Preachers, Keep A Close Watch On Your Life and Illustrations

Jared Wilson: Sermon illustrations. They can make or break your message, or so we’re told. In my time at Docent Research Group, working as a pastoral research assistant, I remember the high premium put on killer illustrations. One client I worked for only wanted sermon illustrations, pages and pages of them, no exegesis, no reference excerpts. I think over the course of several months, having filed numerous research briefs full of newspaper clippings, movie ancedotes, literary references, assorted fragments of pop culture detritus, and even some original creative stories, he eventually used one illustration that came from the briefs. We all know a good illustration when we hear one in a sermon. But I for one think sermon illustrations are way overrated. Yep, I said it. I think too much emphasis is put on illustrations in how we train preachers and in too many actual sermons. You shouldn’t trust your illustration to do what only God’s word can. And that’s

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A sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it

C.H. Spurgeon: A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, “What do you think of my sermon?” “A very poor sermon indeed,” said he. “A poor sermon?” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it.” “Ay, no doubt of it.” “Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?” “Oh, yes,” said the old preacher, “very good indeed.” “Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?” “Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.” “Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?” “Because,” said he, “there was no Christ in it.” “Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not

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One Indispensable Rule

  Tim Challies: The Bible is a long and at-times complicated book centered upon a short and simple truth: Jesus Christ died to save sinners. The Bible tells the great narrative that is unfolding in this world: the story of God creating, man falling, Christ redeeming, and the end coming to all sin and evil. The Bible serves as our guide to this story and to the characters who play roles in it. It does this through 66 books that span genres, cultures, authors, and centuries. It is a remarkable work that could only have come from the mind of God. The Bible is a sure and steady guide to life and doctrine, but to be that sure and steady guide it must be properly understood and interpreted. Proper understanding and interpretation is dependent on one indispensable rule: Before you ask, “What does it mean to us now?”, ask “What did it mean to them then?” In other words, before you

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A “Dull Preacher” is a Contradiction

  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The preacher must never be dull, and he must never be boring; he should never be what is called ‘heavy’… Thisi s to me a very serious matter; there is something radically wrong with dull and boring preachers. How can a man be dull when he is handling such themes? I would say that a “dull preacher” is a contradiction in terms; if he is dull he is not a preacher. He may stand in a pulpit and talk, but he is certainly not a preacher. With the grand theme and message of the Bible dullness is impossible. This is the most interesting, the most thrilling, the most absorbing subject in the universe; and the idea that this can be presented in a dull manner makes me seriously doubt whether the men who are guilty of this dullness have ever really understood the doctrine they claim to believe, and which they advocate. We often betray ourselves

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Gospel-centered Preaching vs. “another brick in the backpack”

  Iain M. Duguid has some excellent advice for us when it comes to the focus of our preaching: “Sermons and Bible studies that focus on ‘law’ (the demands of Scripture for our obedience), no matter how accurately biblical in content, tend simply to add to the burden of guilt felt by the average Christian. A friend of mine calls these sermons ‘another brick in the backpack’ – you arrive at church knowing five ways in which you are falling short of God’s standard for your life, and you leave knowing ten ways, doubly burdened. In my experience such teaching yields little by way of life transformation, especially in terms of the joy and peace that are supposed to mark the Christian life. Focusing on the gospel, however, has the power to change our lives at a deep level. Through the gospel we come to see both the true depth of our sin (and therefore that our earlier feelings of

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Why We Need Both Clarity and Courage in Preaching

  John Stott: Clarity and courage remain two of the most crucial characteristics of authentic Christian preaching. For they relate to the content of the message preached and to the style of its presentation. Some preachers have the gift of lucid teaching, but their sermons lack solid content; their substance has become diluted by fear. Others are bold as lions. They fear nobody, and omit nothing. But what they say is confused and confusing. Clarity without courage is like sunshine in the desert: plenty of light but nothing worth looking at. Courage without clarity is like a beautiful landscape at night time: plenty to see, but no light by which to enjoy it. What is needed in the pulpits of the world today is a combination of clarity and courage, or of ‘utterance’ and ‘boldness’. (HT: Trevin Wax)

Eight Traits of Good Teaching

David Mathis: It’s a very short book on spiritual leadership — just a booklet, really — but the walls of this small cave are lined with gold. You won’t even need a pickax to pluck off a nugget. In The Marks of a Spiritual Leader, John Piper points to an “inner circle” and an “outer circle” of traits. The inner circle is “the absolute bare essentials,” or what must happen in the leader’s own soul if he is going to take even the first step in leading others spiritually. These include prayer, meditating on God’s word, and acknowledging your helplessness. The outer circle, then, is comprised of “qualities that characterize both spiritual and non-spiritual leaders.” Piper gives 18 of these traits. One is skill in teaching. “It is not surprising to me that some of the great leaders at our church have been men who are also significant teachers. According to 1 Timothy 3:2, anyone who aspires to the office of

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Top 20 Christ-Centred Expository Preaching Checklist

  David Prince: Preach the text/Preach Christ and His Kingdom (redemptive history, epoch, person & work of Christ, eschatological fulfillment in the Kingdom of Christ) Honor the Authors of the text Apply the text in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ Preach with authority as an ambassador of Christ Understand preaching as an eschatological act of spiritual war that demands prayer and Spirit-given unction Preach the sermon and not the outline Remember the outline is primarily for you and not the congregation Prepare sermon notes in thought blocks with orality mind Keep your audience in mind as you prepare Concretize illustrations and application bringing theological truth down the ladder of abstraction Use an illustration like a window not like a painting Start strong. Do not slowly ramp up. Finish strong. Do not introduce new ideas in the conclusion Do not narrate your sermon moves and make sure sermon moves are connected and not abstracted from one another (why I prefer to say moves and not

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“We Always Worship, and We Usually Preach”

  Andrew Wilson: Theologian and teacher types are often taken for pedants, and no doubt that’s often with good reason. When, for example, I make the observation / loaded comment / speech / rant that “worship” isn’t the bit with the guitars at the start of the meeting, as in many charismatic circles, people tend to roll their eyes and wonder why anyone would bother being so fussy. What does it matter what we call it? Surely what matters is that we’re doing it, right? Well: yes and no. Yes, it matters more that we worship God than that we use the right language for it. But no, the words we use are not irrelevant, and can in fact inhibit and prevent true worship from happening if they are used often enough and inaccurately enough. For a case in point, consider this statement I heard recently, which is (so I’m told) a regular part of the culture at one very

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Protect Your Church in One Simple Step

Tim Challies: A few days ago I tried to demonstrate how a church self-destructs. There is a sad progression that begins with the people growing weary and ashamed of truth. No longer able or willing to endure sound teaching, they get rid of the truth-tellers and accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. Inevitably, they soon turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. All of this is laid out in chapter four of 2 Timothy. In the face of this kind of assault, Paul juxtaposes the simplest solution: Preach. It’s as simple as that one step, that one commitment. The church that remains faithful to God is the church that remains faithful to the Word of God. The healthy church is the preaching church. Here, as I see it in 2 Timothy 4:2, are Paul’s specific instruction for the kind of preaching that glorifies God and protects the church. Preach Expositorily It is

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The Sermon is a Worship Song of Its Own

Jared Wilson: In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea. In that day, “A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!” – Isaiah 27:1-2 The art of preaching the gospel falls not only within the category of Instruction but also Exultation. Worship in a “worship service” does not stop when the music is over; it continues in the sermon. The sermon is a music of its own. No matter the text, no matter the topic, the tune is the joyous anthem of God’s slaying the dragon, a redemption song. The Bible is about God; beginning to end, it is the ballad of God’s exploits in vanquishing evil and restoring shalom through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Preaching rehearses this song. Each Sunday: Once more, with feeling! Jesus is restoring all things. “A pleasant vineyard, sing

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The Importance of Preaching

C.H. Spurgeon: The pulpit has become dishonoured; it is esteemed as being of very little worth and of no esteem. Ah! we must always maintain the dignity of the pulpit. I hold that it is the Thermopylae of Christendom; it is here that the battle must be fought between right and wrong; not so much with the pen, valuable as that is as an assistant, as with the living voice of earnest men, “contending earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints.” In some churches the pulpit is put away; there is a prominent altar, but the pulpit is omitted. Now, the most prominent thing under the gospel dispensation is not the altar, which belonged to the Jewish dispensation, but the pulpit. “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle;” that altar is Christ; but Christ has been pleased to exalt “the foolishness of preaching” to the most prominent position in his

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Seven Qualities of Expository Preaching

By Wayne McDill: Among evangelicals, the term expository preaching has come to stand for authentic biblical preaching. However, exactly what constitutes expository preaching varies from writer to writer and preacher to preacher. I have talked with preachers who described themselves as “expositors,” and I believed them until I heard them preach. For many, exposition seems to mean taking a text and preaching on the subject the passage seems to address. For others exposition means defining some of the words in the text. For others expository preaching seems to mean giving a history lesson on a text with most of the sermon in the past tense. The word exposition is from the Latin, expositio, meaning “a setting forth, narration, or display.” As applied to preaching, the word has come to mean the setting forth or explanation of the message of the biblical text. In expository preaching the sermon is designed to communicate what the text says, including its meaning for the contemporary

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7 reasons to preach God-centred messages

Darryl Dash: Preachers everywhere face the pressure to preach messages that put humanity at the center. Someone has estimated that over 80% of sermons are human-centered. David Wells writes: It seems that God has become a rather awkward appendage to the practice of evangelical faith, at least as measured by the pulpit. Indeed, from these sermons it seems that God and the supernatural order are related only with difficulty to the life of faith. He appears not to be at its center. The center, in fact, is typically the self. God and His world are made to spin around this surrogate center, for our world increasingly is understood within a therapeutic model of reality. (No God but God: Breaking with the Idols of Our Age) The alternative, of course, is preaching that centers on God. Rather than being less relevant, it is actually much more explosive and life-changing. I spent some time thinking about this a few years back, and

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The danger of ‘how-to’ sermons

Timothy Raymond: Several years ago a very dedicated church member pulled me aside. I could tell he had some important words for me, words that had been on his heart for quite some time. In a hushed, sober tone he said, “I’m concerned you’re being too hard on the Roman Catholics in your preaching and teaching. From time to time, you’ve specifically called-out Catholics as being wrong for this or that reason. But, frankly, when it comes right down to it, what Roman Catholics believe and what we believe is basically the same.” At the time, I had nothing to say. I was so dumbfounded that I simply nodded my head and furrowed my brow and (to my shame) tried to change the subject. But in retrospect I concluded that this sincere man misunderstood what Roman Catholics believe, misunderstood what we evangelicals believe, or, most likely, misunderstood both. And to make matters worse, I really don’t think he viewed that

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Preach to the Affections, Don’t Manipulate Them

Matt Smethurst: Should preachers aim for the affections? Is this even possible without resorting to manipulation techniques? In a new roundtable video, John Piper, Voddie Baucham, and Miguel Núñez—all Council members for The Gospel Coalition—explore differences between “working the crowd” and awakening authentic, God-honoring emotion. “As long as preaching unpacks the greatness of God, the emotions should be moved,” Núñez observes. Faithful exposition, then, is a excellent way to cultivate godly affection and safeguard against squalid manipulation. A bored preacher misrepresents the God he proclaims, Piper adds, since God is not boring. Moreover, he explains, “the difference between emotion and emotionalism is whether you’ve awakened it with truth.” Baucham references a complaint sometimes voiced in more traditionally emotional (e.g., black and Latino) cultures that emphasizing truth and theology amounts to “denying your culture, your heritage, your ethnicity.” But the call to awaken affections with biblical truth is not culturally specific. As Piper quips, “I want to be known as the best black preacher there

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US-centred or GOD-centred?

Darryl Dash: A radical shift has taken place within the church. Pressure is put on pastors and church leaders to make church about us. The focus is no longer God and how we fit into HIs story. The focus is us, and how God meets our needs. One author puts it this way: Throughout Western societies, and most especially in North America, there has occurred a fundamental shift in the understanding and practice of the Christian story. It is no longer about God and what God is about in the world; it is about how God serves and meets human needs and desires. It is about how the individual self can find its own purposes and fulfilment. More specifically, our churches have become spiritual food courts for the personal, private, inner needs of expressive individuals. (Al Roxburgh, The Sky is Falling) This shows up in a number of ways within the church: Worship — “Contemporary worship is far more egocentric than theocentric. The

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How Your Preaching Might Increase Sin in Your Church

Kevin DeYoung: For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering . . . – Romans 8:3 We tread lightly here, but I fear we vastly underestimate the spiritual damage inflicted on our churches by “How To” sermons without an explicit gospel connection. The Bible is full of practical exhortations and commands, of course, but they are always connected to the foundational and empowering truth of the finished work of Christ. When we preach a message like “Six Steps to _______” or any other “be a better whatever”-type message — where the essential proclamation is not what Christ has done but what we ought/need to do — we become preachers of the law rather than Christ. (And it is not rare that this kind of message with barely any or no mention of Christ(!) at all gets preached.) But

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