This is a checklist that I put together to look over as I prepare to preach. There are, of course, other things that I could have put on this list. But these are the specific things that I need to be sure to check at this point in ministry…
- Am I preaching the good news of Jesus?
- Am I praying and pleading with God to bless my sermon?
- Am I working with a team in preparation to preach?
- Am I getting and listening to Leah’s feedback?
- Am I preparing far enough in advance?
- Am I preparing my sermon with specific people in mind?
- Am I going to bring people on the journey with me? (Am I going to peak people’s interests? Am I taking baby steps when necessary or am I making huge leaps in my logical reasoning?)
- Am I using the 6 Journalistic Questions (What?, Who?, When?, Why?, Where?, and How?) and answering what will be most helpful for the audience?
- Am I illustrating my point like Jesus would have? And am I getting the full impact from my illustrations?
- Is the sermon going to be “G rated”? (Is the sermon for a general audience or is it restricted to those with special training? Did I break it down like I need a mechanic to break it down for me?)
- Is the sermon going to create and relieve tension?
- Is my sermon focused, making one sustained point? (Am I considering what the one thing is that I want people to take away from the message?)
- Can I pass the 3am test? (If I was awakened at 3am and asked about the main point and structure of the sermon could I answer in a helpful way?)
- Will unbelievers understand and find the sermon appealing? (Not that we ever want to compromise the truth but we do want to intrigue unbelievers with the view of reality that the Bible gives)
In the future I’d like to write a blog post for each of the above points to further convince myself of their importance.
I really appreciated Jeffrey D. Arthurs’s book, Preaching as Reminding. Here are thirty things I especially want to remember…
“The Scriptures themselves are the invitation to remember: Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; remember the Exodus; make a pile of stones; remember the Sabbath. Come again to the table, break the bread, drink the cup. Remember” (Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Preaching as Reminding, p. ix).
Preachers “remind the faithful of what they already know when knowledge has faded and conviction cooled. We fan the flames. That’s what we see when we look at the work of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles” (p. 3). “Preachers are remembrancers” (p. ix). We see this for example through what Peter says in 2 Peter 1:12-13 (“…to stir you up by way of reminder…”). And so, “Ministers must learn to stir memory, not simply repeat threadbare platitudes” (p. 5).
“It matters that we preach. It matters that we call people to remember their God and their deepest values and their truest selves and the story that has maybe shaped their lives and for sure has shaped their world. It matters that we preach with all the fidelity and urgency and learning and purity and creativity that God allows us to muster” (p. ix-x).
“If we have no memory we are adrift, because memory is the mooring to which we are tied. Memory of the past interprets the present and charts a course for the future” (p. 1). “Without memory, we are lost souls. That is why the Bible is replete with statements, stories, sermons, and ceremonies designed to stir memory. Even nature—the rainbow after the flood—serves as a reminder of God’s faithfulness (Gen 9:13-17)” (p. 3).
1. Call out to God
There are all sorts of Psalms in Scripture in which the psalmist calls out to God in distress. The Bible encourages us to call out to God and be real with Him about where we’re at.
2. Fight Against Depression’s Lies
Depression often says things like: “You have no hope” and “You’re not worth it.” Those statements, however, are in flat contradiction to what the Scripture says. For example, look at Lamentations 3:21-24: “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’”
3. Fight Against the Lie that says Life’s Meaningless
I agree with Matthew McCullough, “It is resurrection or vanity.” Thankfully, through Christ Jesus, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” (Eccl. 1:2) is not the end of the story. In light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have purpose! Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are called to work hard for the Lord, knowing that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). This is good news! There is something in life that counts, faith expressing itself through love (Gal. 5:6).
We will worship so we must worship wisely. Intentional liturgy is vital. As the gathered church we purport to worship the Lord, we must do so in an intentionally biblical and wise way.
By my calculations, most Christians probably spend around half a year of their life participating in the gathered worship of the church. It’s important that we make the best use of that time! Especially when it’s time that’s intentionally set aside to worship the LORD. Further, the Sunday gathering is one of the primary ways that the church gathered can be equipped to be the church scattered.
It is of utmost importance that the liturgy of the gathered church be very deliberate. Even simple, seemingly insignificant, things in worship communicate doctrine and teach people. This is true of terminology (e.g. “priest” or “pastor”), architecture (simple or elaborate; God’s people are the temple or the building is the temple), positioning (where the person stands when doing the Lord’s Supper or the prominence of the pulpit), and furniture (altar or table). These are all important things to consider and have implications because they communicate certain things even if not explicitly.
The Meaning of Liturgy
Liturgies have been in use in Christian worship from the earliest of times so it’s important that we consider what liturgy means and its place in the life of the church. Allen P. Ross says “liturgy is a perfectly good biblical word and need not be avoided as something foreign to historic Christianity. The noun is leitourgia, literally ‘the work of the people’; it means a service or a ministry.” The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms says, “Liturgy came to designate the church’s official (or unofficial) public and corporate ritual of worship, including the Eucharist (or Communion), baptism and other sacred acts. Certain ecclesiastical traditions (such as Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican) follow a set pattern of worship (the liturgy), whereas many Protestant churches prefer a less structured style. This gives rise to the distinction sometimes made between ‘liturgical’ and ‘nonliturgical’ churches.”
Spectrum of Liturgy
All churches have a liturgy but some churches seem to be less intentional about their liturgy. It seems some churches operate on a default liturgy. A pastor may inherit a liturgy from the previous pastor and it remains essentially unchanged for a few generations. That, however, is problematic for a few reasons. As Timothy C.J. Quill has said, “Worship practice reflects and communicates the beliefs of the church. Liturgy articulates doctrine.”
What is expository preaching? What are the duties of the pastor and the role of the congregation?
Expositional preaching has three main characteristics. First, the passaged that is preached on is a single passage rather than various passages put together. Second, the main point or theme of the sermon is derived from the theme or main point of the passage. That is, expositional preaching seeks to exposit the text that is preached. Third, expositional preaching is typically lectio continua—that is, it is preaching that consecutively works through passages of Scripture in their biblical context.
Here are two of my favorite definitions:
“Expository preaching is that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible. All other concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text. As the Word of God, the text of Scripture has the right to establish both the substance and the structure of the sermon. Genuine exposition takes place when the preacher sets forth the meaning and message of the biblical text and makes clear how the Word of God establishes the identity and worldview of the church as the people of God” (R. Albert Mohler Jr., He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Post-Modern World, 65).
“To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and it expose it to view. The expositor pries open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed. The opposite of exposition is ‘imposition,’ which is to impose on the text what is not there. But the ‘text’ in question could be a verse, or a sentence, or even a single word. It could equally be a paragraph, or a chapter, or even a whole book. The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it. Whether long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction or falsification” (John Stott, Between Two World, 125-26).
Timothy is exhorted by Paul to “do the work of an evangelist.” And work it is, as Paul knew well. The Scripture uses the imagery of sowing seed and reaping a harvest. The picture given in Scripture is not surprisingly an accurate one, and a labor-intensive one.
Sowing seed takes lots of work and lots of time. Further, we are never guaranteed a harvest. The Spirit blows where it wills (Jn. 3:8), though He does use means. We must be faithful to sow and cultivate all the while remembering that God brings the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). We must labor on even when there is no sign of life. We can rest assured that the gospel is the power to salvation and if we are faithful to sow gospel seed a harvest should come. We must always remember that the seed we sow, the only one that can bring new life, is “the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). In the book of Acts, we see that the Word, when “planted,” continued to increase and prevail mightily. It is only when the word of truth, the gospel, is proclaimed that there is fruit and growth (cf. Col. 1:5-6).
We would do well to remember many of the prophets’ experience and realize sometimes the seasons are long and at times we may see droughts. In these seasons, when there seems to be no life, we must remind ourselves that God’s Word will not return to Him void but it shall accomplish its purpose (Is. 55:10-11). Though, sometimes God uses His Word to harden (cf. Is. 6:9-10; Matt. 13;14-15; Acts 28:26-27) we must continue to be faithful to go to the highways and byways and compel people to come to Him (Lk. 14:23).
We have a difficult task, ye impossible. Hear Spurgeon in The Soul Winner:
“We are sent to say to blind eyes, ‘See,’ To deaf ears, ‘Hear,’ to dead hearts, ‘Live,’ and even to Lazarus rotting in that grave, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ (John 11:43). Dare we do this? We will be wise to begin with the conviction that we are utterly powerless for this unless our Master has sent us and is with us. But if He who sent us is with us, ‘all things are possible to him that believeth’ (Mark 9:23).”
 C.H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner (New Kingston, PA: Whitaker House, 1995), 157.
Churches don’t necessarily have the mandate to grow but they do have a mandate to deploy all their resources to advance the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. Churches must utilize all that God has given them to make disciples, it’s why they exist. It’s a matter of stewardship.
Churches are not unfaithful if the chairs are not filled but they are unfaithful if those who fill the chairs are not working at telling the broken world about Jesus in word and deed. So what churches must evaluate is not merely if they are reaching the lost community around them but if they are even intentionally thinking in that way. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and He has called us to carry out His mission of making disciples.
Winston Churchhill used to give out commands labeled “Action This Day.” These tasks were to be done with urgency and intentionality. How much more our Lord’s command?! It is labeled “Action This Day!” It is high priority.
So, is numerical church growth a biblical mandate? Not exactly. After all, it’s the Spirit who gives life. Yet, intentional discipleship and ministry of the Word very often leads to numerical church growth. So, we must work to intentionally love and reach people with the good news of Jesus but not merely for numerical church growth.
The question churches must ask is not simply “how can we grow this church?” but “how can we best deploy all our resources for the furtherance of the gospel and the growth of God’s Kingdom?” So, as we strategize about our church we must not forget about the Church.