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!

Four Categories That Help Us Evaluate Our Preaching

If you are a dentist you might be interested in the product advertised above. If you are a preacher, the four quadrants I list below are a great way for you to evaluate and potentially elevate your preaching.

Quadrant #1 Am I Biblical?

Most preachers answer, yes, but it’s important to note the difference between preaching from the Bible without preaching the Bible. Biblical preaching occurs when the intention of our sermon matches the intention of the Scripture being preached. Notice I said, intention, not meaning. The two are connected. However, matching intention assures that we are using the Bible in the way God designed it to be used. For instance, if you preach the Parable of the Prodigal and focus on the prodigal son, your intention does not match God’s for Luke 15.

Quadrant #2 Am I Relevant?

Exposition sometimes deserves the bad rap it receives. During student sermons I will sometimes start my stopwatch and mark the time when the preacher strikes relevance (when I hear them speak to me about me from the Bible). In a 15 minute sermon, there have been times when I have stopped the clock at 8 or 9 minutes! Up to that point, I was listening to fairly good exegesis. Just no relevance.

Quadrant #3 Am I Clear?

Have you ever been in a conversation, said something, saw the reaction and said, “I didn’t say that right”? Sermon clarity involves, among other things, choosing the right words to say. While I’m writing my sermon throughout the week, I’m working hard to create clear sentences, sentence fragments (due to conversational style), and clear paragraphs. Besides my Bible, my Reader’s Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder is the book I consult the most each week. It’s a combination dictionary/thesaurus.

Quadrant #4 Am I Organized?

My wife, Michele, listened to a sermon preached by one of my pastoral colleagues. One thing that stood out to her was how well the sermon flowed. That’s the sign of a well-organized sermon. That kind of organization allows congregants to follow along without getting lost in all the details and without losing sight of the intention.

So, before Sunday, evaluate your sermon:

  • Is it biblical?
  • Is it relevant?
  • Is it clear?
  • Is it well-organized?

And, as always, preach so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


P.S. I was introduced to a similar critique back in the good ole days at DTS in the mid-80’s.

Creating Saint-Sanctifying, Seeker-Sensitive Sermons: Working Towards A Balanced Approach


A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of conducting a preaching workshop at Lancaster Bible College. Our afternoon focused on creating saint-sanctifying, seeker-sensitive sermons: working towards a balanced approach. This post begins a short series on this important topic. Lord willing, I’ll be conducting this seminar in detail at LBC’s campus in Greenbelt, MD on the afternoon of April 3, 2014.

The topic is important because:

  • Seeker-sensitive approaches continue to be very influential and many of us feel some measure of pressure to adopt effective methods.
  • We are creatures of extremes which means some of us might be out of balance (too seeker focused or too saint focused). Or, to put it another way, maybe you have totally dismissed the seeker-senstive approach or you have bought into it whole-hog.

First, let me ask you to analyze your own approach and setting. Do your sermons and approach lean more towards being seeker-senstive or saint-sensitive? What percentage of your listeners on an average Sunday morning would declare to you that they are non-Christian (an important question as we search for balance)?

Alright, let’s look at areas of theology and ministry that are affected by this discussion.

Theology: What did Jesus mean when He said, “Anyone who has ears to hear, let him hear”? Does a certain kind of sermon create ears that can hear?

Hermeneutics: Is the standard approach to reaching seekers the best way to read the Bible? Is, for instance, the “five ways to manage your anger”-type sermon the best interpretation of Scripture selected to support such a sermon (yes, my selection of the word, “support,” is loaded).

Homiletics: Have we paid so much attention to the interest of our listeners that we have forgotten the listener’s spiritual condition and need for theology (as opposed to self-help [defined as moralistic improvement from Scripture apart from faith in Christ)?

That being said, it is not my intention in this series to debunk seeker-senstive, topical preaching. I do want to help bring some clarity to what it means to be seeker-senstive. I especially want to show from 1 Cor. 14:23-25 that we should be and can be more seeker-sensitive with an insider-directed message from God’s Word.

1 Cor. 14:24-25 gives us hope: “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”

So, the only way to be seeker-sensitive is not creating an outsider-directed message and delivering it on Sunday morning. We know from v. 22 that these words were “for believers.” Be assured that your sermons aimed at the saints have the potential to reach the outsiders who join us each Sunday morning. More on how that happens in future posts.

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

Do Your Congregants See Your Preaching Improving?



Last week I had the privilege of spending a day with pastors of the Great Lakes Region of Evangelical Congregational churches in Youngstown, Ohio. My assignment was to help us all become more effective expositors of God’s Word. During one segment, we were all challenged by the instruction in 1 Timothy 4:14-16, especially the piling on of terms telling us we needed to work hard at getting better. The ESV reads: “Do not neglect…. Practice these things, devote yourself to them….Keep a close watch on….Persist in this…”

At one point I asked the pastors how they practice their craft. As you might imagine, none of us had much to say. Most of us are too busy ministering to spend time practicing. How does a pastor practice their hermeneutics and homiletics? It’s an appropriate question to ask in light of 1 Timothy 4:14-16.

And, then, the strangest thing is Paul’s reason for telling Timothy this. God says in verse 15: “Practice these things…so that all may see your progress.” That still seems odd to me. It’s not just that we practice these things so that we get better. No, God says it’s important that everyone in the faith-family sees our progress.

So, beyond studying for sermons and Bible lessons, what are you doing to regularly practice your hermeneutics and homiletics? Are you reading to gain competency (theologically rich books, journal articles, and blogs)? Are you engaged in informal or formal classroom instruction? How about seminars or workshops? As is true with so many disciplines, engaging in the process is more important than selecting the “right” resources.

May God help us progress for the sake of His reputation in the Church and in the world.

A Preacher’s Manifesto: Ten Commitments That Drive Biblical Preaching


Last week I published my first book. It’s a mini e-book called: A Preacher’s Manifesto: Ten Commitments That Drive Biblical Preaching. I enjoyed distilling my beliefs and practices into this format. Here’s a description of the book:

A Preacher’s Manifesto presents ten commitments that should drive biblical preaching. These ten commitments will guide pastors in creating their preaching calendar, help steer their sermon preparation, and remind them of the vital place preaching occupies in the local church. The commitments include topics ranging from pastoral theology (“preaching as a function of soul-watching”), hermeneutics (“not allow a selected topic to override the meaning of the biblical Text”), and pastoral ministry (“preach as though my spiritual life and the spiritual lives of my parishioners depend on it”). A Preacher’s Manifesto will challenge assumptions, cultivate new commitments, and bring about changes in preaching for the sake of enlarging God’s reputation in the Church.

If you’re interested, you can find the book at Amazon.com and Smashwords.com. Smashwords will give you several more reading options, including a PDF of the book. It will also allow you to download a percentage of the book to preview some content.

I hope the ole saying, You get what you pay for, is not true in this case. The book is $2.99, but I believe it will stimulate your thinking.

Again, thank you for thinking about preaching with me.

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

Why Did Jesus Always Make It So Difficult?!


No matter who Jesus encountered, He never made it easy for them to become a disciple. Remember how he handled the rich, young ruler? In Luke 9:57-62, two of the three men stated their intention to follow Jesus (Jesus asked one to follow Him). Jesus made it difficult for both of them. As I’ve studied the gospels over the years, I noticed that Jesus always made it more difficult than I would have. When I detect some interest, I’m too quick to seal the deal. It has made me wonder if I should be careful not to make things sound easier than they are in my preaching.

Robert Schuller once said, “I want to attract [the non-Christian listener], and so I use the strategy that Jesus used. I preach the way Jesus preached” (cf. Modern Reformation, 11, no. 1, 2002, p. 33). Sounds easy enough.

Rick Warren wrote, “Anyone can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart” (The Purpose-Driven Church, p. 220). Sounds easy enough.

In Luke 9:57-62, we don’t know how the three men responded to Jesus’ difficult demands. We do know that Jesus was not afraid of making difficult demands on those who were interested. I don’t want to push people away needlessly or make becoming a disciple harder than it is. However, I do not want to make it too easy, either. Maybe the best thing I can do is preach the Text. Sometimes it’s, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31). Other times it’s, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

Happy New Year. Preach well.

Expecting God To Do Great Things

I’ve just completed Lloyd-Jones’ excellent book, Preaching & Preachers (40 anniversary edition).  His final chapter is all about the need for preachers to be endowed with special power from the Spirit.  What great exhortation!  L-J asks, “Do you always look for and seek this unction, this anointing before preaching? Has this been your greatest concern? There is no more thorough and revealing test to apply to a preacher” (p. 322).  I was a bit embarrassed to think that often my greatest concern is not whether I have the Spirit’s unction, but whether I have “got it right,” “it” being the sermon and the truth of Scripture.  L-J challenged me again to keep highlight both, not one or the other.  I don’t want to preach the truth by myself (without the Spirit’s power).  I don’t want to preach something that’s biblical, but not biblical enough, with the Spirit’s power (if that is even possible?!).  God help us be both Spirit-empowered and accurate in our preaching.  Then, we can expect God to do miracles in all our lives.  L-J encourages us preachers: “But go beyond seeking Him; expect Him. Do you expect anything to happen when you get up to preach in a pulpit….Are you expecting it to be the turning point in someone’s life?” (p. 340).