Monday, June 28, 2010

Effective Preaching in 2010

In a week or so I am leading a workshop at a conference on the title of this post. As I think in preparation I am interested in what effective means; and what it means to tackle this topic in 2010.

I am going to be thinking about effective preaching being preaching which contributes to transformation such as conversion, growing in knowledge of God, deepening confidence in God, making changes in life, and .. anything else you would care to help me with? Thanks.

On 2010, I am going to be thinking about what preaching means in this year. That it is still important (effective preaching is leading to changed lives, and changed churches) but some things are changing such as inserting video material to illustrate a point, or encouraging interaction with the congregation.

But this kind of thinking raises some questions about why we can expect preaching to be effective ... because it involves speaking God's words into people's lives and because ... well, again, any suggestions welcomed!

Actually, back to 2010: I think I will also be thinking about length of sermons and content of sermons. Things might be a bit different today than in 1990.

If you are coming to the workshop, let me assure you that it will not just be a sharing of my thoughts. Together we will think about the topic, and with each other we will share learnings from our preaching experiences.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A simple form of worship which has stood the test of time

"On Sunday all of us gather from far and near. We read from the scriptures and from the writings of the apostles for as long as possible. Then the one presiding at the service speaks to us, urging everyone to live up to what we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray. At the conclusion of our prayers, we greet one another with a sign of peace. Then bread and wine mixed with some water are brought forward. The one presiding offers a long prayer giving thanks. Everyone loudly responding “Amen” concludes this. The eucharist is distributed, and everyone present receives communion. Then deacons take communion to those who are absent.

Those who can afford to contribute financially decide how much to give, and the money is used for orphans, widows, those in distress, the sick, those in prison, or away from home, and all those in need."

For the source of this form of worship and thus some sense if its antiquity, go to Bosco Peter's post on it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


The great English novelist E. M. Forster once wrote, 'Only connect.' It is a succinct description of preaching and worship leading. Only connect. Connect with your audience - your congregation. Seems simple, but quite difficult. How does one connect with children and adults, with teenagers and grandparents, with twenty something childless couples and with fifty something children-gone couples?

In my view quite a few things make the connection, and determine whether it is a quality connection or not. Content. Conviction. Tone and volume of voice. Emphases. Humour. Timely shutting up. Pauses. But perhaps primary is our own connection with God. (How do we make a quality connection with the Unseen Presence at every service?).

Pretty much everything in the above paragraph can be 'worked on'. Improvement possible with training and with experience-from-which-we-learn-in-an-action-reflection-process. But there is another factor in making quality connection. If sticking with 'c' words then it is 'charisma'. We might also call it the 'x' factor, the factor in this context which means that we feel 'xtra' good about the way she or he leads a service or preaches a sermon compared to another leader or preacher.

Can we find the 'x' factor for ourselves if we do not already have it?

I am certainly open to arguments and evidences one way or another, but I think we can find it: seek it from God as a gift; ask God to work on things in our lives which are militating against it (such as, just one example, our insecurities); look for it to grow in us through experience; discipline ourselves to cut out what inhibits the x factor (e.g. self-put downs - a custom Kiwis acquire culturally?).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Do what you do do well

I am a great believer in doing things excellently when leading worship and preaching sermons. Excellently, at the least, means 'to the best of our ability'. Better is when it means what it says, 'excellently, to the highest standard'.

But often that is not possible: most of us have our limitations as preachers, pray-ers, pianists, singers, leaders of worship, readers, and so on.

And our facilities may have limitations in respect of being warm on a frosty day, or having excellent acoustics, or being a space suited to the expectations of a particular form of worship.

So, let's imagine we are doing everything as well as possible, utilizing resources and gifts to the best of our ability.

But here is a question: amidst our limitations, is there one thing we can do superbly, to the highest standard in the land?

We might be blessed, for instance, with a group of outstanding musicians, or have a couple of speech teachers who love to read Scripture, or an ex-national ballet company dancer who can choreograph liturgical dance. Let's maximise such talent!

Yesterday I came across an instance of outstanding ministry (amidst some very good quality aspects of the worship service): the best church morning tea I have ever been to in my life!!

Yum. :)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Preaching Great Long Sermons

People who know me know that I have a bit of a 'thing' about long sermons! The thing is this: there is a general view within evangelical Anglican circles that long sermons are good ('sermonettes make Christianettes'), but in my experience few preachers are able to preach excellent long sermons, by which I mean sermons that throughout their length sustain interest in the content, and sustain an argument or arguments that engage the hearts of hearers. Better to preach an excellent short sermon than a boring long sermon, I say.

What is a long sermon chronologically speaking? I suggest 1-10 minutes is a short sermon, 11-20 minutes is a standard length sermon, 21-25 minutes is open to description, and 26 minutes or more is a long sermon!

It would be remiss of me not to make some suggestions as to how to preach a great long sermon. My 'thing' about long sermons has never been that they should not be preached; it has been that few preachers seem capable of preaching them well. So, what can we say? The following list of suggestions is not intended to be exhaustive.

(1) Expound a passage of Scripture rather than a topic or theme.

(2) Have three main headings and, if possible, subsume those three main headings into one memorable theme.

(3) Tell stories at appropriate points during the sermon, not only to illustrate the points you are making, but also to sustain interest and engagement with what you are saying.

(4) Marry your exposition of Scripture with commentary on daily life. In a word, be 'relevant'. Make daily life in Palestine, or Paul's concerns about Corinth, or Isaiah's preaching about Jerusalem connect to the daily lives of your hearers.

(5) Use some techniques to reinforce your message or messages. To give one instance, as you introduce point 3 you might restate points 1 and 2. In your prayer at the close of the sermon you might sum up the message.

(6) Be self-critical in your preparation. Revise and re-revise. It is very important to preach one sermon, not two or three. You will undermine the advantages of a long sermon if your 25+ minutes consists of a great 15 minute sermon and 10+ minutes of padding. (And, if that is the assessment of what you have got in your draft, it might be fruitful to preach a great 15 minute sermon rather than spend more time changing the 10+minutes of padding.

(7) Think about your audience and what works with them. It may work for you to spend 5-10 minutes working your way up to your main message, but it can be terribly distracting for your hearers (indicated, in all likelihood, by their restlessness and inattention through this period). Your opening joke may help settle your nerves, it may be enjoyed by the hearers, but what does it achieve?

(8) (also 1!!) Pray.