A Bible Scholar’s Guide to Preaching: First Things

Dare I try to talk about the art of preaching when I am not a full-time preacher? I wondered about this before deciding to start a blog series on preaching. Perhaps it does seem a bit audacious. But what else are blogs for? My hope is simply to talk about my approach to preaching, and offer some tips on resources from a Bible scholar.

Also, I have been preaching at area churches more and more as I settle down in Portland and connect with local pastors. And—my students tell me my lectures are “preachy” (that’s a compliment, right?).

Before diving into the what’s and how’s in later posts, we should begin with important first things.

What is preaching?

When we look at the New Testament, “preaching” is all about publicly announcing and communicating to others the good news of Jesus Christ. Preaching isn’t about teaching doctrine per se, nor about Bible study per se. It is “gospel-ing”—an announcement that expects a response with one’s words, heart, and life (see Acts 10:42).

For me, there are two fundamentals required for preaching to take place:

  • Scripture-centered communication (that’s why I recommend using a lectionary).
  • Jesus-centered communication (this does not preclude the Holy Spirit, but the preacher prays for and invites the Holy Spirit to point to Jesus and change lives).

The Attitude and Mindset of the Preacher

Sometimes we just ease into a habit of weekly preaching and we might lose sight of why we preach. Is it to relay information? It is more than that. Is it to entertain? No. Is it to teach life skills? No. Is it to help people with self-actualization? No. Some of these things might happen in a sermon, but they are not the core.

I find Paul’s words here evocative as they capture the heart of preaching (even if Paul wasn’t necessarily thinking about sermons):

Let the Word of Christ dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col 3:16, NET)

Preaching is about inviting Christ to dwell within the people of God and do His ministry there, and Christians do this through preaching/teaching, singing, and prayer (among other things). Preaching is not about lessons and information, it is ultimately about Jesus present among His people to bless, challenge, and transform (I got this from Bonhoeffer, by the way).

This point is very important, because I hear a lot of sermons that are either overly explanatory (e.g., a Bible commentary), or political (“like these ideas, and hate these other ideas”), or vapidly non-religious (“this is how to become a better leader in twelve easy steps”). Preaching is about Jesus

Now, when you preach from the OT, it can be a bit trickier, and we don’t just want to slap Jesus onto the end of every OT sermon. Conceptually, though, every sermon (OT or NT) should be given from a Christian perspective about what the Triune God has done, is doing, and will do in the world. Put another way, a good OT sermon should still inspire people to turn to Jesus (even if Jesus is not explicitly talked about in the sermon).

That’s my take on the concept of preaching, what do you think? Leave a comment.

Nijay Gupta is Associate Professor of New Testament at Portland Seminary, George Fox University. This post was originally published on his blog, Crux Sola: https://cruxsolablog.com/2019/02/06/a-bible-scholars-guide-to-preaching-first-things/

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  • Thank you for this! As a Christian for 30+ years, I find myself more drawn to teaching rather than preaching because I only associated the need for preaching to new believers because they need the “Spiritual Milk”.

    Can you advise how a mature Christian who always hungers for deeper things can still learn from preaching (given the examples you provide above)? The only reason I can think of is to maintain an emotional connection with the Gospel which can get lost in the finer details of Theology.


    • Thanks, Brian. I guess it does depend on the preacher. But my take on preaching is that the goal is not necessarily emotional, but about the call to turn to Christ. We ought to do that every week (even every day).

      But sermons are just one thing in our life. We can also dig into good Bible studies, commentaries, books that nurture growth, etc.

      There IS something to say about marveling at the beauty of the gospel each and every week.

      You might guess I hear a lot of sermons and it can get “boring.” But one thing I do sometimes is pray for the pastor while they are preaching and I look around the room and pray that people’s hearts are inclined to turn to Jesus. Cheers

  • Nijay,

    I agree with you up to a certain point. The sermon should always “reflect” Christ by pointing to Him and HIs redemptive work in the life of every Christian. But I also think that there is much more to it than that. After thirty eight years as a pastor (and chaplain), I am tempted to say that the sermon is a reflection of Jesus intertwined in our lives as we try to tell others not only who He is, but what He has done for us as well. It is not enough to say, “Thus saith the Lord,” if that doesn’t touch the life of the fellow sitting three rows back on the left, who just went through a divorce after living and loving his wife of twenty years, nor does it do any good for the young lady (who trusted a young man) but is now left to raise a child alone sitting to your right.

    The gospel message must touch their lives and tell them that God is a God of second chances, as well as a God who loves them, and is willing to heal their hurts if they will only “come to Him.” The “oughts” and “shoulds” that I have heard too often while listening to other preachers makes me want to scream, “Where is Jesus in all this?” Yes, they are absolutely correct in interpretation and translation, but void of any “Jesus love” in presentation. If we are God’s messengers, then we need to do two things. First, we must know our congregations and their needs. Two, we must study and present in such a way that we literally give them what God has given us.

    True, I have been accused of being too pragmatic in my preaching (sometimes). But knowing that the average church goer these days does not attend church on a regular basis nor do they really believe that they will get much out of our sermons anyway should remind us that what we do is very important, You may not be the Holy Spirit speaking to their hearts, but you can be the tool for which the Holy Spirit does the work.

    Oh and by the way. . . Most people are not going to take time out of their busy lives to attend Bible studies, or have quite times (as important as those things are) so their only touch with God might be the sermons we preach. Sad as that might sound, we may be the only touch of God they get this week. Thanks for allowing me to “preach.”

  • More or less I can see how Preachers really prepare for preaching. It’s not easy and they really have to understand the scriptures well and of course draw on inspiration to really provide good sermons. Our black Pastor Keion Henderson, https://www.keionhenderson.com/about-us/ has truly done so well in giving sermons!

Written by Nijay Gupta