Friday, February 21, 2014

9 Powerful Ways to Introduce Your Sermon

H.B. Charles, Jr. more from this author »

Date Published:

Every athlete wants to start strong; why should your work be any different?
The takeoff is arguably the most important part of the flight. Sprinters work to get a strong jump from the blocks to win the race. And the introduction is key to preaching a strong message.
I typically introduce my sermons in a traditional manner. I read the text first. I give the title of the sermon. Then I formally introduce the message. Others give the introduction before they read the text and state their title. Whichever way you begin your message, a strong introduction is essential, necessary, and beneficial.
Here are nine ways to get your sermon off to a good start.

1. Introduce Something. 

Many homileticians encourage preachers to write the introduction last. I am not legalistic about things like this. I think you should write as it comes to you. Yet there is wisdom in not beginning with your introduction. Write out a complete sermon skeleton first. Establish the point, structure, and objectives of the message. Know what you are introducing before you write your introduction. Then be sure your introduction to the message actually introduces the message.

2. Place The Text In Its Context. 

A text without a context is a pretext. So be sure to help listeners understand how your text fits into the progression of thought. Don’t drag them through a survey of the entire book. But help them to see how the text fits into the theme of the section. Explain the historical background and literary context. Avoid the temptation to blitz the congregation with exegetical data. But use the introduction to show how your text correlates with the larger theme of the related scriptures.

3. State The Point Of The Message. 

There is an increasing popular style of preaching that holds the point of the message until the conclusion. But preachers should view this as a novelty that should not be regularly employed. If you are striving for faithful exposition, find the point of the text. Craft that point into a clear, direct, present tense statement. And state it in the introduction. Let the congregation know where you are going up front, even if you don’t tell them how you are going to get there.

4. Give An Accurate Forecast. 

Some preachers transition from the introduction by summarizing the body of the message. This is a good practice, even though it can also be good to build suspense by revealing ideas as you go. Either way, the introduction should be an accurate forecast of where the sermon is headed. Don’t misrepresent the message. Don’t contradict yourself. And don’t oversell what you will deliver. It if is not on the shelves do not put it on the showcase.

5. Write It Out. 

It is best to write out a complete sermon manuscript, whether you use it in the pulpit or not. But if you do not write out anything else, write your introduction. Word-for-word. Untangle your thoughts by writing them out. Strive for clarity. Know where you are going. Find the clearest way to the point and body of the message. Map out your way through the opening moments of the sermon. Establish that the sermon is moving toward a purposeful destination with a clear and compelling introduction.

6. No Dumping Allowed. 

If you take your study seriously, you will inevitably have more material than you can preach in one sermon. What should you do with that additional material? Save it for another message. Do not stick it in the introduction. The introduction is not the place to dump information you cannot find a place for anywhere else.
You want your introduction to be clean and tight and strong. Don’t undermine it by stuffing it with too much material. The body of the message should be filled with good meat. The introduction should be fat-free. So be sure everything in the introduction has a real purpose. Know why every sentence is there. Ruthlessly edit out whatever does not fit.

7. Know Your Audience. 

Effective preaching requires that you exegete your audience, as well as your text. Identify to whom you will be preaching. Then craft your introduction for your listeners. This is easier if you preach to the same congregation each week. If you are consistent, your congregation will give you the benefit of the doubt. But don’t take them for granted.
Keep them on their toes by engaging them in the introduction. If you are preaching in an unfamiliar setting, it is all the more important to make a connection. Appeal to commonalities. And avoid unnecessary offense. Let the text offend, not your introduction.

8. Practice Variety. 

Don’t start every sermon the same way. Be creative. Use different doors to get into the house. Tell a story. Raise a question. State a problem. Use a strong quote. Describe the background of the text. Do an object lesson. Try multimedia. Mix it up. Practice diversity. Change the way you come at them, especially if you preach to the same congregation each week. Practicing variety in the introduction is a simple but effective way to stay fresh in the pulpit.

9. Keep It Brief. 

This is key advice for preachers who strive to do exposition. You want to spend the bulk of your time explaining and applying the text. So get to the point quickly. Don’t ramble. Don’t waste words. Don’t loiter on the front porch. You can give a wrong signal by taking your time to tell a story, build suspense, or make an application, leaving limited time to deal with the text.
Don’t cruise through the introduction and then rush through the body of the message. We are prone to say, “I wish I had more time to deal with this.” Give yourself more time by keeping your introduction brief.
What advice would you give on sermon introductions?

H.B. Charles, Jr.
H.B. Charles, Jr. is the Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, where he has served since the fall of 2008. He is primarily responsible for preaching-teaching, vision casting, and leadership development – along with all the other tasks that are a part of pastoral ministry.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

From Cornelius Platinga in Reading for Preaching (p. 22):

“Good writers typically supply a fair number of preachers’ “illustrations,” as we call them. The term is actually a catch-all for anecdotes, analogies, stories, blog entries, editorial opinions, famous tweets, incidents from history, memorable sayings, biographical profiles, statistics, snippets of dialogue from TV interviews, lines from Wikipedia bios, lines from poems, news reports, people’s comments on news reports, summaries of film plots, sentences from one of Bonhoeffer’s prison letters, and all the other fine things preachers gather, store, and retrieve in order to dress their exegeted text decently so that when Sunday morning comes the preacher’s sermon may appear ‘clothed and in [its] right mind.’”

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Does Your Preaching Strike a Grace/Truth Balance?

Randy Alcorn more from this author »

Eternal Perspective Ministries

Date Published:

In 25 years our church has only been picketed twice--two weeks in a row!--first by radically liberal nonbelievers for speaking truth, and then by radically conservative believers for showing grace.
The thing I could have done to my father was what I was tempted to do—water down the truth. It would have made it easier on me for the moment. But withholding God’s truth from my dad would have been withholding from him God’s grace.
What if we could reduce Christ’s attributes to just two qualities that we could wrap our minds around? John 1:14 does exactly that. It describes him as “full of grace and truth.”
To be Christlike is to be full of what He was full of: grace and truth.
Truth-oriented Christians love studying Scripture and theology. But sometimes they’re quick to judge and slow to forgive. They may be strong on truth, weak on grace.
Grace-oriented Christians love forgiveness and freedom. But sometimes they neglect biblical study and see moral standards as “legalism.” They’re strong on grace, weak on truth.
Countless mistakes in marriage, parenting and ministry boil down to failures to balance grace and truth. Sometimes we neglect both. Often we choose one over the other.
It reminds me of Moses, our Dalmatian. When one tennis ball is in his mouth, the other’s on the floor. When he goes for the second ball, he drops the first. Large dogs can get two balls in their mouth. Not Moses. He manages to get two in his mouth only momentarily. Then one ball or the other spurts out onto the floor.
Similarly, our minds don’t seem big enough to hold onto grace and truth at the same time. We go after the grace ball—only to drop the truth ball to make room for it. We need to stretch our undersized minds to hold them both at once.

Finding The Balance

The church I used to pastor (and still attend) was picketed by 30 pro-abortion protestors. Why? Some of our people go to abortion clinics and offer alternatives, passing out pro-life literature and sharing the gospel when they can.
So one rainy Sunday morning, our church parking lot was invaded by Radical Women for Choice, Rock for Choice and the Lesbian Avengers. Hearing they were coming, we set out donuts and coffee. I spent an hour and a half with a protestor named Charles, who held a sign saying, “Keep Abortion Legal.” We talked a little about abortion and a lot about Christ. I explained the gospel.
I liked Charles. But when you believe as I do—that abortion is killing children—it’s a bit awkward serving coffee and holding an umbrella for someone waving a pro-abortion sign. Yet because of the opportunity to share Christ’s grace, it seemed the right thing to do.
It’s not just truth that puts us in awkward situations. Grace does also. On that morning we were picketed, some street preachers showed up to take on the abortion activists with signs shouting hell and damnation. Their message contained truth, but their approach lacked grace. One of the street preachers barged between my daughter and me and a few of the Lesbian Avengers, just as we finally had an opportunity to talk with them. The door of witnessing was slammed in our faces ... by Christian brothers.
We tried to reason with the street preachers. (By the way, I believe there’s definitely a place for street preaching.) After all, this was our church, and we didn’t want them screaming at our guests—even if they were screaming truth. Most cooperated, but a few decided we were waffling on truth, and it was an abomination for us to offer donuts to people who needed rebuke.
The following Sunday, two street preachers picketed our church, scolding us for our “pathetic” attempts at donut and coffee evangelism.
In twenty-five years, our church has only been picketed twice—two weeks in a row!—first by radically liberal nonbelievers for speaking truth, and second, by radically conservative believers for showing grace.
That’s how it is on this tightrope walk between truth and grace. When you stand for truth, you’re held in contempt by some non-Christians (and even some Christians). When you offer grace, you’re held in contempt by some Christians (and even some non-Christians). When you try to live by grace and truth, in some eyes you’ll be too radical; in other eyes, not radical enough.
Grace-only folk don’t understand why Jesus said, “Fear him who has the power to throw you into hell” (Luke 12:5). Truth-only folk don’t understand why Jesus hung out with sinners, and why He hung on a cross for them.
Attempts to “soften” the gospel by minimizing truth keep people from Jesus. Attempts to “toughen” the gospel by minimizing grace keep people from Jesus.
Grace and truth are both necessary, but neither is sufficient.

Staying In The Saddle

“Amazing Grace” has been recorded more often by more musicians than any other song. When sung at the most secular event or pagan concert, a hush will fall on the audience. Eyes tear up. And not just the eyes of Christians.
Grace is what people long for, even those who don’t know Jesus. Especially those who don’t know Jesus.
“Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The world today is desperately hungry for grace and truth, because it’s hungry for Jesus.
Martin Luther said that the devil doesn’t care which side of the horse we fall off of—as long as we don’t stay in the saddle. We need to mount the horse with one foot in the stirrup of truth, the other in the stirrup of grace.
Truth without grace breeds a self-righteous legalism. People become frightened deer caught in the headlights of manmade rules. Long lists and long faces turn people from Christ.
Children who grow up with graceless truth are repelled by self-righteousness and attracted to the world’s slickly marketed grace-substitutes, such as tolerance or moral relativism.
Properly understood, biblical truths are guardrails that protect us from plunging off the cliff. A smart traveler doesn’t curse the guardrails. He doesn’t whine, “That guardrail dented my fender!” He looks over the cliff, sees demolished autos below, and is grateful for those guardrails.
The world’s low standard, its disregard for truth, isn’t grace. The illusory freedom only feels like grace to someone who’s been pounded by graceless truth—beaten over the head with pieces of guardrails. But the guardrails of truth are there not to punish, but protect us.

Getting Close To Home

I was raised in an unbelieving home. I came to Christ at 15. My mom became a Christian soon afterward. But my father was the most resistant person to the gospel I’ve ever known. He’d told me never to talk to him about that “religious stuff” again. At 84, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. One day he phoned, very upset.
“I’m in terrible pain. I’ve got a gun to my head. Sorry to leave you with a mess.”
I begged him to hold on. I made the 30-minute drive in 20, jumped out of the car and pounded on the door. No answer.
Taking a deep breath, I opened the door. On the floor I saw a rifle and a handgun. Calling out for my father, I turned the corner into his room, prepared for the worst. Eyes half closed, I bumped into him as he walked out. My heart racing, I rushed him to the hospital, where they scheduled him for surgery the next morning.
I arrived an hour before surgery, praying that in his despair, with no easy way out, my dad would turn to Christ. Standing by his bed, I opened my Bible to Romans. I began reading in chapter three. “There is none righteous, no, not one ... All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Those weren’t easy words to read. My tavern-owner father had always taken hot offense at being called a sinner. I wanted to gloss over this portion, moving quickly to the good news of God’s grace. But I forced myself to keep reading, verse after verse, about human sin. Why? Because I told myself, If I really love Dad, I have to tell him the whole truth. If God’s going to do a miracle of conversion here, that’s His job. My job is to say what He says.
We made it to Romans 6, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Then Romans 10, about being saved through confessing Jesus as our risen Lord.
Finally I looked Dad in the eyes and asked, “Have you ever confessed your sins and asked Jesus Christ to forgive you?”
“No,” he said in a weak voice. He paused, then added, “But ... I think it’s about time I did.”
I’ll never forget that moment. The impossible took place right before my eyes: my father prayed aloud, confessed his sins and placed his faith in Christ just before they wheeled him into surgery. To me, dividing the Red Sea paled in comparison to this miracle.
The surgery was successful. God gave me five more precious years with my dad. The day I held his hand as he died, with my brother and wife and daughters there, I knew I would see not only my mom but my dad in heaven.
The worst thing I could have done to my father was what I was tempted to do—water down the truth. It would have made it easier on me for the moment. But withholding God’s truth from my dad would have been withholding from him God’s grace.
If we minimize grace, the world sees no hope for salvation. If we minimize truth, the world sees no need for salvation.
We need to examine ourselves. Correct ourselves. Balance ourselves. We who are truth-oriented need to go out of our way to affirm grace. We who are grace-oriented need to go out of our way to affirm truth.
“Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” No one did either like Jesus.
Truth hates sin. Grace loves sinners.
Those full of grace and truth—those full of Jesus—do both.

Randy Alcorn
Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching biblical truth and drawing attention to the needy and how to help them. Before starting EPM in 1990, Alcorn for 13 years co-pastored Good Shepherd Community Church outside Gresham, Oregon. He has ministered in many countries, including China, and is a popular teacher and conference speaker. Randy is a best-selling author of over 30 books including HeavenThe Treasure Principle, and the 2002 Gold Medallion winner, Safely Home.


Saturday, February 01, 2014

Ten Strategic Insights Into Shaping Your Next Sermon Series

Herbert Cooper more from this author »

Date Published:

Herbert Cooper, senior pastor of People's Church in Oklahoma City, shares strategic insights into making a sermon series work.
1. Leverage the seasons when folks are most likely to attend church.
I like to launch new series that have a more outreach focus when people are more likely to attend services and invite their friends. Those seasons are cyclical. They depend on where you are located. Obviously, Christmas and Easter are two common times when people are likely to attend church.
2. Find the right balance between “reach people” series and “grow people” series.
There will always be tension here, but the objective is to try to balance out using services to attract a crowd and help people take their next steps in their spiritual journey. At West Ridge, we’ve actually color-coded our teaching calendar to make sure we maintain a healthy balance.
3. Use a variety of approaches to begin your series development.
Teach on a topic in one series. Teach through a book of the Bible in another series. Teach a series of messages on a specific biblical character. Use a series to teach through a specific doctrine. Mix up your approach.
4. Address questions that people are asking.
Our tendency is to deliver only the information we want people to hear. People will not engage our teaching unless we are addressing the issues they are facing in their daily lives. A friend of mine routinely reviews the headlines of women’s magazines to get a sense of the topics that people are discussing in today’s culture.
5. Deliver biblical truth and life application.
Your teaching will not produce life change unless you also provide life application. Without application, people may experience conviction or inspiration, but they won’t know what to do with that. Make it a goal in every message to clearly identify one next step for people to take to apply what they’ve learned.
6. Shoot for eight to ten series throughout the year.
Your average series should be four to six weeks. If you’re teaching through a book and it needs to go longer than that, try to break it up into multiple series. Every time you start a series, it creates an opportunity for people to invite their friends. You want more opportunities for people to invite their friends.
7. Plan ahead.
You can wait until Saturday to finish your message, but try to at least outline your topics a couple of months in advance. When you do that, you free up creative people to plan series packaging, service elements, and creative communications to enhance your teaching. You also provide time for appropriate promotions to occur.
8. Plan with a team.
One team may drive the topics that are addressed throughout the year. Another team may drive the series packaging, including identifying titles and visual images. Another team may develop the services elements and execution. Whatever the case, the end result will always be better when you have the right people engaged in a team approach.
9. Remember the people who already attend your church are your best promotions vehicle.
You can spend a lot of money on advertising or direct mail, but the number one way new people will attend your services is through an invitation from someone who already attends your church. Want more people to show up? Make it easier for people to invite their friends.
10. Pastors should teach, and artists should be creative.
The series I’ve experienced with the biggest impact both numerically and in life change have occurred when artists let the pastor drive the teaching and pastors let the artists drive the creative elements. The pastors control this. If they’re willing to empower artists, God can use this creativity to prepare people’s hearts for the message.

Herbert Cooper
I'm a committed follower of Christ. I'm married to the love of my life, Tiffany. We have four adorable kids Cale, Cade, Caris and Case. I'm the Senior Pastor of People's Church in Oklahoma City.