Repost: Preach with the closing prayer in mind

…and then the preacher says, “lets pray”.

I think this point of the sermon (nay – the church meeting) is the pinnacle. This is the moment when you’re asking people to turn what they’ve heard into gospel centred action…

The action of prayer.

This is the moment of instant application. Your flock can respond to their God’s words right there and then.

Surely the first application of any Bible talk is praying, right? So do you preach with the closing prayer in mind? Are you spending that 20, 30, 40 minutes building up to that moment, when people can depend on Jesus and speak to the Father and say…

What do you want them to say to God at the end of your sermon?

Got it? Good. Now write your talk with that in mind.


Repost: Gospel Ministry is not you speaking truthfully about God

It is that… but “to another human”. Think about that for a moment; it’s an important aspect not to miss. You don’t just “do” ministry, you do ministry “to people”.

God made, became and uses humans. Ignoring the human aspect of ministry is a denial of God’s creation. You’re speaking to God-designed humans; humans who have been made to think, react, feel, engage, etc. Disregard for their humanness when speaking God’s words is a disregard for God’s design.

So how are you thinking about the humans you’re doing ministry to?


Repost: Printing for preaching

If you’re still one who prints their sermon scripts, here’s some tips I’ve picked up from others;

  • Print to read at a glance; Use 15pt font or larger, double spaced, 2cm margins
  • Serif fonts (e.g. Times) are easier to read fast than Sans-serif fonts (the pointy tips on the characters help the eye flow onto the next character).
  • If you lean against your lectern, it’s worth keeping the lower third of your page empty because otherwise you’ll need to tilt your head down to read it.
  • Print page numbers, just in case they get out of order
  • List any props or slides you need to remember on the top of the first page (no use remembering half way through your talk when you actually need them)
  • Don’t print on both sides of the page (you’ll forget whether to flip or discard each page)
  • Most printing preachers I’ve seen choose not to place their finished page at the back of their stack as they go. Rather, they slide each page to the right, keeping two pages face up, and end up with a reverse-ordered stack at the end of the talk.
  • Write your opening prayer, but don’t write you closing one. Each talk lands slightly differently, so it’s worth praying from that uniqueness because its not a lecture, it’s not an mp3; it’s the word of The Lord for those there at that unique instance. Pray for them.

As much as possible, don’t be the messenger

If you’re preaching, you are the messenger. And if your passage is saying “hard things” you – as the preacher – can feel like you’ve got to be the messenger of these hard words.

But that’s not the best way to go about it. Partly because people will simply dismiss YOU. Once they decide you’re a jerk or that you’re too young to know or anything like that, they have “shot the messenger” and have no reason to listen to the message. But the primary reason you shouldn’t make yourself the sole messenger is because you’re getting in the way of God speaking from his Word.

The “harder” the message, the more you need to show people that it’s not your message, its the bible. Keep pointing them to it. Say things like, “Look at verse 3 again… verse 3…”, “Read these words with me in your head…”, “This is not me saying this, this is the bible speaking”.

And once you start seeing how important this is with “hard things” in the bible, the more you realise you should do the same for “all things” in the bible.

A Basic Structure for Romans

This term our church is in it’s 4th year of taking 10 weeks (term 2) to slowly move through Romans. So, for our first bible study, rather than picking up in Romans 13 straight away, we did a basic overview of the whole book.

It seemed to work pretty well. I’ve taken a certain view of Romans that assumes Paul has got two audiences in mind (See P.Barnett’s “Why Paul Wrote Romans” RTR 2003). And therefore, each chunk of Romans makes the same point for everyone at Rome, before explaining it again with particular reference for the Jews in Rome.

  • Romans 1:1-17 : Introduction: the Gospel as the Power of God
  • Romans 1:18-3:19 : No-one is Righteous
    • 1:18-2:16 No-one is Righteous… Not the Gentiles
    • 2:17-3:20 No-one is Righteous… Not even the Jews
  • Romans 3:21-4:25 : God Righteously Forgives through Faith in Christ
    • 3:21-31 God Righteously Forgives All through Faith
    • 4:1-25 God Righteously Forgives even the Jews through Faith
  • Romans 5 : God’s Salvation is Certain and Assured
    • 5:1-11 Salvation from sin’s punishment (for all)
    • 5:12-21 Salvation from the law’s punishment (for the sake of the Jews)
  • Romans 6-7 : Jesus is the new Lord in our Salvation
    • 6:1-23 Jesus is our new Lord over life and death (for all)
    • 7:1-25 Jesus replaces the law of sin and death (for the Jew)
  • Romans 8-11 : Nothing will stop God’s Promise to Save his Elect
    • 8:1-39 Nothing will stop God’s plans (for all)
    • 9:1-11:36 Nothing will stop God’s plans (for the Jews)
  • Romans 12-15:13 : God’s Mercy calls for new lives
    • 12:1-13:14 God’s Grace calls his people to love all people
    • 14:1-15:13 God’s Grace calls his people to love – even to love the Jews
  • Romans 15:14-16:27 : Final Greetings and Instructions






Sermon styles: the synonym preacher

There’s lots of communication tools one can use while preaching; illustrations are the most well known.  Another method of communicating an idea is to keep using different synonyms.  

It’s where you take one idea from the verse you’re looking at and explain it by defining it again and again. 

E.g. (From yesterday’s post) Jesus is the King; the ruler, the sovereign, the all powerful, the master of the universe, the final judge of all things, the most excellent, most praiseworthy, most important, most wonderful and fearsome human who ever lived, and the one you will have to give an account to at the end of time. 

Does it work? Yes and no. 

It’s probably not a great explanatory tool… Every synonym needs its own explaination. But it is a very good focusing tool. It helps our hearers feel the weight of one idea in the verse. It’s like a big sign saying “watch out! Big idea here!”

Therefore, it’s a communication tool to use sparingly. 

How far through your sermon should you start the application?

I wonder if you should – in your mind at least – start the application from your very first words.
See, if it’s the application of the truths of the bible, then understanding and being convicted of the truths are integral to the application.
Don’t we want our hearers to believe everything we say (assuming it’s true)?
And, if the application rightly flows out of the teaching, then all that teaching should be building up to that point, it is like pulling back a sling-shot before letting it fly.
Shouldn’t we be thinking, “I really want them to get this point so they understand the application better!”

Learn by preaching small passages or massive passages… but not medium

A common trap for young preachers is the medium length passage… its like 15-30 verses.

See, you can get your head around it. You can spend 10hrs preparing it and exegeting it and know what it says. But you’ll want to preach all of it. You’ll drag your listeners through all the ins and outs of the passage, and you won’t be able to hold them.

See, if you tried to preach 100 verses, no-one would expect you to touch on all of them… not even you! You’d be okay with letting some ideas through to the keeper. And if you preach 5-10 verses, you’d have the time to unpack everything properly, while still being able to apply it and think about your audience and presentation.

So, until you’ve learned to be okay with skipping bits, avoid the middle-sized passages.

This is all part of why we give our MTS Apprentices middle-sized passages! ;)

Being out-the-front puts on 10% more “boring”

They say the TV camera puts on 10pounds… As thin as you might look in person, it never gets fully captured on TV.
Being out-the-front at church does something similar… But not to your weight (no one would care anyway… Right!?). Rather, being out-the-front makes you slightly more uninteresting, slightly more boring, slightly more one-dimensional.
Partly it’s just the room and the dynamics of trying to hold the attention of 100 people. They all have their own little voice going on inside their head, their own little mind buzzing on their own things. It’s not a face-to-face conversation, and it’s socially acceptable to pay less attention.
The good thing is, unlike TV, being out-the-front can work fine as long as you invest 10% more energy into speaking than you would face-to-face. It needs to be slightly louder, slightly more vibrant, slightly more exciting… Not to be more vibrant or exciting, just to be normal.

If listing while preaching, it’s best to tally palm out

It’s a very minor thing, but please don’t give your congregation the rude finger when preaching.
It’s a common accident when you have three short points to make… On your first point you make a fist and point your index finger to the sky. Then you go to make your second point… You bring down the index finger and raise the middle. Oops.
So, some tips;
Keep your palm facing way from you (palm out).
Don’t bring down your fingers, just add the next one so you’re holding two fingers (tally method).
Use the double hand option, where you hold your fingers (one, both or all three) with your other hand.
Avoid using your hands to count at all.

My response to “Why shouldn’t women preach to men?”

(This would be one of the way’s I’d respond to someone who wanted to accept the bible’s teaching on male and female roles in ministry, but struggled to understand why God put them there.)

If a gunman ran into your church meeting and started spraying the crowd with bullets, in that split second, how would you hope to see the Christians react?

I’d expect to see adults of all ages jumping in front of kids to protect them. And I’d expect to see men jumping in front of their wives and other women to protect them. I’d also expect to see guys rush the gunman to subdue him. They’re both things you’d hope to see guys do, aren’t they?

Now, imagine that same scenario, but instead you see men ducking behind their wives. You see men using their wives as human shields. You see single men jumping behind young women and children for safety… what would you think of those men? Not much eh?

There’s something that tells us that the second scenario is not ok. Guys are meant to protect girls, take the bullet for them, die for them. That’s actually what Jesus does for his wife; the church. Jesus steps into the firing line and takes the punishment to save his loved one. That’s his job, that’s his purpose in coming to earth… to be responsible for his wife. To do what Adam didn’t do; because remember Adam was “with” Eve while she was being tempted, but his great crime was that he “listened to his wife” rather than stepping between Satan and his wife and dealing with the lies and bearing the brunt of the temptation. Adam’s crime was shirking the responsibility he was appointed to.

It all comes back to God and who God holds responsible. Women teaching men is not an issue of skill or talent or cultural perspectives. It’s an issue about who God wills to be held responsible for what. You see God do this in Ezekiel 3:17ff

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman over the house of Israel. When you hear a word from My mouth, give them a warning from Me. If I say to the wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but you do not warn him—you don’t speak out to warn him about his wicked way in order to save his life—that wicked person will die for his iniquity. Yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn a wicked person and he does not turn from his wickedness or his wicked way, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your life.”

God chooses who he will hold responsible, and he appoints them to have certain authority to match that. Again, Jesus is a great example. Jesus is responsible to reconcile “all things” to God because he has supremacy over “all things” (Col 1:15ff).

Along with this we are reminded that “not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment” (Jam 3:1). Teaching God’s word is a very very dangerous profession. Teachers will be judged more harshly. Every word spoken will not only affect us, but how others will stand before the throne of God (1Cor 3).

Teaching other people is like going to war on their behalf. It’s putting your hand up and saying, “I will dare… I will take the risk of telling you what God says. I will bear the potential danger of teaching God’s word to you. I will take the bullet.”

So, men, would you dare hide behind a woman if a gunman burst in? No? Then why would you let a woman be held accountable to God for what other men are taught?!? Yes, God will hold women accountable for what they teach children and other women (Titus 2:4). But God does not want to hold women accountable for what they teach men!

You see, the whole idea of “Women not teaching men” is not an attempt to restrict women or keep them in their place… rather its an attempt to protect women from a judgement that God does not want to hold against them. It’s a command filled with mercy and love and protective intent.

The day will come when Jesus returns and all the bible teachers are judged, and men and women will look and say, “Oh my… I now understand why God didn’t want women to teach men… God was looking out for them… God didn’t want to subject them to this level of judgement.” Remember what God said to Ezekiel… the wicked person will die for his iniquity. Yet I will hold you responsible for his blood.

A better way to ask, “What did you think of the sermon?”

It’s really not a great question, is it? It’s intention is wonderful… but it’s execution is poor. How about…
“Hey, that talk we just heard, help me think through it for a second… I think he was saying…”
“I reckon I need to think a bit more about some of that talk, do you feel like that too?”
“Don’t take this the wrong way. But I couldn’t help wondering if you found some of that talk a bit challenging… Was it?”
Other ideas?

Why the passive voice should be avoided in preaching #ironic

It just takes so much extra effort for your hearers. You’re placing the bulk load of information dissemination onto their shoulders, when – if your content is already full – you want to make it as easy as possible to hear and understand.
It’s not that you should never use the passive voice, just rarely. Why would you want people to waste their brain’s limited attention to untangle your sentences?!? Work harder at your script. Say it simpler so they can give their attention to the implications and meaning of what you’re saying.
So… I’m not saying the passive voice should be avoided. I’m saying you should avoid the passive voice, for the sake of your hearers.

What did Paul share when he shared his life?

In 1Thessalonians, Paul says “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.”

A common reaction to this is to almost imagine that Paul had two lives… his gospel preaching life, and his normal person life. The implication being that pastors and ministers today should not just peach the gospel to the flock God has given to their care, but they should share their hobbies, their song lists, their holidays.

But, think back to 1Thessalonians… Paul had been with them about 3 weeks (Acts 17:1-9) before being chased out of the city after a new convert (Jason) got persecuted. What did he share with them? His love of soccer? His favourite movies? No. He shared the gospel with them, and he shared the effects of preaching the gospel with them. He recruited them to his passion… gospel preaching.

We see this when you put verse 8 and 9 together… Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well; Surely you remember our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

I fear a future where pastors are mainly on about life-sharing and less on about gospel-passion-sharing. Because for Paul, they were one in the same thing.

Col Marshall’s thoughts on the limitations of the Weekly-Sermon-Driven church

At a recent MTS Training day, Col Marshall explained some of the potential risks of the church that’s sermon-driven…
– potentially limits the audience to those who can deal with that type of sermon
– potentially limits the maturity of some people, because you’re trying to make it suitable for a wider audience
– potentially limits the servant attitude of people, who are only spoken at and not encouraged to speak encouraging gospel words to each other
– potentially leads pastors to be sermon focused, rather than sermon-hearer focused
They are good reflections I think. They aren’t conclusive, as the word which is preached is able to cross all these limitations. But humanly speaking they’re right.
The interesting thing is that Col’s conclusion was that churches need to make sure they run really good gospel-shaped structures around the Sunday sermon to alleviate these risks.
Vine-Growers always start with great seedlings and brilliant trellises.

So many ways to measure success…

We recently ran a carols night that loads of people said, “went really well”! But how should Christians and churches work out whether something “went well”?
The error is to assume that there’s only one measure of success… As if only one measurement matters, and no other aspects are valuable.
Here’s a few different lenses to consider if something is “successful”
– did people come?
– did people stay?
– did people understand?
– did people respond in one of the suggested ways?
– did we present the truth (about Jesus/church/motivations)
– did Christians serve Jesus through it? (Or was it only the staff?)
– did Christians invite their friends?
– did Christians pray about it?
– we’re the Christians godly while serving?
– did we create a helpful atmosphere?
– did we do things well for the type of people who were there?
– did we trust God with all our efforts?
– did we put in sufficient effort?
– did we do it better than last time?
– did people grow relationships with each other more?
– did people come back to other things (after 1mnth, 1yr, 10yrs)?
– did people enter heaven through it?

Not all of these are of equal value but they are all things to celebrate if we do do, and things to consider carefully if we don’t do.

A microphone doesn’t mean you can use your normal voice

Your normal voice is the voice you use in normal situations… and preaching/mcing is not a normal situation. It’s a very strange situation. You’re infront of hundreds of people. How would you speak if you didn’t have a microphone? Loud? Overly animated? Slower? Yes! That’s your normal voice… for that situation.

So why have a microphone? A microphone now gives you more ranges, volumes, options. Now the situation is: In front of a large crowd, with a microphone. So speak as the situation requires.

Speaking out the front requires more animated, energised vocals and attitude. The microphone doesn’t amplify your personality, just your sound waves.

Bad preaching doesn’t just mean “wrong preaching”. It can also mean…

…empty preaching.
That is, it’s preaching that doesn’t say anything deep, significant or meaningful. It’s just skims the surface, week-in, week-out. Let’s be clear… that’s not sad, it’s bad.
That type of regular preaching is like keeping people as seeds trapped among the weeds and rocks. When trouble or persecution comes, they will wither because they have no root.
As we in ministry go about planning preaching series and bible study resources, we have to keep the 20-30 year goal in our heads. We want these people to be stronger Christians in 20 years than they are now.
So preach deep. Preach so they last.

Don’t forget to preach repentance “of sins”

Sometimes when we preach the gospel, our tribe can preach salvation through faith, but conveniently forget to preach repentance. Now, yes, understood correctly, they are two sides of the same coin… The question is not whether you understand them correctly, but whether you’re helping others to understand them correctly.
So when, in your evangelism, do you tell people to turn from their sin? Not just the sin of “not trusting Jesus”, but actual “sins” – lying, stealing, adultery?
Are you “forgetting” to include that?

The first skill of speaking out the front is…

…learning how to NOT speak, and being comfortable with the silence.
Whether you’re training MCs, band leaders, prayers or preachers, if they’re not able to cope with not-speaking, they’re going to try and fill all the gaps. And when you’re trying to fill gaps, you’re not thinking about what you’re saying, you’re just thinking, “ahh, I need to fill this gap!!” And that’s when you do one of two things; either you speak for too long about nothing things and bore people (imagine the band leader who starts their song intro, but doesn’t quite stop). Or you say something silly, wrong, hurtful or heretical.
The solution is silence.
Tell your band leaders, “This week, show me that you can NOT speak, and then we’ll move onto speaking next week.”