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?

Thursday 17 December 2009

Preaching Clear Sermons (Part Three)

3. A Clear Sermon Structure

Hopefully you have now reached the stage where you have a clear title that summarises the single idea that you want to preach, with a Bible passage that explains this truth, and also you will have worked hard to grasp the intended meaning of the passage. What is needed next is the third stage, the development of a clear sermon structure.
Imagine a wooden stool in your mind. How many legs are there? This is a good illustration for a sermon structure because the minimum number of legs that normally support a table or stool is three and a maximum of four. Aim for three or four headings because we all have memories that forget easily. It is much easier to remember a sermon with three simple points and this method has proved to be extremely effective for many preachers over the centuries. Here are some guidelines to help you.
A. Use a natural and an unforced structure that flows from the chosen text. An illustration that explains this idea is the peeling of an orange, because each orange segment separates naturally in preparation for eating.
B. Develop three or four points.
C. Have clear headings for each point and these should link to the main point of the sermon, as explained in our first stage.

Exercise 3
Determine a clear sermon structure from these three passages with a clear sermon title and three headings.
1. Ephesians 1:3–14.
2. Ephesians 2:1–10.
3. Ephesians 5:21–6:4.

4. Doctrines, Illustrations and Applications

The human body is an example of how we can explain this fourth stage. A human skeleton has a vital place in supporting and strengthening the frame of a human being but it is lifeless without the flesh on the bone. So far, we have hopefully applied these principles to form a good skeleton structure but we now need to make sure that the substance of the sermon to be preached includes doctrines, illustrations and applications.
In the New Testament letters, especially in the epistles, doctrine always seems to come before application. For example in the book to the Ephesians, Paul discusses gospel doctrine for about the first three chapters and then he deals with applying these truths to the daily lives of the first-century Christians for the next three chapters. This is a good pattern for our sermons to follow. The famous British theologian and Puritan John Owen explained it this way: ‘It would be an uncouth [strange, clumsy and lacking in polish] sermon that should be without doctrine and use [application].’

Exercise 4
Illustrations abound in the New Testament, especially in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1–7:29) and make a list of the illustrations and applications that Jesus uses (salt, trees etc.). Now write a list of every day contemporary items your listeners are familiar with that you could potentially use to illustrate truths in your sermons (for example: farming, animals, rice etc.).
Each heading of your structure should include the following.

A. Make sure that you explain a single doctrine for each point.
B. A doctrine needs to be correctly labelled and explained, like coat pegs or hooks on which our thoughts can be hung.
C. Use biblical or contemporary illustrations for each point.

Work on developing applications for the hearers for each point and ensure that these are clearly expressed. Try to avoid making applications into one continual challenge because our pastoral desire is to help the sheep to apply the truth of God. Also there may well be non-Christians who need to be pointed to Christ’s command to ‘repent and believe in the gospel’ (Mark 1:15).
Now go through the same Ephesian passages from Exercise 3 and identify the doctrines, illustrations and applications that you could use for each of the three headings you have chosen.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Preaching Clear Sermons (Part Two)

1. The Importance of a Single Idea

There are a number of spheres in life that have recognised the significance in using a ‘single idea’ in communication. This should be our goal in preaching. So, how do we develop a single idea? Through praying and preparation we should be asking ourselves: What do we believe God wants to speak to a certain group of people? This can come through a specific Bible passage or a specific theme whereby you search the Bible to find an appropriate passage. Once we begin to become settled on the specific theme or Bible passage, we should work on the following:
A. Develop a title that communicates that single idea.
B. Often take your title from the Bible passage you will be using.
C. Develop your structure around that single idea.
Here are some examples of sermons that I have preached in the past; ones that sought to capture the use of a single idea.
i. Romans 8:12–13: ‘The Indwelling of Sin and the Holy Spirit in the Life of Every Christian.’
ii. Luke11:22–31: ‘Ravens and Lilies.’
iii. John 10:27–30: ‘The Sheep of His Hand’; the doctrine was the perseverance of the saints, which means that true Christians cannot perish and lose their salvation.
Exercise 1
Consider these Bible passages and write down what is the main theme of each passage and what title you would give a sermon from that passage.
1. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
2. Revelation 1:12-20
3. Genesis 12:1-9
Write down, in a few sentences, an explanation as to ‘why you think a good title is important?’ and ‘how can a focus on a single idea influence your sermon preparation?’

2. The Intended Meaning of the Text

A sermon must always be taken out of the Bible and the reading of a passage should be followed by an explanation of what the particular chosen passage means. This is called expository preaching. We must preach out of the Bible and not about the Bible in a loose way. Two words, eisegesis and exegesis, need defining in order to help us understand our aim when preparing a sermon to be preached. Eisegesis is something we should want to avoid because this means the process of misinterpreting a text in such a way that it introduces one’s own ideas into the reading of a biblical text. This act of reading into a Bible text what is not there can include mystical ideas for interpretation, the use of allegory that is pushed beyond the scriptural limits or even our own opinions that may deviate from the biblical authors’ intended meaning. Exegesis is our aim because this seeks to determine the intended meaning of a text. Here are three principles that can help us to develop the skill called exegetical preaching, whereby we attempt to accurately understand a passage.
A. Find out the wider context of the passage and its life-setting in relation to the unfolding history of salvation from the rest of the Bible.
B. Consider the context of the passage in relation to the whole of the biblical book that it comes from. What is the literary style of the book? What was the historical context and purpose of the book?
C. What understanding do other parts of Scripture shed on this passage (also called the analogy of faith, which means comparing Scripture with Scripture)?
Our aim is always to discover what a passage is actually saying and how that passage was understood by its original hearers.
Exercise 2
Consider these three passages and try to remember how, in your experience, they are commonly interpreted. Write down what you think is the intended meaning of each passage.

1. The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37).
2. Hebrews 6:4–6 (Try to reconcile this passage with the teaching of Jesus in John 10:27–30).
3. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31–46).

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Preaching Clear Sermons (Part One)

Perhaps one of the highest compliments that you can be paid as a preacher is when someone who has heard you preach, comes to you and says: ‘I will never forget that sermon that you preached on …’ At all times, all the glory must go to God, because this can only happen by the power of the Holy Spirit, however it must be our high aim to preach clear sermons that people do not forget.

We need to ask ourselves as preachers some very searching questions. For example: Why does some preaching appear boring and irrelevant, and some dynamic and exciting? Why do some preachers connect with their audience while others do not? How can we avoid preaching sermons that are quickly forgotten? No matter how we deal with the subject of preaching we know that we will all fall short of the supreme standard of the greatest preacher ever, our Lord Jesus Christ—He is our example and we must aim at improving all areas of our sermon preparation and delivery.

We ourselves will always struggle with our own insecurities, our inadequate gifts to express the glorious truths of the gospel and many other failings, but we know that Christ has not left us alone in our ministry. He has promised the precious gift of the Holy Spirit; He is the One who is sent to the church to continue the mission of our Heavenly Father. We are not alone in the pulpit. In the Upper Room on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus repeatedly taught His disciples a Trinitarian view regarding the plan of salvation. This includes the promise that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, will be our Comforter and Helper (John 14:16–17, 26; 15:26; 16:7), the One who would come alongside the disciples in their mission. Should we not expect the same in the twenty-first century?

It would be a great encouragement to all preachers to read John 13:1–17:26 with a pencil and paper to make a note of all the specific promises concerning the help and ministry of the Holy Spirit. This would most likely strengthen our faith and give us fresh joy in the high calling of the Christian ministry. Our aim here is to simply look at five stages that are involved in the act of preaching clear sermons and at the end of this teaching, there is a preaching feedback sheet. This helpful tool can be given to your fellow elders or friends in your church, so that they can lovingly evaluate your preaching, in order that you may develop further in your service to Christ.

The Five Stages Involved in Preaching Clear Sermons

1. The Importance of a Single Idea
2. The Intended Meaning of the Text
3. A Clear Sermon Structure
4. Doctrines, Illustrations and Applications
5. Sermon Delivery: Connecting with your Audience

It must be noted that this is not an exhaustive study of the office of pastor and that of a preacher. For example we do not mention the essential need for godly character for the Christian minister (1 Timothy 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9; 1 Peter 5:1–5), the importance of learning how to handle the Bible correctly or many other aspects that are connected with caring for the flock of God. It should also be noted that the range of topics covered here could also be applied to other areas of life, for example as a guideline for effective communication skills.

What is a definition of preaching? Preaching could be defined as: A public proclamation of the intended meaning of a specific Bible passage (or text), in a way that the hearers understand. The goal of Christian preaching is the worship of the Triune God, who is accessed only through God’s mediator, Jesus Christ (1Timothy 2:5). Many Christians have probably over-looked that the central part of our Lord’s earthly ministry, beyond the redemption of sinners, was actually that of a preacher. Here are a few Bible passages from Mark’s Gospel that drive this point across. Let us walk in grace and humility as we follow in our Lord’s footsteps, learning of Him (Matthew 11:28–30).

Mark 1:14–15 And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
1:35–9 And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there. And Simon and his companions hunted for Him; and they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” And He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.” And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.
3:14 And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach.
16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”