1. Prepare for good preaching, pray for GREAT preaching.
The difference between good preaching and bad preaching depends on the preacher’s preparation and skill. The difference between good preaching and great preaching depends on work of the Holy Spirit.
You can consistently deliver good sermons week in and week out, but unless God empowers the message it won’t be great. You must learn to, “do your best and trust God for the rest.”
Great preaching rises out of a genuine love for God and the people you are preaching to. This only happens when God adds fire to the fuel you’ve prepared.
2. Preach Jesus!
It’s all about Jesus! If we haven’t preached Christ, we haven’t preached, we’ve merely lectured. Paul said,
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Cor 2:2
The point of preaching is to point to Christ. Keller implores us to “confine ourselves to Christ.” The “prince of preachers” C.H. Spurgeon said,
“Preach Jesus Christ, brethren, always and everywhere; and every time you preach be sure to have much of Jesus Christ in the sermon.”
Spurgeon then tells of a young preacher who asked what an older preacher thought of his sermon. The older preacher said, “I did not like it at all; there was no Christ in your sermon.” “No” The young man answered, “Because I did not see Christ in the text.”
“Oh!” said the old minister, “but do you not know that from every little town and village and tiny hamlet in England there is a road leading to London? Whenever I get hold of a text, I say to myself, ‘There is a road from here to Jesus Christ, and I mean to keep on His track till I get to Him.’”
“Well,” said the young man, “but suppose you are preaching from a text that says nothing about Christ?” “Then I will go over hedge and ditch but what I will get at Him.”
There is always a road to Christ, and if you don’t find one, make one! There is always a way to preach Christ from every text with integrity.
We can preach Christ in every major person, theme and image because the overall story is about Jesus! It’s always possible to both preach the text clearly and zoom out to preach Christ every time!
3. Confirm and confront.
We must exegete our context and the text. The better we understand our culture, the better we will be at reframing the questions people are asking.
Keller advocates that we start with a cultural belief that correlates with Scripture, show how it is rooted in God’s Word, then fill in the gaps with the truth of scripture. He uses a “yes, but..” argument. Affirm where we can, to confront where must.
Here are a few other keys to contextualization.
- Use accessible language – Define your terms, avoid religious jargon, and speak generously of people outside your community.
- Quote respected authorities that they trust.
- Demonstrate your understanding people’s doubts – Add “apologetic sidebars” that address doubters directly.
- Push on cultural pressure points – The Bible affirms aspects of every culture and offends aspects every culture. Help them see how the gospel is the answer.
For example, the highest value of “the late modern mindset” is the freedom to live how we want. So often the biggest barrier to belief is the lie that faith stops us from being free. We can engage this objection by showing that when we give up our “freedom” and surrender to Christ we become the most free!
Many of our cultural values are actually rooted in a Biblical worldview. For example, we want justice, but don’t want a Judge. We want people to be good to each other, but we have no objective standard of what good is. By lovingly addressing these issues, we can point people to Christ.
Also, the best way to understand people’s questions is to actually talk to people! Your applications will arise out of your conversation partners. So deliberately diversify who you talk to and picture different types of people as you prepare.
4. Preach from the heart, to the heart.
People want to know what you are saying is not just true but real in your life! Martyn Lloyd-Jones described preaching as “login on fire.” People need to see your passion. John Wesley is often credited for saying,
“Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.”
Warning: this can’t be faked, you won’t touch hearts if your heart isn’t touched. Don’t try to be passionate. Any intentional effort will backfire and come across as insincere.
Worship as you preach. Open yourself up to the wonders of what you are saying and let the amazing truths sink into your soul. This can only happen if you know your material well enough that you are not worried about the mechanics of the message.
Combine both warmth and force, command and care. People will only be convinced if you are convinced!
Also, be aware of your subtext. This is the message under the message, it’s what you are unintentionally communicating.
Keller describes four common subtexts.
- Reinforcement is designed to promote an “Aren’t we great?” message to already convinced people.
- Performance asks, “Don’t you think I’m a great preacher?” Most young preachers are very self-conscious until they find their voice.
- Training focuses on, “News you can use.” It is mostly focused imparting knowledge.
- Worship says, “Isn’t Christ great!” Preach with authenticity and remind yourself that it’s all about Jesus, not you.
Which of these four practices do you want to apply to your preaching today?