How NOT To Guilt Our Listeners To Death

HT: Greg Dutcher

Will The Real Convert Please Stand Up?

You are heading to your office after finishing a sermon on “The White-Hot Holiness Of God.” The theme was somber, to say the least, and the congregation seemed quietly contemplative – too hard to gauge whether or not the message hit home. You open the door only to find two men you have never met waiting for you. Uh-oh.

These men are not here to complain, however, but to pour out their souls. Both are full of tears, remorse and shame . . . You listen, nod, share some Scriptures and pray for each of them. As you walk them both out the office you can’t help thinking, this is why I do what I do. These men will be changed people from here on. They thank you for your message again, and it dawns on you – “Pardon me, men. I didn’t get your names.” The first says, “I’m Peter.” The second says, “I’m Judas.” Uh-oh.

What’s going on here? Two men, both under what many would call “conviction.” Both men denied Christ. Both men bailed when it came time for courage. But one man went on to grab the brass ring of church leadership while the other put his neck in a noose. How could two remorseful men end up so differently? The naked eye will not help us; it sees only tears and clenched teeth. The Spirit, however, sees the difference between conviction and guilt. Our preaching hangs on this distinction – it’s a matter of life and death.

The Instant Gratification Of Guilt

Nothing produces more immediate results than a heaping dose of good old-fashioned guilt. A seminary friend of mine used to joke, “Just preach about the importance of prayer- that always nails them to the wall.” And who can disagree, has anyone ever met a Christian who thinks he prays enough? To the frustrated preacher who sees little signs of change in his listeners, the appeal of instant tears and regret is a seductive force when entering the pulpit.

The problem with guilt is that it’s a bear trap, not a springboard. Sure it hurts like the dickens when it chews its way through you, but where do you go from there? A springboard, however, certainly grabs your attention, but it also moves you forward. The problem for the preacher, though, is that guilt looks so darn similar to conviction. Is there anyway to tell the difference?

Those Obnoxious Corinthians

Had I pastored the church of Corinth, I don’t know if I could have resisted guilting them to death. Division, sexual immorality, lawsuits, abuse of spiritual gifts just lend themselves to guilt’s precision-guided missiles. Yet in the middle of Paul’s second letter to them he points us to the razor-sharp distinction between conviction and guilt. Notice the words in bold . . .

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it – I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. (2 Cor 7:8-11, NIV)

This passage is a goldmine for the preacher who wants his sermons to bring about repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. Paul’s instruction to this train wreck of a congregation was aimed to produce godly sorrow, what we might call “conviction,” not worldly sorrow, which we can certainly call “guilt.”

Did you notice all the results conviction brings about? Earnestness, eagerness, indignation (over sin, presumably), alarm, longing, concern – wow, one of these could keep most pastors motivated for months. Guilt, on the other hand, is said to produce only one result: death.

Whenever we preach for life change, we tread on dangerous ground. Like Paul, we must address people in their sin, but like Paul, we must be instruments of grace, leading them to move forward in their walk with Christ.

Three Ways To Tell The Difference Between Grace and Guilt

Since I have often been a champion of guilt, I have ample material to pull from for this section. Don’t get me wrong, I was usually not aware of how much guilt used to be a part of my preaching. After all, guilt knows how to put on its Sunday best just like the rest of us. From this point I will refer to conviction as “grace,” since conviction is a life-giving force (plus the alliterative beauty of guilt versus grace is too irresistible for preachers).

1. Guilt focuses on failure. Grace focuses on the future.

It had been a long summer. Vacations and summer outings had brought tithing to a record low. For my Labor Day sermon I would “serve” the congregation by “gently” pointing out this deplorable example of giving. Surely we were capable of better. Looking back, I could have briefly mentioned that, like most churches, summer giving is always a little thin, but we had a huge opportunity in front of us. We had several autumn outreaches planned and I could sense the excitement in the air. What a joy to think about how we could give of our time, energy and resources to what God might do in the future. Had I spent more time focusing on what God could do in the future than what we did not do in the past, wow – who knows . . .

It has always struck me than when Jesus restored Peter that day when they strolled the beach, the Savior never mentioned Peter’s failure. It was there by implication, no doubt, as Jesus gave Peter three chances to declare his love for his master just as Peter had denied Christ three times. But the Savior’s focus is always on what lies ahead, “Peter, feed my sheep.” (John 21). I wonder how our congregations would respond if they sensed our excitement for what the future might hold.

2. Guilt focuses on deficiencies. Grace focuses on growth.

One of my former co-pastors, a retired truck-driver-turned-minister, has the most intense prayer life I know. While he’s never told me how much time he spends praying every day, I have been with him enough to figure it out. At least 2-3 hours per day. Who is this guy, Daniel? A few years ago, I saw him interact with a member on the subject of prayer. The man told his pastor he just could not focus on praying very much. He was lucky is he could spend five minutes alone with God. I was watching this conversation, waiting for the pastoral equivalent of a hydrogen bomb, this poor guy had no idea what a prayer warrior he was talking to! Instead of a rebuke, however, this pastor simply asked him, “Do you really think you can devote five minutes to prayer each day?” The member thought he could. “That’s great,” my co-pastor said with a smile, “don’t worry about the minutes on the clock so much – just know that those five minutes are the best minutes of your day.” That five-minute-prayer-midget has become a prayer juggernaut over the years.

Read the first nine verses of 1 Corinthians chapter one when you have some time. Knowing that he has to address the myriad of deficiencies (referenced earlier in this article) in the Corinthians, he actually starts by calling attention to areas where he has seen growth and change! He commends them for the grace he sees at work in them, the way they have been enriched in every way, the way they are not lacking in spiritual gifts (that’s right, even in this area of significant abuse he finds something to celebrate!), and the certainty that Christ will bring them all the way to glory. Paul is committed to celebrating grace’s effects first, before he points areas in need of correction.

3. Guilt pressures. Grace encourages.

Remember that old song by the Fugees, Killing Me Soflty? Change the lyrics slightly and you’ve got several of my past sermons. Stoking my pain with his sermons/ slicing my life with his words/ killing me softly with his psalm/ killing me softly with his psalm. The psalm was 119. The occasion was the second week of a Sunday School series I had been teaching on memorizing the word of God. A whopping three people had been in attendance the first week, and the time had come for a sermonic thrashing. Sure the sermon was biblically sound, who could argue with the psalmist’s commitment to meditate on the Scripture? But the stench of pastoral desperation must have been wafting through the sanctuary that day. Anybody with two ears could have seen that the message was little more than a high-pressure infomercial for the Sunday School class. Next week, two people were in attendance.

A year later I was on Sabbatical visiting another church that had been promoting a similar class. The “inside information” I had obtained suggested attendance was sparse here as well. I was kicking myself when the pastor invited a member in the class to share just what a positive experience she was having memorizing Scripture. No preaching, no platitudes, no pressure. Why didn’t I think of that? Grace always encourages. I love Phillip’s words to the skeptical Nathaniel when Christ was just starting his ministry, “Come and see.” Grace knows how life changing the gospel is when people are invited to experience it; it has no need to pressure.

Championing Grace From The Pulpit

I used to think that if I preached enough sermons on the topic of grace, I was a grace-oriented preacher. But grace can be served up in a sea of guilt-gravy. Conversely, it’s actually possible to preach on repentance and sanctification in grace-saturated message – this is the way of the New Testament, the way of Paul, the way of Jesus. True, guilt is great for short-term dramatics, but grace is for the long road of life in the kingdom.

With an eye trained to look for conviction’s subtle impostor, guilt can be exposed and eliminated before we step into the pulpit. And when we do slip back into guilt’s clutches (and we will), we may see the many “Judases” we have made in a given Sunday and rush to their aid before its too late. May God make our very mouths fountains of grace for our sheep that wander in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.

Handle The Text Carefully

HT: Peter Mead

When we preach we explain the meaning of details in a Bible passage. We do more than that too, of course. But here are five quick reminders about handling the text carefully:

1. Remember that the passage was originally written in another language, even though you probably don’t need to mention it. As one of my teachers put it, “Greek is like your underwear, it is important to have it on, but don’t let it show.” I think there is wisdom in both halves of that thought. We should use the languages as best we can in preparation, and generally, there is wisdom in not talking about it when we preach. For people who have never learned Hebrew and Greek, it is important to remember that there is both linguistic and cultural distance between the original text and our translation. It is wise to consult serious commentaries as you are preparing, and it is very wise to not support your presentation by appealing to the original language, especially if you are not comfortable translating the passage for yourself.

2. Be grateful for the English translation you have. While it is good to interact with some heavyweight commentators to help you with the original, be thankful for the translations we have. We don’t need to undermine our listener’s confidence in good translations by how we explain the text.

3. The meaning of words will change over time, so don’t build a point on the origins of a word. I read a few deliberately outrageous examples in a Moises Silva article. He demonstrated how we should not trust ranchers because of the old French etymological connection to our term, deranged. Or the argument that dancing should be forbidden for Christians because the word ballet comes from a Greek term that also shows up as part of the origin of the term translated “devil.” Words mean what they mean in their context, in their contemporary usage at the time of writing.

4. Don’t read every possible meaning of a word into a specific instance. Let the context identify the meaning of a word. The other possibilities listed in the dictionary or lexicon need not concern you as you preach it. Take the term “chip” in this sentence – “The problem with your computer is a burned-out chip.” It doesn’t matter that the term can be used for a deep-fried potato chunk served hot in England, or a fried slice of potato served cold in America, or a piece of wood flying as the lumberjack chops at a tree trunk, or a useful shot for a golfer stuck in a bunker. Other possible meanings do not matter when the sentence itself clarifies the intended meaning.

5. Context really is king. When it comes to explaining the meaning of a detail in a text, context is always the golden guideline. Don’t get caught up building a point on a nuance of grammar, or a subtlety of vocabulary. Those finer points can usually be left in your study notes, or used to support what you are saying, but if you are going to make a big point about meaning, generally it should be made using context as your primary evidence.

We have to explain the meaning of the text whenever we preach. Let’s keep prayerfully pondering how we can do that in a way that is clear, helpful, instructive and not distracting.

Haddon Robinson’s Definition of Expository Preaching

HT: Peter Mead

I still look back with huge gratitude at the opportunity to have studied with Haddon Robinson in the mid 2000’s. Here is his oft-quoted definition:

“Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers.”

Importance of the “concept” – the central role of the “big idea” is vital to coherent preaching.  Preaching is not the conveying of random details held together by their proximity in a biblical text.  It is easy to let a Bible text nudge you into your favourite theological themes, your anecdotes of choice, or even other disconnected biblical truths. This definition urges the preacher to study the passage in order to determine the big idea of the passage. What, specifically, is this passage saying?

Importance of the study method – among the expository definitions that I’ve read over the years, I think this one is unique in including a definition of the hermeneutical approach advocated.  In order to get to the biblical concept in a passage, the preacher is to use a historical, grammatical, literary study of the passage in context. What, accurately, is this passage saying?

Importance of the transmission – many people miss the two words “transmitted through” that come before the hermeneutical element.  Not only should a preacher use good hermeneutics in the study, but they should exemplify good hermeneutics in the presentation. After all, the preacher is modelling Bible handling before a crowd who will pick up habits from what they observe. How will they read their Bibles after listening to you preach?

Importance of the Holy Spirit – again, many definitions of preaching seem to omit any reference to the Holy Spirit.  This one recognizes the role of the Spirit in applying the biblical concept in the life of the preacher, then through the preacher in the listeners too. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.

Sermon Of The Week

Each Wednesday we highlight a sermon that exemplifies expository excellence. This week, the ministry is by John MacArthur.

John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, as well as an author, conference speaker, and Chancellor of The Master’s University and Seminary.

3 Elements of Preaching That Please God

HT: R Kent Hughes

What kind of preaching pleases God?

That’s what Dr. Kent Hughes, esteemed preacher, professor, and editor of the Preaching the Word Commentary Series discusses in the excerpt below.


A Word to Those Who Preach the Word

There are times when I am preaching that I have especially sensed the pleasure of God. I usually become aware of it through the unnatural silence. The ever-present coughing ceases, and the pews stop creaking, bringing an almost physical quiet to the sanctuary—through which my words sail like arrows. I experience a heightened eloquence, so that the cadence and volume of my voice intensify the truth I am preaching.

There is nothing quite like it—the Holy Spirit filling one’s sails, the sense of his pleasure, and the awareness that something is happening among one’s hearers. This experience is, of course, not unique, for thousands of preachers have similar experiences, even greater ones.

What has happened when this takes place? How do we account for this sense of his smile? The answer for me has come from the ancient rhetorical categories of logosethos, and pathos.

The first reason for his smile is the logos—in terms of preaching, God’s Word. This means that as we stand before God’s people to proclaim his Word, we have done our homework. We have exegeted the passage, mined the significance of its words in their context, and applied sound hermeneutical principles in interpreting the text so that we understand what its words meant to its hearers. And it means that we have labored long until we can express in a sentence what the theme of the text is—so that our outline springs from the text. Then our preparation will be such that as we preach, we will not be preaching our own thoughts about God’s Word, but God’s actual Word, his logos. This is fundamental to pleasing him in preaching.

There is nothing quite like it—the Holy Spirit filling one’s sails, the sense of his pleasure, and the awareness that something is happening among one’s hearers.

The second element in knowing God’s smile in preaching is ethos—what you are as a person. There is a danger endemic to preaching, which is having your hands and heart cauterized by holy things. Phillips Brooks illustrated it by the analogy of a train conductor who comes to believe that he has been to the places he announces because of his long and loud heralding of them. And that is why Brooks insisted that preaching must be “the bringing of truth through personality.” Though we can never perfectly embody the truth we preach, we must be subject to it, long for it, and make it as much a part of our ethos as possible. As the Puritan William Ames said, “Next to the Scriptures, nothing makes a sermon more to pierce, than when it comes out of the inward affection of the heart without any affectation.” When a preacher’s ethos backs up his logos, there will be the pleasure of God.

Last, there is pathos—personal passion and conviction. David Hume, the Scottish philosopher and skeptic, was once challenged as he was seen going to hear George Whitefield preach: “I thought you do not believe in the gospel.” Hume replied, “I don’t, but he does.” Just so! When a preacher believes what he preaches, there will be passion. And this belief and requisite passion will know the smile of God.

The pleasure of God is a matter of logos (the Word), ethos (what you are), and pathos (your passion). As you preach the Word may you experience his smile—the Holy Spirit in your sails!

20 Ways To Outline A Sermon

This is a really helpful post from Colin Adams, the Unashamed Workman

A good outline can strengthen a sermon, providing clarity, progression and climax for those who hear it. Speaking personally, however, I find outlining an extremely exacting discipline. As a result, it has been profitable for me to study men who are most adept in this area – men like Charles Spurgeon, John Stott and Warren Wiersbe.

Emerging from that study, here is a list which I have compiled and that I sometimes refer to. It helps me think creatively about my sermon structure. Please note that most of the specific examples are borrowed from some of the above preachers.

1.  Quote directly from text

‘To live is Christ’.  ‘To die is gain’

2.  Single word headings of similar length, or sound

Unity.  Diversity.  Maturity

Preparation.  Lamentation.  Celebration. Denunciation

3. Use pictures in the text

A lonely garden. A costly cup. A hypocritical kiss. A useless sword. A crowing cock

4.  Same first word(s) but differing endings

The law is not greater than the promise. The law is not contrary to the promise. The law cannot do what the promise can do

The Spirit enables us to: fulfil the law of love, overcome the flesh, produce fruit

Beware of: hypocrisy, covetousness, worrying, carelessness

5. Put application in the headings

Remember what God is to you. Remember what God does for you. Remember what God does through you.

We must love Christ supremely. We must obey him universally. We must glorify him completely.

6. Questions

Are the dead raised? When are the dead raised? Why are the dead raised?

7. Groups

The preacher. The persecutor. The believer.

8. Obligation outline  – ________must be________

Leaders must be humble in accepting their responsibilities. Followers must be careful in selecting their leaders.  Evildoers must be certain of sin’s consequences.

9.  Say what the author does in his argument (especially useful for epistles)

He defended his right to receive support. He defended his right to refuse support.

He explains his authority. He expresses his anxiety. He exposes his adversaries.

He explains their adoption. He seeks their affection. He laments their regression.

10. Say what happened to the person in the text (especially useful for narrative)

God honored him.  God humbled him. God helped him.

Teaching the Jews. Helping the Gentiles. Warning the Disciples.

11. Alliteration

A clear conscience. A compassionate heart. A conquering faith.

Grace, goodness, glory.

The servant’s identity. The servant’s authority. The servant’s sympathy.

12. . Pairs

Profitable and unprofitable servants. Wise and foolish witnesses. Obedient and disobedient servants.

13. . Contrasts

Death-Life. Tablets of stone-human hearts. Fading glory-increasing glory.

14. . How to

How to use spiritual authority. How to wage spiritual warfare.

15. Twin parallel heading

The slave – you lose your liberty. The debtor – you lost your wealth.  The runner – you lose your opportunity.

16. From this to that

From failure to success. From sickness to health. From guilt to forgiveness

17.  Follow the chronology or some other marker in the text

The 3rd hour. The 6th hour. The 9th hour.

18.  Paradoxes

The two shall be one. Adults shall be children. First shall be last.

19. Headings that are precise, but pay little attention to corresponding with one another stylistically (D.A Carson seems to often preach this way)

Paul wants this prayer to be offered with earnestness, urgency and persistence.

Paul solicits prayer for himself , in connection with his own ministry.

For Paul, prayer for his ministry envisions further ministry.

Finally, it is important to learn that some of Paul’s prayers were not answered as he would have liked.

20. Don’t have a defined outline!

Who in the world am I preaching to?

This is an excellent post by Andrew Rycroft

I preach over 100 sermons annually. That amounts to more hours of preparation than I can hope to quantify, and around 250,000 words of written material produced for the pulpit each year. This is one of the main activities that I have been trained, commissioned, and employed for by the local church. This is what I believe the Lord has called me to do vocationally, created me to do temperamentally, and shaped me to do experientially. I am a preacher.

Fulfilling this responsibility entails asking and answering key questions every single week: Where am I preaching from? How will I structure this sermon? How will I phrase this section? How do I apply this doctrine or narrative? Are there illustrations I can use which could make this message clearer? It is impossible to preach effectively without asking the right questions.

One question that is easy to overlook, however, is who in the world am I preaching to? The clarity of my speech will matter, the integrity of my exegesis will count for a lot, the fervency of my prayers is crucial, but self-consciously thinking through who I am addressing can easily slip from the list of priorities. In this post I want to suggest that this is a key mistake, and one which can act as barrier to effective communication from the pulpit. In order to explore ‘who in the world I preach to’ I will list a series of negations accompanied by an affirmation, hopefully clarifying for myself and for other preachers what exactly it is that we do when we open God’s word in a local church.

Not to an audience, but to a gathering

The global pandemic from which we are hopefully beginning to emerge has affected some significant changes in how we think about communicating in our preaching. The earliest days of 2020 saw many pastors and preachers being forced to resort to recording messages to stream later, or preaching live into a camera or smartphone. As the pandemic has dragged its feet in leaving our communities many of our churches have installed permanent technology to make broadcasting possible. This has been a positive thing for many local churches, providing vital ministry and connection to those who remain isolated, or are suffering from long term conditions which preclude their attending church in person. It has also served to open the door to honest enquirers about the gospel, who can ‘sample’ what church is like before taking the step of crossing any physical threshold.

With all of these benefits, there are certain factors which could threaten the identity of local church preaching. Many of us have become so accustomed to camera technology that we have forgotten about its presence in our buildings. This is an entirely good thing, but we must be careful that vestiges of the period of our ministry when we were speaking to an invisible world don’t subtly affect how we minister. Preaching takes place, primarily, in the gathering of God’s people. It is a corporate activity rather than a solitary performance. Preaching is not a sanctified TED talk, or a weekly presentation, but is a particular group of Christians meeting with one another in the presence of the living Christ to hear what he has said, and to mutually worship him in that activity. Preaching, when it is properly undertaken, is participative and responsive; it is an exercise in mutual edification and mutual submission to God himself.

This means that my preaching must be among the congregation of God’s people as well as before them. I am a member of the church that I preach in. I am seeking to live in submission to the Lord of the church, and to the godly care of those whom he has called to lead the church. I am a sinner among sinners, a learner among learners, a new creation in union with Christ and his people joining our hearts to exalt him and own him as our Lord. This is entirely different that merely imparting information: it is sharing in the common currency of Christian worship and discipleship among a group of people known to me, and by whom I am known.

Not to the nation, but to my neighbour

Audience and gathering have an influence on how I perceive my voice in the pulpit. Social media has raised a megaphone to the lips of every person signed up for it, allowing our opinions and passions to have a ready platform to the world. Much of what we say during the week has the capacity to reach thousands of people, either via our own social media life, or through others reflecting publicly on our relationship to them. This is a strange and unsettling reality that I am not entirely sure we were made for, nor that we manage well.

That amplified environment can fool us into thinking that preaching in the local church is louder in volume or wider in reach than it really is. We read biblical biographies such as that of John the Baptist, or historical biographies of John Knox, George Whitefield and others, and imagine that the pulpit can affect the nation directly. The perception of nascent persecution in the Western world has fed this feeling, with the idea of one’s messages being surveilled or ultimately suppressed feeling possible. This is largely a trick of the light.

I am not, in reality, preaching to the nation – nor should I wish to. Most of our ministries are local and parochial, our influence limited to a very small subset of the very small communities in which we live. Our ‘reach’ in terms of how many people hear us is, mercifully, limited. People in the corridors of power don’t know my name nor the nature of my work, individuals in positions of civic influence have no awareness of me, and the policies which govern the shape of our lives will not be influenced directly by anything I say or do in the local church.

This should affect how we preach. I cannot leverage the nation in my preaching, but I ought to love my neighbour. Preaching is ministerial in nature, it is designed by God to work in the hearts of those with whom we are intimately acquainted, whose eccentricities and proclivities are not hidden from us. We are called to preach into the micro-culture of where we have been placed, allowing contextual issues to shape and shield our words and our way of ministering. We are called to be conduit through whom the ascended Jesus will equip this group of people for these works of ministry in this precise location. Our preaching is colloquial and provincial, it should use the language and imagery, the common currency, of the community in which it is exercised.

The goal of such preaching is measured, but it is not modest. I preach to my neighbour in the hope that they might in turn have a formative effect on their neighbours, in leading them to the Saviour or closer to their Lord. I do so in the prayer that my neighbours neighbour might likewise minister to and shape their neighbour. In that way alone might the nation be reached through my preaching, not through direct influence but by the wonderful aggregate of disciples discipling others.

This is hugely important. It means that my application to national issues will be concerned with local living. Addressing the ‘big issues’ which light up social media around sexuality, class, race, cultural identity, postmodernism etc are not brought to the pulpit as a kind of bulletin board, but are addressed expositionally from the passage before me, and pastorally to the people before me. I am not righting the wrongs of the world, or fighting on the front of the culture war when I preach – I am loving and teaching my neighbours from Scripture with an earnest desire that Spirit-born understanding might revolutionise their lives, and the spheres within which they move.

Not to the faculty, but to the fellowship

Finally, it is important that we don’t allow the input to our preparation to directly become the output of our preaching. The preacher lives in a strange twilight between academic treatments of what God’s word and Christian doctrine mean, and the real lives of those we are called to minister to. Most preaching will entail some form of academic study, ranging across commentaries and theological texts which can shape and sharpen our understanding of the passage or theme we are preaching on. This is vital graft.

The difficulty, however, is that such a cerebral environment is not reflective of the local church, and the local lives it touches. Welsh preacher Geoff Thomas once said to me in conversation that his job was to understand the details of the Scripture text and the complexities that the commentaries can make us aware of, and then to translate those elements into a message which is accessible and spiritually beneficial to the local church he pastored. This might sound elementary, but it is all too easily lost.

You might need to know the case of a noun, the nature of a preposition, the internal workings of a doctrine, but only so that you might preach more clearly and lucidly. Our sermons are not addressed to the faculty but to the fellowship. Quoting Greek words, employing theological jargon, introducing weighty conceptual terms, is nothing of the business of the preacher. Such things might gain marks in an essay, but they lose ground in the hearts of individuals.

This means that my language must be transparent, and my understanding so keen that I can make complex things simple without reducing or diluting them. I have the privilege of teaching in an academic environment as a lecturer and preaching in a non-academic context as a pastor. The latter is infinitely more challenging than the former. In an academic setting the familiar shorthand of theological discourse can abbreviate conversation, and can also mask insecurities and unfamiliarity with the inner working of doctrines I am handling. The pulpit is much less forgiving. If I haven’t thought clearly I won’t speak clearly, and lapsing into doctrinal jargon is normally the measure of an individual who is insecure about their basic understanding of what they are seeking to impart.


Answering the ‘who in the world am I preaching to?’ question is of central importance to the task of ministering God’s word. It delivers us from formalism, foolishness pride, and pretended expertise. It levels us back into the life of the local church, into the experiences of those in common covenant with gathering of God’s people in our area, and challenges us to preach in such a way that we love our neighbour and speak with the goal of gaining hearts through the gateway of the mind.

What’s the Difference Between Preaching and Teaching?

I found this article helpful and illuminating following my post about teaching and preaching

HT: Andrew Wilson

Ah, preaching and teaching. Words we all use, but nobody’s quite sure what the difference between them is (if there even is one at all), or what we might be supposed to do about it. Why, just the other day, Mark Driscoll wrote a post with exactly this question as his title, but from my perspective did not really answer it clearly; he simply commented that the audiences, evangelistic focus, language, motivation and form of speech would vary between them. There was little or no biblical reflection on what the difference might be, and some of the apparent variances were just bizarre (apparently you can use Christian jargon when you’re teaching but not when you’re preaching, for example). So telling the difference is obviously more tricky than it looks.

I’ll give you my answer in a minute, but first, here are a few answers I often hear that I don’t think stack up.

1. Preaching is fiery and shouty, whereas teaching is meticulous and dry. I’ve yet to meet a leader who defends this one, thank goodness, but it’s amazing how many people in your life group would come up with something like it.

2. Teaching is based on the Bible, whereas preaching is more prophetic or personal. Worryingly, I have heard this one defended. All I can say is that if our preaching is not based on the Bible, we have bigger problems than working out how to tell the difference between preaching and teaching.

3. Preaching aims at the heart, and teaching at the head. There’s a grain of truth in this one – preachers are, of course, trying to reach the heart – but only a grain. After all, if preaching does not aim at the mind and the will and the emotions, an awful lot of people are simply not going to be affected by it. My guess is that this statement, when it appears, emerges from traditions that are pietist/revivalist as opposed to confessionalist.

4. Preaching is topical, whereas teaching is systematic. Needless to say, there is no such distinction made in Scripture.

5. Preaching has to be simple, whereas teaching is often more complex. Well, it depends who you’re talking to, doesn’t it? If you’re teaching people with a very low level of biblical literacy, then you need to be extremely simple; if you’re preaching to people with a very high level of biblical literacy, it might well be more complex. Jesus’s teaching to Galilean peasants seems to have been pretty simple.

6. Teaching aims at information, whereas preaching aims at revelation. Bunk. Superspiritual, Gnostic bunk.

So I don’t think it’s any of those. In fact, I think the answer is more straightforward than any of them, and rests in the meanings of the words themselves. A kerux (the usual word for “preacher” in the New Testament) in the ancient world was simply a herald: a guy who rode into town to deliver significant news. A didaskalos (the usual word for “teacher”) was an instructor: someone who explained or taught something to someone else. There, it seems to me, is the difference. Preaching is proclaiming, heralding and announcing news to people – the gospel – especially (but not exclusively) to those who haven’t heard it before. Teaching is explaining things about the gospel that people don’t understand, and instructing them on how to live in light of it.

The most helpful illustration of this comes from John Piper. He pictures a herald riding into town, shouting from high atop his horse, “Hear ye! Hear ye! The Emperor has declared an amnesty to all slaves!” That, Piper says, is preaching: proclaiming good news, announcing something that has happened, that completely changes the situation of the listeners. But he then imagines people approaching the herald with questions. What does amnesty mean? When does this announcement take effect? Does that mean I can leave my slavemaster now? Will compensation be paid to masters? And so on. At that point, Piper says, you have to start teaching: explaining the implications of the news, helping people with concepts and ideas they don’t understand, and telling people what they need to do in response, given their various situations.

In other words, the difference between preaching and teaching is not shouting versus whispering, or illuminating versus bamboozling, or revealing versus informing. In a nutshell, it’s the difference between heralding and explaining. (That may mean that an awful lot of our Sunday “preaching slots” don’t contain any “preaching” at all, of course – but that’s another story.)

The Power of Questions

HT: Andrew Bunt 

We all know how powerful questions can be. A carefully chosen question can often unlock a situation in a way that a simple statement just couldn’t. The right question can help someone to understand themselves better or lead them to a vital moment of realisation. Questions are powerful, and for those of us who get the privilege of preaching and teaching they can be particularly helpful.1 Here are three ways that I have found questions to be helpful.

A hook question

How can you grab the attention of your listeners? I’m sure that’s something we all wrestle with. Those first few moments of speaking are so important. We all want to know how best to use them. How can we draw people in so that they want to listen to what we’ve got to say?

Because let’s be honest, we can never take for granted that everyone in the room (or watching the livestream) comes with the assumption that what we’re going to say will be worth listening to, and so one of our first priorities has to be helping people see why they should want to listen to us. To achieve that, I’ll often use a hook question.

A hook question both hooks people in and gives something on which to hang the rest of what will be said. Ideally, the answer to the hook question will be the main point of the sermon or talk. That means, if you can get people to understand your hook question, they’re already part of the way to understanding your key message.

To make the best use of a hook question, we want not only to help people understand the question but also to understand why they should care about answering it. Sometimes this is easy – for example, sometimes you can pick a question that many people will already be asking. Showing that what you’re going to say connects with what people are already interested in is a great way of drawing them in. Sometimes you have to do a little more work to show people why it is a question they should care about. If this goes well, you’ve ‘hooked’ your listeners and got them interested and you’ve got something you can often use to hold the rest of your message together.

Structure and Scripture questions

That’s great to get us going, but how do we keep people engaged as we move further through our talk or preach? Here too, questions can be helpful.

The three-point structure is a classic, and for good reason. But throwing three – or more – separate points at people, isn’t always the most effective way of communicating. Better, is a series of three interlinked points. It’s like a journey ­– you want to take people by the hand through the hook question and then guide them from there through your main points all the way to your conclusion.

And one of the best ways of interlinking your points is to use questions. One point begs a question which you can highlight as you bring that point to a close and then use to introduce the next point, and so on. If our points are a progression that unfolds naturally, they’ll be easier to follow and we’re more likely to keep the understanding and attention of those listening.

And these structure questions can often also be Scripture questions. Asking questions of the biblical text is one of the best ways to wrestle with it in order to understand its message. These questions can sometimes be a good way of structuring what we’re saying. And this has the added bonus that we’re also showing people how to read the Bible well.

Response questions

All this is helpful, but it still leaves things open-ended. How can we end our preaches and talks well? How can we help people to put into practice what we’ve said?

If you’ve got this far, you won’t be surprised by my answer: questions are also a great way to end a sermon or talk. As preachers and teachers, we’re not just trying to communicate information; we’re trying to encourage a response. We could just tell people what their response should be, but it’s far better to help people to think about it themselves.

Posing questions about how listeners are going to respond gets them involved before you’ve even finished talking. Hearing someone else tell you how to respond is easy; it requires nothing from you. Thinking about what your personal response will be, engaging with some helpful questions from the speaker, requires some involvement, some buy-in. It actually starts the process of responding right there are then before you’ve even finished speaking. Encouraging people to think about their answers and to settle on their response before they even leave helps them to go on and put that response into action.

So, how could questions help you? What type of question’s can you employ when you are preaching or teaching? You may find there’s some real power in them.


The Barnabas Files

“If you ask me how you may shorten your sermons, I should say, study them better.  Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit.  We are generally longest when we have the least to say.  A man with a great deal of well-prepared matter will probably not exceed forty minutes; when he has less to say he will go on for fifty minutes, and when he has absolutely nothing he will need an hour to say it in.  Attend to these minor things and they will help retain attention.”
Charles Spurgeon
Lectures to My Students
Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2008   p156

Find hundreds more quotes to encourage expositors at The Barnabas Files