You Need To Read: Preaching That Matters

This brief break from preaching through Chronicles–I know you’re disappointed–highlights a very helpful book. It’s

Preaching That Matters: Reflective Practices for Transforming Sermons by Lori J. Carrell.

First, Michael Quicke wrote the foreword. Michael and I met years ago through the Evangelical Homiletics Society. He is one of the most delightful persons I’ve ever met. Plus, he’s an excellent homiletician. His books are worth reading too.

But Carrell’s book is helpful for those of us who truly want to improve our preaching. It helps by providing so many snippets of interviews with pastors who wrestle with their preaching in light of attending preaching training sessions. You will find Carrell’s survey insightful, providing data from preachers and their listeners.

So, from time to time as I work my way through the rest of Chronicles, I will include some of Carrell’s insights that have helped me and may help you too.

Like, for instance, the preacher who says, even though he knows preaching is two-directional (the preacher communicates and the listeners must also think through what the preacher says):

“but my behavior when I’m preaching makes it appear that I don’t think anything is happening in the minds of my listeners” (p. 25).

So, when we’re preparing to preach and while we’re preaching we must keep in mind what may be in their minds when they hear what God is saying to the church.

Before Sunday, think about spending sermon minutes devoted to thinking about what your listeners are thinking. We send the message out; they, however, must receive that message. One way we work at preaching is making sure God’s message we preach isn’t distorted by the listeners. Look for things in your preaching portion that will get a reaction from your listeners. If that reaction is anything but genuine acceptance, do some work to reorient their thinking…

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


What I learned From Listening To Someone Else Preach

Due to sickness earlier in the week, my Elders strongly suggested I only preach once yesterday. That meant I had the privilege of listening to one of my colleagues preach. Like many of you, I don’t get the opportunity to listen to someone else preach live too often. I learned that:

  1. Our relationship with our listeners is an important part of preaching. My friend has great rapport with our faith-family and it showed in his preaching and our worshiping in the Word.
  2. Powerful illustrations can overpower the sermon point. He told a “killer” (literally!) story about Zwingli’s brutal treatment of Anabaptists. The next thing you say after the story is over is critical for regaining attention back to the message. That’s the time for a succinct, well-worded sentence or two of how the Text affects the listener’s relationship with God. If you don’t do that, the sheer force of the illustration can hijack the sermon.
  3. Don’t break eye-contact when you arrive at your key statements. You probably have them written down in your notes. You want to say them just right, but you also need to impress it on your listeners and that happens best while you’re looking at them.
  4. Work extra hard to maintain good energy while covering a long list of commands. In the preaching covered yesterday there were at least seven commands in a row. It is difficult, next to impossible to keep a congregation engaged as you explain each item. Carefully consider how you’ll pace yourself through the list. Think about an approach–cover each equally (say a minute and a half each?), focus on a few, or group some of them. Whatever you decide, remember how difficult it is to keep a sermon’s energy high as you move through the list.
  5. My mind wandered during the sermon. I know, right?! But it did. It’s difficult to keep our listeners with us as the minutes go by. It’s critical, then, to keep bringing them back, especially by reminding them of the big idea.

May these takeaways add to God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21),


P.S. For what it’s worth, that sermon was very good!

The High EQ Preacher (part 4): Invite Them To Think With You

I knew Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (by Bradberry and Greaves) was worth reading when I read: “If you want people to listen…” (p. 44). Every pastoral preacher or Bible teacher wants people to listen. And, evidently, from a human perspective, assuming God has graciously given ears to hear, a preacher’s emotional intelligence (EQ) is a factor.

But let’s start with this question: Do you ever think about what your listeners are thinking and feeling while you’re preaching? High EQ preachers want to know the answer and work hard at getting listeners to think and “talk” to them. It’s easy to get caught trying to remember what you need to say. When that happens, it’s impossible to think about whether you’re communicating effectively.

So, we certainly need to know our material well so we can focus on our hearers’ reaction to what we’re saying.

On page 46 the authors urge all their readers to

“…create a safe and inviting forum for discussion.”

That happens in two broad ways:

First, we must continue to work hard at our relationships with congregants before and after the worship services, and during any other times when interaction takes place during the week. As I’ve said before, our faith-family members need to know we love them dearly.

Second, we must continue to work hard at our relationships with congregants during the teaching times in church. You can create a warm, inviting atmosphere during the sermon. At a minimum, invite them to think along with you while you preach. At the maximum, invite them to talk to you while you preach. I enjoy actual, limited dialogue virtually every Sunday.

Whether your congregants actually enter into a conversation with you during the sermon is not the point. The high EQ preachers relate to their listeners in such a way that parishioners want to be a part of the conversation.

Maybe the most important thing you can do is make sure that you don’t sound so dogmatic that you shut down any discussion. If you heard that and raised your red flag, you might be prone to squelching dialogue. High EQ preachers have a way of speaking authoritatively for God without putting up unnecessary barriers to communication.

Before Sunday, work on knowing your material so well that you can focus on what your listeners are thinking while you’re preaching. And may our Lord receive His due in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21) because you’ve created a safe place to interact with His Word.


P.S. A few days ago I watched a couple of sermons by T. D. Jakes, pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, TX. My mission was to simply watch how he relates to his faith-family during the sermon. He’s an extremely high EQ preacher!


Are You A High-EQ Preacher?

EQ stands for Emotional Intelligence. Current research continues to report that EQ is a more accurate indicator of success then having a high IQ. B & G (authors I list below) state that EQ is “the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace…” (p. 21).

Successful preaching pastors have a high EQ.

In these next few posts I will be summarizing some of the ways in which EQ studies affect our responsibility and privilege of preaching God’s Word.

I just finished reading Bradberry and Greaves, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (TalentSmart, 2009).

It had been at least 15 years since I read Daniel Goleman’s book on the same topic. My good friend, Andy Bunn, is completing his Ph.D. in leadership studies and he highly recommended this little book. Evidently, EQ is still a hot topic in leadership studies. I have yet to read anything on how it relates to preaching, so here goes…

If you’re unfamiliar with the subject of EQ, the authors define it as

“…your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.” (p. 17)

Here’s a quick overview of four EQ skills to get us started:

Personal Competence consists of

  • self-awareness (your ability to accurately acknowledge and understand your own emotions, your typical reaction to certain events and people)
  • self-management (your ability to use your awareness of your own emotional condition so that you are able to consistently act positively in every situation)

Social Competence consists of

  • Social awareness (your ability to accurately interpret the emotions of others and understand what they’re really thinking)
  • Relationship Management (your ability to use that knowledge of others so that you interact effectively with a variety of people in a variety of situations)

And, if you’re wondering if any of this EQ stuff is worth thinking about and developing, B & G write,

“The weaker the connection you have with someone, the harder it is to get your point across.” (p. 44)

See why I’m interested in exploring the subject of high EQ preachers? And all so God can receive glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Making Congregants Smile

In his book, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, Carmine Gallo has a chapter called, Lighten Up (p. 159). Gallo states that,

“Humor lowers defenses, making your audience more receptive to your message” (p. 160).

Good to know. But I believe in the “ears to hear” theology, that God grants to some the ability to hear and receive His Word. I don’t want to rely on a human method to “create” a convert.

But then he writes,

“[Humor] also makes you seem more likable, and people are more willing to do business with or support someone they like” (p. 160).

Okay. That’s different.

I know this might surprise you, but I genuinely like the people I shepherd. We enjoy a wonderful relationship together. Smiling at them and making them smile is a regular part of our teaching times. It’s a natural part of being a faith-family. And this doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the event.

Gallo asserts that “[Humor] will work for you…but you must learn to incorporate humor creatively and naturally” (p. 162). That means not planning times to be funny. We’re not comedians; we’re pastor-theologians.

And we’re also spiritual leaders by God’s calling. And humor is evidently a strategic part of leadership. “The University of Western Ontario psychology professor Rod A. Martin says people use humor to ‘reinforce their own status in a group hierarchy. For example, you are more likely to crack jokes and amusing others in a group in which you are the leader or have a position of dominance than in a group in which you have lower status…than others'” (pp. 163-164).

So, while we shouldn’t plan on how to get a laugh, there should be plenty of times when we preach the Good News in such a way that you “put a smile on people’s faces” (p. 167) 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).


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).


Becoming a Critic of the Human Condition


If we’ve studied together or if you’ve interacted with some of my material it will come as no surprise that Tim Keller has mentored me in the area of reading and preaching the Bible. Over the next few posts I intend to summarize my best takeaways from his book, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism.

First, let me tell you what I believe Keller’s best contributions have been. Keller is a master of Christ-centered preaching that is not afraid of making creative connections to the Cross. This separates him from well-known proponents of the method such as Sidney Greidanus and Bryan Chapell. Keller is also a master critic of the human condition (both the Christian and non-Christian).

On page 110 Keller writes,

“The Christian preacher must be a critic of nonbelievers….Christian communicators must show that they remember (or at least understand) very well what it is like not to believe.”

If you’re like me and have been a Christian since your youth, this is not easy to do. Another thing that makes this difficult is, due to the nature of most pastorates, we spend virtually all of our time with Christians. Add to that what we constantly read–Christian material.

But I’ve listened to Keller for almost as long as he’s been at Redeemer in NYC. He knows the human condition very well. Therefore, he is in a position every weekend to critique the human heart. And it adds quality and depth to his sermons.

So, here’s what I try to do in order to become more skillful in this area.

First, I try hard to pay attention to my own thinking, the struggles that go on in my head as I fight temptation. I will sometimes say to folks on Sunday, “I know you because I’m like you.”

Second, I try hard to listen carefully to what Christians say to me when they are honest enough to let things slip out (they say things when their guard was down and they were very exercised about something).

Those two cover the Christian condition.

Finally, and this comes harder for me, I try to read reputable blogs such as Church & Culture, and scan media coverage to become familiar with how people think about themselves and their world.

Then it’s a matter of learning how to strategically place those insights into the exposition of Scripture.

Long before Sunday I am trying to see how my preaching portion contains theology that includes some look into our human condition. That requires me to be a critic of Christians and non-Christians.

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


Three Takeaways from Cox’s, Rewiring Your Preaching


I recently finished reading, Richard H. Cox’s book, Rewiring Your Preaching: How the Brain Processes Sermons (IVP). Here are three takeaways from the book that may help you as you prepare sermons this week:

One. Repeating key theological and practical concepts is helpful in making disciples. On page 35 Cox writes,

“Specific brain changes result from repetitive learning….The brain responds to repetition.”

That helped me because I often shy away from any kind of repetition. I tell myself repeatedly, “They already heard this before” or “They already know this.” I didn’t realize how valuable repetition is for transformation into Christlikeness.

Two. Anyone who addresses the congregants, such as pastors or song leaders, needs to help them take their attention off the temporal and place its squarely on the eternal. Cox states that parishioners…

“must make the neural switch from daily problem solving to thinking about eternal matters if they are to hear and listen” (page 46).
Our listeners don’t make that switch automatically when they enter the church service. I need to do a better job helping them make that switch with cues such as: “We’ve all arrived having spent an entire work week in the daily grind. It’s time to spend some minutes together thinking about God and the world He is creating for us.”
Three. Our sermons must contain critical matters in God’s Word and help our parishioners realize those words are critical. On page 73 Cox writes,
“The sermon must contain things that we must hear. It must also convince us that we need to hear those things.”

Of course, it takes some effort to convince some of our listeners that the Word of God is a “must hear” kind of communication. Actually, that is God’s job of creating ears that can hear. Our job is to make sure our sermon contains His Word, not our opinions. Our own faith and intensity can help our listeners realize how desperately we need to hear from God.

Before Sunday, keep these three things in mind so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


“Let’s be honest. That’s bizarre!”


Some things just don’t look right in the Bible. Period. And when we come across those things, we do our listeners a favor–especially our relatively un-churched attendees–by pointing it out.

One of my friends at church, Craig, gave me a great example of this a few weeks ago. He was talking about how weird it is for Jesus to be called the good Shepherd, but then for Him to send His sheep out among wolves. What kind of good Shepherd would do that!?!

That’s the kind of stuff that doesn’t look right when you think about it.

Over the years I’ve benefited from James Emery White’s blog, Church & Culture. In Volume 12, No. 53 he imagined what the unchurched would tell us if we listened to them. Number 7 was, “Can we agree that there’s a lot of weird stuff attached to Christianity and the Bible? Okay, it may be true, or real, or whatever, but can we just agree that some of it is a bit…bizarre? For some strange reason, it would make me feel better to hear you acknowledge how it all looks and sounds to someone from the outside.”

Well, one reason it would make them feel better to hear us acknowledge some weirdness in holy Writ is because it’s TRUE. God has recorded some strange stuff in His Word. Another good example is the Judges’ narrative I’ll write about in weeks to come, often labeled, Jephthah’s Tragic Vow. Jephthah promises that if God gives him a strategic victory in battle, he would dedicate the first thing that comes out of his house to greet him. That first thing was only daughter! And what’s totally bizarre is that God allowed Jephthah to carry through with his promise (according to my un-inspired reading of the narrative).

There are a whole lot of well-churched folks who appreciate any time we point out such weirdness. Before Sunday, see if your preaching portion has some bizarre aspects to it. If you bring it out, your listeners will appreciate the honesty and, depending on how you proceed, the mystery that is our God. That assumes you will fight the temptation to explain everything in God’s Word, especially the things that are impossible to explain.

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


P.S. I usually don’t ask for feedback because I know pastors are busy. However, I am curious to hear your thoughts on why the generation of preachers before us were very hesitant to bring out the bizarre aspects of God’s revelation. Are there any dangers to this approach to interpretation and preaching? Thanks for chiming in.