Preachers on Preaching (Part 2)

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.

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11 thoughts on “Preachers on Preaching (Part 2)

  1. Greetings All,

    The articles may be the most productive part of this website, and I see more responses to articles. I know that I am uncomfortable in responding directly the sermons–they are so personal and hard to separate from the speaker.

    The pollen illustration is something I will remember. Again, our people remember the stories!

    Thanks for the team approach. I am not sure if the question is fully answered. I’m reviewing this website consistently. Please be encouraged!

  2. Here’s an interesting follow up question, if anyone is interested. What does UNholiness in preaching practice look like? 😉

    • UNholiness in preaching can also be a refusal to wrestle with God through the text before running to commentaries and sermon downloads…which is why the outlines we provide are bare bones.

  3. Okay I’ll get the UNholy part started:

    1. Knowingly twisting the emphasis of the text (say, choosing a paraphrase over a translation for example when it suits you not when it suits the original language) in order to support your point or nuance.

  4. “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?”” To me, this statement sums it up perfectly. A question that every single one of us should ask ourselves every single day.

  5. A Word of Caution:

    “UNholiness in preaching can also be a refusal to wrestle with God through the text before running to commentaries and sermon downloads…which is why the outlines we provide are bare bones.”

    This statement is correct, but it could be read too fast. Agreed that one should ‘wrestle with God’ through the text thoroughly, before looking for additional helps. However, that does not give license to ignore the richness of commentaries. We lack much depth in contemporary preaching because the speaker has not listened to the conversation of those who have gone before.

    I would also push against even a casual comparrison between downloads and commentaries. Most commentary writers have given decades of careful study before picking up their pens.

    Tell John Wesley that commentary is not important. His heart was strangely warmed with the public reading on Luther’s Preface (commentary) to the Book of Romans.

    Prayerfully, I am not preaching re-heated leftovers of a prior generation. However, they challenge me to see farther and deeper into the richness of the Holy Word.

    I have much respect for the contributors to this website. I have much interest to be informed of current style. The issue is substance and before the weekly journey ends…my pursuit is substance. As I grow older I see we are rooted in both Christ and His Church, if we are to bear much fruit.

    • Al, I very much appreciate your comments about the richness of those commentators, or “conversation partners,” who have gone before us. But, I personally believe we devalue those “conversation partners” when we come to the conversation without having wrestled with God through the text on our own first. I’m not trying to make a case against commentaries but only for their proper use in the sermon preparation process. I would commentaries to enter into the exegetical process later than sooner, after the preacher has carefully and prayerfully read the text and consulted dictionaries/language studies. When we come to the commentaries having worked through the text some on our own, we will read the commentary with greater insight and appreciation. Thanks Al.
      Lenny

  6. Hi. I’m ‘just’ a ‘listener’ to messages, but would like to encourage all pastors to prayerfully consider some of the things mentioned during sermons. For the same reason young girls are encouraged not to tell guys such things as “I’m going to take a shower”, our pastors should probably not be standing in front of us talking about they and their wife running around naked, or having sex. Statements such as those might lead minds to go places they have no business going in church (or anywhere outside our own homes). Thank you.

    • David A BoothThe harder and logenr I work in the original languages the more I appreciate how valuable they are for interpreting Scripture. I don’t know of a single pastor who has had three years of Greek and three years of Hebrew (three years of language study is generally considered the minimum necessary to achieve competence for reading a second language by organizations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities) who thinks that such skill isn’t extraordinarily valuable in rightly interpreting God’s word. Why would we let those who have not obtained this level of skill sit in judgment over its value? The professor you mentioned apparently wasn’t arguing against this point but was simply acknowledging that the current system of training pastors is miserably failing to produce this desired outcome. I grant that the current system is a dreadful failure but I am arguing that it can and should be changed.The reasons could be multiplied into a long journal article, but here are three points to get started with:1. Let me make what might seem to be a radical claim: Genuine competence in original language exegesis of the Scriptures is essential to maintaining the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura. The reason why this assertion can seem radical is because your professor is correct: Most pastors never achieve that level of competence. I would add that most pastors are simply passing along the tradition of their denomination or views of their favorite celebrity preachers. Sola Scriptura has virtually become a dead slogan within North American evangelicalism. For the sake of Christ’s Church, let us hope that the spirit of that slogan will be recovered soon.2. Languages are not mere codes. As wonderful as modern translations can be, there are many aspects to language that cannot be brought out in translation but can be brought out in teaching. Does God bless teaching from translations by those with no knowledge of the Scriptures in the original languages? Of course! But why would we want to pursue a second best course by design?3. Knowing the Biblical languages actually saves time in preparing individual Bible studies and sermons. This may seem counter-intuitive to the student struggling through his second or third semester of Greek when translating even simple passages can be painfully slow. If that student presses on to actually being able to read the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic; he will discover that this direct contact with the text will actually help him grasp the structure and key thrust of a text with both greater speed and confidence then he could in translation. The serious student of Biblical languages is able to access and use lexicons, technical commentaries, and the various fruits of competent scholars with not only greater understanding but also greater speed than someone who is limited to comparing English translations of Scripture.Best wishes,David