Monday, January 05, 2009


From Bishop David Bena, suffragan bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America:

As we move into the new year, this might be a good time to review your preaching style. SO I offer these hints in that light.

1) "You preach for how many minutes???????" At one point, after I had
been ordained a number of years, I was surprised to be told by parishioner
that I had just preached for 40 minutes. When I explained that the subject
TOOK 40 minutes to cover, his response was, "Well okay. But the next time
you need to cover a subject in a sermon for that long, can you at least make
it interesting?" OUCH> But his comment caused me to rethink my style. As I
did the rethink, I soon realized that one of the reasons my sermons had
gotten so long was that I was no longer carving out enough time to prepare
my sermon or even to go over it adequately once I had it ready. So it ended
up that I was "doing my preparation while preaching it." That can be deadly!
I resolved that I would try to make my sermons no longer than 15 minutes,
and spend the time in preparation so that the 15 minutes would be
interesting as well as content filled. I decided to take that 11th
Commandment - Thou Shalt Not Bore People with the Gospel" - seriously.

2) "Chasing Rabbits - There goes one!" If you've made the preparation,
you will not "chase rabbits." What is chasing rabbits? It is starting out on
one thought, but before finishing that thought, jumping on to another
thought (Seeing a rabbit trail and chasing that rabbit) and going with that
one for a while until a new thought hits you. Once again, preparation is
necessary so that I have a plan and I STICK TO THE PLAN.

3) "Outline? Why should I use an outline? I've been ordained twenty
years." That's WHY you need an outline - so you don't start flying with a
faulty autopilot which takes you in circles rather than delivering you and
your congregation to the spiritual destination you started out for. Always,
always - outline your sermon. And stay with the outline. One of the
greatest outlines is this:

Point One: What's the passage say? (context & content)

Point Two: What's the passage mean? (theology of this passage)

Point Three: What's the passage mean to US? (APPLICATION)

Here's another outline:

Point One: Situation - what's the life situation here that's being

Point Two: Complication - what keeps this situation from staying Godly?

Point Three: Resolution - How does the Gospel of Jesus Christ resolve it?

4) "Of course I use illustrations. I just used one, when was it, five
years ago." If you don't use illustrations, only rationalists will follow
you. And there are fewer of them every day. Really? You already have the
thinkers by putting in intellectual content. Now how about drawing the
majority of your congregation - the feelers. They need illustrations! They
need SHORT stories thrown in which will bring the intellectual content to
life. Newspapers, blogs, TV programs and movies - all good ground for
finding hard hitting illustrations.

5) "Funny? Why should I be funny? The Gospel is no laughing matter."
Well, maybe. Although I can find no scripture text that says we need to be
stand-up comedians, I can find stories Jesus told that are comical (ex.
"I've bought a cow and have to go check it out; I've bought some land and
have to go check it out; I've just gotten married...and, well, I can't be
there either"). Funny lines can melt people's resistance. I try to find at
least one comical short story or tell one CLEAN joke per sermon. Did you
know that some of your parishioners hear no laughter all week? Help them

6) "What do you mean by APPLICATION? Why'd you capitalize that word?"
Anglican sermons tend to lack one vital thing - application. Last Sunday, I
went to church with my wife and sat in the pew. It was a very good Roman
Catholic church, with a good priest. He gave an excellent presentation of
Epiphany - good intellectual stuff, orthodox, biblical. But when it was
over, I found myself asking, "What do I do with this information?" He made
no way for me to apply the sermon to my life. So although I now knew that
there were not necessarily three kings in number, and although I now knew
that they were not really kings and that they were not Jewish, there was
really nothing in the sermon that called me to do anything, like witness the
power of the Gospel to people who might not look like me, or even to those
who do look like me but don't "get" who Jesus really is (to the Gentiles). A
sermon should always have some kind of application. Some Protestant services
call it a Call for Commitment, and follow the sermon with a "Hymn of
Commitment." Protestants often preach more effectively than we liturgical
types because they know their sermons need to bring out a commitment from
their listeners.

7) "You mean I need to practice my sermons after all these years?" YES.
Every so often, stand in front of a mirror and preach. You will be
surprised! I found at one point, I subconsciously had a scowl on my face and
used my right hand like an axe. Yikes! You might even want to record your
sermon ahead of time, just to get an idea of how you look and sound these
days when you preach. You'll also find that you're bored with listening when
your sermon starts to go over 15 minutes.

8) "Why should I look at them when I preach? I already know what they
look like." It has longed been established that people in today's world
listen better when the speaker makes eye contact with them. In a big church,
you can't establish eye contact with 1000 people, but you can make eye
contact with a few in each section of the church and everyone in their
vicinity will believe you are looking right at them.

9) "Hey, I don't need to use a scriptural text all the time>" Really? I
beg to differ. We need to use a scriptural text ALL the time. We are
preachers of God's Holy Word. That's why we were ordained. There is a
temptation, after preaching 20 times on the multiplication of the loaves and
fishes to decide to just lay that text aside and instead preach on Barak
Obama's stay at the Hay-Adams Hotel and all the money he's wasting staying
there. Don't do it. Your parishioners are not there to hear you jump in with
Fred Barnes on political commentary. They're there to be continually
converted to Jesus, to be empowered with the Holy Spirit, and to apply the
Gospel to their life. If you stay with that plan and use the scripture text
of the day, you'll feed your sheep.

Speaking of the scripture text: some preach by taking something from
the Old Testament reading, something from the Epistle, and something from
the Gospel and spinning those three together after doing an exposition of
each. Holy Smokes! That's 30 minutes right there, before you even get down
to application. Isn't it better to concentrate on ONE of the readings rather
well than to try for all three in one sermon? I remember the story of the
woman coming out of church, greeting the priest and saying, "Father, I
counted at least five sermons in what you said today. Next time, try for

And 10) "Maybe I don't pray enough before I preach?" yeyahh> You need to
start praying about next Sunday's sermon on Monday morning...praying
fervently that what you say is directed by the Holy Spirit and that He will
use the sermon to touch lives for Him. Each day, take a little time to pray
about your sermon as you look at the scriptural texts and decide which one
God wants you to hone in on. Take a little time to pray as you outline the
sermon. Take a little time to pray before you put together the intro, the
conclusion, and the transitions from one point to the next. Take a little
time to pray before you practice the sermon. Go through your church building
on Saturday or early Sunday morning and pray for the people who will come to
church - you no doubt know where most of them sit in the congregation. Go by
each chair or pew and silently pray for them by name.