Posts Tagged preaching
Initially, it may be tough to tell the difference. A gifted Bible-expositor and an entertainment-oriented preacher, with a penchant for garnishing his ideas with some Bible, may not demonstrate much disparity at first.
But give it some time. And check the congregation over the long haul. It will make a world of difference.
Tethered to the Bible
John Piper coins a term in his short article “In Honor of Tethered Preaching: John Calvin and the Entertaining Pastor.” “Tethered preaching,” he says, is cut from a different cloth altogether. It is Bible-oriented, rather than entertainment-oriented, even as it often proves captivating to the born-again palette.
The Bible tethers us to reality. We are not free to think and speak whatever might enter our minds or what might be pleasing to any given audience—except God.
A Relentless Reformer
While many fine preachers, no doubt, could be celebrated in the legacy of “tethered preaching,” Piper holds up the great Reformer John Calvin (1509–1564) as one example.
For Calvin, preaching was tethered to the Bible. That is why he preached through books of the Bible so relentlessly. In honor of tethered preaching, I would like to suggest the difference I hear between preaching tethered to the word of God and preaching that ranges free and leans toward entertainment.
Piper goes on to characterize the entertainment-oriented preacher as one who
- doesn’t seem to be shaped and constrained by an authority outside himself
- gives the impression that what he says has significance for reasons other than that it manifestly expresses the meaning and significance of the Bible
- is at ease talking about many things that are not drawn out of the Bible
- seems to enjoy more talking about other things than what the Bible teaches
- “His words seem to have a self-standing worth as interesting or fun. They are entertaining. But they don’t give the impression that this man stands as the representative of God before God’s people to deliver God’s message.”
However, the Bible-oriented preacher
- sees himself this way: “I am God’s representative sent to God’s people to deliver a message from God”
- knows that the only way a man can dare to assume such a position is with a trembling sense of unworthy servanthood under the authority of the Bible
- knows that the only way he can deliver God’s message to God’s people is by rooting it in and saturating it with God’s own revelation in the Bible
- wants the congregation to know that his words, if they have any abiding worth, are in accord with God’s words, and so constantly tries to show the people that his ideas are coming from the Bible
- is hesitant to go too far toward points that are not demonstrable from the Bible
- “His stories and illustrations are constrained and reined in by his hesitancy to lead the consciousness of his hearers away from the sense that this message is based on and expressive of what the Bible says.”
And so, in sum, “People leave the preaching of the Bible-oriented preacher with a sense that the Bible is supremely authoritative and important and wonderfully good news. They feel less entertained than struck at the greatness of God and the weighty power of his word.”
We’re modern people. We value efficiency and practicality. We like quick how-to tutorials that immediately get to the point. We’re self-driven, ambitious people with a plan for our lives, attainable goals and a timeline for accomplishing them all. We’re upwardly mobile folks with our eyes on the prize and money in the bank. We know what we want, we’re not afraid to work hard to achieve it, and we don’t have a minute to waste.
Enter the Sunday sermon.
If this generalization is even remotely true of many of us, and we bring this modern, self-driven mindset and agenda into the church on a Sunday morning, then we should encounter a problem and experience some serious tension when the pastor opens the Bible and begins to preach.
The tension is caused by a serious collision of agendas and different understandings of the Christian life. The challenge the preacher faces when he brings the Word of God to us modern Western American people is this: We want God to help us further our agendas, reach our goals, make our lives easier, bring a comforting word to our chaotic lives, and show us how to live “our best life now.” This incredibly self-centered approach to God and the Bible is veiled by reasonable sounding language of “life application” and “applying the Bible to our lives.” Yes, we want bite-sized principles from God’s word to tack onto our lives, to aid us in furthering our agenda. Read the rest of this entry »
For those who read my blog, one bonus is that you often get a preview of what might be coming down the pipe as far as sermons go at MainStreet. I’m a deep processor and require time to chew on ideas and try them out before I preach on them. Daily Illumination often becomes a forum where I’ll share some ideas and biblical gleanings from my own personal study.
This also means that what comes out on this blog is not a finished product, but rather some half-baked ideas I’m still sorting through. So, think of DI as more of a journal than a newspaper.
Every pastor has their own routine for preparing sermons. Some spend 20 hours in their study, pouring over commentaries, reading the Greek or Hebrew, and preparing elaborate outlines or manuscripts. Others draw largely from others’ research and study, using preaching outlines, ready-made illustrations, finding sermons online or following a curriculum of sorts.
Most of us are somewhere between. Read the rest of this entry »
“You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified. I was unsure of how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate—I was scared to death, if you want the truth of it—and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s power did it, which made it clear that your life of faith is a response to God’s power, not to some fancy mental or emotional footwork by me or anyone else” (1 Cor. 2:1-5, The Message).
The Bible is filled with many freaked-out, tongue-tied messengers commissioned with bring God’s Word into risky situations. Moses stammered when he spoke, but was told to go to Pharaoh anyway. Jeremiah thought he was too young and inexperienced, but that didn’t get him off the hook. Paul had a reputation for being impressive in writing, but awkward in person.
Pastors and speakers who have the privilege of sharing God’s message with others each week can gain reassurance from passages that remind us that even the great Apostle Paul had many moments of uncertainty and self-doubt. Do you find it encouraging to know that even Paul “felt totally inadequate” and “scared to death” at times? I certainly do.
Do you speak, preach or teach regularly to groups? Do you go through deep valleys of uncontrollable self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy in ministry? Do you sweat each time you step in front of your congregation or youth group? This can be a weight that sinks your ministry under the waters of despair, or it can be the thing that drives you to become more dependent on God’s power in your ministry and preaching. Read the rest of this entry »
Rob Bell’s final Sunday at the church he founded has now come and gone. I am looking forward to listening to his final words to his beloved Mars Hill on my drive home today. I should take a moment to share some of my own appreciations for Rob’s ministry that has been so influential to so many of my generation. Love him or hate him, you certainly cannot ignore Rob Bell’s voice in the wilderness of post-modern evangelical Christianity. Until I take time to share my own thoughts on Rob’s ministry, I will be lazy and share another’s reflections.
Aaron Niequist, a member of Mars Hill, offers his thoughts on Rob’s teaching and influence at Mars Hill these past years. I think he puts his finger on a lot of gems worth sharing. Thanks, Aaron. Well put. Here it is: Read the rest of this entry »
A recent Christianity Today article made me cry. It’s called “The Pastor’s Speech: How ‘The King’s Speech’ Resonates with this Stuttering Preacher”
Why was I so deeply moved by the film The King’s Speech? Yes, I cried during that, too. (And I’m not easily brought to tears at movies — unless its a kids movie like Up, Despicable Me, or Toy Story!.) Then why was this preacher’s story of his stuttering in the pulpit so emotional for me as well?
I am not a stutterer or stammerer. Therefore, I shouldn’t really complain. But I am a reluctant preacher who for years has been trying to overcome my own fear of public speaking, and my own struggles with this scary art.
I remember when I was a sophomore in college, and I was pursuing a degree in Elementary Education. The first time I had to stand in the front of a 6th grace Math classroom and teach a lesson on multiplying fractions, I almost had a heart attack. Sixth graders! What’s so scary about a bunch of 12 year olds?
I changed majors soon after this.
Now I was a Communication major. Oops. Wrong choice again. Soon I was in the front of a classroom giving a informational speech on ‘Winter Travel Safety Tips’ with props and everything. I didn’t sleep at all the night before. Terror. What is so hard about telling a room full of people to carry some kitty litter and an shovel in their trunk in case they get stuck? I was then informed that all Com majors were required to attend a number of Speech Tournaments to earn the degree. No way! I jumped out of that major immediately.
To my credit, most studies reveal that public speaking is the number one worst fear of most human beings. Yes, it ranks higher than death itself. Or, as Jerry Seinfeld has said, “
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” Read the rest of this entry »
Some mysterious Spirit-initiated transformation happened inside me. The transformation was sparked rather suddenly around age 19 when I first began to hear the Living God speaking to me through the sermons of Pastor David Johnson of Church of the Open Door. Notice: I had been hearing sermons my whole life in church. But suddenly I was hearing the Living God through the sermon. Big difference. When that happens, everything begins to change.
By what seems to me to be some hilarious cosmic joke shared among the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, I’m now a pastor (!) and now I have the terrifying task of preaching the Word. By God’s grace the Holy Spirit sometimes chooses to speak through my sloppy sermons. Only preachers can really understand the sense of holy fear and burden we carry as we walk up to the pulpit to expound on a text from God’s Word. (By the way, I urge all of you to consider praying for your pastor as they get up to preach each Sunday. Even if they’ve been it doing for 30 years and look comfortable, they’re probably still shuddering at this awesome responsibility.)
Well, that was a long introduction to an otherwise different point I wanted to make in introducing Eugene Peterson’s thoughts on preaching. But first a confession: Read the rest of this entry »
Christian preachers, more than all others, should know that people are starving for God. If anyone in all the world should be able to say, “I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary, beholding thy power and glory,” it is the herald of God. Who but preachers will look out over the wasteland of secular culture and say, “Behold your God!”? Who will tell the people that God is great and greatly to be praised? Who will paint for them the landscape of God’s grandeur? Who will remind them with tales of wonder that God has triumphed over every foe? Who will cry out above every crisis, “Your God reigns!”? Who will labor to find words that can carry the “gospel of the glory of the blessed God”?
If God is not supreme in our preaching, where in this world will the people hear about the supremacy of God? If we do not spread a banquet of God’s beauty on Sunday morning, will not our people seek in vain to satisfy their inconsolable longing with the cotton candy pleasures of pastimes and religious hype? If the fountain of living water does not flow from the mountain of God’s sovereign grace on Sunday morning, will not the people hew for themselves cisterns on Monday, broken cisterns that can hold no water . . .?
We are called to be “stewards of the mysteries of God.” . . . And the great mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” . . . And that glory is the glory of God. And “it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” – faithful in magnifying the supreme glory of the one eternal God, not magnifying as a microscope that makes small things look bigger; but as a telescope that makes unimaginably great galaxies of glory visible to the human eye. (The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Baker, 1990), p. 108-109)
“Whereas classical rhetoricians such as Aristotle spent much of their energies concerned with the limitations and desires of the listeners, urging speakers to take care to tailer their speeches to the disposition of their listeners, Christian speaking is first concerned with the disposition of the biblical text and its power to evoke the hearers it deserves before it troubles itself about the desires and deficiencies of those who hear or refuse to hear. The biblical preacher proclaims as the text proclaims, confident that the text is still quite capable of evoking a good hearing despite the limits of either the preacher or the listeners. Or as Acts sometimes says it, even through our pitiful efforts, by the grace of God, “The word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily” (Acts 19:20 RSV). (p. 145)
“In preaching, we pray that our people will not just meet the Bible, but will also be met by God.” (p. 146)
“The preacher is the one who is ordained by the church to engage in what Leander Keck has called “priestly listening” — listening to the text on behalf of the church, listening to the church so that the preacher might listen with them to the text. Preachers are sometimes characterized as great talkers. But if we are effective and faithful, we are actually great listeners.” (p. 146)
“When your head droops at night, let a page of Scripture pillow it,” advises Jerome.” (p. 155)
“When it comes down to it, all we [pastors] have are words to do our work. No one has given us an army, or a set of laws, or great wealth — the way the world gets done much of its work. Therefore, we must read everything, and talk to everybody, and listen too, noting how people speak and how they hear. And go to movies.” (p. 156)