Friday, May 24, 2013

Aim for the Ear

Hershael York more from this author »


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Do you preach as a would-be writer or do you preach as a preacher?
Don't preach as would a writer; preach as a preacher! Preachers who fail to appreciate the vast difference between their oral craft and writing usually display very different understandings of their task—centered in the pulpit and congregation for one and in the desk and study for the other.
Written words may indeed enjoy a more lasting legacy, but they lie flat on a page, detached from voice or volume in one dimension, subject to a reader's inferred emphasis and experience. Spoken words, on the other hand, fly to the listener in a matrix of pitch, pace, posture, timbre, gestures, energy, movement, inflection, emphasis, facial expression and eye contact. Each parameter widens and deepens the context by which the listener can comprehend the intended message.
The spoken word fires on so many more cylinders, communicates on so many more levels of meaning than does writing. If the pen is mightier than the sword, the voice is powerful in a different and more immediate way. They each have their role, to be sure; but preaching is intimate and immediate because it's inherently oral and visual.
The words of the sermon comprise an enormously important instrument, but merely one among many. If our preaching centers only on the words, we fail to utilize the other power tools of human interaction God also has given us.
From Pentecost to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, God has used the passion and energy of preachers who focused on moving the audience to action. In other words, they preached as preachers, delivering the Word of God to a particular audience at a propitious moment with such power that their listeners responded by asking, "What shall we do?"

Preachers Who Preach As Writers Make Three Critical Mistakes:

1. They focus more on wordcraft than on heart connection. Imagine Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. standing before the great statue of our 16th president and reading the words of his speech with no emotion, no lilt of his voice, no quaver in the phrase: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" What if he had contented himself just to read the words and not deliver them with his personality? What if, in fact, he had merely printed the manuscript and passed it out?
The words King wrote were certainly powerful by themselves, but when transmitted through him, they remain so strong that reading them 50 years later, we still hear his sonorous voice because he connected with more than words. He connected with our hearts.
2. They care more about their words than about those who hear them. Have you ever had a conversation in a busy room with someone who wouldn't look you in the eye? His or her eyes kept darting around the room as if searching for someone else, someone more interesting to engage. How does it make you feel when he or she talks but won't make eye contact? Don't you feel unimportant, almost as if the person's looking for someone better than you?
Surely a church congregation feels no differently when the pastor reads the sermon from a pulpit cocoon, eyes darting between the thermostat on one wall and the stained glass window on the other. The words are undermined by a lack of passion and connection between speaker and hearer. I'm not saying one never should use a manuscript, but I freely admit it's much harder to connect with an audience when preaching from one.
3. They preach to the head without entering through the heart. When Nathan confronted David, he did not march before him and bluntly confront his sin. He told David a story that made the king commit emotionally first. By the time Nathan revealed David's sin, the king couldn't go anywhere else. Had Nathan skipped that important step, ignoring the power of the emotional connection, the king's reaction could have been very different. Nathan had to change David's mind about his sin, but he knew reaching his heart was the key.
Planning the sermon does not stop with composing a clever outline or writing a well-crafted manuscript. What makes preaching unique is that the preacher shares a singular experience with the audience. Writers usually never see their audience; preachers are moved with theirs.

Hershael York
Hershael W. York is the Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Preaching and Associate Dean in the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He also serves as Senior Pastor of the Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY, and co-wrote Preaching with Bold Assurance (Broadman and Holman, 2003) with communications expert Bert Decker, chairman and founder of Decker Communications. In addition to his writing, teaching, and pastoring ministries, he usually ventures deep in the Amazon at least once a year to fish for men and the elusive peacock bass.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Seven Preaching Topics You Should Repeat Often

Joe McKeever more from this author »

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Don't be afraid of repeating yourself. Repetition is the mother of learning -- and sometimes a pastor's best friend.
“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift that is in you….” (II Timothy 1:6) 
“Of these things put them in remembrance….” (II Timothy 2:14).
Recently I spent the morning hours in a school in North Carolina giving my little presentation we call “Lessons in self-esteem from drawing 100,000 people.” I sketch a lot of students, then segue into the talk which, among other things, urges the kids to stop comparing themselves with others, accept themselves as the persons God made them to be and to smile. Then it happened again. 
Only five minutes after the talk, we invited the students to crowd around, and I would sketch as many as possible in the remaining time. “Look at me and smile,” I said to the first teenager. “I don’t smile,” he said. I stopped, looked at him sternly and said, “You didn’t hear a thing I said, did you?” 
In truth, he had heard, but the lesson had not penetrated.
I said to the young teacher, “My telling the students these things once is not enough for them to get through. The only way to change their behavior is for you to say it over and over again. Eventually the lesson will ‘take’ with some of them.”
Some lessons have to be repeated ad infinitum.
“Let me remind you …” is a phrase that shows up a lot in the epistles of the Apostle Paul.
The most important spiritual truths need to be emphasized again and again if the hearers are to truly learn them and benefit from them.
Here are seven biblical truths we pastors need to keep telling our people in the hope that eventually most will “get it.” (The list is not meant to be exhaustive. You’ll think of other essential truths that need hammering home again and again.)

1. Jesus Christ Is The Savior Of The World And The Only Savior.

That is the theme of so much Scripture anyway, isn’t it? How could we not keep the focus on the Lord Jesus — His identity, His life and ministry, His teachings, His headship over the church and His place in our lives — if we are being true to the Word?
Pastor, keep telling them — over and over again, the theme never wears out — ”why we make so much of Jesus.” Recently, a man here in North Carolina (where I’m in revival) told of the state legislature voting to make a certain Baptist preacher their chaplain, then firing him when he refused to take “In Jesus’ name” out of his prayers. And they call this perversion “inclusiveness.” Go figure. (Note: Many a New Testament prayer did not use the actual words “in Jesus’ name,” and we should not feel ours must always, either. However, tell me that I must leave Jesus out of the prayer and I’m gone.)
Jesus Christ is Lord, for now and for eternity, and no one else is. Always stay focused on the Lord Jesus with your people.

2. The Church Is An Essential Part Of The Lord’s Plan, For Now And Forever.

And we are most definitely not referring just to your local congregation. As important as that is — this will come as a surprise to a lot of lonely myopic pastors—the Kingdom of God is more than your church.
When Jesus saved you, He knew something you were about to find out: “You cannot live this new life in isolation. You need the family of God.” They hold onto you; you hold onto them. They instruct and nurture you; you turn around and do the same. This symbiosis has been God’s plan from early on.
“I will build my church,” the Lord said in Matthew 16:18. It’s His and He builds it. The Christ-follower who claims to be able to live for Christ better without the church is insulting His Lord. The church-leader who would run the Lord’s church “for Him” is asking for big trouble fast.

3. Salvation Is All About The Cross.

Salvation is not by works of righteousness but humility, repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and what He did on Calvary. 
The threat to turn salvation into a matter of works will never go away. It’s grounded in man’s way of thinking, his human (and thus self-centered) reasoning. To my knowledge, most of the religions of the world teach variations of “do this and you’re saved” or “do not do this and you are saved.” Only one, to my knowledge, proclaims that everything necessary has already been done and our task is to repent and receive it (“Him”).
When people tell me they believe their good works will get them to Heaven, I ask, “Then what was the point of the cross? If all God had to do was tell us ‘Y’all be good now, hear?’ then He sure went to a lot of trouble for nothing by sending Jesus into this world to die on a cross for our sins.” (They have no answer since they have never given these things the first thought. If you need further evidence of man’s sinful heart, there it is.)
Celebrate the grace of God, preacher, with your people. Keep them at the cross.

4. We Are Not Saved By Good Works, But Saved “Unto” God Works. (Ephesians 2:10)

Good works have a definite place in the plan of God for His people. But they are the results—the fruits, the evidence—of our salvation, not the means. One wishing to become a member of the military does not do so by wearing a uniform and saluting officers. But once he is officially inducted, he wears the uniform, obeys commands and salutes officers.
What good works does the Lord want to see in our lives? Scripture answers that again and again in places like Micah 6:8, Jeremiah 22:16 and of course, Matthew 25:35-36. I enjoy telling Harold Bales’ story of the time his church in uptown Charlotte, NC, was bringing in the homeless from the park across the street and feeding them breakfast before the morning worship service. A woman who had belonged to that church for generations and resented the presence of the unwashed in their services approached Pastor Harold one Sunday and said, “Pastor, why do we have to have those people in our church?” He said, “Because I don’t want to see anyone go to hell.” She said, “Well, I don’t want them to go to hell, either.” He said, “I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about you.”

5. If You Have Faith, You Will Pray.

In fact, nothing tells the story about your faith like your prayer life. Nothing.
Consider that you are praying to a Lord you have never seen and cannot prove. You say things to Him you would say to no one else and believe that He hears. Furthermore—and this is the clincher—90 percent of the requests you make, you’ll never know whether He answered them or not since He may choose to do so in subtle ways or at another time. But there you go, praying to Him day after day, as though He were occupying the chair next to you and everything you do today is dependent on His presence and guidance.
It is.
Pastors keep prayer before their people by encouraging them to pray at the altar during the services, by having a prayer room at the church and by encouraging prayer for specific people, needs, events and concerns.

6. A Church Exists By Evangelism And Missions As A Fire Exists By Burning.

Sharing our faith is not an option, not for the gifted only (although admittedly some are more fluent and effective than others in this), and not to be done sporadically. “As you go, make disciples” was the command of our Lord in Matthew 28:18ff.
I stood in the foyer of a church of another denomination one day, reading their poster on evangelism. (You do not need my help in identifying the denomination by what follows.) The poster said something like, “Spread the word. Tell people about John Wesley.” I thought, Wesley? Tell them about Wesley? That’s not evangelism! That’s the sort of in-house instruction one might wish to do with those who have been converted to United Methodism. But it’s no way to reach the unchurched, uncommitted or uninterested.
Churches must be creative in finding ways to mobilize their members in spreading the faith, must be aggressive in supporting those who are getting it right and doing it well, and must be alert to the distractions which would push evangelism down the list of priorities in the church’s ministries.

7. The Bible Is The Inspired Word Of God And The Spiritual Nutrition Of Believers.

If you thought other church programs would crowd evangelism off the agenda, know that life has a way of pushing God’s Word out of the minds of believers.  The process seems to be the same for everyone, and works like this ... 
You go a few days without reading your Bible, and soon you find yourself resisting the inner urge to get back to it. The more you cave in to that laziness that resents picking up the Word and opening it, the more you will find yourself saying (or thinking, or both): “I’ve read the Bible. I know it already. There’s nothing new there. It’s boring.”
Those are all lies out of hell. You do not know the Bible. You have not read it. (You may have read “at” it, but there is a world of content there which you have not yet mined.) It is not boring. You are boring, not the Word.
Job said, “I have esteemed the words of thy mouth more than my necessary food.” Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” David said the godly man’s “delight is in the Word of God and in that Word (law) doth he meditate day and night.”
Keep telling them, pastor. Keep preaching its insights and delighting in its treasures, and eventually they will get it.
Repetition is a great teacher. In fact, it may be the best teacher on the planet.

Joe McKeever
Dr. Joe McKeever is a preacher, cartoonist and the retired Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Currently he loves to serve as a speaker/pulpit fill for revivals, prayer conferences, deacon trainings, leadership banquets and other church events. Visit him and enjoy his insights on nearly 50 years of ministry at


Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Three Keys to Sermon Length

Brian Croft more from this author »

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In the ongoing search for the perfect sermon length, here are three factors to help determine the length of your sermon on any given Sunday.
I had an interesting conversation yesterday that reminded me that this question needs to be addressed. I find many pastors, especially younger ones, are regularly wrestling with this question. They should be. The pressure to answer can be self-imposed, or forced by those in your church who complain that your sermons are too long. The problem is, there does not seem to be one right answer. The answer to this question largely depends on the kind of pastor you are, the quality of preacher you are and the kind of congregation you serve. In light of this, here are a few principles that might help you answer this question in your particular context.
A pastor should determine the length of a sermon …

1. Based On Where Your People Are, Not Where You Think They Should Be.

We should always challenge our folks to grow. Yet I hear of many pastors preaching sermons at a length they know is overwhelming the majority of their congregation. The reason … to push their people to be able to listen to God’s Word for the amount of time the pastor thinks they should be able to listen. Push your congregation to grow, but not at the expense of exasperating them by trying to make them something they are not. God must do that work. Preach faithfully, but meet them where they are. Let God mature them to that place as your preaching causes them to long for more of it.

2. Based On How Good And Seasoned A Preacher You Are.

I fear that so many of us who love the Puritans read that they preached one- to two-hour sermons and think, “Hey, I want to be like the Puritans.” The problem is, many men who want to preach an hour are not good enough or seasoned enough to preach an hour … yet. I realize that we are treading in subjective waters.
The point here is the necessity to evaluate honestly how good and seasoned you are as a preacher. If you are in your first year of pastoring a church, your sermons should probably be shorter, more succinct and simpler than you probably think or want. If you are not able to honestly evaluate your preaching gifts and you do not allow others to speak into your life to assess them with you, I believe you will have a difficult time determining what length your sermons should be so that they will be most helpful to your congregation.

3. To Leave Your People Longing For More, Not Less.

Every preacher has been there. We can sense we are losing our people and we still have 10 minutes left in the sermon. We want to make sure we give adequate time to the preaching of God’s Word, but this principle, to leave them longing for a bit more, is a good goal to pursue. I would rather leave my people in a place where they wanted just a little more versus exasperating them with too much. Do not underestimate the discouragement that comes when someone who honestly desired a nice big glass of water instead got the fire hose jammed down his or her throat.
Remember, these are just principles. Do not overanalyze them. Just take them and apply them in your context with your level of preaching experience. Lastly, remember you are a shepherd of these people to whom you are preaching. Think like a shepherd as you determine the length of your sermons. Push them to grow. Nurture them where they are now. Then, trust that God will use his Word and your efforts to find that balance every pastor should seek. 

Brian Croft
Brian Croft is senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is also the author of "Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness (foreword by Mark Dever) and "Test, Train, Affirm, and Send Into Ministry: Recovering the Local Church’s Responsibility to the External Call" (foreword by R. Albert Mohler Jr.). Brian blogs regularly at Practical Shepherding.