On the Biblical Preaching blog, the author is currently in a series about the different listeners in our sermons. Who is listening? There is the community of faith, not yet believers, angels, demons, and God. The preacher must be mindful of all of these ears when preaching. If not, then we will have a truncated message that only addresses a part.
There are sermonic methodologies that only address preaching to believers. Other’s spend the lion-share of their time addressing the not yet believers. Some address those who they do not ever expect to be believers. Then there are a few who openly preach for and to the spirit realm. But to preach fully, we preach to and for all who hear.
This is another one of the most popular questions. Whenever I have a seminar or receive questions through the mail, someone asks, “How do I know my sermon is ready for preaching.”
This is a very important question, but often our own misunderstandings of what “ready to preach” means can cause issues. For example, “Ready to preach” does not mean that the sermon can not be made better with more thought, study, and prayer.
Perhaps the most effective thing a preacher can do to strengthen the connection between the congregation and the scripture is to interpret the Bible with your senses. Here you use all of your senses when you seek to understand the scripture. Yes I mean touch, sight, taste, smell, and hear.
For example, let us assume that you are exegeting the story of the prodigal son for preaching. Exegesis is not done when you complete a historical, theological, and literary exegesis of the tex. You need to now walk up to the prodigal son on his way to the far away country in the story. Look at his face. What do you see? Do you see excitement? Do you see hope? Do you see desire? What do you see on the road? Do you see the one lane highway turning into a thoroughfare? Do you see the lights of the city at night and the skyline of the day? What do you smell? In my imagination I smell new cologne. I smell the new clothes that he has spent some of his money on. What do you hear? Do you hear the sounds of the city getting louder on the way to the city?
Now let’s turn it around to the road back home. What do you see? What do you see on the face of the son? Do you see desperation? Do you see a man wondering if he will be accepted? Do you see fear? How does his face look compared to how it looked on the way there? What do you smell? Now you may smell the young man. Instead of cologne perhaps you smell the perspiration that comes form weeks of hard labor without a bath.
Now explicitly connect what you have learned to the people in your sermon. When you do this, you are now in a position to understand and identify with the young man on a level that you could not before doing this analysis. Now you will be able to help the people understand the the son better. And if they understand the son better then they can appropriate the lessons better. You can then preach this story on a deeper level than you might have before. Now you are ready to put your sermon together with the added insight of human experience. It will provide examples, illustrations, and other important components to your sermons.
Exegesis is simply a close reading of the scripture so that you can extract the meaning from the text. Before you can preach a text you must understand the text. You can look in a number of places for instructions on how to do a proper exegesis of a text.
One thing that may not be in those methods is what I call a “stylistic exegesis.” Here you need to look at the text…is there any style in the text? How is the text presented? Is there style in the presentation?
What is the word choice of the author and how does this affect our understanding of the text. What images did the author chose to use and how does that affect our understanding? Often you can see style in the text of the Bible.
Look at the Psalms. That is style. They are songs and poems. When you preach a text with style in it, don’t remove all the style that is already resident in the text. Don’t dissect the style out of the text. Don’t dispose of the style while you are exegeting the text. Don’t turn it into dry facts and then try to inject style back into a style-less sermonic manuscript in the preaching moment.
If the Bible says: “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.” Don’t turn this into a historical lesson about shepherds and then attempt to get the people back at the end by whooping. No! Leave it as style. What does the “Lord is my Shepherd” mean? For what purpose does calling The Lord my Shepherd serve? In a stylistic exegesis you start to think about what that picture means. Maybe you might say, the Lord is the roof on the house? Here we took an image and we replaced that image with a modern image. Is it good enough? Maybe, maybe not. But it is our purpose to attempt to re-image the text into our images. I personally don’t think this, so we would continue looking. Well maybe Jesus is my football coach…is that a good image in the context of your sermon? I am not sure…but this lets you know about how you can re-image a text using this stylistic exegesis.
You can do the same thing with the poetry of the Bible or the songs of the Bible. You can even do it with the stories of the Bible. Can you retell a story? This is the way to think when you are attempting a stylistic exegesis.
Now certainly you will need to do some traditional exegesis. You need to closely look at the text using whatever methodology you use, but what I am hoping you will do is also attempt a stylistic exegesis that helps to retain the style that is already in the text.
Sometimes folks ask how can they celebrate a particular text and the text has the celebration right in it! We will talk more about this in the exegesis portion of the course, but for right now, think about a stylistic exegesis of the text.
Often preachers can make it seem as though the Bible is irrelevant for contemporary needs and society. Part of the problem is that we don’t truly allow the Bible to speak to us. We either change the question that those of today are asking and and then quickly come in with an answer from the Bible, or we give the answer from the Bible to a question that no one is asking.
In both instances the Bible is left at arms length from the people. But is there a way to let an ancient book speak to the needs of contemporary people? I think there is, but it is not terribly easy. It requires work on the part of the preacher. We must dig down deep into both the text and contemporary society. While I cannot tell you exactly what to do in this short article, I can point you in the correct direction. If you want to find out about a full preaching course, you can access the information at http://www.superchargeyoursermons.com.
The first thing that one must do if one is to make the ancient book applicable to contemporary society is to UNDERSTAND the book and the society. Too often we come to the text with a superficial understanding of either the Bible or society and thus come up with superficial answers. Part of the reason for the proliferation of the prosperity Gospel and other pop-gospels is a superficial reading of scripture. We don’t’ really understand the scripture before we start applying it to society and we mess things up.
Another problem however is when we don’t really understand the culture we are trying to address. We have all seen the 50 year old conservative preacher attempting to connect to the youth by using their jargon and putting on their clothes only to find out that they are only a superficial understanding of the youth. Instead of attempting to use their jargon why not tap into your own insecurities that you had when you were young. While the jargon has changed, understanding your motives and desires and difficulties from your own youth will help you to connect to them on a deeper level.
The next thing that we must do if we are to address the contemporary world is to EXPERIENCE the Bible world and the present world. I have said that you need to take a walk in the Bible world. Understand it in your senses and your emotions. Look around and smell and feel what is going on in the text. Now it is time to go to your people and do the same thing. How does Sister Betty feel about the cancer diagnoses? What are the emotions that would be going on in your mind? What about Brother Lance who just lost his job and wonders about putting food on the table for his 2 year old Baby. And how about the feelings that are going through the mind of Mother Alice who has lost her husband of 40 years. One of the most powerful ways to make a text relevant is to show that these basic feelings and pains and hurts that we feel today were not only operative, but were addressed by the Book.
So understand and experience both the text and today’s world and you will be in a position to connect the text to your people in profound and powerful ways.