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.

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).


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).


Talk to Them About Them from the Bible


I recently had the privilege of hearing 12 student sermons for the final grade in two sections of Advanced Homiletics at Lancaster Bible College/Capital Seminary and Graduate School.

Haddon Robinson once said that he heard so many bad sermons it’s a wonder he was still a Christian. Yikes!

One preaching deficiency I see each year and experience myself many weekends if I’m preaching any other genre other than NT epistles is getting caught in lecture mode. Preaching through Judges has been especially challenging in this respect.

Lecture mode is when I am talking to congregants about the Bible. I am not talking to them about them; I’m talking to them about the Bible. I’m giving them all kinds of good information about the particular preaching portion. But I’m not talking to them.

A huge part of expository preaching is relaying God’s message to the Church. Theological exegesis involves discovering how God’s Word in a particular preaching portion functions for the Church. So, preaching is not primarily me talking to my parishioners about the Bible. It’s about me talking to them about them from the Bible. God’s Word is addressing us.

I’m currently reading Green’s, Practicing Theological Interpretation.

Using the epistle of James as an example, Green asks, “Who is the ‘you’ to whom James addresses his letter? Are we willing to be that ‘you’?” (p. 15).

Are you willing to address your congregants the way that your preaching portion is addressing them? If you are, that means minute-by-minute you will be talking to them about them from the Bible.

Before Sunday, look at your notes. Do you read yourself talking to them about the Bible or about them from the Bible? Are you preaching or lecturing?

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


Is Your Preaching Getting Better?


A while ago the following sentence caught my eye. It’s from Pandora’s bio on the singing group, Hot Chocolate:

“An interracial English funk and soul group, Hot Chocolate scored a pair of huge hits in the 70’s but were otherwise more enthusiastic than skilled.”


This immediately made me think of what someone could say about me or any other preaching pastor.

I recognize that skill levels vary with individuals. It’s that way with athletes. There is LeBron James and there are other basketball players (older blog readers insert Michael Jordan). And it’s that way with preachers. I’m no Tony Evans or Tim Keller.

This week I begin teaching Advanced Homiletics to a class at LBC’s northern Virginia campus. I’m also in the middle of working with a Baltimore pastor in an independent study in Communicating Biblical Truth. So, I’m thinking a lot these days about how to teach hermeneutical and homiletical skills. As always, it forces me to think about how I’m doing. How skillful am I at…

  • fighting the good fight of faith? At fighting temptation? At displaying the fruit of the Spirit?
  • interpreting how Scripture functions for the Church? At theological exegesis? At understanding the human heart?
  • communicating God’s Word in church? At speaking, pace, movement, energy, urgency? At relating to the learners?

Take a look at those three broad categories. What does it take to become more skillful in these areas. It takes intentional, intense prayer. It takes purposeful reading. It takes consistent pastoral interaction (loving and listening).

God help us preach better so that He gets glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


P.S. Preach a good sermon, will ya?!


How to Sweeten Your Sermons with a Little C.R.E.A.M. (Part 5 Metaphor)


For the past few weeks I’ve been encouraging us to think carefully about the words we use when we preach. C.R.E.A.M. is a good way to think about crafting phrases that are enjoyable to hear and that communicate effectively. The concept comes from Humes (The Sir Winston Method) and stands for: contrast, rhyme, echo, alliteration, and, finally…

Metaphor. You could also use similes in this category. The Bible is full of metaphor: Isaiah 40:6 says, “All flesh is grass…” or Psalm 110:3 “we are…the sheep of His pasture.”

We are also very familiar with the use of similes. We say things like: “He as slow as cold molasses” or “She ran like a greyhound.”

Before Sunday, look for places in your manuscript where you can use metaphors or similes to communicate vital pieces of information in your sermon. Of course, that presupposes that you are working on your manuscript as you study each day. Can you use metaphor in your sermon title (“Torn by God’s Thorn in the Flesh” from 2 Cor. 12:1-10; notice this also uses rhyming)? Check also for the key statements in your sermon. Maybe your main idea.

The pictures will help your congregants understand God’s Word better. Your listeners will appreciate the style of communication and the content.

Because of this series of blogs, I was reminded again of how much C.R.E.A.M. can be applied to preaching. Looking back over the last few sermons, I found that each manuscript included at least one of the elements of style. It’s my opinion that you can put too much CREAM in the sermon (unlike in real life on dessert!). Too much of it and you end up inadvertently drawing attention to the style and not the substance of the sermon. A little bit of CREAM, however, does sweeten the sermon for the listeners without sacrificing content.

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


How to Sweeten Your Sermons with a Little C.R.E.A.M. (Part 4 alliteration)


C.R.E.A.M. stands for contrast, rhyme, echo, alliteration, and metaphor. From a human perspective, they represent five ways preachers create words and phrases that are pleasing to the ears of those that have ears to hear. You’re working hard with the Spirit to understand your preaching portion. You’re also working hard with the Spirit to best communicate that meaning. Lord willing, your words will work and worship will occur.

When done subtly, alliteration can help you communicate God’s Word effectively. Alliteration is using the same letter repeatedly. Most preachers are familiar with alliteration as an outlining tool. It can also be used in a sermon manuscript to help listeners hear God’s Word and respond.

So, before Sunday, look at the sermon manuscript you’re building. See if there are strategic places where alliteration could help communication take place. Check your sermon title. How about your main idea? What about in the application?

Classmates have used alliteration effectively. David Deters preached Mark 4:35-41 and talked about Jesus, “the nobody from Nazareth.” Or, in his sermon, Ken Carozza described someone having been “numbed with novocain.”

If you’re so inclined to work with C.R.E.A.M., a thesaurus will help you immensely. It’s especially helpful when creating phrases that use alliteration.

If you read part 1 of this series, then you heard me talk about how paying attention to style (word-choice) was not a strong suit of mine. I have to work at it, but I’m still average at best.

It is my desire to effectively communicate in the power of the Spirit. I am vexed at times not knowing for sure whether working with words crosses the line into human-wisdom territory. That might be a great assignment for my next class (Does working with words violate Paul’s model not preaching with human wisdom? Defend your answer.). Not you, though, because you’ve got a sermon to prepare (*smile*).

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


How to Sweeten Your Sermon with a Little C.R.E.A.M. (Part 3 Echo)


A couple of posts ago I mentioned my plan to spend an hour or so in class talking about the importance of using an effective preaching style. We were emphasizing word-choice, the way preachers use words to move listeners in the power of the Spirit toward acts of worship.

It assumes we’ll spend some time thinking about the words we use while we preach. That might mean working on specific words and phrases or working on a full-blown, word-for-word orascript (a manuscript written for the ear).

You realize, of course, that your congregants who listen or watch any media are bombarded by carefully crafted messages. Watch, for instance, how advertisers frame their sales pitches. Watch what journalist do with words to report the news.

C.R.E.A.M. is an easy way to remember five ways to create phrases that parishioners will remember and resonate with. So far we’ve briefly discussed contrast and rhyme. This week we explore the use of echoes, echoes, echoes, echoes… (sorry).

In Galatians 4:4-5 you could say that Jesus Christ was delivered into this world of sin so we could be delivered from this world of sin. Working through the Gospel of Luke recently, I kept reminding our faith-family that Luke wrote to help us be sure our faith is well-placed and well-executed.

Or, in Luke 22:3 we read, “Then Satan entered into Judas…” You could say, “Satan possessed Judas because Judas didn’t possess Jesus.

Notice that, in these examples, content isn’t sacrificed on the altar of cuteness. The goal is to enhance the hear-ability of the content by carefully selected words.

So, before Sunday, look over your manuscript–I know you’re using one!–and see if there are places where echoes could help move your listeners to worship.

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


How to Sweeten Your Sermon with a Little C.R.E.A.M. (Part 2 Rhyme)


One of the ways I work with words during sermon development is by implementing C.R.E.A.M. The letters stand for contrast, rhyme, echo, alliteration, and metaphor.

These five approaches can be applied to the sermon in two ways.

First, you can sprinkle phrases built from these approaches in strategic places throughout a sermon. Work with the key words in your sermon.

Second, you can create a quotable quote surrounding your major theme. If you have that one point that you want to state and restate, that’s a good place to apply C.R.E.A.M.

In both cases and places, listeners’ ears will pick up on these well-crafted phrases and statements.

Last week we began with “C” for contrast. This week it’s the “R” for rhyme.

Before Sunday, see if there are any strategic words with which you can rhyme.

Just this week I responded to an email with: “Christians often experience bouts of doubts.” I could have said it differently, but I felt bouts of doubts sounded better than periods of doubts.

In Romans 8 Paul lists the entities that are groaning as they wait for final redemption. So, in a sermon I went with a synonym to create “a choir of sighers.”

I just watched a creative YouTube ad for Bertolini Sanctuary Seating entitled: Pastor Piper in Great Preaching…Gone Bad. The ad ended with: “The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.”

While I don’t spend a lot of time on this kind of packaging, I do try to be aware of how the Spirit of God might use my words to help those who have ears to hear hear even better.

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