In 1971, my family visited what was then known as West Berlin. I remember my father, my sister and I standing on an observation post looking over the Berlin Wall into East Berlin. The colorful West was a dramatic contrast with the drab grey of the Communist side. My father told me to make a certain “gesture” with my middle finger to the East German guard on the other side of the barbed wire, tank barriers and no-man’s land. I didn’t – never thought it was smart to insult a man with a gun! Millions died in the name of Marx, Lenin and Stalin in the 20th century. Its been 25 years since the Wall came down. New ideologies have emerged. New walls have been built. The body count grows. But freedom comes – with a cost and in surprising ways. Many gave their lives for the Wall to fall. The other day I met a veteran from “Operation Iraqi Freedom” who fought and was wounded in combat. His wounds are more than physical though and he’s yet to find the way to rebuild his life. I pray for him and the many others this Veteran’s Day who served and still pay the cost.
“Those Christians and other religious believers who resist the spirit of the age will be persecuted – not by being thrown to lions in the Coliseum, but by judicial, administrative, and legal marginalization. They will lose many of the institutions that they built to help the poor, the marginalized, the weak, and the disinherited. But finding themselves in the new imperium will call out new forms of living the Christian witness. They will live in the favelas, providing care for body and soul that cannot not be provided by either the state or the market. Like the early Church, they will live in a distinct way from the way of the empire, and their way of life will draw those who perhaps didn’t realize that this was what Christianity was, all along. When the liberal ideology collapses – as it will – the Church will remain, the gates of Hell not prevailing against it.”
Despite its detractors & despisers, preaching has always been essential to God’s work and for God’s people. I don’t see that changing any time soon! I have been preaching for around 23 plus years. For the last 6 months I have been a listener. Looking for a local church I have heard a variety of messages and sermons. I do not think of myself as an expert but I wanted to pass on a few tips that I think will help preachers help listeners listen better. Here’s a few points to help your listeners listen:
Have a point and stick to it –
Wandering around may be OK at the mall or on vacation but in a sermon its hard not to get lost. If you don’t know “what’s the point” of the bible passage you are preaching on than it unlikely anyone else will either.
Structure the message so its easy to follow – Jumping around to other Bible passages seems to make it “biblical” but the other references end up being footnotes. I know that after a lot of studying, you can have a lot of material to present but tackling one portion at a time thoroughly serves the listener and the text better. Spend some time on developing the flow of the message with clearly marked transitions. Keep what you don’t cover for another time.
Have an introduction but move on!
The more I listen to preachers the more I can tell when material is warm up & “intro” – after 10 to 15 minutes of it I know I’m in for a long haul afterwards & that you have neither edited or balanced your material nor used your time wisely.
Point us to Jesus Christ and the gospel – I am not talking about superficial references or imposing something heavy handed on a text. As a recent sermon on pride I heard demonstrates, if you don’t bring out the Gospel connections all we end up is moralisms “this is bad – don’t do it.” Show me how Jesus and who he is and what he has done makes a difference.
Come to a conclusion and end it.
Bring things to a crescendo and not as its been said, endlessly circling for a landing spot or as if you’re puttering out of gas. When your done, your done. Finish it.
30 minutes is all my butt and bladder can handle.
I know, I know. As a media saturated, overstimulated middle-aged, American my brain is not used to long attention demands. The Puritans may have been able to handle 2 hours in a pew but I can’t. And none of you I have heard (nor myself) is Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield!
Preaching is tough work.
It demands not only brains but heart. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the never ending demand on your time, energy and heart and soul. And yes, we will be compared to the “big names” either down the street or on the tube. However, there is no excuse for not being prepared. Of all duties and activities in the church this one is your responsibility. Carve out the time. You will be blessed and so will your listeners.
So the other morning I was driving to work down a county road to work complaining to the Lord about something when I notice a shape up ahead…upon closer inspection its a cow…loose on my side of the road. I slow down but can’t swing over to the other lane since there’s another car coming. I slow down even more & I think the cow is now looking at me in a rather displeased manner…I am not familiar with cows but this one looks like its getting ready to charge me & I don’t think I would come out the winner. By then the other car has passed by and I can get in the other lane and hit the gas…as I drive away I start laughing…no more complaining after that! As one friend commented – “God says ‘You want to have a cow?! I’ll give you a cow.”