We now come to the last installment of our 3-part series (cheeky-tongued, mind you): those things I do not do well in sermon preparation.
1. I rarely have a catchy introduction and conclusion. Oh, the horrors! Some guys are masters at parlaying an experience into a perfect sermon introduction (Swindoll, Begg, Ferguson, and everyone else who is not me). They leave the “catch” until the end, where they tie the introduction together with a jaw-dropping conclusion. Either I just haven’t lived enough experiences or I’m just pridefully lazy, but I just cannot seem to do that consistently. If there is a personal experience that seems obvious then I’ll try to use it. But, I don’t try to manipulate or manufacture something obviously disingenuous.
My introductions are usually about the text (where we’ve been, where we’re going). The conclusions are usually summaries of the applications. Frankly, it takes me so much time to craft the substance of the sermon that I’ve very little time to go hunt down a gripping introductory story.
Now, I’m not necessarily proud of this or uninterested in improving. But I do have an untested pastoral “theory.” If I’m going to preach somewhere one time then sure I want to have an appropriate and interesting introduction. The audience does not know me or my personality. The introduction can establish some report (read: rapport). However, after some time of preaching regularly with a congregation they learn how to listen to you. It takes a while, but they learn your personality and how best to hear the sermon. In other words, they get used to you and your style (at least I hope so!). Just unleash the Bible.
2. I am jealous of those preachers who can see analogy in everyday life. They are men who commune with God so closely that everything they see and do reflects something of God’s character. Good preachers fascinate me as they see God and derive heavenly illustrations from a trip to the grocery or day at the park. It just seems that they are striving to learn about God in every detail. “Man,” I think, “how do they see that stuff?”
In some sense, we must see all of life/creation as sacramental. There is not one thing/event that God is not using to convey his holiness, grace and mercy in the Lord Jesus. Yet, I seem to waltz through the day in godless oblivion. So, that I struggle with introductions and illustrations is due largely to my inattention to our Revealing God. You can easily be a better preacher by simply paying attention to life around you (a la Jesus and his parables)!
3. I do not meditate on the text enough. Close the lexicons and the 17th commentary, and just sit in the text. Meet God. Let him use your imagination. Let your mind meander through the text exploring every possible implication. Some implications will be silly, but many will not be. The Bible wasn’t written to PhDs and for academic journals, but to shepherds, fishermen, adulterers, homeless folk, whores and refugees–to sinners. Preachers are sinners before they’re ever preachers, and we’re not prepared to stand as preacher with the text until we’ve bowed as sinner before God. Meditation asks, “What is God saying to us sinners?” We must speak of our sin in the 1st person, therefore, make sure you preach God’s glory in the same.
4. I am not specific enough in my applications. They’re too general. Put names and faces to applications. Bring the Scriptures to bear on specific situations. Our congregations have real jobs with real worldly stress. They must know the gospel has something to say to and power to redeem sin in the workplace, marketplace, and home. So, bring the sounds of the auto repair shop to the melody of the gospel. Bring the sights of the elementary school to the light of the gospel. Bring the smells of neighboorhood grills to the sweet aroma of the gospel. The world is drab and dull; the gospel is lively. Exalt the Lord Jesus such that the gospel is more immediate and real than cranky bosses, wayward children and difficult neighbors.
Well, I could go on. But you would be better off reading at least Piper’s Brothers, We are Not Professionals for real help and insight.
Jesus makes preachers, not the other way around. And the stock from which he makes them is foolishness. Good preaching comes from fools who love Jesus deeply and enjoy his company.