How I Answered Five Questions About Preaching

As part of its ongoing Leadership Development process, the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church asked five of its preachers to answer five specific questions about the craft.

The column released late last week, but may have been overlooked just a tad by other news and graver concerns.

Yet here are the questions and my replies to them.  If you’d like to see the other four answerers and their answers, check this link.

What is the most challenging thing for you when it comes to preaching?
My greatest challenge in preaching is ensuring that I deliver enough messages that propel the mission of Good Shepherd Church.  If I am left to my own devices and rely on my own internal motivations, I will preach plenty of sermons and series on personal healing, relational health, gospel salvation, and Holy Spirit power.  But I often forget to emphasize what Adam Hamilton once called “Institutional Advancement” sermons – messages focused on the congregation’s mission, vision, values, and, yes, the stewardship necessary to accomplish them all.

What is the most rewarding thing?
The most rewarding thing about preaching is what I call the “joy of discovery” – the time spent in study when through scribbling and researching, the Scripture’s truth leaps out of antiquity and off the page and into the preacher’s lap.  I love sharing that “a-ha!” moment with the congregation while preaching.  If they can’t tell that you have been fascinated by the Scripture, why should they be captivated by you?

What has changed about preaching over your years of ministry?
I am grateful I am not the same preacher I was in 1990. I am also grateful the internet had not been invented back then so that there are no digital recordings of those early efforts.

I have had three primary changes in the 30 years under question:  1) I have moved from “pointless” to “multi-point” to “pointed point” sermons.  In other words, the early ones lacked focus, then from the mid 90s until 2006 they had multiple, stated foci, and for the last 15 years or so they have been reliably “one point” sermons.  2) With increasing age and experience, I have grown in the freedom to address sticky issues in people’s lives:  addictions, compulsions, patterns, and complacencies.  It is a high honor when people say, “were you a fly on our wall all week long?” 3) Within the last year, motivated by the work of Timothy Keller, I have learned to turn many sermons about life into concluding moments about Jesus.  It’s a thrilling thing when the atmosphere in the room changes because the message has ceased to be about me or the congregation but about the Savior we share.

Is there a certain “style” or preaching that you often use and why?
I am a strong believer in preaching that leads to a singular “bottom line” – a biblically faithful, theologically accurate, and rhetorically compelling summation of the sermon’s journey and destination.  Once unveiled in the sermon journey, the bottom line functions as a “refrain” or a “chorus” that gets repeated often in the last 1/3 of the sermon.  Repetition implants the truth in the minds of congregants, and I hope to craft ways for them to “feel” or “experience” it rather than just hear about it.  Examples of bottom lines that have stayed with people through the years include “What you tolerate today will dominate you tomorrow”; “Surrender your impulses so you don’t surrender to them”; “Why fight for approval when you can live from it?” and “Treat the people you LOVE as well as you treat the people you NEED.”  Each of those sentences has exegesis and background and anecdotes behind them, but I offer them as examples of bottom lines with staying power.

What counsel would you offer those who preach?
My counsel to those who preaching has two points (unlike a good sermon which has ONE!):  1) Be interestED in Scripture so you can be interestING when you talk about it.  I encourage colleagues to becomes captured by the bible’s quirks, its art, its marvelously flawed heroes, and its raw power.  When it captures you, you will be much more likely to capture your listener’s ears and hearts.  2) Learn to preach without notes.  You can do this. If you forget your place in a message, the only one who knows is you!  Interact with people and not paper; with individuals and not your iPad.

Do you have any resources, experiences, or books you would recommend?
Communicating For A Change by Andy Stanley
The Collected Sermons Of Fred Craddock
Preaching by Timothy Keller
Southeastern, music CD by Jason Isbell; Your Favorite Bands, music CD by Dawes     (these two are to grow you in the ability to turn a phrase and to meet life at the intersection of recovery and poetry)
Every novel ever written by Ann Patchett, especially ‘State Of Wonder,’ ‘Bel Canto,” and ‘The Dutch House.’  You will write gooder sermons after reading the bestest novels!