How do we enrich our preaching?

This is a follow up to my article about deeper theological and cultural engagement.  Where and how do we start to do this?  Well, personally, I want to argue that we start with our preaching. Not everyone will agree with me on this.  There’s a big argument for providing other vehicles and contexts for teaching.  I don’t disagree that we need these. In fact one of the reasons for Faithroots was to create new contexts for teaching so that the weight of expectation didn’t all fall on the sermon.

However, my starting point is that in order for people to engage more deeply with God’s written word and so be able to engage better with the world around them, that they need to encounter the risen Jesus. Think about it.  We observed that these things seem like a luxury to people under pressure due to conflict, financial pressure, persecution and other worries.  Towards the end of the first century, that was the kind of thing that the young church was facing.  God’s solution?  It was for John to have an encounter with the risen Jesus, on the Lord’s Day, in the Spirit.  That Spirit filled encounter with Christ gave him a vision, enabling him to see and understand his own time and situation in the context of God’s unfolding plan of all redemptive history from the perspective of eternity. The result was the book of Revelation

What if we saw that as the aim of our Sunday gatherings too?  What if our desire was that together, the church family, in the Spirit would encounter Jesus, through Scripture on the Lord’s Day?  Wha if our expectation was that this would result in all of us coming away with that eternal perspective on our context now?

How might our preaching contribute to this?  Well fit would mean that there would be some things we’d seek to do less of in our preaching and some, we need to do more of. So, here are some tips.

First of all, cut out the safari trips.  Reduce the amount of time given over to heading out of the Bible passage you are looking at. Stay settled in that passage and ignore the temptation to go hunting out a hundred and one additional Scripture verses to prove, support and add to your point.  It also means reducing the safari trips around the world of quotable quotes from noted and once respected authorities, whether that’s commentators, theologians, philosophers or famous people and celebrities.

Secondly, it will involve spending less time explaining and more time proclaiming.  Yes, we need to explain and clarify where that is needed. However, we probably don’t need to do so half as much as we think, especially if we find a good, clear, contemporary translation of Scripture that people can follow.

Thirdly, be ruthless with illustrations, jokes and stories.  Do they really serve the purpose of the sermon? Are they fresh, relevant, authentic.  If you got them from a sermon illustration book or the internet then cut them straight away.

Fourthly, encourage patience.  We can be nervous about people not getting it at first, that it might be too hard for them. This is often used as an excuse for dumbing down preaching to working class congregations. In my experience, this can be rather patronising.  Working class church members are just as capable of engaging deeply with God’s Word and grasping things as middle class graduates. However for working class and middle class alike, when we first hit something meaty and challenging, there can be the temptation to give up because it seems too hard. Yet, in my experience, as people commit patiently and persistently to church, their appetite and understanding grows.

Fifth, make sure that you are preaching Christ. That’s what Scripture is there to do, to point us to Christ. That’s the job of the preacher, to take the congregation to Jesus.

Sixth, preach the long view.  Our sermons should be Christological, but they should also be eschatological.   Just as with the book of Revelation, what matters is that perspective on our situation from the final day. 

Whilst there is still more to be done, I believe this will help significantly to enrich our preaching and by doing so will encourage theologically rich culturally deep engagement. 

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