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!

Evaluate Your Critical First Hour Of Study Each Monday Morning


Last week I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon conducting a preaching workshop at Lancaster Bible College. I am also currently teaching some keen students at LBC/Capital Seminary and Graduate School in Lancaster, PA and Greenbelt, MD. My interaction confirmed that one Bible study exercise is critical: tracing the argument or flow of thought of the author.

I explained that this is how I spend my first hour of study every Monday morning. Before I try to figure out what a preaching portion means, I want to know how it means what it means. In other words, I spend the first hour show how the author makes meaning through the argument or flow of thought. I begin by asking the Lord, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law,” (Psalms 119:18) and then I dive into the text’s structure. I consider this to be the foundation for exposition.

This involves dividing the preaching portion into its smaller thought blocks, summarizing the meaning of the blocks, and writing out the logical transitions that the author uses to move from one block to the next.

(By the way, if you try this with Luke 15, you will discover that it would be impossible to end the sermon focusing on the younger brother and those prodigals which are usually encouraged to “come home.”)

It is impossible for me to overstate the importance of this first hour for understanding how meaning is made.

Below I’ve included an example of my mornings first hour.

Calvary Bible Church

May 8, 2016 AM

Judges 10:1-16

This is God’s Word.


10 After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, and he lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim. 2 And he judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died and was buried at Shamir. Post-Abimelech judge #1 is Tola. In matter of fact fashion God records, “…there arose to save Israel…” It is a subtle reminder of our plight as Christians in this world.

3 After him arose Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years. 4 And he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities, called Havvoth-jair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. 5 And Jair died and was buried in Kamon. PA judge #2 is Jair. We learn some nice facts about him (“…30…30…30…”).

6 The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him. In v. 6 we learn how many false gods there are to worship! Each region had their own deity. Each deity had the ability to lure God’s people away from God. As a whole God’s people took their affections away from God and they stopped serving Him.

 7 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, 8 and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the people of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. 9 And the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed. In vv. 7-9 we read of the repeated experience of God’s people. Throughout the book of Judges we’ve seen this happen: God’s people commit idolatry, in anger God sells them into the hands of fierce enemies who oppress them, and “Israel was severely distressed.” It teaches us the devastating effect of worshiping false gods.

10 And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.” 11 And the Lord said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? 12 The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand. 13 Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. 14 Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” We’ve also seen God’s people yell out to their real God to save them again and again. Like before, they make a clean confession: “We have sinned against you…” Let’s make sure we understand this confession. Why do they say they have sinned against the Lord? Where does this understanding come from? Look back at the OT…

But this time our God seems to have lost His patience! Look at vv. 11-14. He sounds very irritated with them! “Did I not save you from….I saved you….I will save you no more. God and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” Wow! We have sayings like: “You made your bed, now go lie in it.” If God sticks to His guns, then His people are doomed. The false gods have enslaved them; they cannot save them.

Has the Lord’s patience run out?!

 15 And the people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel. In v. 15 God’s people repeat their confession: “We have sinned…” Then they add, “do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” God’s people would rather face the judgment of God than face more oppression from their enemies.

Then, in v. 16 there is an act of genuine repentance: “So they put away the foreign gods…and served the Lord…” Repentance is a critical part of the Christian life…

Then, we learn that the Lord “became impatient over the misery of Israel.” A moment ago I mentioned that it seemed the Lord was becoming impatient with His people. Now we learn that the Lord has had enough of His people suffering at the hand of their enemies. This impatience, however, strikes the Lord after genuine repentance has taken place. If the Lord acts on His impatience over Israel’s misery, that can mean only good things for Israel!



This helps me see how the author presents theology for the Church. Since theology is conveyed through this narrative, I do not want to break the narrative flow in creating this sermon. Consider making this action in the first hour of study your foundation for Sunday’s exposition.

Preach well.


Surprising Help from a Critical and Historical Commentary!


It is not often that a critical and historical commentary delivers consistent help to preachers beyond technical, exegetical fragments. That’s why I was surprised to see the Daniel commentary in the Hermeneia Series contain a segment called, Structure and Unity.

As Collins goes through each large segment in Daniel’s gospel, along with the brilliant technical stuff, he includes a brief treatment of the segment’s structure and unity:

Major points are listed (I, II, III, etc.)

Verse parameters (I. 3:1-7, for instance)

Summary statement (I. 3:1-7. Introduction)

Summary of the section (two or three sentences describing the content of the section)

For the past few years, I’ve been assigning a similar assignment to my students. I call it, Major Thought Blocks. I believe it to be the most important aspect of developing genuine expository sermons. It’s the first phase of my own study every Monday morning. Here’s why…

Theology is conveyed through the structure of your preaching portion. Unity of thought is also conveyed through the structure. Disregard or break from the structure and, chances are good (within the realm of the sovereignty of God, of course!), that you will stray from the theology and unity of the preaching portion.

So, I add only one more thing to the list above. Along with major points, verse parameters, summary statement, and summary of the section’s content, add logical transitions between the major points. That allows you to track the Author’s/author’s flow of thought. It’s that flow that communicates the theology (whether narrative or epistle).

Before Sunday, see if you have identified these components in your preaching portion. See if your sermon idea matches what is being communicated. If your sermon’s structure and unity is different from the preaching portion’s, check to see how different your message is from the message of the Text.

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


What do you do in the first hour of sermon preparation?

screenshot for blog post-1

One of the many pluses of attending the annual meetings of the Evangelical Homiletics Society meetings is the opportunity in between meetings to sit with excellent pastor/homileticians. One of them is Lee Eclov, author of Pastoral Graces. We were talking about the importance of answering this question: What do you do in the first hour of sermon preparation? We both felt that question revealed much about a pastor’s method.

I’ve provided a screenshot of what I do every Monday morning. I begin by getting the big picture of the preaching portion’s logic (how the author has chosen to communicate theology). In the example above, I’ve identified 10 thought-blocks that will be explored in the sermon, plus the final “gospel” section with which I close out every sermon (how Christ-crucified creates the desire and capacity for the Believer to do what God is commanding).

I believe this may be one of the most important actions of an expositor. I call it pre-exegesis, but that might not be accurate. Before doing any real study of the passage, I want to capture the logic or structure of the theology. It helps me see early on how sermon time on Sunday might be divided (will I divide the time evenly among the ten or eleven thought-blocks or give more time to some?).

While conducting a preaching workshop a few weeks ago, I realized again how often pastors begin their sermon preparation by straying from the logic of the Text. When that occurs, it’s difficult to relay God’s message from the passage. It’s not that you won’t be biblical, but, rather, you won’t be biblical enough.

I realize you’re busy, but I wouldn’t mind reading a brief summary of what you do in your first hour of study (I’m assuming that you are praying some kind of, “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law” type prayer).

Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church/world.

What Keeps Your Sermon From Fragmenting?

I recently returned from a wonderful week with doctoral students enrolled in Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry track, Preaching the Literary Forms of the Bible.  We met on GCTS’s Charlotte, NC campus.  One of the things we talked about was keeping our sermons from fragmenting.  Fragmentation happens when I (1) fail to follow the flow of thought created by the Author/author or (2) I choose to replace the existing flow of thought with my own deficient presentation.  We noticed a tendency of not clearly stating the logical connections between moves or thought-blocks in the sermon.  What is clear in the mind of the preacher is unclear to the listener.  While you’re developing your sermon double-check all your transitions as you move from major clause to major clause.  Ask if you are carrying the logic forward.  As you know, theology is conveyed more through the logical flow of thought than in the isolated content.