Definition of Preaching
When you go into a church for the first time, you can never be sure what is going to be offered from behind the pulpit as “the sermon.” There is quite a wide spectrum of what is considered appropriate, depending on the speaker and the context. Often times what it called “preaching” is not really preaching at all. Here are seven different kinds of message you may hear in church:
- Moralizing — If the speaker is not born again you will get moralizing. Two major messages are “we should be nice to one another” and “God works in mysterious ways”
- Esoteric Teaching — A speaker with a lot of education or who thinks too highly of himself may talk primarily about Greek, Hebrew Bible Background, or something else very impractical to make an otherwise simple point.
- Informational Teaching — This is teaching without a lot of specific application, but which really educates the listener. Great study or insight lies behind this message designed to inform the audience.
- Practical Teaching — Someone with a gift to understand and open the Scripture may share with you practical insight for living.
- Condemning Preaching — Some speakers, usually itinerants rather than pastors, think that the harder they are on you, the better it is for you, and that they are being bold for being so hard on you. They will push you down and exalt themselves, sometimes with great talent and zeal.
- Evangelistic Preaching — Someone with an evangelistic gift will always be able to tie the message back to “come to Jesus”
- Exhortatory Preaching — This is preaching designed to get you motivated to make some kind of decision in your life, or to inspire you about something.
So in some churches, you never hear real “preaching.” What is called preaching is actually some kind of teaching. The ultimate purpose of preaching is not to inform, it is to persuade. If you are not persuading, you are not really preaching. If teaching is what you do on Sunday morning, that’s fine, but do not call it preaching.
Constructing a Message
This leads us into the construction of the sermon. There are various theories. People talk about a “3-point” sermon. Sometimes you will see up to 7 points. Sometimes they are even alliterated. I believe in the “one point” message. Because preaching is persuasion, all points in the sermon should lead up to one main decision point. People will not remember a bullet list of activities, no matter how good it is. Move them to the willingness to change, and then work with them at the altar or in follow-up. This is not to say a good sermon can not be complex, it can, but it has to have one main point that all of the others build up to or support.
Secondly with regard to construction, there are some who believe that all sermons must be “expository.” This word is filled with different meanings by different people, but usually it means that one must work with a single passage, and that the sermon must follow and teach the content of that specific passage. While good sermons can be preached in this way, there are many problems with limiting all preaching to this mode. First, it misunderstands how the Bible is written. The entire Bible is woven together like a tapestry with each text echoing or foreshadowing other texts, so it is mistaken to believe that a single passage must stand alone. In fact, what we see the apostles doing in the New Testament is what we as preachers should do — weave together relevant Scriptures on a topic to meet an occasion. Therefore, I believe the primary mode of teaching should be what expository preaching gurus eschew as “topical” sermons.
That the sermon should match the occasion seems obvious, but in fact, this too is a major departure from much stock wisdom. Some denominations preach from the “lectionary” which tells you which passage to preach from each week. If one were to do expository sermons from the lectionary, then any given week you would know exactly what the sermon would be! Preaching is for the benefit of human beings, not the other way around. The great preacher accurately discerns the situation that he or she is walking into and construct the appropriate message. What is God doing in the congregation at that time? We should speak to the context that we operate in. If you are not the regular preacher, then ask yourself, “What can I uniquely contribute?” How can you supplement the work of the primary preacher in a way that is complementary and not undermining.
Preparing the Message
Once our orientation toward giving a message is correct, we can turn to the process of developing a message. The first and foremost principle of all great preaching is the maxim that “the man is the message.” Do not preach out of your head, preach out of your convictions. Preach out of your identity. If you preach from the head it will inform, but if you preach from your heart it will transform.
Once you have identified the context you are walking into, what you can contribute, and what the people need to hear, you should have some broad area for your message. This broad area should intersect with what God is doing or has done in your own life. As you begin to weigh various topics before the Lord, one will tend to stir your heart more than others. Now do exactly the opposite of what preaching books tell you to do. Find the Scriptural support for your message. This can be a story which demonstrates the principle, or it can be series of Scriptures which build various aspects of the message. My preference is a combination of Scriptural principle, Scriptural example, Personal example, and Historical Example. This marshals every kind of evidence to prove the point you are making. In general this preparation process should be done “before the Lord” and as you study and research, you should be ready to have your message modified by what you are both learning and hearing.
Once you have the message, you need to go to focused prayer. This is not the kind of prayer where you ask God to bless the message, etc. This is the kind of prayer designed to get His heart into your heart. It is designed to fill you with passion and the power of the Holy Spirit. Allow the Lord to bounce parts of the message around in your heart as you seek His face for the people you will be speaking to. When you walk out into their midst, you should come loaded with God. In this way your natural preparation meets your spiritual preparation.
Delivering the Message
The goal of the preparation process is not to develop a word for word text for you to read. If you do read it, you will not be able to flow with the Spirit, if you do not read it, you will get lost in the text. Instead, you should prepare a outline. The outline should lay out a map of how each of the points flows and ultimately supports the main point.
Having the Spirit move in your preaching is all about speaking from the heart and being yielded to God. This very simple principle defines the process: Your audience will be conscious of whatever you are conscious of. If you are concious of yourself then they will also be conscious of you. If you are conscious of them, they will be aware of themselves. However, if you are conscious of God, they will be conscious of God. The goal then is to move through the sermon being conscious of God and of God’s love toward them, not conscious of how you look or how your presentation is going. You have to speak from the heart and from reality. Do not hide your personality while you present, express it. The more real you are, the more anointed you will be.
As you begin to speak from your heart to the people from what you have prepared, the Lord will carry you along through the message, and you will most likely find that at some point, the Spirit will come and grip your heart with passion. Move into this and give full expression to the Spirit. This may be in tears, increased volume, or decreased volume but you have to have the courage to express what the Spirit is doing in your heart as you preach. As you do this, His power will move out among the people. Preparation and delivery intersect in power.
An outline helps you be real while moving to the ultimate point. Each point is there as a kind of way marker. As you speak from the heart, you reach points of transition, and the outline will help you make the transitions without getting lost. Each point is something that you share from your identity and preparation, and it may take on some different forms as you present it.
Closing the Message
You have to close the message with and opportunity to respond. Starting and ending are probably the hardest parts of the message. When you begin, it can be difficult to find the place to latch on to, which allows all of your preparation to flow out of your heart. There are crafty ways of priming the pump, but the simple way is to explain the context. Why are you going to give the message that you are going to give? That will lead you into the message easily.
On the closing end, it’s easy to ramble on once you have tapped the well, so in preparation work on how what you are saying leads to a specific point of decision, and then have the faith to go with it when you reach it. Call the people to respond while the iron is still hot, not after you have shared a bunch of additional principles. I remember one evangelistic meeting I was in, where he really got the Spirit, but the altar call took at least 15 minutes, by which point people were more antsy than anything else.