Lenny Luchetti: We are a holiness denomination, which means that the holiness of the preacher matters. How can a preacher “be holy” in her homiletic convictions and practices?
Steve Deneff: This is a great question, Lenny. I’ll have to think about it more – lots more – but here’s a quick response. In holiness preaching, the sermon cannot be better than the preacher. The preacher must incarnate the sermon. So the preacher’s own time alone with God – how freely she confesses, how much she loves the Word, the ways in which the Holy Spirit has left His mark on her own soul – these are all evident in how the preacher wears the text even as she preaches from it. Does she approach the pulpit knowing her own limitations? Is she living out, or trying to live out, the implications of her own sermon? Is there a lot more character below the surface that we never see, than what we hear her describe in the sermon? Does she love all of the Word, or only the part she’s preaching on? Is God doing things in her life that we will never hear about? Is there somewhere in her office, an altar with the “self” still on it, while she’s out there on the platform preaching to us? Does her sermon convey that she is both pessimistic about our natures, and optimistic about God’s ability to change them? Does she preach on the prominent themes of holiness? Does she have good holiness theology? In my lectures on preaching, I usually tell students that sermons are like the pollen on the feet of a bee that is drawn into the flower for its own beauty. The bee never comes to the flower for the purpose of collecting its pollen, like the preacher never comes to the text for the purpose of collecting a sermon. No, the sermon simply attaches itself to the preacher’s feet as he leaves the Text and goes back out into the congregation. If we go into the text looking for a sermon, we will likely come away with a bad one. But if we are drawn to the text by our own love for God and for the text, then the Word of God will cross-pollinate with the lives of our people and create its own natural beauty in them. I hope that makes sense. But this is a great question and it probably deserves a better answer.
Lynda Keefer: The preparation process is critical. The preacher must humbly seek God in prayer, asking God’s Spirit to direct every part of the preparation and proclamation of the Word. I think it is important that the preacher personally wrestle with the text and ask God to speak to her, not just recycle the thoughts or writings of others. I also think the preacher should be teachable and open to the transforming power of God’s grace through the preparation process. The preacher must also be willing to share hard truths, unpopular truths, challenging truths in a way that expresses both the love and the grace of Christ along with the high calling that He gives us.
Dave Ward: I think this is referencing what many think of as integrity in preaching. Common thoughts come to mind such as giving credit for others’ work, avoiding exaggerating your stories in untruthful ways, being careful to speak truth without manipulating guilt, and other such things. Perhaps we are better served if we simply remove the dividing line between holy life and holy preaching altogether. Follow the Spirit in all things. Do even your preaching in the name of Jesus. Consider it a practice designed as a means of grace for you, not just your listeners. Live honestly in the pulpit, just like the rest of life. Learn to avoid seeking to impress others with outward performance, just like the rest of life. Love people and use things instead of using people and loving things, just like in the rest of life.
Keith Loy: Stay true to the Word and, in love, call people to commitment. We need to make sure that we are in the Word and of the Word in our own personal lives. We can’t teach that which we do not live, that’s hypocritical. I want people to see in me what I’m sharing with them.
Lenny Luchetti: What are your top five sermon resources, other than prayer and the Bible, in order of importance?
Steve Deneff: Sorry, I can’t help you here. I don’t have a top five. While I use, on average, about 30 books to write one sermon, I do not have a list of books that I always use. I do very little on the internet. But I always have books – different books each time – from the Jackson Library (at IWU) which is one block away from my office. I guess you could say the Jackson Library is my top resource. But you’re looking for specifics, aren’t you? Well, I spend a fair amount of time in translation, using either interlinear Bibles or dictionaries of Biblical words, but I try not to pick up anything until after I have heard something from the Bible itself. Someone once said, “The Bible sheds wonderful light on all of those commentaries.” I agree. So I save the commentaries for later in the process. If I use them too early, I’m afraid they’ll hijack the sermon’s main idea. Or I’ll get so entrenched in the nitty-gritty of the text that I’ll forget to apply it. For me, the sermon arises out of a knowledge that I have of my people, and out of a knowledge that I have of God’s Word. The books that I use to understand my people are always changing. And the books that I use to understand God’s Word are reference books or theology books, more than commentaries, and so these are frequently changing too.
Lynda Keefer: I like to read the text in four or five different translations. I use word studies often to try and determine nuances of meaning of key words in the text. I use an online resource that has Strong’s Concordance with a Hebrew/Greek Lexicon. I may use a Bible dictionary to determine cultural clues that I may not understand. I don’t use commentaries until after I have formulated most of the basic content of the sermon to make sure that I am not heading down a trail that is way off base or to gain some extra insight. I have some commentaries from Tyndale that I especially like. I will often try to pull something from pop culture or the news headlines that helps illustrate a point in a way that connects with the current audience. I sometimes use Sermon Spice (www.sermonspice.com) to find a video that may also help illustrate the theme of the message.
Dave Ward: Every sermon is its own creature in my mind. I start with the passage and prayerfully meditate over it. While I am reading scripture I am looking for questions I do not know the answers to and problems for which I do not have the solutions. These questions and problems then lead me to unique sources. Most of the problems and questions emerge from my own intellectual and spiritual struggle with the text. Sometimes, however, they emerge from what I envision to be a problem for diverse groups of people who encounter that scripture. The nature of the question and the problem drives the discovery of the best sources. Here are a few unique sources that a lot of preachers have not yet considered (I assume you already know of the Greek and Hebrew texts, concordances, and commentaries like Keil and Deilitzsch, Word Biblical, or Anchor Bible). First, I would add Google Scholar (just type in the verses). Second, your visitation ministry can be a great source of insight. Shut-ins, nursing home residents, prisoners, and hospital patients have surprising things to say about the scripture you are about to preach. Third, check your iTunes playlist. Fourth, create your own metaphors that resonate with Scripture. Fifth, talk to other people. There is no sense in doing this alone. I would have to say, though, that the lion share of the content for my sermons, even illustrative content, comes from seriously playful engagement with the text itself in multiple versions, original language study, and whole Bible interpretation.
Keith Loy: Some of my favorite sermons resources come from Saddleback, Libronix Library, and Andy Stanley and John Ortberg messages.
Lenny Luchetti: If you could change one prevalent shortcoming in preaching today, what would you change?
Steve Deneff: I want to be careful here because I’ve seen enough shortcomings in my own preaching. In his book, Dying to Preach, Steven Smith describes a cultural shift away from an emphasis on the Word, to an emphasis on the speaker’s style of communication. I agree. In my church, I preach to a lot of professionals and sometimes I worry that the word of the Lord is getting lost in the cleverness of the sermon, or in the data, or in the illustrations, or in the methods I use to communicate. I worry that some of our young preachers are dissecting the sermon for its methods – like the early Greek rhetoricians – and missing the point. And I am tempted to preach in a way that will impress them. I am tempted to worry about style. So I would change the level of our respect, beginning with mine, for the Word of God. Instead of wondering, “How does this apply to my life?” (as if my life was the most relevant thing in the world) I would have us ask, “How does my life apply to the unchanging truth of God’s Word?” Instead of asking, “How does the Bible fit into my life?” I would have us ask, “How does my little life fit into the story of the Bible?”
Lynda Keefer: I believe that life with Christ is an amazing, life-altering adventure. It will not be an easy road, but when we walk it with Christ, I believe we will experience things that we never could have expected or dreamed of. He challenges us to be part of great things with His Spirit working in us and through us. I think that emphasis is often missing in preaching today – the emphasis on the calling to follow Christ in whole-hearted, undivided devotion to Him and His Kingdom work.
Dave Ward: I would ask people to turn back to the scriptures. Immerse themselves in those texts as a way of life. Be transformed by God speaking through them. And then carefully walk their congregations through passage after passage demonstrating how they can do the same thing. In short, I would abolish proof-texts and strings of inspirational stories masquerading as sermons. Okay, I know, I snuck in more than one.
Keith Loy: Make it practical and keep it simple. I don’t think God’s Word is rocket science – it’s His love letter to us. Preach in teams; we need to involve others in our preaching. The sermon I preach on the weekend gets preached more in front of a team before it ever makes it to the pulpit. I want others to help add, cut, and do whatever to make sure that His Word goes forth. Also, depend fully on the Holy Spirit – pray, pray, pray, and then pray some more. Believe it or not, I still get very fearful each and every week I stand in His pulpit. To think that He asked me to carry His truth blows my mind. Without Him I’m in trouble.