Preaching to the “Fuzzy Faithful” (part 3 of: What Are Our Listeners Thinking?!)


Reading, Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious, reminded me that I have to do a better job preaching to various kinds of Believers. It’s not enough to think in terms of saved and unsaved. Within the category of the “saved” are professing Christians experiencing less-than-desired reactions to the Word of God.

The author writes:

“it has always been obvious to religious leaders that there are many ‘fuzzy’ faithful sitting in their pews; people who are neither completely clear, completely in agreement, nor completely faithful to the tents of their religion” (p. 11).

Maybe it’s always been obvious, but that doesn’t mean pastors preach with these kinds of people in mind.

To the slightly confused I could say: “Let me try to make that clearer. In other words…”

To the slightly disagreeable I could say: “Let me try to prove this because you might not be buying it yet…”

To the slightly unfaithful (is that like saying someone is slightly pregnant?!) I could say: “Some of you know God has not been able to rely on you lately in this area…”

Most, if not all, of these kinds of listeners would claim to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Effective preachers like Jonathan Edwards or D. M. Lloyd-Jones made it a habit to challenge that claim. They pointedly spoke to various categories of listeners. They acknowledged the presence of those overhearing worship; they spoke directly to various categories within the camp called Christian.

God help us do the same for the sake of His reputation in the Church and in the world (Ephesians 3:21).




Saints Under Pressure: Preaching Through Daniel (part 6)


One of the main themes in the book of Daniel is our allegiance to Christ being put to the test. It’s part of the overall theme of Christians remaining godly in an ungodly world.

Daniel 3:1-30 is a long narrative that preaches theology as Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, face intense pressure to commit idolatry. I outlined it this way:

1. The pressure to join in on idol worship (vv. 1-7)

2. The threat if we don’t (vv. 8-15)

3. The faith to say “No!” (vv. 16-18)

4. The deliverance our God provides (vv. 19-30)

This famous escape story is a picture of how every Christian is tested in this world. One of the key observations is in vv. 2-3 when seven kinds of professionals, plus “all the officials of the provinces” attend the official dedication of an idol. Fewell wrote, “conformity is normative, disobedience is unthinkable.”

Christians follow the trio’s example. It’s a “go and do likewise” sermon. They remain loyal to God despite the enormous threat that could cost them their lives.

That means spending some time in the sermon defining idolatry. You might also want to show how sin, at its root, is connected to idolatry. It helps to recite or show a list of typical American idols (see Keller’s, Counterfeit Gods).

And then, for those of you who want to practice a consistent Christo-centric interpretation, you’ll be quick to highlight the fourth Person in the fiery furnace that looked like “a son of the gods” (v. 25). On the cross, Jesus stayed in the fire for us so we could pass through the fire having God with us. We can’t always promise we won’t die due to persecution, but God promises to save those who worship Him alone.

(an aside) Before Sunday, check your outline to see if it contains the unity of your preaching portion. If you’re preaching a narrative this weekend, see if your main idea reflects the plot. The plot drives the theology.

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


Expository Lecturer or Expository Preacher? Which one are you?

Screenshot 2015-11-09 17.28.08

You may have seen this picture. There’s two ways of looking at it. You can see the left side of a young woman’s face looking away from the camera or you can see an old hag looking sideways at you. If you can’t see both, don’t panic. The post may still be helpful.

Years ago I learned from Haddon Robinson that there were two ways to look at preaching. I paraphrase it this way:

Preachers don’t talk to parishioners about the Bible. They talk to parishioners about them from the Bible.

Last Thursday afternoon I enjoyed the privilege of meeting with other preachers and teachers of Scripture to talk about a strategy of keeping our sermons aimed at the listeners. In other words, how can we function as preachers, not lecturers when we’re trying so hard to be biblical.

  • Review your style and see how many sermon minutes are spent talking to our listeners about the Bible. You’ll be surprised how many.
  • In the introduction, tell your listeners how your preaching portion is intended to facilitate worship (what will this Scripture do to them). Don’t wait for the “application” section.
  • Throughout the sermon, repeat and restate that intention. Usually we think about repeating and restating major points or major themes. Don’t let them forget that God is speaking to them.
  • Include background material sparingly. David Buttrick wrote, “The gospel is not biblical background” (Homiletic, p. 347). Some of us need to be reminded of that. My rule is: only give background information that is absolutely necessary for understanding the meaning of your preaching portion. If you use that rule, you will discover you can save precious preaching minutes.

Before Sunday, while you’re working on your sermon manuscript, check your stance. Is it mostly “about the Bible” or “about them from the Bible”? Expository preachers never let congregants forget that God’s Word is aimed at them for the sake of His reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).

Preach a good sermon, will ya?



I am excited about offering another preaching workshop Thursday afternoon at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA.

The workshop is titled: Preacher or Lecturer: How to Keep the Sermon Aimed at the Worshipers.

Over the past several years LBC has graciously hosted these workshops a couple of times a year. It’s a great opportunity to interact with pastors and teachers of God’s Word. We spend the afternoon working in the Scriptures and crafting parts of sermons that pertain to the day’s topic.

I’d love to have you attend if you can make it. Contact LBC if you’re interested.

Preach a good sermon, will ya?!





Date: November 5, 2015
Time: 13:00-16:00 p.m.
Event: Preaching Workshop at Lancaster Bible College
Topic: Preacher or Lecturer: How to Keep the Sermon Aimed at the Worshipers
Sponsor: Lancaster Bible College
Venue: Teague Learning Commons
Location: 901 Eden Road
Lancaster, PA 17601-5036
United States
Public: Public

“I’m just going through the motions”: (part 2 of What Are Our Listeners Thinking?!)


According to Linda Mercadante’s book, Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious (Oxford, 2014), some of our congregants might be thinking: “I’m just going through the motions. My heart is not in this.” It made me wonder if I ever address them during the sermon.

Belief without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious

The spiritual, but not religious (SBNR), population is growing and I wanted to know what they were thinking about church and Christianity (in that order). The reason is because our parishioners breathe this same air in every day and inevitably bring some SBNR thoughts to church.

This phenomenon of going through the motions is not new to SBNR folks. Churchgoers have always had to fight this at times. But, evidently, a number of people who classify themselves as SBNR attend church while their faith gets weaker, not stronger.

Mercandante writes: “Those whose beliefs are weakening often hang on for a time as ‘ritualists,’ that is, going through the motions rather than being deeply committed” (p. 9).

So, this made me wonder how many of my listeners are experiencing a weakening of their faith. How many are ritualistic with no heart in their worship? How many are just going through the motions without feeling a deep love for God and neighbor?

And then I wondered if I ever address this crowd at all during Sunday sermons. Do you address them? Do you ever say something like: “Some of you know your faith is not strong right now. You know you’re just going through the motions. Remember that our Heavenly Father loves you dearly. So much so that He gave His only Son for you…” (Here I’m resisting the urge to add more guilt on them by telling them how to fix their problem through their own actions.) They’re there. We need to let them know we know they’re there.

May God give us wisdom to preach to this kind of listener so He receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).




Preaching Through Daniel (part 5): Let the Rising Action Carry the Story that Carries the Theology


Earlier I pointed out that in narratives, such as the opening chapters of Daniel, the story carries the theology. Let’s add to that: the plot or rising action carries the story that carries the theology. Here’s an example from Daniel chapter 2.

The theology is carried by a king’s dilemma: he doesn’t understand his dreams. He has limited wisdom and so do his so-called wise men (2:14, 18). Daniel, however, is confident that he is able to interpret the king’s dream because Daniel’s God possesses wisdom (v. 20), He also “gives wisdom to the wise” (v. 21), including Daniel (v. 23).

That’s all historical data provided in the narrative. But a sermon is created when we understand that Daniel represents all God’s people. Through faith in Christ–more on that in another post–all God’s people obtain wisdom. Daniel closes with: “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above…” These wise men and women will be the ones who inhabit God’s “kingdom that shall never be destroyed” (v. 44).

This explains how the plot fits in with Daniel’s interpretation of the king’s dream (vv. 31-45). Without this move, the content of the king’s dream is disconnected from the plot. Throughout history God gives kingdoms to rulers, but one day, He will give His eternal kingdom to all the wise. Before then, however, the wise in the book of Daniel are the ones God uses to represent Him in a kingdom ruled by the ungodly. That’s us in our world.

But all of this starts by allowing the rising action of the plot to carry the story that carries the theology. Lots of sermons are created apart from the storyline. That happens when major points and/or principles are disconnected from the plot. In other words, preachers are tempted to focus on isolated data within the story rather than the story itself.

Before Sunday, if you’re preaching a narrative Text, see if the subject of your sermon matches the subject of the rising action within the plot.

May our Lord receive glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


What Are Our Listeners Thinking?!: Confronting the Thoughts That Are Slowly Making Their Way Into the Church


A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Linda Mercadante’s book,

Belief without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious (Oxford, 2014)

I had two goals in mind:
  1. I wanted to begin to understand what this growing population is thinking about Christianity and the Church. Not often, but sometimes relatively unchurched or been-out-of-church-for-years visitors attend. I wanted to learn what they’re thinking.
  2. I especially wanted to understand the kinds of thought patterns that our parishioners are unknowingly drifting towards. The kind of stuff that’s in the air we breathe by virtue of living in this world.
Knowing this helps me when I’m preparing and preaching sermons. I can ask how certain Scripture interacts with such thinking. I can explore how the Gospel creates a renewed mind. It’s a way for pastors to cut worldliness off at the pass. (Sorry if the spacing gets lost below.)
Let me begin with Mercadante’s citing of Harvey Cox:
“Cox asserts that religion is leaving behind the ‘Age of Belief,’ which is characterized as inordinate focus on ‘right belief,’ and entering, instead, the ‘Age of Faith’ where dogma is ignored, religious difference is minimized, and spirituality replaces religion” (p. 8).
We’ve got our work cut out for us!
Little by little our listeners will drift away from being learners of Jesus Christ. Unless, of course, we challenge those with ears to hear to think carefully about Christian doctrine/dogma and how it directs the Christian life. This involves preaching biblical sermons that are incontrovertibly true. This involves creating sermon segments that dive deep into doctrine.
Before Sunday, see if your sermon contains the incontestable truths of God. See if “right belief” is the foundation for righteous living. See if Christianity is expressed in such a way that automatically maximizes religious differences (“there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name…” Acts 4:12). Let’s do so for God’s “glory in the church and in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 3:21).
Preach a good sermon, will ya?!