Preaching is like…

I always appreciate a “picture” that aptly communicates a spiritual truth. The right illustration does not–must not–provide a “break” from the lesson being taught, but actually advances it. If it fails to do this (and many so-called illustrations do), it’s just an unnecessary distraction which should be omitted.

Well, four illustrations of my role as a preacher of the Scriptures have stuck with me and advanced my understanding. The first is from Al Mohler, writing on expository preaching in Give Praise to God:

“The expositor is not an explorer who returns to tell tales of the journey, but a guide who leads the people into the text and teaches the art of Bible study and interpretation even as he demonstrates the same.” (Give Praise to God, 113).

(Aside: Dr. Minnick has mentioned the same principle: good preaching doesn’t just provide people with a good message, but instead teaches them how to read and interpret the Bible on their own.)

The second picture is from Mark Dever (in a sermon on the book of Judges, if I recall correctly):

“I am much [closer], if you’re using an analogy, to a waiter than to a chef. I’m just bringing you this meal that someone else has made.”

The third picture is mine, I guess. I think of my responsibility as a preacher like that of a trial lawyer–not in the sense that I’m working for a conviction, but in the sense that the burden of proof is on me. Assumptions, opinions or circumstantial evidence won’t cut it. Everything I say in the sermon must be proved by the text. Not just provable, but actually proved--and proved to be the express point of the text we’re studying. The only way to insure this is to conscientiously refuse to make an assertion without proving it directly from the text. Setting such a standard for ourselves would vastly improve our preaching.

(Aside: this kind of conscientiousness is contagious. My preaching certainly has room for improvement, but one of my favorite things in ministry is listening to the men of TCBC preach. What a joy it is to hear them assume the same burden of proof, dispensing with jokes and clever sayings and spending their time explaining and proving what the Scriptures mean, just as Paul did in Acts 17:3–which is a great summary of preaching, BTW.)

The last picture is from my friend Mark Perry. The point Mark makes is similar both to my illustration and Mohler’s . Since the blog where Mark made the point is dead, I’ll quote the post in its entirety:

I was thinking recently about what I like to see when I look out during a message. You might think that I would enjoy seeing people watching me in rapt attention, drinking in the riveting content, the sonorous strains of my voice, and my outstanding delivery. Yeah, right.

That would make me feel kinda special, but what I would most like to see is the tops of people’s heads. Yep, you heard me right. I’d like to see them bent over their open Bibles, following the text I am trying to unpack and explain. I do not mind the occasional scowl, followed by frantic flipping as they look for another reference that just popped into their minds. I like to see people taking notes (or not— I struggle taking notes and listening at the same time, so I understand), underlining thoughts in their Bibles, or just reading along with me.

As I see it, the focus of the preaching of God’s Word should be just that— God’s Word. I try to call attention to the passage over and over. I make a point to say, “Look at verse six” and continually direct and re-direct their eyes and thoughts to the text. It seems that this kind of focus is in keeping with the attitude of receiving the Word of God commended in the Jewish believers in Berea: “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

Something to think about, preachers.

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3 Responses

  1. Great points, Chris. One other thing that I remember hearing from Dr. Minnick is that as we approach a text and prepare to preach it, we should be asking ourselves not “what can I say about the text?” but rather “what does the text say?” Asking the right question can keep us from those sermons that no one should ever preach.

  2. Hey, Kris.

    There’s been a lot of emphasis on “making the point of the text the point of the message” recently. That can only be a good thing.

  3. Chris,

    As I mentioned in my report on the final day at Lansdale this year (http://athinkingmansthoughts.blogspot.com/2007/02/2007-national-leadership-conference_27.html), Pastor Dan Brooks from Heritage Bible Church used the idea that as preachers we are merely table waiters delivering what God has prepared for His people. It is our job to deliver it faithfully and not make a mess of it.

    In Christ,

    Pastor Frank Sansone

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