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/