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.[Read more…]
I read a book called Out of Context by Richard Schultz last semester for a seminary class. The author goes through common exegetical and interpretive mistakes in teaching the Bible, including those that famous preachers or authors have made, and equips the reader with ways to make sure he or she does not make the same mistakes. As I read about each of these kinds of fallacies, I wondered if something deeper than carelessness or ignorance might be the issue for some of us who take things out of context when teaching from the Bible.
One example is that the listeners generally eat it up when a teacher says, “In the Greek, this word means such and such,” assuming that what the teacher says must definitely be accurate. This can tempt us to do some acrobatics to make the Greek mean something it may not actually mean. For example, the teacher could pull out the lexicon and reduce the word to its elements and thereby conclude that he or she has deduced the “true” meaning of the word. The equivalent would be someone far in the future taking apart a current compound word or phrase like “cell phone” and explaining, “‘Cell’ could mean a room in a prison, a portable phone, or a blood cell, so when we really look deeply into the meaning of ‘cell phone,’ we see that it was the life-blood of Americans around the year 2000, and yet it imprisoned them in its cage of distraction and isolation, especially with the advent of the smartphone.”
That’s certainly a very interesting interpretation, and not entirely inaccurate in its implications, but when you or I say the word “cell phone” to each other, we are not in that moment thinking of all possible meanings of the word “cell”! In the same way, we often grasp at straws in an effort to read deep meanings into certain parts of the Bible.
The Word is an inexhaustible source of riches and deep meaning as it stands, but all too often, in our effort to extract something profound, we take words and concepts out of context. Maybe we are just tired, or we are running out of time before we have to present a lesson.
But as I read Schultz’s book, I kept asking myself, “Why else do we do this?” Besides time constraints when preparing to teach, why do we read things into the Word? Is what it plainly says not riches enough for us, not challenging enough for us? Have we been so fully aligned with the Lord, are we so completely obedient and living in the Spirit already, that we have to go into iffy allegory and analysis of seemingly insignificant details in Bible passages for the Word to have anything further to teach us?
I believe the temptation to take things out of context usually comes from a heart that is sincere, but which is trying to substitute human effort for the Holy Spirit. It comes when we rely on the words on a page to give us some deep meaning and revelation, rather than the Spirit who empowers those words, without Whom the words really don’t carry any power at all.
When we as ministers of the gospel are preparing to teach, preach, or write for the education and edification of other believers, we have to let the Spirit guide us in our preparation – not the expectations of others, not what we were “trying” to say or “wanted” to say. Sometimes we feel that we absolutely must teach about this part of Scripture or that, or make this point or that one, and in so doing we limit the Holy Spirit and fail to let Him empower the Word and speak to His people individually.
As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:1, “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.” He deliberately contrasts himself with some philosophers of the day who relied on human wisdom, effort, and analysis to grasp at higher truths, rather than the readily accessible revelation and power of the Higher Being.
I firmly believe that the simplest and most basic of biblical truths, communicated in the power of the Spirit and with His anointing and timing, will always be more powerful than the best of human wisdom that tries desperately to glean some elusive nugget that lies below the plain meaning of the text. Teach the basic truths of the Word with power, conviction, and with the guidance and presence of the Holy Spirit. When you are preparing to teach and find that you are coming up short, resist the temptation to read something into the text that really is not there, to take some little nuance or word and magnify it into more than what the writer clearly intended it to be. Delving into the original language, the history, the philosophy of the times – these are all wonderful things that can potentially help to further illuminate the Word rather than stretch or obscure it. When you find yourself pulling something out of the text other than the intended meaning of the passage, take a step back and ask yourself, “Is this being guided by the Holy Spirit, or is this my own human wisdom?”
We are hungry for the Spirit in our seminaries and churches today, and we all long to be guided by Him in our teaching. Using Scripture out of context, pulling unintended meanings out of the Word, is just one symptom of trying to use human effort to supply the meaning and power that only the Spirit can offer.
By Rebecca Dobyns. Becky graduated from the University of Texas and still loves the city of Austin in all its weird glory. Nevertheless, she currently finds herself keeping it relatively normal by studying at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, preparing for further cross-cultural ministry. She blogs about spiritual and physical wholeness at Wholly Redefined and Tweets about the adventures of abundant life with Jesus.
If you are like me, then the thought of preaching or even speaking in public has been a life-long fear. Maybe you feel called to attend seminary but are worried about the class called “Homiletics.” Maybe you’ve even said to yourself, “How can I get out of taking this class?” Well, the truth is, for most seminaries, Homiletics is a required course for the Masters of Divinity program. So if you are not an M.Div. student then you may be able to avoid the class but if you are, chances are you will have to take this class at some point. So let me give you some insider tips on how the class works and some words of wisdom on how to prepare for the class without driving yourself crazy.
How is the class structured?
For Denver Seminary, each student is required to give two sermons during the semester. Furthermore, each student is required to preach without any notes. They can have their Bibles with them, but the sermon itself must be given from the heart. This doesn’t mean you don’t craft a sermon because another requirement is to write an entire manuscript of your sermon (word for word) and hand it in to the teacher the day you are to preach.
Each sermon is videotaped and you are required to wait a few days then watch yourself preach. After watching the video, you have to write a summary of positive aspects about your delivery (content is important and is analyzed but this class focuses on delivery and technique) and then some areas where you can improve for the next sermon. In addition, while giving the sermon in class, each student is given a critique sheet where they analyze your delivery. The reality is, the most awkward aspect of this process is watching yourself preach on video. I remember the first time I had to watch a recording of me and I’ll be honest, it felt very strange. Yet the point is to objectively watch yourself and improve! The professor does give lectures for the first few weeks of class and teaches you how to craft a sermon and take an exegetical study and translate it into a “Big Idea,” which is the main thrust of your message. The sermons are very structured, which helps get over some of the anxiety.
Some Tips to Prepare for Preaching
1. Dealing with Anxiety – this is likely the most difficult aspect to overcome. The truth is, the anxiety never really goes away no matter how many times you preach. It does lessen over time and you do get used to it however it never really goes away. For me, I would have rather written a dozen papers and take multiple exams than preach. However, here is the interesting part, after preaching for the first time I found that I loved it! Sometimes, the areas where we struggle the most, are the areas where God is revealed the most. Though you may never feel totally comfortable with preaching and maybe it isn’t your calling, the goal is to give your anxiety up to God.
2. Practice – once you’ve done the research and crafted your sermon I suggest practicing it at least five times at home. Of these five times, use your notes to help you the first two times. Once you have done this, you’ll be surprised at how much of your sermon has actually spoken to your heart. Then, I suggest practicing at least three more times without your notes and video record yourself. Once you have completed this, WATCH the videos and get used to seeing yourself preach and find areas you can improve. This will greatly benefit you and you will actually see yourself improve each time you practice.
3. Let your heart be open while you preach – allow your sermon and the power and love of God to speak to you. I have even found myself welling up with tears as I practice because in reality, whenever you proclaim the truths of God, it is very powerful and life changing. Take your practice seriously as though you are delivering it to a large audience. Allow the truths of God, which you have discovered through your studies, to transform your heart. The best sermon is the one that affects the preacher more than anyone else.
4. Rest – lastly I recommend resting and doing something else the day before you preach. I recommend going on a walk, doing something fun with your family, or being alone with God. Allow yourself to rest! Personally, the times I did not rest the day before my sermon, made the day of my sermon unbearable. For me, I experienced the most anxiety the day before, which means this is a good time to rest and get my mind off myself. Your anxiety is a “you-focused” perspective. Take the focus off yourself and back to God. This is His message not yours!
By Joseph Siacunco. Joseph is a Masters of Divinity Student at Denver Seminary located in Littleton, CO. He currently works at Mission Hills Church in the Finance Department and is a Certified Public Accountant. He has worked in Accounting since 2004 but also serves at his church in other ways including teaching and preaching.
If you were to ask most seminarians what their calling is, they would probably respond with something like, “I am called to preach.” For most seminarians this is true; however, I have had some recent experiences that leads me to question what it means to be “called to preach.”
I am not saying this is inherently wrong, but I have discovered (and have been found guilty myself) that because most of us are “called to preach”, we fail to see the other opportunities for ministry that come available. For example, I have been in a two month interview process with a church regarding a children’s ministry. When I was first approached about this ministry, I thought “no way! I am called to preach. I am not called to baby sit.” However, as I had more and more opportunities to preach from the pulpit for churches looking for a pastor, I have realized that God wanted me to look more closely at the children’s ministry.
Something funny began to happen the closer I looked. For the first time since my first time in the pulpit, I began to feel a little uncomfortable preaching. Next, I discovered I had a heart for the children (especially in the particular neighborhood of the church) and wanted to reach out to them and their families for the gospel. As I began to pray more for the children’s ministry, God poured such a deep love into my heart that the children’s ministry began to consume my every thought. The next thing I knew, I turned down an opportunity to preach at a churchlooking for a pastor because “God was taking me in another direction” is what I told the man on the phone.
I wish I could say that I came to this understanding of ministry and seminary life during a quiet time or time of communion with God, but that would be lying. No, it took an off-hand comment by one of my wife’s girlfriend’s as we were leaving her houseafter dropping our children off for the evening so we could interview with the church for the children’s ministry. She told me that she and her husband had been looking all over the Louisville area for a children’s ministry to no avail (I know of a couple good ones, but they have only become a major focus of the church in recent months). She said everyone tells them that “they are called to preach” and that children’s ministrywould be like taking a step backward from their goals. (OK, that one kicked me right in the gut because thatwas my initial thoughtwhen I receieved the email about the position–I hadserved as youth pastor for a couple years aboutthree years ago.) I don’t know why, but it struck a chord in me that I did not know was there to be struck. Between her house and the church (10 minutes), I was moved deeply to seek after this position with a passion that I can only explain as a gift from God.
I guess what I am trying to say is that while you are attending seminary, do not put on the blinders of being called to preach. When I was ordained, I was ordained not to the preaching ministry, but the gospel ministry. The gospel should be what drives our motives behind all we do. Sure, you will get more glory in the pulpit, a demon I am sure we will all have to fight, but do not deprive yourself from blessings because you are only “called to preach.”