Monday, March 31, 2014

It’s been said many times that it’s a sin to be a boring preacher. But what is the opposite of a boring preacher?

An entertaining preacher? An intellectually enlightening preacher? Or, heaven forbid, a good communicator?

I’d trade those three for an interesting preacher every time.

Of course you don’t want to be interesting just for the sake of being interesting. You must be true to the text. You must preach the gospel in all its glory and all its intricacy.

But you know how it is with some pastors. They seem to suck the passion right out of you. There is something about their preaching that numbs the eardrums and reduces the contents of the brain to cauliflower.

There is a saying that goes, “There’s no such thing as uninteresting people, just uninterested people.” This applies to preachers, too. Of course, there are plenty of ways to be “interested.” Read biographies, do some work with your hands once in a while, keep up with what his happening culturally (art, politics, entertainment, etc.).

I’d like to focus on just one place to cast your interest in order to become a more interesting preacher: great works of fiction. Greg Breazeale recently gave us five reasons for pastors to read fiction. If you’re on the fence, I think he’ll convince you. Building off of his article, I’d like to tell you how to read fiction so that your preaching will actually benefit.

1. Allow yourself to be infected with the contagion of creativity – If you read fiction simply to improve your preaching, you will read it the wrong way, and have nothing to show for it when you put the book down. But if you will read fiction for the sake of the story – just to enjoy the ride – you will find that the creativity on the novel’s pages sticks to your fingertips and rubs off on your keyboard as you type your sermon.

2. Collect interesting words – No, not to start impressing your church with an advanced vocabulary. Words are so much more than a label, they are a door to concepts and ideas. The more exposed you are to new concepts, the more interesting your preaching will be.
As you read in your Kindle, avail yourself of the dictionary often. Otherwise, keep a big, hardback dictionary handy.

3. Collect interesting sentences – Like collecting words, collecting well-constructed sentences will give you a better command of the language you use to preach God’s word. But unlike words uncommon words, you can put an author’s good sentence to use in your sermon.

When a sentence really strikes you, highlight in your e-reader, or write it down in a notebook. Play Madlibs with it. Can you delete some of the nouns and verbs, and supply your own to make it suitable – even effective – for your sermon?

Take, for example, this sentence from Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (and tell me if it sounds familiar).

You know how it is with some girls. They seem to take the stuffing right out of you. I mean to say, there is something about their personality that paralyses the vocal cords and reduces the contents of the brain to cauliflower.

I hope you recognize I derived a sentence near the top from this doozy from Wodehouse. The second I read it (off my first generation iPad, mind you) I knew I had to save it for later. Not only is it funny, I immediately saw how I could switch out some of the words and use it to describe almost anything. How would you finish it in your own sermon if you started out, “You know how it is with legalistic types…” or “You know how it is when you don’t hold your tongue…”?

4. Develop your style – Not only will the authors’ creativity rub off on you, so will their style. You have to be careful here. You don’t want to be a copy anyone else’s style. You also don’t want to start sounding the way novels read. The fact the preaching is vocal communication limits what we can pull off.

But when you read several authors, enjoying how their words flow yet keeping in mind that you speak your content, not merely write it – you will begin to develop your style in a way that captures the imaginations of your listeners.

5. Discover interesting illustrations – Although I’d bet that we each could name an interesting preacher who used illustrations sparingly, I’d also bet that if we listed our ten favorite preachers, the majority would be above average at illustrations.

The more you read fiction, the more illustrations you will add to your file. The best time to find a great illustration is before you need it. A regular regimen of fiction reading will have your files busting.

6. Broaden your experience – How do you preach on death if you – and your church plant – are mostly 35 and under, and you’ve never done a funeral? How do you preach on the devastating effects of abuse if you have never known or counseled someone who has been abused?

You must preach on these topics because the Scriptures speak about them. While your lack of experience doesn’t disqualify you from preaching on these topics, it can make you bad at it. But hearing an old man whisper deathbed regrets, or walking with a young girl through an abusive relationship – even if they are fictional – will broaden your experience enough to make you not bad at addressing those issues. Which is better than the alternative.

7. Gain a feel for coherent narrative – Just like a good story, a good sermon ties off the loose ends at the end. Listing off your three points (again?!) is a boring, formulaic way to conclude.

When you wrap up a novel, take note of which loose ends were saved for last. Why was that the best way to finish? What narrative tension was maintained? What was the author trying to do by saving that for the last paragraph? What loose ends were left loose, and why?

Observing such things will give you a feel for unity, coherence, tension, and climax in your sermons.

Get started!

Although you won’t magically become The Most Interesting Preacher in the Word overnight, it won’t take long before you reap the benefits of reading fiction.
If you’ve never read fiction before, start with something fun like the Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter series, or, if you’re in the mood for a comedy, kick off with a Jeeves novel by Wodehouse.
The, of course, is simply to start. And then never stop.

(Image credit)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Many of us love the busyness, energy, and creative dynamism of a robust church. Many of us love the program direction and even the management. And yet all of us pastors must summon an uncommon discipline if we are to reflect the priority and importance of preaching.

It can be done. [Joseph] Sittler [wrote in his essay “The Maceration of the Minister”]:
It [the congregation] is likely to accept, support and be deeply molded by the understanding of Office and calling which is projected by its minister’s actual behavior. It will come to assess as central what he, in his actual performance of ministry and use of his time, makes central.
The preacher, Sittler concluded, must order her or his time around study, reflection, and sermon preparation.

--Christian Century, March 19, 2014 edition, page 3

Thursday, March 06, 2014

The 2013 Preaching Survey of the Year’s Best Books for Preachers

By R. Albert Mohler Jr. | President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

An amazing gathering took place in May 2012, when a huge congregation of ultra-Orthodox Jews met in New York City's City Field in order to warn the Jewish community about the effects of the Internet. The Internet's ubiquity, joined with its unique pattern of information processing, presents dangers, the rabbis agreed, to the ability of the Jewish mind to honor God.
One Jewish leader, Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, suggested that modern persons are in danger of becoming "click vegetables," who simply click from one data source to another with little comprehension. "If you're bored with something, just click," the rabbi explained.
As literary critic David Mikics argues, reading a book is still a superior experience to grazing from the tsunami of information that comes to us online. "Real reading of real books, reading designed to augment the reader's creative strength, never loses its power," writes Mikics.
Mikics is an advocate of what he calls the slow reading of a text. In his very interesting new book Slow Reading in a Hurried Age, Mikics invites readers to slow down and read a text for what it is worth.
My guess is that just about every preacher has an Internet-connected computer very close at hand and is likely to have a smartphone and tablet along for the ride in almost all circumstances. On the other hand, preachers continue to be uniquely committed to the printed word, the word that arrives printed on paper and bound between covers. Although we may not join with other preachers in City Field in order to warn of a precipitous loss of learning, we should remind ourselves why we read books and why we believe reading matters.
The publishing year of 2013 included the release of thousands of volumes. The good news is a far greater number of worthy volumes was released than any single reader ever could read—or merely appreciate. The bad news is the good books are vastly outnumbered by those that are unworthy of the slightest attention. However, if you are like me, you need someone to recommend a few books that rise to the top of the stack.
My intention in this article is to suggest 10 books that deserve any preacher's careful attention in the next several months. Each one has appeared in the past year or so, and all of them represent a contribution worthy of our time and priority.
John M. Frame, Systematic Theological: An Introduction to Christian Belief (P&R Publishing, 2013)
Just a few years ago, it was commonly heard that the age of systematic theology had ended. The presumption of those who made such claims was that no comprehensive and coherent system of considering the totality of Christian doctrine could survive the onslaught of modernity. Nevertheless, and quite contrary to those assumptions, the past few years have witnessed the release of several worthy and truly systematic theologies.
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