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Key concepts in preaching

This article is from Dr. Dan Rogers who teaches a course in preaching at Grace Communion Seminary.

Dan Rogers

Why do people attend church? The reasons vary, but for many, the primary reason is to hear the Word of God. How is it that God’s Word is heard at church? Is it not through the Living Word, through the Spirit, through the Bible and, hopefully, through the preacher?

The preacher is called upon to preach and to be the mediator of “the very words of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). The congregants come hoping to hear words from God through the preacher that will somehow help them draw closer to God. They come to be edified, to be encouraged, and to find help with their hurts, trials, guilt, depression, or whatever their spiritual needs may be. What is required of the preacher is to preach accurately and faithfully the words of God, and to meet weekly the spiritual needs of the congregation in the sermon. How’s that for a challenge?

“Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea” by Tissot
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Preaching is a sacred responsibility and activity. It’s a complex activity involving body, mind and spirit. Those who take preaching seriously will always seek to improve. To help you do that, here are some key concepts to keep in mind:

1. Participate with the Holy Spirit

In the book of Acts we note the Holy Spirit is continually working in people’s lives ahead of the apostles and how they must hustle to keep up in order to participate in what the Spirit is doing (e.g., Acts 8:29-31; 16:14). In the same way, the Spirit is working in the congregation and the preacher must discern (spiritual disciplines are helpful) how the text to be preached can best be presented in order to participate with what the Holy Spirit is already doing in the lives of the members of the congregation. This can be viewed as exegeting the congregation as well as the text.

2. Preach Jesus

Whether your text (pericope) is in the Old Testament or the New, the lens through which it is to be understood is Jesus. Luke tells us that Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the prophets” explained to his disciples “the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27). It is helpful to consider how the pericope speaks to the question “Who is Jesus?”

3. Preach the gospel

Today, many preach the “good advice” rather than the Good News. Their sermons are about improving your marriage, rearing teens, being more successful in life, how to be a leader, how to improve your finances, etc. Such topics may be fine in a class or seminar, but the are NOT the gospel! The gospel is not self-help; it is not keys to success in terms of worldly wisdom; it is not instruction on how to do things. The gospel is not something we do—it’s something done for us, to which we are invited to respond. The gospel is the good news (and news is something to be announced) that through Jesus Christ we have been forgiven, redeemed and saved from alienation from God and each other.

4. Preach expository sermons

Expository sermons explain the meaning of a pericope. Using the Revised Common Lectionary is helpful in determining pericopes and when to preach them. It also leads the preacher to preach through the entire Bible rather than just selecting topics the preacher wants to talk about.

The opposite of an expository sermon is a topical sermon. In a topical sermon the preacher has an idea or subject in mind and then goes through the Bible to find texts that seem to back up that idea. This approach, known as “proof-texting,” leads to the preacher substituting their words for the words of God. All Scripture must be presented in its context in order to be properly understood. The preacher should use a process known as “exegesis” in seeking the meaning of a pericope. To exegete a pericope is to draw out carefully the exact meaning of a text in its original context; to determine the author’s intent and purpose; to determine how its original audience would have understood it; and based on that, how it applies to Christians today.

5. Preach with purpose

What’s the point? This is a question every preacher should ask themselves in preparing their sermon. If the preacher is not clear about the point of the sermon, how likely is it that the congregation will receive anything other than general information? A well-known authority on preaching, Haddon Robinson, calls it “The big idea.” What is the main and most important thing the congregation should get and respond to from the sermon? Whatever it is, the entire sermon should revolve around that.

6. Preach with passion

Will your sermon be memorable or easily forgotten? How much do you care about getting across the word of God to a congregation that really needs to hear it? How stirred are you about the word of God and its significance in the transformation of people’s lives? Passion is not just reflected in volume–a whisper or even silence can convey great passion. Passion can be a laugh or a tear. The word of God, being “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” is fully “able to judge the thoughts and intent of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). How can we speak such a word without intensity and passion? Our sermon conclusions, in particular, should be delivered passion and, frequently, include a call for response.

7. Remember that preaching is performance art

Preaching is spiritual and mental, but it’s also physical. Preaching is done by a physical person addressing a congregation of physical persons. It involves the voice and, in some ways, the entire body. In this sense, a preacher and a theatrical stage performer have much in common. The best exegesis and clearest Bible teaching will have far less impact on people if it is not delivered in a way that engages physical people. An effective preacher has a good voice and good stage presence, which includes body movements that enhance the reception of the message rather than distract from it. Thankfully, there are a number of good books and videos available on this topic. Also, critique from trusted colleagues can be of tremendous help.

One thought on “Key concepts in preaching”

  1. Great article, with succinct summaries of each point. This is good tool to copy and give out to all our speakers — thanks Dan!

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