Give ‘Em Something They’ve Never Heard

In these posts I’m reviewing my best takeaways from Gallo’s book, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking-secrets of the World’s Top Minds. One of them helped confirm for me something that goes against some conventional wisdom on preaching.

I remember being warned not to try to come up with something new for Sunday sermons. The reason was that novelty can easily slip into unorthodoxy.

Gallo, however, includes a chapter entitled, Teach Me Something New (p. 111).

He writes, “Reveal information that’s completely new to your audience, packaged differently, or offers a fresh and novel way to solve an old problem” (p. 113).

The word, “completely,” might be a stretch since older, well-versed congregations are familiar with most, if not all, the Bible–cover to cover. But the quote is helpful in telling us how to look at developing sermons with the goal in mind of giving them something they’ve never heard.

Here’s why giving ’em something they’ve never heard before should be your goal for this Sunday:

  • Your spiritual gift yields new insights into God’s Word.
  • Your spiritual gift, which includes your unique thinking patterns and study habits, yields new insights into God’s Word. The first two bullets produce the new theological information.
  • Your spiritual gift, unique thinking/studying, plus your style and personality yields new insights into God’s Word. This last bullet produces the different packaging; different everything from introduction to conclusion, the entire sermon sequence.

One of the things that makes good preachers good is their ability to say some new things and say some familiar things in new ways. Think about the preachers you admire. Am I right?

Before Sunday see if you have something remarkable to say. Gallo writes, “And ‘remarkable’ is a really cool word because we think it just means neat, but it also means–worth making a remark about” (p. 127).

Finally, keeping asking God for insight so that novelty doesn’t lead to unorthodoxy and so He receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).



Preaching As Intense Conversation (not delivering a sermon!)

Carmine Gallo’s book, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, is one of those books that will instantly help your preaching. The reason is because preaching is communication and this book inspires its readers to be good communicators. The book also is a fresh look at effective communication theory and practice.

Like, for instance, the importance of having a conversation with our congregants.

Not every congregation will appreciate this. You may be in a church setting that expects a more traditional preaching style. If not, your faith-family may benefit if you practice what I call an intense conversation with their listeners.

In the section, Have a Conversation, Gallo writes, “Practice relentlessly and internalize your content so that you can deliver the presentation as comfortably as having a conversation with a close friend.” (p. 75)

One of my favorite compliments I’ve received over the years is from a relative of one of our attendees who attended one of our worship services. The visitor happened to be sitting near the front of the sanctuary and described her experience as having “sat with me in my living room.”

What’s important is to notice the unusual combination in the quote above. I experience this same oxymoron each week: practicing and sounding conversational.

If you listened with sanctified ears to pop music in the seventies, you may recall Rod Stewart singing, “You’re in my heart; you’re in my soul…” There’s a line in that song that goes, “your ad lib lines were well-rehearsed.”

Well-rehearsed, ad lib lines. That’s how conversational preaching occurs.

Gallo writes, “Authenticity doesn’t happen naturally….An authentic presentation requires hours of work…” (p. 76). Citing Richard Branson, Gallo states, “Prepare, then take your time and relax. Speak from the heart” (p. 244).

Not from your notes, but from your heart. It’s intense conversation.

You can do this naturally because you began writing out your sermon on Monday morning when you started studying your selected Text. You’ve been writing and rewriting the sermon all week-long and reviewed it late Saturday evening and early Sunday morning. The ad lib lines you’ll deliver are well-rehearsed.

Instead of delivering a sermon, have an intense conversation with your faith-family about what God has been saying to you so He receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


A Rhetorical Reason for Using Personal Illustrations

You’ve seen this happen. You’re preaching hard so that your listeners understand the theology of a Text. As soon as you start into your illustration (“When I was growing up in rural Maine…”) you see the heads of several listeners lift. They are now with you in the illustration in a way they were not with you during your explanation.

Illustrations have tremendous power, especially when you tell a story about yourself.

In Gallo’s book, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-speaking Secrets of the Word’s Top Minds, he devotes a section to mastering the art of storytelling. Gallo writes,
“Hasson and his colleagues have discovered that personal stories actually cause the brains of both storyteller and listener to sync up. Sync up is my term; Hasson calls it ‘brain-to-brain coupling’” (p. 50; another term is “mind-meld”).
So, there is a rhetorical reason for using personal illustrations: they create a special bond between us and our congregants.
It’s true that illustrations illumine an idea. Illustrations are powerful tools for communicating truth. They are also effective in creating a deeper relationship with our congregants. And that deeper relationship is a huge factor in effective preaching.
One more thing Gallo writes about is the connection between our ability to tell personal stories and our ability to lead a church. He writes,
“The ability to tell a personal story is an essential trait of authentic leadership…” (p. 53)

Good leaders tell stories about themselves because they know that these stories reveal our humanness, our genuineness. And that is a huge part of building trust that ultimately builds up the Body of Christ.

So, before Sunday, when you’re thinking about adding illustrations to your sermon manuscript (You do write out your sermons during the week just like you were preaching on Sunday, even though you do not carry your manuscript to the pulpit, right?), consider their rhetorical effect.

And God will receive His glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Making An Emotional Connection With Your Passage

Look at the image. If you’re like me, many times we make a rational connection with our Sunday preaching portion (e.g., 1 Cor. 15 and all the proofs/arguments for the resurrection). Goodness, I’m in a Bible Church so I don’t feel an emotional connection to anything! But that’s not important right now.

What is important is understanding why making an emotional connection with our Text is so important to preaching. It has to do with one of the top characteristics of all good preaching:

the presence of passion.

I just finished reading, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-speaking Secrets of the Word’s Top Minds, by Carmine Gallo.

I selected that book to continue my practice of reading one new book the week before I begin teaching a new class. I am currently teaching Advanced Homiletics to a fine group of students in the MAM or MDiv program at Lancaster Bible College/Capital Seminary in Lancaster, PA. This year I selected Gallo’s book because I wanted to spend some time reading about effective communication (I’m usually reading heavy hermeneutics stuff throughout the year).
I wasn’t surprised to read: “passion is the key to mastering a skill like public speaking.” (p. 8)
It’s one of the keys to “mastering a skill like” preaching too. Chances are good that if you heard a “good” sermon, passion was one key ingredient. Which is why Gallo writes,
“Dig deep to identify your unique and meaningful connection to your presentation topic….passion is contagious, literally. You cannot inspire others unless you are inspired yourself. You stand a much greater chance of persuading and inspiring your listeners if you express an enthusiastic, passionate, and meaningful connection to your topic.” (p. 17)
We might think that would be automatic for preachers: “Of course we preachers are deeply passionate about every preaching portion we ever preach.” Right? Wrong. Especially if you are preaching through books of the Bible. The topical preacher has a better chance of connecting emotionally with their topic/texts because they selected it for a reason. Expository, through-the-Book preachers don’t have that luxury. The next Text is, well, the next Text. It might be up your alley or it might not.
So, what can we do to make an emotional connection with this weekend’s preaching portion?
  • Love God this week. Feel something for Him. You know it’s possible for us to study hard all week and not do this, right?
  • Love His people in your church this week. Feel something for them. You know it’s possible for us to study hard all week and not do this, right? (these first two form the foundation for the next one)
  • Identify the one place where you are inspired by your preaching portion. How did it cause you to worship God as you studied it?
Before Sunday, make an emotional connection with your passage so you can say with 2004 TED presenter, Matthieu Ricard, “‘I am just full of joy to be able to say a few words about…’” (p. 23)

Preach well so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Listening to Yourself While You’re Preaching

Every once in a while I realize I’m listening to myself while I preach. And it’s a good thing because sometimes I need to back up and correct or clarify myself. If only we had an autocorrect feature built into our sound system! It would be helpful because, if you’re like me, you don’t naturally pay attention to what you’re saying while you’re saying it.

In his theology of preaching, God’s Human Speech, Bartow writes: “Preachers are self-critical, that is to say, throughout the homiletical process, in the preparation and delivery of sermons, and, afterwards, when the preaching moment is revisited. This does not mean that preachers are ‘uptight,’ forever second-guessing themselves. But it does mean that they are self-aware, conscious of what they are doing, not just before and after, but also while they are doing it.” (p. 129, emphasis added)
It was the “while they are doing it” part that jumped out at me. Being self-critical during sermon delivery is not automatic, but the congregation is better for it when it happens.
Here’s what I’ve experienced that helps me listen carefully to myself while I’m preaching:
  1. The better I know the material, the easier it is for me to listen to myself while I’m preaching. I’m not thinking about what I’m going to say next. When I’m prepared in heart and head I’m in the moment.
  2. There are times in the sermon when I know I didn’t use the right word. When I catch myself, I can back up and use a better word. There’s no shortcuts to expanding one’s vocabulary. Next to my Bible, my thesaurus gets a tough workout every week.
  3. There are times when I know I wasn’t clear. Writing out the sermon manuscript word for word helps decrease the chances of being unclear on Sunday. But there’s usually times when a puzzled look in the congregation tells me it’s time to pause for clarification.
Bartow writes, “Somehow we know that something just said needs modification, amplification, correction. Somehow we sense our involvement or lack of it, our believability or unbelievability. We sense the involvement or lack of it of our congregants too. And we take action as needed on the basis of our tutored (by our criteria) instincts.” (p. 130)

So, before Sunday be ready to listen to yourself preach so that God’s glory is enhanced in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Avoiding “Ping Pong” Preaching

Not that long ago I finally finished reading Bartow’s, God’s Human Speech. I say, “finally,” because for years I’ve read authors who quoted Bartow. In the book he says,

“there is no need for what has been called ‘ping pong’ speech, exposition followed by application: ‘This is what the text meant then, here is what the text means now.’ Whatever the exegetical method behind the sermon, in it, with texts of Scripture, God speaks to us in the present….It may deal with the past. it may look to the future. But its stance from beginning to end is in the here and now.” (p. 131)

There is no need for ping pong preaching because of the nature of Scripture. In Scripture God is addressing us. But expositors, in an effort to be biblical, often spend precious sermon seconds in background material and historical exegesis. As I’ve written before, preachers are often more historian than theologian (real bloggers would now write, “tweet that”).

Remember, our task isn’t to talk to our listeners about the Bible, but instead, we talk to them about them from the Bible. God is addressing us every Sunday.

To avoid bouncing back and forth and giving your congregants chronological whiplash, try the following:

  • begin the sermon with a clear, concise statement about how we will worship in response to this revelation (somewhere in the introduction, say, “This morning we worship by…”)
  • think in terms of “you” and “us” and “we” instead of “the Corinthians…”
  • translate as much exegesis as possible into theology that functions for and addresses the church (as opposed to historical, exegetical fragments about the text)
  • repeat and restate the intended worship response at strategic moments/minutes in the sermon (as opposed to only thinking about a big idea that summarizes the content)
  • rhetorically speaking, speak in such a way that your listeners never forget that God is addressing us.

Before Sunday, especially this coming Easter Sunday 2017, write your sermon manuscript–yes, you should write it out and leave it in your study (another topic for another time!)–with as little ping pong approach as possible.

Preach well so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching the Intention of Difficult Texts

Yesterday morning, I preached the end of 1 Corinthians 13. Calvary Bible Church of Mount Joy, PA is a typical non-charismatic, revised dispensational church that expects to hear that the phrase, “when the perfect comes,” (cf. v. 10) refers to the completed New Testament.

You might recall from a recent post about preaching through the head covering section that I find it helpful to warn congregants up front as to what they won’t hear. That’s right. Won’t hear.

In yesterday’s case, I wanted to prepare them for my not spending much time on what “the perfect” is, when it “comes” and what “the partial” is that “will pass away.”

My reason: because that whole discussion is not vital to preaching the intention of chapter 13. And I am intentional about preaching the intention of the Text. I’m not so concerned about preaching the incidentals of the Text.

So, I was delighted to recently read Walton and Sandy’s, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority, and learn how the Bible is authoritative. Along the way of explaining how oral cultures passed down authoritative teaching, the authors review one main contribution of Speech-Act Theory: understanding “that communication is an action with particular intentions” (p. 41).

Speech-Act Theory provided us with three helpful categories of communication, all of which affect preaching God’s Word.

God’s Word involves:

  • locutions–the genres, words, sentences, and grammatical structures
  • illocutions–what God intends to do with those words (instruct or make a promise)
  • perlocutions–the response God anticipates His hearers to experience as a result of His Word (think application).

The middle one–the illocutions–is most important when preaching difficult texts like 1 Corinthians 13:10. W and S write, “The important point is that if we misread the illocution, we are likely to also misinterpret, because understanding the illocution provides the doorway into interpretation” (p. 42, note 5).

So, when preaching difficult texts, texts with exegetical pitfalls, focus on the intention, not the incidentals. Imagine a congregation that “knows” what the perfect is, when it arrives, what the partial is that will pass away when the perfect arrives, and yet has no love.

Before Sunday, nail down the illocution, the intention, of your preaching portion so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Preaching as an Act of Translation

I missed my usual Monday or Tuesday post due to traveling to El Salvador with two colleagues. On Sunday afternoon I had the burdensome joy of preaching in Eglesia Bautista Nejapa. Through a translator.

That changes everything.

If you’ve preached through a translator, you know you have to think about the translation process before the sermon begins. It reminded me that preaching is a form of translation even when we’re preaching in our own language.

So, before I preached last Sunday in El Salvador I had to think about:

  • What is the dominant response this Text demands of Christians? (I often ask, “What does God intend this Word to do to Christians?”)
  • What is the big idea (in proverbial or abbreviated form)?
  • What two or three key words are going to be repeated throughout the sermon?

Pretty important questions. I’m asking them before preaching in El Salvador because I’ve got to find the right words. Words that will translate well. Words that the listeners will resonate with. I know what I want to say, but it’s sometimes clearer in my mind than out of my mouth.

The little exercise made me clearer than normal. My listeners at Calvary Bible Church would appreciate that.

Before next Sunday, ask yourself those three questions. Work for even clarity on all three for God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Lessons I Learned From Preaching About Head Coverings

It was inevitable. I am currently preaching through 1 Corinthians and it was just a matter of time before reaching chapter 11 and the subject of head coverings. Yikes!

Jesus didn’t come back in time.

So, here’s what I learned. Maybe this will help when you preach a variety of difficult texts:

  • “I will disappoint many of you. Thank you for loving me anyway.” I said that more than once preaching about head coverings in chapter 11 and spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14. I said it to prepare parishioners for what was coming and not coming during the teaching times.
  • If ever there is a time to model hermeneutical humility, it is while preaching such multiple-ways-to-understand texts!
  • I had to fight against the fear of losing some congregants because of my approach. It took more courage than normal to say to a non-hat-wearing faith-family: “We need to give this instruction a fair reading regardless of our current practice.”
  • I needed to remember that, for some listeners, their past experience in churches will keep them from hearing this teaching. So I needed to try to show why what God is saying may not be equal to what “turned them off.”
  • I trusted my leadership to hear the Word that Sunday and respond appropriately. I do that every Sunday, but it seemed more important due to the controversial subject matter. We agreed that no head covering “policy” was needed but that everyone should take seriously the need to maintain God-created gender distinctions in church.
  • That last sentence was important theologically. Paul wrote about head covering in order to address a more foundational issue (cf. 11:3; look for that with other difficult concepts). That issue of responsibility within a relationship was key. And in a culture that is blurring many lines, God’s Word needs a fresh hearing in the Church.
  • Finally, I learned that nothing beats some measure of pastoral longevity when having to preach difficult texts. One of God’s good gifts is the opportunity to be a part of a faith-family that will love me and think hard about difficult truths in the Word of God.

For what it’s worth…

Preach well–preach difficult texts well–for the sake of God’s reputation in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Consider Preaching a Post-_______ Mini-Series

Sometimes, when I’m done preaching through a book of the Bible, the “completed” series feels more like an episode of This Old House. Meaning there are some cracks to fill.

My approach through the years has been to preach through books of the Bible, but without being exhaustive (and hopefully not exhausting!). In other words, I keep the pace of the series moving by keeping my preaching portions each Sunday as large as the genre allows, short of feeling like I’m skimming over important material.

It’s a judgment call every preacher makes. Some very effective preachers spend years on a book that I determine to cover in a fraction of the time.

However, that means I will often follow-up a series on let’s say, Revelation, with what I call a Post-Revelation mini-series. I am counting on those post-book series to fill in the cracks.

So, while you’re preaching through a book of the Bible, record some of the areas where you’ve said to your parishioners: “I wish we could devote more time to this.” Use the post-book series to do that.

You’ll find that the post-book series will allow you more time to develop a detailed exposition of critical doctrines. You will have already dealt with the context and rudimentary understandings of the doctrine. Now you can fill in some of the cracks to create a smoother finish.

I find this approach helps me keep the original sermon series through a book moving along without sacrificing the necessary nuancing some doctrines may require.

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).