Monday, December 5, 2016

Why is Preaching Harder Than It Used to Be?

The ability to preach a meaningful sermon has always been important for a minister. Many pastors feel that preaching great sermons has gotten harder than it used to be. While there may be many reasons why preaching has gotten harder, technology is driving many of those shifts in preaching.

1.Technology makes preaching harder because it allows us to listen to excellent preachers from around the world.

In the past we mostly only heard sermons from our local minister. Perhaps once or twice a year a guest speaker might come through and lead a series of meetings. Perhaps once or twice a year the pastor would allow a young “preacher boy” to fill the pulpit. But for the most part, we only heard sermons from our local pastor. Since that was what we were used to, we accepted whatever his style of preaching was as the “normal” or “right” way of preaching. But now technology allows us to listen to excellent preachers from all over the world. We can listen to them on podcasts, watch them on TV or live stream them on the Internet. This allows us to watch the best orators from all around the world. While this can be helpful to our spiritual walk, it can also make us more critical of our local pastor than we should be. Local pastors are feeling pressure to preach like all the celebrity pastors. But for many, that is an unrealistic pressure. There are only so many David Platts, Andy Stanleys and John Pipers in the world. Expecting our local pastor to preach like them is unfair. It puts far more strain on him than it did on previous generations of preachers. Though we should enjoy all the great preaching that technology allows us access to, we should strive to prepare our hearts to receive something from the sermon in our local church no matter the oratory skills of our local minister.

2. Technology makes preaching harder because it allows us to fact check sermons instantaneously.

Though pastors should strive to be as accurate as possible in their sermon preparation, no one is perfect. Every pastor will eventually misquote a statistic, refer to the incorrect tense of a Greek or Hebrew word, or get the details of some illustration from popular culture wrong. In the past, we might have thought something the preacher said was a bit off, but with no way to verify it until later, we normally let it slide. If we did remember to check the details later and learned the pastor was slightly off, we often still benefited from everything else he said in the sermon regardless of some minor mistake he may have made. Today our smart phones allow us to instantly fact check pastors’ sermons. And if we find that he has messed up some minor detail, we often become so focused on that small error that we are unable to hear the rest of what he is saying. Our immediate use of technology often leads to us discounting the truth of the rest of the sermon over a minor point that really is non-essential to what he was trying to say. This is unfair to the minister. Imagine if a room full of people were fact checking everything you or I said in real time? That is a lot of pressure to put on a minister, or anyone else for that matter. That does not mean that pastors should be sloppy in their research, but it does mean that congregations should not hold them up to some standard that is impossible for anyone to achieve. Let’s refrain from using our smart phones to fact check the pastor during the sermon so that we do not miss the point of what he is trying to say in the rest of the sermon.

3. Technology makes preaching harder because it gives pastors access to other people’s sermons.

At first glance, this might sound like an advantage. And indeed, when done correctly, listening to, or researching, someone else’s sermons can be a helpful part of sermon preparation. However, it also increases the temptation for a pastor to just preach a sermon someone else created. Seldom does that work as well as a sermon that a pastor has embedded deep in his spirit through prayerful mediation and study. Conscientious pastors may use someone else’s sermon for ideas, outlines and research but will not try to pass those sermons off as their own. They may incorporate some portion of someone else’s sermon and give credit where credit is due, but the heart of their sermons will be of their own making. But technology allows pastors who are less than conscientious pretend to be more prepared than they are. Most people see through the ruse and the result is that even when the content is great, the credibility of the pastor is in question, thereby producing a sermon with less impact than it should. When we suspect that our pastor is using someone else’s sermons, we should pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal to our pastor the dangers of that approach. We might also ask our pastor for a copy of his notes from time to time, not in an effort to catch him doing wrong, but in an effort to enhance our own learning experience. By doing that we also help our pastor remain accountable for having notes that came from his own study and were not just downloaded from some website.

4. Technology makes preaching harder because we have become a very visual culture.

As a culture, we have gotten used to graphics, videos, and other digital media to help us learn. Many pastors lack the skills, or the time, to incorporate these technological items into sermons on a regular basis. This is especially true for bivocational pastors, who have very limited preparation time. While it is hoped that pastors will try to learn these skills and squeeze the time in, the reality is that many pastors will not be able to take advantage of all the technologies available for the visual presentation of their content. We should train our hearts and minds to focus on the content of what our pastor is saying instead of judging him for his lack of graphic design abilities.

Technology is changing how we communicate, including how sermons are prepared and preached. Some of those changes are great. Others are not as helpful. We must commit ourselves to making the best use of technology and avoiding the pitfalls of it.


-------------------

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Life Changing Gospel

I was 11 the first time I truly understood the gospel. It filled me with hope for the future. It was a hope that lifted my eyes off of the momentary troubles in my life and changed my perspective. It changed my perspective about my family, my community and my church. For me, the gospel was truly good news.

The gospel began to bear fruit almost immediately in my life. By the time I was 14 I knew I wanted to be in ministry. I preached my first sermon in the 8th grade and somehow covered the entire book of Revelation in less than 10 minutes. I look back on that first sermon with a humorous smile realizing that I’ve never understood that book as clearly as I thought I did that day! Those early days of my faith were a joyous time of learning, growing and discovering what the gospel could do in my life.

Do you remember the joy you felt when the truth of the gospel first came to you? Do you remember how it changed you? Do you remember the wonder and amazement you had when you learned something new in the Word or through prayer? Since you received the gospel, have you born fruit in keeping with the gospel that now dwells in you? Have we genuinely deepened in our faith or merely become pious?

Titus 3:3-4 reminds us that “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared” he saved us. That salvation was life altering, not only for us, but for those around us who were also impacted by our understanding of the gospel. The gospel changes people and it is a change worth experiencing.

Yet billions of people around the world have yet to hear the truth of the gospel. Millions right here in America only know a cultural gospel that is really no gospel at all. Those of us who are born again Christians can be part of changing that reality. We can rise up as a people of God and put aside our racial differences, our political differences, our stylistic differences and share the gospel with those around us. We can pray, give and volunteer through our churches, through the organizations like the Baptist Convention of New England, Samaritan's Purse, the Salvation Army and the SBC International Mission Board. In doing so, we can help those who have yet to hear the gospel for the first time experience the same mercy and grace that we did when we first believed. Are we willing to do it?

-----------------------------


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Black Friday Commitment - Guest Post by Phil Wilkes

Here is something I want Christians to think about. Last weekend millions of people collected all the sales flyers and mapped out the stores they wanted to go to on Black Friday. They thought strategically about what order they would go to those stores. They may have clipped some coupons and then downloaded other coupons on their phones. They stood in line for hours, showing up before the store even opened.  Once the doors opened they pushed and shoved their way through to get what they wanted. Many charged what they purchased on credit cards and will be paying for it well into 2017 or beyond. All this preparing for the sales, standing outside in cold weather for hours, buying things most could not afford was all for the sole purpose of accumulating material possessions that for the most part will be broken, forgotten or replaced in a matter of weeks or months. None it it will last a lifetime and none of it will impact eternity.   

What would happen if Christians displayed that same fervency as we prepared for church each week?  What if we prayed for the service all week? We could use the weekly prayer guide or the previous week's bulletin to pray for people and their requests. What if we went to bed early so we could get a good nights sleep so we could get up early and spend time praying for the the service? What if we determined the weather would never be an obstacle to our attending worship? What if we joyfully brought our tithe to church to support God's work? Imagine what church would be like!

Imagine. Dream. Pray. Talk about it with others. Then determine to make it happen! We control our level of commitment to the Lord. Surely we can be as committed to Him and His church as we are to Black Friday shopping.

--------------
Rev. Phil Wilkes is the pastor of New Colony Baptist Church, Billerica, MA, and a member of the Board of Directors for the Baptist Convention of New England.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Six Key Elements of Powerful Sermons

In my role as a denominational administrator I get to hear a lot of sermons from a lot of different pastors. Some sermons are powerful, even life changing. Other sermons …. ah …. well …. to be honest, lack a little on the potency side. While I prefer some delivery styles over others, I try hard to look beyond stylistic differences, instead seeking what really makes some sermons more powerful than others. Over the years I have observed six elements that seem to make sermons stronger.

1.    Remember it is a sermon not a seminary paper.
Far too many sermons I’ve heard were basically running commentaries of everything the pastor had read about the verses he was preaching on. While study is important, the congregation does not need to hear five quotes from five theologians on each verse in the text. Sermons should give enough background to set the context but the focus should be on what the Word actually says, not on what a bunch of scholars 500 years ago think it said. Save that stuff for seminary papers and just give the congregation the Word.

2.    Make sure your illustrations actually make the point.
Jesus often used illustrations in His sermons and we should too. Illustrations help the audience connect the Word with real life. But we need to make sure our illustrations actually reinforce the point we are trying to make. Too often preachers tell interesting stories, or share funny jokes, but the listeners are confused about how it connects to the text. While this might be entertaining, it distracts from the Word instead of enhancing the Word.

3.    Keep the length of the text reasonable
I am not a fan of “sermonettes” that sound more like feel good devotional thoughts than meaty sermons one can wrestle with all week long. But I am also not a fan of sermons that are so long that no reasonable person can remain focused on what is being taught. On more than one occasion I’ve sat through verse by verse style sermons that covered an entire chapter of the Bible. A verse by verse exposition of 25-30 verses is just too much for one sermon. In most situations, 4-7 verses are all people can handle at a time. Honestly, it is all most preachers can handle well in one setting. Instead of preaching on a whole chapter at once, break those 30 verses up and make it a series. Congregations will be able to understand and apply the Word more effectively if preachers refrain from dropping the whole truckload at one time.

4.    Make your main point early.
I once listened to a young energetic pastor preach for 42 minutes (yes, I timed him!) before he made his first point. He gave us a lot of context, read a lot of quotes from people about what the passage meant, told a couple of stories of things that had happened to him that week, which I am still trying to figure out how they related to the text, and prayed a long pastoral prayer over the scripture that seemed more poetic than spiritual. By the time he made his first point, 42 minutes into the sermon, my mind had already checked out. Get to the point quickly, then reinforce your point with the rest of the text, tell us what to do with your point, wrap up your point, give us a chance to consider the personal implications of your point and then sit down.
                                                          
5.    Occasionally use a short sermon.
As I stated in point three, I am not really a fan of sermonettes. But if the best part of your sermon is the first ten minutes, or the last ten minutes, perhaps that is all you should have preached. If what you really need to say about a text produces a shorter than normal sermon, go for it! Sometimes I feel like a pastor had one good thing to say but didn’t think that was long enough so he added a lot of filler to make himself feel better. Trust me, the filler might have made the pastor feel better but it did not make the sermon better. In fact, it probably made it weaker. People can tell filler when they hear it. Though a steady stream of ten minute sermons may not be appropriate, having one every so often because that is all that is required can be more powerful than we think. My Christmas Eve sermons rarely lasted longer than 10-12 minutes because I knew that the vast majority of the people already knew the context and details, after all, it was the same story every year. I would try to focus on one aspect of the story that would make some fresh point people might not have considered before. People always seemed moved by them and not once did anyone complain that the sermon was too short.

6.    Make sure your preaching is genuinely gospel centered.
The current buzzword in the church growth universe is “gospel centered.” We hear all about gospel centered churches, gospel centered missions, gospel centered discipleship and gospel centered sermons. Though different people define that term in different ways, it must be in our church literature if we want to be part of the cool crowd. Sadly, many preachers who claim to preach gospel centered sermons are not living up to their claim. Preaching for 40 minutes about some other topic and then taking 90 seconds at the end of the sermon to mention Jesus is not being gospel centered. If we want to call ourselves gospel centered, then the gospel must be woven through the entire sermon. That does not mean we use the word “gospel” frequently during the sermon, it means we weave the redemptive message of Christ through the entire sermon. It means we offer the hope of reconciliation with a holy God throughout the sermon. The gospel should not just be a “tag on” to the end of our sermons. It must be the central element of our preaching.


While I am sure there are many other elements of powerful preaching, keeping these six ideas in mind is a great start.

--------------------------


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at: