Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Preaching (Page 2 of 3)

Preaching vs Lecturing

I’ve been thinking about preaching a fair bit over the past week or so. In particular, I got to wondering, What are the fundamental differences between preaching and lecturing?

I wonder if it would be safe to say that one of the most basic differences lies in the responsibility for understanding. Here’s what I mean.

In a classroom lecture, the hearer (the student) is held responsible for learning and retaining what is being taught. In preaching, the preacher is viewed as responsible for making sure the hearer (the church-goer) learns and retains what is being taught.

From that basic distinction come all kinds of differences. Here’s one example. In a classroom setting, a professor may mention a term like oligarchy or a person like Barth without having to offer any further explanation. If the listener doesn’t understand, it’s up to him to go do some research and figure out what the professor was saying. In a sermon, however, it’s never okay to mention obscure terms or people. You are striving with everything in you to make sure the people who hear understand the truth and its implications, so you would not want to do anything to obscure the truth.

Here’s another example. In a lecture setting, if the teacher is presenting a complicated theory, he needs only to cover it once and then move on. The students have the text book and have been assigned the reading, so the one explanation should be sufficient for them. In a sermon, however, the preacher must understand that most people don’t read the text book and that even when they do, they need help understanding how to put concepts together. The preacher, then, illustrates, the truth in terms, images, similes, and stories that the people will readily be able to identify with.

There are many more examples, but I think I’ll leave it with those two for now. Does it seem fair to suggest that one of the basic differences between preaching and lecturing is the placement of the responsibility for understanding?

Preaching the Word and People’s Needs

This semester I was able to take Homiletics 2 at TBS. I have much to learn and much room to grow in the realm of preaching, so I was happy to take this course.

One of the great conversations we had in class this year was on the topic of the need to be preaching the Word of God rather than opinions or topics that may or may not relate to the revealed truth of the Word.

Over the course of the conversation, Dr Penhearow pointed out this pastoral bit of wisdom that I’ve thought about much ever since:

The needs of the congregation may in fact be different than even they think.

The point is this: Only God the Spirit, who searches hearts, knows our needs. Sometimes in the midst of our problems we think we know what we need; in reality, however, only God knows. If we, as pastors, try to interpret people’s lives so as to determine what they ‘need’ to hear, we’ll get it wrong.

If we can’t discern the needs of our own heart, how can we hope to do just that for the congregation we don’t know as well as ourselves?

If, however, we preach the God-inspired Word, then God will be faithful to address his people’s needs. He knows them already and he has given the Word precisely to meet those needs. When we preach the Word of God, the Spirit of God will accomplish all the purposes of God in the people of God. 

As preachers, all we need to do is ‘eat the scroll.’ God will apply according to his grace and the needs of his people. There is no promise in Scripture that God will work through my thoughts according to his will; there are plenty of promises in Scripture that God will work through his Word. 

That’s our hope as preachers–that God would work, because only he sees true needs.

Sermon Prep and Preaching: An Interview with Pastor Paul W. Martin

Recently for my homiletics class, I was given the assignment of interviewing my favourite pastor/preacher on the topic of sermon preparation and preaching. I’ll post some of the excerpts here. If it should strike you as interesting (and if you’re a preacher, it should!), then you can download the whole interview transcript here.

Let me also say that I’m extremely thankful to my good friend, Tom Gee, who is also in the class with me, and who contributed just about all of the good questions you’ll read in the interview.


What is the role of preaching in your church?

Pastor Paul W. Martin

Pastor Paul W. Martin

Central. I’d say the pulpit drives any church, so the strength of your church will be directly correlated to the strength of the pulpit ministry.

You can two bad ways with it. You can go to where you elevate pulpit ministry above everything else to the point where you neglect, or you elevate everything else so that pulpit ministry becomes a lame con-versation by someone sitting on a stool with a mic.

But my own spiritual observations is that the healthiest churches are ones that are driven by a vibrant pulpit ministry, and if that is coupled by real pastoring then you are forced to deal with all the other stuff. So I can identify amazing pulpit ministries that I’ve been witness to that have in my view neglected real pastoring and then half floated in “preaching centres”, that’s all it is, it’s not church. Obviously the more dominant example would be churches that are caught up in all the external peripheral things that pulpit ministry is not there.

How do you create a sermon that seeks to change people?

I’ll start with a book that helped me with that, which is Jay Adams’ Preaching with Purpose. I think that book nails it. Every sermon ought to have a point, and it ought to drive to change because that’s its pur-pose in the church, to change. If I’m doing my study correctly, I’m trying to ask of the text all the time what difference does it make, or the so what. Why, if everything in the Scripture pertains to life and godliness, then why is this Scripture here? How does it pertain to life and godliness in my life, and how does it pertain to life and godliness in my sheep.

Having that question in mind in all of your study is going to help you decipher in the study what things are of import. So, I may need to know that this is a continuative gar or an explanatory gar, but they may not. Sometimes they do because for them to be, for the change to be effective, they need to see that this is absolutely essential for whatever reason. So I think having that question in the back of my mind, is very helpful.

And then I think that’s what drives illustration. So looking for ways to illustrate things that are cloudy, that are essential, for the ongoing change. And then, I think, prayer. As you prepare and as you preach, praying that the Lord will direct and knowing that the Spirit of God is the only agent of change.

And I find that often, I chuckle now, I was shocked earlier in my ministry, I find it kind of enjoyable now, to hear how the preached word brought change in someone’s life and 90% of the time it was nowhere in an area that I intended. People say, “you said this” and blah, blah, blah, and you just think well the Lord has his designs, I mean you laboured to do something, and no good, and that’s fine.

How do you develop illustrations? Do you gather material ahead of time?

I’m probably the worst person to talk to about that. I try to catch things I think might work, but I always forget that I have them. So I have a big file on my computer, that I’ll go to when I’m desperate. For me it’s a memory issue, I live in a 72 hour window all the time.

So, my goal is always to have at least two illustrations which are aimed at kids. I don’t always get it, but I want to have two times I can call out to kids in the sermon. Try to get into their world a little bit.
I just try to think of what’s happening in life, in news, read Google news every day. I’ve been working lately trying to use biblical examples more. Some people say you should only use OT stories, but it seems to me the Lord used a lot of things, fishermen, sheep, plants, I think we have liberty there to talk from the issues we know about. Whatever is going to make something clear; like the whole boomerang / ar-row thing, I knew it had to be illustrated somehow. I still don’t like it, but at least it was weird enough to make people think about the issue, like if they didn’t get it, they’re like “Huh?” But, that’s a good exam-ple of something that needs something to make sense, so it’s not just a thought out here where everybody can go “yeah, yeah” without really thinking about it.

What really helped me were those Walter letters. When I wrote those, I had a goal of illustration or word play or simile every sentence. I couldn’t always do it. Sometimes you need a sentence to build into it, but at least every paragraph. It got to be surprisingly easy. It really got my brain functioning in a different area. So I’m trying to pull that into my preaching. I can’t become Walter while preaching John, and that’s where it’s a little bit tricky, because it’s so tied to this imaginary character.

Biblical allusions… if you read the Puritans, they are always alluding to texts, they didn’t quote them, and I’m trying to work on that as well. You realize that young Christians are going to miss it completely, but phrases, not saying turn to Phil 2, but saying “he didn’t regard equality with God something to be grasped”, some people are going to think wow he just made that up, because they’ve never read it, but read the Puritans. Constant allusions to the text. When you start hearing it it really adds to your understanding.

Are there topics or types of things that you will intentionally use or not use for illustrations?

Illustrations are the servants of the truth. I will use anything that is not inherently sinful or offensive in the wrong sense, so long as it serves the purpose of conveying and applying truth.

In writing sermons, are you intentional to include humour, to exclude humour, or is it not that important to be intentional about?

It has to fit the text. Jesus used humour, but it always fit and it was not a dominant theme in his ministry; therefore it should not be in mine. There are 12 funny things I do not say for every one that pops into my head. But too much humour does two things: First, it shifts the focus off God and onto me, and second, it lightens the heaviness of truth. Like illustrations, humour must serve the truth, never obscure or diminish it.

Do you write out manuscripts for sermons or preach from notes? Do you memorize the sermon verbatim? Do you ever practice it aloud?

I am currently writing 90% manuscripts; that is, I write out 90% of what I plan to say. I take that to the pulpit and preach from it, but add to it and omit stuff from it as I go. I do not memorize the sermon, but I do try to learn the truth. Once I forgot my notes at home and did not realize until I walked to the front to preach. It was not my best sermon, but I was able to communicate the meaning of the text and preach from an outline, simply because it was all in the text. I do practice aloud on occasion, especially if there is a phrase or sentence that I want to get just right. I also find it a good way to experiment with my voice and expression.

How do you go about evaluating your preaching?

Tuesday staff meeting. I mean, you always do self-evaluation. Most of that happens as I go, as I’m preaching. If people are falling asleep… Like I was preaching the gospel—always try to include the gospel, in every sermon –and this one fellow who is a non-believer was talking in the back corner. So, in my moment-by-moment evaluation, I’m thinking they need to hear the gospel, they’re not hearing the gospel, so I start preaching into that corner. I catch each of them by eye, and I stare at them.

Some asked if I get Susan’s evaluation, and I don’t. I let her if she has something to say, but I remember Larry Crabb talking about pastors who jump in the car and the first they say is “Well?” That doesn’t need to be her role. She needs to sit under the word and not listen to me as an evaluator, she needs to be fed. At the same time, she has had some of the most helpful evaluations in my preaching, because she will see my inconsistencies and my pride faster than anybody else, and she has gently and lovingly identified that and called me out on it on numerous occasions, and it’s a great check, because now when I’m preaching I know that she’s aware of that, because she just feels that, it’s not that she’s looking for it, but she’ll just think c’mon Paul you’re being a kind of arrogant here. And I appreciate that, because I am arrogant and I would be a lot more arrogant in the pulpit if it wasn’t for my wife.

How have your sermon writing habits changed from the time you first starting preaching until now? Do you take more time or less time to prepare sermons now? Why is that?

My time is about the same. I thought it would get a lot less, but I am stupid and need a lot of time to say very obvious things! I went into more detailed study early on, parsing every word, jot and tittle, but after a while, you develop a sense for what must be done and your overall bank of knowledge increases. So I would say that there is a little less of the nitty-gritty, but maybe more on the end of application now than ever before. I have really been trying to work at that—and on illustrations as well.

What are some of the most common mistakes you’ve seen young men make in the area of sermon preparation / writing?

The basic mistake is this: they try to teach a seminary class in a church. They are more concerned about how they look than how God looks… they use archaic language, the message is sloppy, and ultimately comes out as boring and irrelevant. This is simply a result of arrogance. Humility seeks to magnify God through his revealed truth, not magnify self as the knower and dispenser of truth.

Why do you love preaching?

I feel his pleasure. I feel that this was what I was built to do. Qualified for those things. Even physically, I have a loud voice, because that’s what I think that’s who the Lord made me to be, to be a herald of the gospel. I can remember as a boy preaching at the cottage, with the waves crashing against the rock. I wasn’t even a Christian.

I always felt that that was what I was to do with my life. Wasn’t even that cognitive. I would say that I love the discovery of truth, and the challenge of packaging it in order to present it. I love the Spirit-attended energy of delivery, and looking into men’s hearts, and being given this privilege to speak and they’re going to listen, and leveraging the Spirit’s power through prayer and attendance and sticking to the word and doing things that are foolish, to see people change. And so I would say the final fruit of my love of preaching is changed lives, watching people alter their course of trajectory to become different people because the truth has come, through the Holy Spirit, to change. And you’ve been able to be a part of that. What’s not to love?
There’s even in the physical act of preaching. Lloyd-Jones talked about the electrical energy; not anxiety, but, it’s different. It’s different than talking. And, there is a pleasure even in that. Not in a sensual way, but, you follow your pleasures. I know for some people it’s terrifying to stand in front of people. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like being with people in that way.

Read the rest here

Is It Arrogant to Preach Exclusivism?

Bryan Chapell offers this important and instructive insight into whether it is more arrogant to preach the exlusivity of Christ, or to not preach the exclusivity of Christ. The criteria for whether the real arrogance is in preaching or not preaching, he argues, is whether or not the proclamation is true.

Proclaiming the message of eternal salvation in Christ alone unquestionably evidences undiluted arrogance, gross insensitivity, and religious bigotry—unless the message is true. Then, proclamation of the only true hope is the most important and loving message that a person can communicate, and failure to do so evidences incomparable callousness, gross negligence, and reli­gious selfishness. The determination of whether evan­gelical preachers who proclaim salvation through Christ alone are guilty of religious bigotry or are admirable for religious altruism hinges entirely on the question of the truth of their message. That question Jesus answers with clarity: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The apostles faithfully maintain this mes­sage: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

May God give us preachers grace to humbly continue in the pattern that has been set for us.


Quote taken from Scott M. Gibson, ed., Preaching to a Shifting Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 66.

I Don’t Get It

The further along in the book of James we go, the more points there are when I think, ‘…Huh?’

It’s a bizarre experience to look ahead in the book, know that there are only a few weeks left to finish the last chapter and a half, and realize that you don’t really understand what they mean. It’s humbling and exciting.

I pray that our Lord would use these last few weeks to teach the saints at GFC through me… as he has taught me! Because if he doesn’t teach me, I’ll be in trouble.

My prayer now is that he’ll keep me back from trying to force my assumed interpretations on the text in a panic to say something. I know that ‘those who teach will be subject to stricter judgement,’ so I pray that he’ll show me how to ‘rightly divide the word’ in the coming works. If you get a chance, please remember to pray for me.


There are benefits and drawbacks to preaching large portions of text. The benefits are too numerous to get into, but one of the drawbacks is that you don’t get to stop and to meditate for as long as you’d like on a single thought expressed in your passage, because there are so many other things to get to.

Yesterday I preached on James 4.1-12. As usual, I talked too long and said too little, but the text itself is absolutely amazing. The thought that gripped me the most, personally, as I laboured through the text last week (and even while I preached) was verse 5:

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 

That thought absolutely blew me away.

How could this be? The God of the universe not only puts up with me when he should obliterate me, but ‘yearns jealously’ for my devotion to him? He yearns with a jealousy of a husband for his bride (according to the analogy of the passage).

What an absolute shame that we take so lightly the thought that God loves us. Of all things in Scripture, this should be the thought that amazes us the absolute most.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5.8) 

And again,

By this we know love, that [Christ] laid down his life for us (1 Jn 3.16). 

In our chapter (James 4), James does something amazing: He contrasts our desires (which are at war within us, and bring quarrels and fights) with God’s desire for his people (which is singular, faithful, loving, and brings peace). This truth ought to humble us, amaze us, and increase our love for him.

Where the church’s desires are many, and illicit, and have grieved our groom, his desires are single, and faithful, and pure, and have brought our joy.

Where his one desire produces peace, our many desires have yielded enmity between God and us, and fights between us all.

And yet, he loves us still. And he ‘yearns jealously’ for our affections… what an overwhelming love! What an amazing God!

Preaching for Consistency

Yesterday, by God’s grace, I was able to begin our summer series of sermons from the book of James. I’ve titled this series ‘A Call to Consistency.’ I figure that’s about as close as I can get to a base theme that unites all the different emphases in James. Doug Moo refers to it as ‘spiritual wholeness.’

The first message in the series introduced the book of James (author, date, recipients), and then dove into the letter’s introduction from 1:1-18. The title of the message was ‘Steadfast Joy in Suffering.’ If you like, you can download it here or listen to it directly from the flash player below.

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