Archives For Preaching

Here’sa  glimpse into the sausage factory of expository preaching. Recently my commitment to consecutive exposition was acutely tested. I tackled the chapter every seminoid dreads from the day he graduates, namely Leviticus 15 (you know, the heart-warming one about emissions and discharges of various bodily fluids). The challenges of preaching this sticky wicket are manifold.

bodily fluids clean up kit

First, the preacher himself needs to understand why there is legislation on bodily leakiness in the Bible. Second, he needs to publicly read and explain the text without blushing or evoking any unsolicited giggles from the congregation. Third, the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ must be proclaimed from the text, and not just gratuitously or tangentially, but in a way that people grasp the connection and are moved to worship. And finally, application for today needs to be drawn from the Mosaic Law, which is fulfilled in Christ and no longer binding on Church-age believers.

No sweat.

When I surveyed how other preachers dealt with the text, I noticed a trend toward lumping chapter 15 in with a sermon on leprous uncleanness  from chapters 13 and 14. So, most pastors tended to passionately preach up a storm from Lev 13-14 on the picture leprosy is of sin and Christ’s power to make clean the unclean–and then incidentally append a footnotish concession that chapter 15 provides another illustration of this truth by portraying a different type of uncleanness. A slight “ahem” would often punctuate the part fo the sermon where the unmentionables were mentioned.

I thought to myself, “Chickens! I’ll play the man, and preach an entire sermon on the chapter. With the courage of a seasoned expository janitor I’ll mop up the mess on aisle 15 with my dry wit.” Continue Reading…

September 24, 2012

Expository Listenening

by Clint Archer

Sunday. For the preacher, it comes every week, right on time, relentlessly. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had to perform four weddings and a funeral, or if the Greek in Luke took some arm wrestling to understand, or if you were in  a fender-bender and two days were spent on the paperwork. On Sunday morning when the band stops playing, the congregation doesn’t want excuses, they want preaching. They (rightly) expect the preacher to be prepared. The sermon should be well-researched, well-illustrated, well-delivered, and well-worth-getting-up-so-darn-early-for. I’ve got no problem with that. But I do have a question for the congregation: How prepared are you for the Sunday sermon?

It is not only the preacher who has preparation to do for the sermon. When you know you are going to an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant, you don’t gorge yourself on the leftover lasagna in the fridge a half-hour before dining out. Yes, the chef is the one with the most urgent preparation, but the customer comes ready to enjoy the meal. Sermons are best devoured by the hungry. This takes some spiritual preparation.

Ken Ramey has an excellent book called Expository Listening in which he gives a dozen tips on how to prepare for receiving the sermon at church. Here are three of my favorites.

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Bible AppI’ve spent the last few weeks downloading every Bible app I can find, and subjecting them to vigorous scientific screening, not at all unlike how Car and Driver tests new cars. I’ve done word searches, flipped through multiple translations, taken notes, read chapters, highlighted, used them in church, etc. To save you the time, here are the three apps that outperformed and outsearched the rest.

You will notice that my three favorites are also the three that are most popular. While generally evangelicalism does a terrible job of discerning—and usually the fact that something is popular is a certain indicator that it is useless—apparently in the area of apps, Christian Ipad users can indentify quality. All of these allow you to post highlights, notes, or verses directly to email, Twitter or Facebook. All three are free to download as well:

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By God’s great grace, I’ve recently been entrusted with the privilege of preaching God’s Word regularly to His people in a wonderful Sunday School class of dear saints at Grace Community Church. As I begin the process of repeated study, preparation, and proclamation, everything in me desires to honor the Lord and to truly benefit His people. Even as I’ve been preparing for this week’s message, the sanctifying effect of studying God’s Word has been evident, as He has seen fit to amaze me again and again by the richness of His revealed truth.

Thinking on these things, I was reminded of a clip from a Q&A with John Piper, in which someone asks him where and how he learned to preach. The response he gives is something that I think (a) everyone currently in a regular preaching ministry or (b) everyone who aspires to that place of service should listen to intently. A transcript of the relevant portion (1:54 to 3:03) is below.

“I think the way I became a preacher was by being passionately thrilled by what I was seeing in the Bible in seminary. Passionately thrilled! When Philippians began to open to me, Galatians opened to me, Romans opened to me, the Sermon on the Mount opened to me in classes on exegesis—not homiletics but exegesis—everything in me was feeling, ‘I want to say this to somebody! I want to find a way to say this! Because this is awesome! This is incredible!’

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A good friend of mine recently asked me what I think of pastors using illustrations from movies in their sermons. My friend uses them because he thinks they are helpful in relating to a culture that increasingly has their world view formed through entertainment. In that sense I guess using an illustration from the cinema is a form of condesencion—God uses language to speak to us, we use stories from movies to speak to post-post-moderns.

But I don’t buy it. In my experience, illustrations sparked by the golden screen (or Netflix, or what have you) generally fail, and are almost always unhelpful. Here are seven reasons why:

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I had only been a Christian for a few years when a friend of mine told me that he was leaving our church for the Episcopal Church. His reasoning was simple: “they elevate the Eucharist to the center of the worship, while Protestant churches elevate preaching.” 

He went on: “Throughout church history, Christians have worshiped the body and blood of Jesus, not the words of men as they talk about the Bible.”

The charge kind of surprised me, and as a somewhat new believer I didn’t know how to respond. It actually provoked me to start reading church history books, where I discovered (lo and behold) that preaching was actually an important part of the early church worship, and not an invention of the enlightenment.

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Legend has it that John MacArthur has never typed a single sermon. After 40+ years of prolific preaching, every jot and tittle flows from the nib of what must be an astonishingly robust fountain pen.

Similarly, my novelist hero, Jeffery Archer (no relation) laboriously pens his 400 page productions with a fastidious average of 14 drafts per chapter. Each one transcribed with a ballpoint pen. He’s spawned dozens of books– tens of thousands of pages– in this meticulous manner. He confessed wryly to a friend of mine, who met him at a book signing, that his antiquated method drains the life of no fewer than six pens per project.

Likewise, John Piper’s preaching notes are manually penned and notoriously illegible. I’ve encountered chicken-scratches in a coop that appear more pulpit friendly.

Piper's pulpit "notes"

Even some younger preachers are too timid to sample the new technology. Several of my fellow pastors still write out their sermons, eschewing the use of a word processor, much less an iPad. I wonder what they feel about the newfangled ideas of indoor plumbing and electric light bulbs?

Admittedly, I too suffered from the enslaving scourge of technophobia. I have in my unenlightened years re-inked a particular silver bullet sermon seven times for seven different occasions.

I cited the vintage ways of stalwarts in the preaching fraternal as justification for my inertia to try new methods. But now that I’ve made the switch, I won’t go back as long as electrons flow in our world. Memories of my antediluvian ways now make me cringe.

Here is why I hate handwritten notes…

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In good churches there tends to be a LOT of preaching. Sometimes it feels a tad overwhelming. Sermons come at you rapid-fire from all directions, like a paintball ambush.

Sunday morning and evening, Tuesday cell groups, Saturday men’s meeting, and now with the advent of MP3 players a barrage of world-class preaching is a screen-touch away. It can be a bit like drinking from a fire-hose.

And how much of this biblical truth is really going in? Am I honestly expected to beware of the 15 symptoms of hypocrisy in Luke 11, as well as the 3 tools God uses to save sinners, and the 6 steps to being a good steward of my money? And if I am supposed to remember this stuff, what about next week, and the week after that?

Is a photographic memory requirement for being a faithful Christian these days?

We are not the first generation to flounder in information overflow. Continue Reading…

This weekend I was installed as the new teaching pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. For my installation service, I asked Michael Easley to preach, because he has pastored this church faithfully for over a decade, before he left for Moody (he now pastors in Tennessee).

The night before my installation service, I met with Michael. He and his wife prayed for me and my wife, and Michael gave me a plaque with two quotes he said have shaped his preaching ministry. The first is simple: “The man IS the message.”

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Technology has changed the way that we live as Christians, and it continually surprises me how technology evolves, particularly how we interact with sermons. In just the past few years, it has gone from a person being able to throw tapes or CDs into their car all the way to having instant access to every sermon a pastor has ever preached on your phone.

Since high school, I have enjoyed listening to sermons while I work around the house, workout or drive. It has been a significant source of encouragement and edification, which is why I was so excited last week when Desiring God introduced their new app.

This application gives instant access to all of John Piper’s sermons and Desiring God conferences. Already this week, I have listened to Piper’s biographies of John Owen and JC Ryle. Both have encouraged me and motivated me to excellence and faithfulness in ministry.

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