelling of Christ to be the person of the spirit.” I agree with the commentators who say here he’s talking about a more experiential or existential sense. It’s not talking about the ontological reality of the indwelling Christ because every believer has that reality. It’s part of the Gospel, part of what it means to be renewed. It’s part of the new covenant. But rather the experiential acknowledgement and sense of Christ dwelling in our hearts through active living vital faith.

“I pray that you being rooted and established in love.” Two metaphors, one from gardening planting, one from building, establish like on a foundation, rooted like a plant in the soil. Again, there’s no corresponding attribute of God what we’re ever told to be rooted or established, so yes God’s holy and he’s wrathful. He has his wrath but there’s no verse that says, “I pray that you would rooted in the wrath of God.”

Propitiation has resulted in Christ having taken the wrath for us as believers. As J.I. Packer says in Knowing God, “Those who received Christ as their propitiation do not face the wrath of God. But so that you would be rooted and established in love and you may have power together with all the saints to grasp the full dimensions of the love of God.” How wide and long and high and deep is the love of God. To know, again, since it surpasses knowledge, this is talking about a kind of existential spiritual knowledge of a love that surpasses intellectual comprehension that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God and this is what leads into all of those imperatives. Those imperatives are showing you what the effect of being filled all the fullness of God will mean as it works its way out in marriage and children, in the workplace, in time, in substance abuse, in sexuality, in words, in bitterness, and all of it.

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The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians displays a pattern for Gospel-centered preaching that includes both indicatives and imperatives.

In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul demonstrates a model for Gospel-centered preaching that includes both indicatives (chapters 1-3: who we are in Christ) and imperatives (chapters 4-6: what we do for Christ).

As we learned earlier, John Stott writes that the key to effective preaching is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by core convictions.

In this FREE video, our focus is on one of the core convictions of the Apostle Paul revealed in his letter to the Ephesian Christians.

In this course, you’ll be equipped to:

  • Understand the necessary core convictions in preaching
  • Explain how Christ is the means and motive for Christian living
  • Share how God’s astonishing love in Christ impacts preaching
  • Design a practical method for preparing Christ-centered sermons
  • Demonstrate how to apply the gospel to the lives of believers
  • Illustrate how to preach Christ to believers and unbelievers

This brief video (12:58) will help you discover how the book of Ephesians provides an overarching structure, or template, for preaching the gospel and living the Christian life.

Take this course now.

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