Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Preaching Clear Sermons (Part Four)

5. Sermon Delivery: Connecting with Your Audience

Well prepared sermons are greatly needed, especially ones that have been bathed in prayer. However a sermon only truly becomes a sermon when it is preached and Martyn Lloyd-Jones often said that there are three people involved in its delivery.
A. The preacher
B. The attentively listening congregation
C. The Holy Spirit.
We must always pray for the help and power of the Holy Spirit, without which our sermons will be lifeless and will not bear long-term fruit. Once I asked a man who had been training up preachers for decades to give me feedback on a sermon he had heard me preach. He gave me a lesson to remember for a lifetime. He said that ‘sometimes I was more concerned in getting the sermon out that I had prepared, than in getting the sermon across to the congregation’. He further stressed to me that ‘sometimes you connected with the congregation very well and other times you did not’. He explained that our aim must not be to simply give out what we have prepared but to ask ourselves: ‘Am I connecting with my audience all the way through the sermon?’ This is a valuable lesson for all of us.
Here are three questions to ask yourself, before, during and after each sermon. Also do not be afraid to ask some trusted congregation members for feedback.
1. Was your speech and delivery clear?
2. Were your explanations simple? Could a ten-year-old child understand your sermon?
3. Did you connect with your audience all the way through the sermon?

These three questions answered and applied honestly could transform most preachers and their preaching!
How do we close a meeting after preaching?
There are perhaps three things to consider here. Firstly, always close in prayer by asking the Living God to help everyone to be ‘doers of the word and not hearers only’ (James 1:22–5). Secondly, choose a song that is full of relevant biblical content, one that relates to the message. Thirdly, close the meeting with a benediction taken from the New Testament (some examples are: Romans 16: 25–7; Ephesians 6:23–4; Philippians 4:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:23–4, 28; 2 Thessalonians 3:16, 18; Hebrews 13:20–21; 2 Peter 3:18; Jude 24–5). The benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14 is suitable for most occasions. It has an important Trinitarian structure and this probably deserves a sermon on its own to bring out the richness of this benediction to the hearers.
What about altar calls and forced responses?
We must always avoid a forced response, even though we always want to persuade men and women to turn to God through Jesus Christ. With respect to what are commonly known as altar calls, we must ask ourselves: ‘Are they found in the New Testament?’ There is no problem in making yourself and other mature Christians available for enquirers but do not demand a public show of hands or, even worse, lead people to believe that if they simply respond in a meeting then they are genuinely converted. Jesus said, ‘By their fruits you shall know them’ (Matthew 7:20). It takes time for fruit to grow and for others to know if a profession is genuine. However, we must not encourage doubt concerning other people’s profession of faith because we want to help people to look to Christ for salvation and for the assurance of that salvation.

In summary, there are been five main stages identified for preaching sermons that will hopefully be clear and not easily forgotten. This goal may seem unattainable for many of us, but at least it is the right thing to prayerfully aim for. These stages are:
1. The Importance of a Single Idea
2. The Intended Meaning of the Text
3. A Clear Sermon Structure
4. Doctrines, Illustrations and Application
5. Sermon Delivery: Connecting with Your Audience

Here are some closing exhortations from preachers that have gone on to their eternal reward. The English Puritan from the seventeenth century, Richard Baxter, said that ‘I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men’. All preachers stand in need of the gracious help of the Holy Spirit to see lives changed. Remember that we want to impact not just people’s heads but also their hearts as Jonathan Edwards once said: ‘Our people do not so much need to have their heads stored, as to have their hearts touched; and they stand in greatest need of that sort of preaching which has the greatest tendency to do this.’

Preaching Feedback: Did I Preach a Clear Sermon?

1. The Importance of a Single Idea

• Was a clear title used?
• Did the title communicate a single idea and did this shine through the whole sermon?
• Did the chosen text/passage fit with the intention of the single idea that was preached?
• Was the text relevant to the subject?

2. The Intended Meaning of the Text

• Was the wider context of the passage and its setting in relation to redemptive history made clear?
• Was the context of the passage given in relation to the rest of the book that it came from? Did the preacher understand the literary style of the book? Was the historical context and purpose of the book explained?
• Were other parts of Scripture understood in relation to the passage used (analogy of faith which means comparing Scripture with Scripture)?

3. A Clear Sermon Structure

• Was a natural and unforced structure used? Did it flow from the chosen text?
• How many points were used?
• Were clear headings used for each point? Did they harmonise with the title? Were the hearers able to remember the points that were used?

4. Doctrines, Illustrations and Application

• Were doctrines correctly labelled and explained?
• Were the illustrations for each point easily understood, relevant, biblical and contemporary?
• Did the application communicate a clear and practical way for putting the truths into action in real life?

5. Sermon Delivery: Connecting with your Audience

• Was the speech and delivery clear?
• Were the explanations simple? Could a ten-year-old child understand the sermon?
• Did the preacher connect with the audience all the way through the sermon?

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