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Tim Tennent has a nice article on Being a Glocal Preacher. The article addresses the inevitability of preaching to both a local and global context in an age of globalization. Even the most rural pastors are shepherding people who are jacked into the internet, wireless devices, and social networking. News, culture, and values are shaped by both local and global contexts. Here are Tennent’s three principles for glocal preachers:
- FIRST, WE MUST RECOGNIZE THE GLOBALIZATION OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
- SECOND, TO BE A ‘GLOCAL’ PREACHER, WE MUST RECOGNIZE THAT OUR OWN COMMUNITIES HAVE DRASTICALLY CHANGED
- THIRD, IN ORDER TO BE A ‘GLOCAL’ PREACHER WE MUST RECOGNIZE THAT WE ARE NOW IN A POST-DENOMINATIONAL WORLD
Read the Rest.
Preaching can be hard. It’s a challenge to interpret an ancient text faithfully, apply it practically, contextualize it culturally, and most important of all, preach and savor Christ. And after you do it once, you have to turn around and do it again in six days.
Preaching is Hard
Let me revise. Preaching is hard. In addition to all the work that goes into preaching a biblically faithful and culturally relevant sermon, there’s the challenge of crafting your message. How should you arrange the material? Where should you illustrate? What material should you leave out? What kind of blend of history, theology, practice, and culture should you go for? Then there’s the rhetorical challenge. Pitch, pace, pause, gesture. I’ll never forget the first preaching class I took that talked about delivery. It’s scary how much people think about that stuff, but it is a legitimate part of preaching the gospel.
Ever hit the wall the night before your sermon? I did last night. I’d experimented with preaching a different type of sermon. I was trying to “improve.” I typically work through three documents. One on notes, one full length outline, and one manuscript, and then one rehearsal in my office. The final manuscript was almost finished as I hit the wall. I came to my poor wife to share my frustration. She came back with some rich counsel: “Maybe you need to listen to your sermon first.” The message was on Gospel Identity, not confusing your various life roles with your identity in Christ. And there I was, finicky over whether or not people would like it. If the new format would “come off.” My wife basically told me to be myself. She was right in more ways than one.
Identity Confusion in the Pulpit
All too often young preachers imitate or innovate to an extreme. They try to preach beyond their gifting and personality. The best thing we can do is be ourselves, in two ways. First, don’t try to be a John Piper, Tim Keller, or Matt Chandler because you’re not. Be yourself for Jesus. Don’t over analyze your sermons or style; it’s narcissistic. Instead, analyze the text. Soak in the Gospel. Pray for your people. I think it was Moltmann who said, “We prepare a preacher, not a sermon.” Prepare your heart as well as your head. Preach for Christ. Make it your aim to clarify and delight in Him. Be yourself and preach Christ.
Second, be yourself in Jesus. Remember, your worth is not in your sermon. Your worth is in Christ. Your value isn’t determined by your delivery. Your identity is disciple, your role is pastor. Your identity is shepherd, your role is a sheep. Your identity is a sinner redeemed by grace, your role is to pastor and preach by grace. All too often we swap our roles for our identity. We find our worth in what we do, instead of who we are.
Wisdom from Spurgeon
When you hit the preaching wall, it’s always good to pick up a gospel-saturated preacher. Before going to bed, I picked up Spurgeon’s, Lectures for my Students. A Spirit-led decision. Chapter five is called “Sermons–their Matter”, a must read for every preacher. This chapter addresses the matter, or material, of our sermons from a variety of angles. Spurgeon opens up with this:
Sermons should have real teaching in them, and their doctrine should be solid, substantial, and abundant.
Notice he does not say enter the pulpit with a finely-crafted piece of rhetoric. He does not exhort us to master our delivery. Instead, he tells us they should be doctrinally rich. He goes on to explain. “The entire gospel must be presented from the pulpit; the whole faith once delivered to the saints must be proclaimed by us. The truth as it is in Jesus must be instructively declared, so that the people may not merely hear, but know, the joyful sound.” The entire gospel? That’s what he said. Spurgeon implores us for gospel clarity, not compelling delivery, that we would deliver “the truth as it is in Jesus.” What a privilege!
Preach the Gospel
but the true minister of Christ knows that the true value of a sermon must lie, not in its fashion and manner, but in the truth which it contains. Nothing can compensate for the absence of teaching; all the rhetoric in the world is but as chaff to the wheat in contrast to the gospel of our salvation. However beautiful the sower’s basket it is a miserable mocker if it be without seed.
We need, our churches need, not more finely dressed baskets but baskets full of gospel seed. And if we fear the judgment of others, disapproval of our delivery, hope in Christ. Repent from placing your identity in your role, your worth in your preaching.
Weigh your Sermons
Now, it is one thing to turn a deaf ear to the complaining spirit, but it is quite another to refuse to listen to your own sermon. Is it littered with gospel seed or cultural references. Is it soaked in Christ or technique? Weight your sermons, but weigh them well. Be sure to use the right scales:
Horses are not to be judged by their bells or their trappings, but by limb and bone and blood; ans sermons, when criticised by judicious hearers, are largely measured by the amount of gospel truth and force of gospel spirit which they contain.
Weigh your sermons, but weigh them wisely. Be not dampened by stylistic criticisms. Don’t fear the complaining hearers. Instead, weigh your sermon not by delivery but by depth. Measure according to ‘the amount of gospel truth” and the “force of gospel spirit.” Many a sermon has been preached and forgotten. The sermon that remains is the sermon that proclaims Christ, full of earnest and full of Jesus. Gospel-saturated sermons that have been heard by their preachers first will inevitably leave a lasting mark our their hearers second. Weigh your sermons, but weigh them well. Use Gospel scales and cast yourself upon that grace.
I had been preparing to transition from a series called The Gospel and the Gospel to a new series on The Apostles Creed. I had done some preparation, broken down the summer preaching schedule, and begun to read several books on the topic. However, I sensed the Spirit directing me away from this. Not convenient. With one sermon on baptism between the series, I didn’t have a lot of time to make my decisi0n—go with Apostles Creed or follow these promptings. Despite the difficulty I chose the latter.
Richard Lovelace helped me make this decision. I had the great fortune of taking two classes from Lovelace before he retired from teaching as emeritus professor at Gordon-Conwell. If you haven’t read his opus Dynamics of Spiritual Life, order it today (and try to read it before finishing your second year of church planting). It is a historical, systematic theology of church and personal renewal rooted in Edwardsian theology. Lovelace had a profound effect on my approach to the Christian life. While debating which direction to go with the sermon series, I picked up Dynamics again and read the following:
Spirit-led Sermon Selection
What is true of the Holy Spirit’s role in the counseling procedure is equally important in the pulpit and teaching ministry of the pastor direct toward the whole congregation. If it is difficult to do spiritual surgery in the life of one parishioner in the counseling situation, its even more difficult to take aim at the spiritual needs of a group without explicit direction form the Holy Spirit. Many texts and many sermons may be appropriate in a general way to congregational needs, but the pastor who is working for congregational renewal will learn not to fix on any of these possibilities prematurely, until the quiet imprimatur of the Holy Spirit’s direction illuminates the thrust and strategy which his most strategic for spiritual release.
May we not cease to wait for the imprimpatur of the Spirit as we pastor his people.
Mark Driscoll gives some helpful thoughts on how to prepare to preach during Easter. He points us to Wright’s great work The Resurrection and the Son of God, as well as to Keller’s chapter on the resurrection in Reason for God. I have found both immensely helpful. For a more devotional study on the resurrection, check out:
Ministers are noteworthy of their calling. All preachers are vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy. In fact, the more faithful preachers are to the Word of God in their preaching, the more liable they are to the charge of hypocrisy. Why? Because the more faithful people are to the Word of God, the higher the message is that they will preach. The higher the message, the further they will be from obeying it themselves. ~ R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God
Are you teetering closely to the edge of holy hypocrisy or are your sermons doable bits of moral advice? Are we pressing into the Word of God to encounter his holiness and grandeur or finessing deliveries to impress men with our personal insights? We have to ask ourselves, are we preaching higher and higher messages that threaten our discipleship with the promise of sanctifying joy or are we preaching lower messages that promote a numbing nominalism?
9 Marks is running an interview series with the British, insightful Steve Timmis, co-author of Total Church. Steve’s quotation of David Fairchild regarding the pastoral advantage of dialogical preaching is worth the whole interview:
Extended monologue can cause me to think about the sermon more than I think about the gospel and the people the gospel is for. If I think of the people, I think about how I’m going to communicate the gospel to them. If I think of the gospel, I think about how I am going to communicate the gospel to a particular people. If I think about a sermon, I don’t much think about either of them at worst; at best I think about them as a sort of homiletical box to check.
A number of years ago I attended a brown bag discussion with Tim Keller on Preaching, which followed the now famous Gordon Conwell Preaching Lectures on Preaching to the Heart. During this discussion Keller shared a number of extremely helpful thoughts for young preachers. One on his points was that young preachers won’t find their voice until they have preached 200 sermons, so don’t be so hard on yourself! There are, however, a number of things we can do to improve as we struggle to find our voice and reach the “200 mark’! My friend Josh Otte recalls that discussion and posts more of Keller’s advice here.
Alexander Strauch, Minister of Mercy: The New Testament Deacon
A reliable guide to understanding the biblical qualifications and expectations of the role of deacon. Strauch’s Biblical Eldership and Study Guide are also very helpful in working out functional eldership.
Mark Driscoll, On Church Leadership
One of the best concise treatments of what the Bible has to say about Elders, Deacons, and Members. See also John Piper’s resources on Elders and Deacons.
William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying
An refreshingly biblical read on preaching from an old Puritan voice.
David Powlison, Speaking the Truth in Love
I can’t get enough of Powlison, a biblical counselor that pushes truth and grace through everything. He is editor of the Journal of Biblical Counseling, which contains a goldmine of pastoral wisdom for just about every occasion. He challenges and renews my soul.
We launched Colossians this past Sunday with standing room only. Had to pull out chairs from the coffeeshop and create a new row on the fly! It’s encouraging to see people in Austin coming to worship Christ, hear the gospel preached. Now, if we can just convert them to being the church! Two things we will do to make the second gathering less of a service and more of a stepping stone into community:
- Partner Class: I ripped “Partner” off from the Austin Stone. I avoids the Country Club, consumeristic, elistist baggage of Southern Baptist Church “Membership”, while also giving us language to redefine what it means to be Spirit-led disciples who follow Jesus. The month of October we will have a home-based, weekly partner class that clearly explains the vision and practices of Austin City Life. We will do four weeks on: Vision, Gospel, Community, Mission. There will be no certificates handed out at the end of the class. People will become partners once their City Group leader has signed off on their active participation in the City Group, proof that they are partnering with us in the gospel for the city.
- Plant Missional Disciples: The second service will be a missional expression, forged around some of our solid, missional core people, with the aim of treating the second service/gathering as an incubator for a new church, kind of like redeveloping a core team but in reverse. This service may be different from our first service in order to accomplish that goal.
I really struggled with how to introduce Colossians. Background only? Cover 1:1-2? Which themes to address in the letter? How to prepare our people to read a first centruy letter in community without giving them a lecture in hermeneutics? How to preach the gospel while covering a lot of mundane information? If you listen to the sermon or read the manuscript, feel free to give me your thoughts. I’m pretty happy with what I came up with, but know it can be improved upon. The most encouraging thing was that I had person after person come up to me and tell me how excited they are about Colossians! In the end, my hope is that Jesus is Lord.
(People) will give you leave to preach against their sins, and to talk as much as you will for godliness in the pulpit, if you will but let them alone afterwards, and be friendly and merry with them when you have done, and talk as they do, and live as they, and be indifferent with them in your conversation. For they take the pulpit to be but a stage; a place where preachers must show themselves, and play their parts; where you have liberty for an hour to say what you (desire); and what you say they regard not, if you show them not, by saying it personally to their faces, that you were in good earnest, and did indeed mean them…