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Three Points for Preachers

Thinking through the foolishness of preaching

I’ve been around for awhile. I’ve preached many sermons and I’ve listened to many sermons. Like just about every pastor who sits under the preaching of someone else, I’ve done my share of critical analysis (in the confines of my head), kind of like those sports commentators who tell the audience how the athlete should have done things, while they sit in their booths. 

I thought that since I have a few observations I might as well write them down. Maybe they’ll be helpful to preachers. Maybe not. You be the judge. I will say that these observations have to do with textual sermons rather than topical ones. 

I’ve titled my piece “Three Points for Preachers.” The first thing you will note is that there are more than three points in the list below. That’s because three points don’t always fit the text and in this case do not serve what I have to share. In sermon construction sometimes three points work, sometimes two points, sometimes four. Sometimes no points work best because you’ll want to ride the wave of the narrative and covey the power of literary climax. I could have organized my thoughts in three points but my ingenuity would not have served my message well nor have served your understanding of it. The same goes for handling a text of Scripture. Points can get pretty misshapen and confuse rather than make clear. 

Here we go. 

  1. You can’t say everything but you have to say something. There will be insights that will excite you in your study and that you will want to share. But you have to draw the line and not overwhelm your listeners so that they latch on to nothing. Be content to say something the text says and make sure that your audience hears, understands, and appreciates that teaching through your exposition, explanation, illustration, and application. 
  1. Stick with your text. Exegete the passage you lay before the congregation. Minimize introducing other texts and certainly don’t start exegeting them. Stay on site. You don’t need to prove your points by amassing biblical support, even through rattling off a litany of scriptural references. Those references may form or reinforce your conclusions but that’s for the kitchen not for the dining table. Minimize quotes from scholars, commentaries, and authors you have found relevant. Again, allow these sources to inform you and form your message but consider they may distract, particularly if they are lengthy. 
  1. Preach to be heard. That affects the language you use, the pace of your talking, the structure and flow of your message, and your communication style with the congregation. Preaching involves not only explanation, it involves exhortation. Preaching is different from writing. A sermon is different from a lecture or presentation of a theological paper. Pause. Give people time to latch on. Speak clearly. Be genuine in your communication. 
  1. Cleverness can be counterproductive. I know of one excellent minister who says he cannot preach without alliteration. But he really should try. While alliteration and other devices can be aids to memory, they can muddy the waters if forced or are too artificial when employed just for the sake of rhetoric. We can become enamored with our own wit and present our message that others will be so enthralled. That’s not what we should be going for. We preach most effectively when we step from behind the pulpit and sit in the congregation as ones receiving the message. If we really want an honest opinion about our clarity and cleverness, we might want to invite our wives to give feedback. Being humbled is a good thing. 
  1. Don’t artificially lengthen a message just to fill a certain amount of time. If the text takes 20 minutes to preach, so be it. If it takes 40, so be it. If it takes 60, pick a shorter text. Be sensitive to people’s capacity to pay attention. You don’t want them mentally scurrying for the exit and tuning out what the Lord has given you to say. Also, just because people are paying attention does not mean they are begging you to preach for another 15 minutes. 
  1. Use illustrations judiciously, not capriciously. You’re not there to entertain or share stories by the water cooler for the amusement of others. You are in the pulpit ministering the very word of the living God. Avoid doubling up on illustrations when one will suffice to make the point. There is a difference between a story being mere filler and it making the point fuller. Personal examples can be powerful things because they help people identify and position you with them as part of the congregation. But they can also be off-putting, particularly if you are showboating or humble-bragging. If you’ve been to Israel, great! Keep it for the scrapbook. 
  1. Preaching Christ involves more than mentioning His name at some point in the sermon. As Christ is organically found in any text of Scripture so He should organically arise from your exposition. Wear the Christ-centered bifocals of redemptive-history for distance and the up close lens for practical application. 
  1. Pray-peration (some cleverness is just too good not to use). Jesus says that the Father will most assuredly not deny the Spirit to those who ask Him. We need to take Him up on that offer in our ministry of the Word. We want to pray for our preparation and our proclamation. We want to pray for ourselves, our message, and our hearers. Pray that the Spirit will anoint you as His instrument, that He will inhabit the preaching of His Word, and that He will prepare hearts to accomplish His purposes in those who hear. Pray also against the efforts of the evil one in all respects. Prayer is the conduit of humility, a necessary posture for effectiveness in any endeavor for Christ. 

There we have it. You’re welcome to check out my sermons online and witness firsthand how I am still learning these things. 

Stanley D. Gale has served Christ and congregation for almost four decades. He is the author of over a dozen books on living the Christian faith. He is the husband of one wife, father of four, and grandfather of ten. He lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania where he likes to play tennis and delight others with his puns.

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and ten grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale

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