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Archive for the ‘preaching’ Category

Hearing people’s thought on preaching is always interesting.  You can ask “what makes a good sermon?” to a number of different people and receive a number of different answers.  Because churchgoers are “trained” in Christianese, you might get the standard answers: a good sermon brings glory to God, makes the Bible relevant to our lives, etc.  But truth be told, I’m not sure most of us think this way.  I say this because if we were to ask someone on a Sunday afternoon how the sermon was that morning, they’d probably say “good.”  If we asked that same person on Wednesday what the sermon was about and how it has impacted their week, they probably won’t have much of an answer.  This is, of course, my opinion and purely anecdotal.  But I’d bet it would stand up to scrutiny.

The truth is that (again, this is simply my opinion) we judge most sermons by whether or not they keep our attention.  If we can listen to some guy talk for 30-45 minutes, then he must be a good preacher.  Nevermind if we actually remember or are transformed but hearing the word of God proclaimed.  It was good because I was entertained.

Now, to be sure, I believe sermons ought to be able to keep people’s attention.  No one is served by preaching that follows all the “rules” (whatever they are) but inspires snoring.  Hearing the Bible preached is something that should excite us.  More importantly, hearing a sermon ought to have an impact on our lives, either directly (go and do ___) or indirectly (shaping our understanding of God and the world).  But I’d venture to guess they really do.

I’m an advocate of what might be called “simple preaching.”  “Simple” does not mean “shallow,” although I suppose it’s often confused with that.  I’m simply saying that a person ought to be able to tell you what the preacher spoke on and how it should have an impact.  If they can’t open up the Bible passage(s) preached on and tell you what it means and why it matters, then the sermon was, possibly, not simple enough.

And I would argue that expository preaching- preaching which focuses on a text moreso than a topic- is the simplest form of preaching.  Sure, there are a number of expository sermons that are not simple, especially those that are more an exercise of public exegesis rather than proclaiming the word.  Let me give an example.

I have on my iTunes a sermon preached by David Wells, the now retired Gordon-Conwell theology professor.  He preached it at his congregational church on a Sunday morning.  The sermon is on Psalm 33, with a few quick references here and there to other passages.  Here’s a link if you’d like to listen.

Halfway through listening to this sermon a while back it hit me that a third grader could follow it.  Mind you, David Wells is one of the top theologians in evangelicalism.  He is quite capable of losing his audience- trust me, I had him for Systematic Theology!  But this sermon was so simple that anyone, if they were truly listening, could have walked out and told you what Psalm 33 said and how to apply it.

Let me reiterate: a top notch theologian preaches an expository sermon in 31 minutes and makes it simple enough that pretty much anyone could follow it.  That’s my kind of sermon.

Keep in mind, Wells is not necessarily a great preacher.  He’s not bad at all, but he won’t be making anyone’s top 5 list any time in the near future.  You can take his sermon and use different illustrations, focus on different phrases or verses (he had to pick and choose, 22 verses in 31 minutes isn’t easy) or maybe even adjust his points a bit.  But the main thrust of the sermon and the passage will come through.  That’s simplicity.

This is one of the overlooked problems of topical preaching, at least some forms of it.  It seems like a simple style of communicating, right?  After all, if your topic is tithing, everyone can go home and tell you that they heard a sermon on tithing.  But is it something simple enough that a listener could reproduce it in another setting?  There’s a good chance it won’t be.  Why?  Because sermons that bounce from passage to passage generally rely on the unspoken connections made in the mind of the preacher.  Sure, they have words that link them together (give, love, fire, etc), but how they work together to form a simple, reproducible lesson is often unclear.  Not always, of course.  I’ve heard some absolutely atrocious expository sermons in my life, as well as some tremendous topical ones.  Topical preaching is not the bad guy.  Preaching that is unclear and relies more on the speaker’s stream of consciousness rather than a biblical text is the problem.

But now when I read Psalm 33, I know this psalm reminds me of why we gather corporately to worship God (vv1-3).  We worship God because of his character (vv4-5), his power (vv6-9), his sovereignty (vv10-12) and his knowledge (vv11-19).  And I know that vv20-22 give a quick summary of the entire psalm.  I’m not left guessing how things fit together after the sermon, because it’s right there in front of my face.  I can take this, maybe tweak it a bit, and use it in any number of settings (Bible study, discipleship, or my own sermon).  It will sound different than a David Wells sermon, but it will still be the teaching and application of Psalm 33 that comes out.

That is preaching that is simple.  It’s not shallow, it’s not theological deficient.  It’s clear and practical.  That’s one major reason why I’m an advocate of simple, expository preaching.

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