What This Little-Known Social Theory Has to Do with Your Sermons

By Jeffrey Arthurs, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.

Remember ERP: Estimated Relationship Potential. This is a social science theory from the field of interpersonal communication which demonstrates that when we meet someone we quickly form an estimate of the potential for a relationship. We start to calculate: What kind of relationship is possible here? What will the nature of our relationship be? Will it be a romantic relationship? Will it be an authoritative relationship? Maybe I want to avoid this person. [Read more…]

5 Things We Wish We’d Done in Seminary

seminary

A couple years ago, we asked some of our team members who attended seminary to share some of their experiences—what is the one piece of advice each one would want to leave for current seminarians. I hope the reflections are helpful to you. Many of them mention our book on this topic, Surviving and Thriving in Seminary.  [Read more…]

Preaching? Drain the Liquid Before You Give It to Others

Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

By Jeffrey Arthurs, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.

In an issue of Leadership journal, Lee Eclov tells the story of a researcher named Hillary Koprowski, who was a leader in the search for the polio vaccine in the 1940s. Koprowski and his team had done animal tests successfully, and the next step involved a powerful but unwritten rule of scientific research: Before testing an oral vaccine on other humans, the researcher must try it himself. 

So late one winter afternoon in 1948, he and his assistant whipped up a polio cocktail and the two men drank from small glass beakers. They tilted their heads back and drained the liquid fully. They agreed it tasted like cod-liver oil. The assistant said, “Have another?”

“Better not,” Koprowski said, “I’m driving.”

Lee Eclov says that every preacher has to take the same gutsy step. We have no right to give other people our “holy vaccine” until we’ve drained the liquid ourselves. And sometimes it does taste like cod-liver oil.

As preachers we must drain the liquid. Preach to yourself before you preach to others. Ask yourself, “Am I living the life I’m recommending to others?” “Authenticity” is one of the god-terms of our culture—and rightly so. Of the members of the old rhetorical trio of ethos, pathos, and logos, Aristotle said that ethos is number one. Your character, trustworthiness, experience, and sincerity—your ethos—are the most persuasive tools you possess. 

So this week and every week when you’re doing your sermon preparation, remember to drain the liquid yourself.

***

This post is adapted from “Drain the liquid” by Jeffrey Arthurs in Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry, edited by Scott M. Gibson (Lexham Press, 2016).

 

Why Haddon Robinson Says Less Is More in Preaching

By Haddon Robinson, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.

There is an old story that preachers tell: A man came to church one Sunday and the only person who was there, besides himself, was the preacher. The preacher was hesitant to preach his sermon to one man sitting in the front row, but the man said, “Look, I came to church and I expect that you preach. I need to be fed.” So the preacher got up and preached his sermon and he got caught up in the moment.  [Read more…]

The Disease of Modern Preaching That Will Kill Its Power

By Scott M. Gibson, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.

Charles Gore, formerly bishop of Worcester, Birmingham, and finally Oxford, wrote more than a century ago, “The disease of modern preaching is its search after popularity.” [Read more…]

Pastor, Your Empathy Is Not Enough (and That’s a Good Thing)

By Harold Senkbeil, adapted from The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

Over the years I’ve developed, in good Lutheran fashion, ten theses on spiritual cure, the care of souls.  [Read more…]

Preach to One Person at a Time

By Matthew Kim, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.

Many of us are familiar with the passage in Luke 15. It’s the Parable of the Lost Sheep. It goes like this: [Read more…]

Sermon Preparation Is Twenty Hours of Prayer

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

By Matthew Kim, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.

It’s something that we all know in our minds. We’ve considered it. But it’s often difficult to put into practice. What am I talking about? 

Pastor R. Kent Hughes, who pastored College Church in Wheaton, IL, for some twenty-seven years, once had this to say about preaching: “Sermon preparation is twenty hours of prayer.” 

Twenty hours? What does he mean? How can we pray for twenty hours when we have so many things to do in ministry?

What Hughes means is that prayer is extremely valuable in sermon preparation. Prayer is indispensable. We need to pray, because we’re engaged in a spiritual battle. The moment we walk up into the pulpit we recognize that what we are doing is not something that just any communicator does. We’re preaching God’s Word. And the enemy doesn’t want us to. The enemy doesn’t want us to have power. He doesn’t want us to display God’s power through our sermon.

What we’re doing is bathing our sermon in prayer. How do we do that?

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It begins when we select a text. I know that there are moments in pastoral ministry where I just thought, What does the church need to hear? And so I would just simply go to a text or look for a text. But to have this attitude of sermon preparation being twenty hours of prayer means that from the moment I think about a given sermon, I’m given to prayer. I’m seeking God’s guidance. I ask, “God, what do you want me to learn from this particular passage? Which passage should I preach on?” 

As we’re going through the rigors of exegesis and determining what the author is talking about, I’m constantly prayerful. What does it mean to pray in such a way that we’re asking the Holy Spirit to guide us to understand the authorial intent of the passage? What does this mean for the people back in Bible times, and what does it mean for us today? Even in outlining or writing our manuscript, we’re constantly soaking our sermon in prayer. We’re praying through what it means to speak to people in such a way that God’s Word comes alive in their midst.

One of the ways we can do this practically speaking is praying through the church directory. Pray about your congregation’s needs and struggles. What is that family going through at this moment? What does it look like for this person who has lost her job to understand this particular passage? And as we do so, we slow down our preparation. We don’t just rush through it to get the sermon finished. We don’t just go through the exercise of exegesis. But we are prayerful about each moment of the sermon preparation process.

A few years ago I was standing on the curb. I remember it vividly. I was a candidate for a pastoral position at a church. One of the pastors on the church staff looked at me. But he didn’t just look at me. He gave me one of those up-and-down glances which made me feel uncomfortable. He inquired, “Matt, so how many hours do you pray each day?” I thought to myself, Hours? I think in minutes. But what he was really getting at is, “Do you have a deep and profound relationship with the Lord?” D. L. Moody was known to say, “He who kneels the most, stands the best.” That’s what R. Kent Hughes may have in view when he wisely encourages: Sermon preparation is twenty hours of prayer.

This post is adapted from “Sermon preparation is twenty hours of prayer,” by Matthew Kim in Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry, edited by Scott M. Gibson (Lexham Press, 2016).

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Preachers, Mobilize Your Language and Send It Into Battle

By Jeffrey Arthurs

It was said of Winston Churchill that “he mobilized the English language, and sent it into battle.” I exhort you, send your best words into battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Send language forth like soldiers massing for the charge, cutting the wire, and storming the stronghold. [Read more…]