Monday, November 21, 2022

A Philosophy of Ministry for Preaching

 


Preaching and teaching is no small matter for the pastor. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in his pastoral epistles, three letters in the New Testament written to Titus and Timothy. In these letters, Paul gives considerable attention to importance of instructing a congregation in the word of God.

Titus 1:6–9 …Be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Titus 2:1 Teach what accords with sound doctrine.

Titus 2:7–8 In your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned…

Titus 2:15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority.

1 Timothy 4:13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

1 Timothy 6:2 Teach and urge these things.

2 Timothy 4:1–2 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

2 Timothy 1:13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me…

2 Timothy 2:14–16 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God… rightly handling the word of truth.

In this article, I will explain my philosophy of ministry concerning preaching. My ministry philosophy for preaching includes three elements: preaching ought to be Bible centered, gospel centered, and people centered.

 

Bible Centered

Preaching ought to come from the Bible (Matthew 4:4; 1 Peter 4:11). This is what Luke calls the “ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4). Preaching that veers from being scripture-centered inevitably evolves into teaching “the traditions of men” (Mark 7:7-8) and worldly philosophy (Colossians 2:8).

While it is helpful at times to deliver topical sermons, a congregation is best served by regularly hearing exegetical, expository sermons. An exegetical sermon is one which draws its meaning directly from the text rather than reading an idea into the text.[1] An expository sermon is one that draws from this exegesis and explains the text in a way that listeners can understand and apply it. Preaching a text in a way that is misleading, manipulative, or veers from the original author's intent is malpractice for the preacher.

A easiest sermon to understand and apply is one that has one clear focus. This method is called by different names: the big idea,[2] the central idea of the text,[3] or a one point message.[4] Haddon Robinson puts it this way: “A sermon should be a bullet, not a buckshot.”[5]

 

Gospel Centered

When possible tie the application back to the gospel. Our society tends to believe in “modern moral order,”[6] or creating a society that seeks better morals, ethics, and altruism without mention of Jesus and the transforming power of the gospel. Keller tells us that if sermons do not frequently point the listeners back to their need for Spiritual Formation and the redeeming power of the gospel, the preacher is “only confirming moralists in their moralism.”[7]

Christian sermons, therefore, are embedded with the Christian gospel. And I mean “gospel” in a holistic way, not only as a call to salvation. The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, how he has saved individuals from the penalty of sin, will some day save individuals from the presence and dominion of sin, and how he does the same for all of creation by redeeming and reconciling all things to himself.[8] Scripture urges unbelievers to accept the gospel and follow Jesus. Scripture urges believers to live out the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus by dying to sin (Romans 6:4-14), living a resurrected life (2 Corinthians 4:10, 5:17), and setting our minds on things above (Colossians 3:1-4). Scripture urges churches to bring about gospel transformation, or “the kingdom of God,” in their local community (Jeremiah 29:4-7; Luke 4:16-21; Matthew 6:10).

A question I often ask myself in sermon preparation is this: Could this sermon be preached in a mosque, or a synagogue, a Mormon temple, or at a TED talk without raising eyebrows? Christian sermons ought to be explicitly Christian, communicating aspects of the Christian gospel and the Trinitarian God.

 

People Centered

At it’s most basic level, preaching must be bible centered and gospel centered. A third important aspect of preaching is the center the message towards the people of God. First, this means the preacher must preach with actual people in mind. Andy Stanley makes a distinction between “teaching the Bible to people” and “teaching people the Bible.”[9] A preacher will either lean towards teaching the Bible (focused on knowledge acquisition and explanation) or teaching people (focused on life change and application).

Second, application is key in preaching. Many have asked me what the difference is between preaching and teaching. What makes a sermon preaching and not teaching? Application. Bible teaching is geared towards knowledge acquisition, or delivering good content to listeners. Bible preaching is focused on guiding listeners to apply the text to their everyday life. With that said, the best teaching does lead to application; and good preaching does give understanding. But the pulpit should primarily be a place of preaching - expositing the Word of God and challenging listeners.

Paul tells us that good preaching results in changed lives (1 Timothy 1:5), and that all of scripture is   “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) A sermon is lacking if it stops at knowledge acquisition and stops short of life change. One must spur the hearers on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).

Lastly, preaching a people centered message means to be crystal clear in your communication. The preacher spends hours studying the Bible and understands the flow and overall argument of the text. But listeners have not had this luxury. Nobody should ever walk away from a sermon unsure what the sermon was about, what the preacher meant, or what to do with what the teaching. A sermon and its application ought to be crystal clear.

I will give you shepherds after my own heart and they will feed you knowledge and insight. (Jeremiah 3:15, LEB)


[1] This term literally means “drawing meaning out of” and “reading meaning into” a text. See Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 1999), 49.

[2] Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2014), 15–21.

[3] Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons, New Edition (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1999), 128–33.

[4] Andy Stanley and Lane Jones, Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication, 1st edition (Sisters, Or: Multnomah, 2006), 106.

[5] Robinson, Biblical Preaching, 17.

[6] James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, 1st edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2014), 53.

[7] Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, Complete Numbers Starting with 1, 1st Ed edition (New York, New York: Viking, 2015), 62.

[8] Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 267–68.

[9] Stanley and Jones, Communicating for a Change, 93–99 Stanley actually has a third approach, “teach people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles, and truths of the Bible.” I’ve combined his last two approaches into one: “Teach people the Bible.”


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