When we think of the necessary elements in or components of expository preaching, there is an area that is often and much neglected. The area of which I am speaking is invaluable to the art of preaching well. But, not only is it often and regularly neglected, perhaps when thinking about homiletics, it is not even considered. To my knowledge, very little has been written on the subject. However, much like it is impossible to build a house without a hammer and nails, among other things, you cannot build a sermon without these.
Obviously, the area I am referring to is preaching tools or resources. The great news is, there are more available now in a coalesced way that at any point in history. Today’s seminary student has a decided advantage even over me in the position I found myself in only 15 or so years ago. There is no reason, resource wise, for today’s pastor to be ill equipped to preach well. More tools for interpretation, language work, grammar and linguistic analyses, background study, and theology exist today than ever before. And, the amazing thing is it all can fit either in the palm of your hand or you can transport every tool you own in one bag. (This obviousness is a reference to smart phones and tablets.)
However, perhaps with so many resources, we can run into at least two hindrances or become overwhelmed in a couple of ways: One expense; and two where to begin. Therefore, in this article I want to share a few of my favorite preaching helps or resources. These have been hidden gems that have helped me and proved indispensable in preparing and delivering sermons over the years. The great news about all of them is that they are all three simple and affordable!
One, The Understanding of How Language Works.
Much of what I mean here relates to the study of linguistics. This covers at least two broad areas. First, you should have a general knowledge of biblical genre and how they work. So, recognizing the semantic structure of a book and understanding how language is used in different biblical genres can aid you tremendously in recognizing the macro structure of the book and thus the intent of the author in his point and argument.
Second, you should strive to know what is happening at the micro level of your text. Knowing that imperatives always carry more wait than indicatives and that the author’s main point(s) always are found in independent clauses helps you locate and highlight the thrust of the passage, the structure of the argument, and not only what words and clauses mean but also what they are doing in context. Because, words do not only mean something; they do something. So, work to chart the verbs, highlight the commands, and distinguish between independent and dependent clauses in your preaching passage.
You don’t have to be a biblical scholar or even have an unusual amount of background knowledge to gain a foundational understanding of the basics of what is happening in a text and why it is happening. However, you have to understand how language works and have a grasp of the discipline of logic and logical constructions of arguments. A working knowledge of the original languages or a good English formal equivalent translation is essential.
Two, A Preaching Fraternity.
I have always had friends, mentors, and colleagues that I trust to bounce ideas off of and to talk about areas of preaching in which I may be currently struggling, want to grow in, or need fresh eyes on. Some of these men are pastors that serve in different locations around the country or my specific area, and some have even been men that have served with me in an associate role in the church. Furthermore, a wonderful untapped resource may exist within one’s own congregation. Getting feedback from mature and trusted laymen on actual sermons that you’ve recently preached can be invaluable.
Preaching fraternities or brotherhoods have proven to be hidden gems throughout my ministry. Specifically, I have enjoyed the fruit of this resource by occasionally participating in collaborative sermon preparation. There are even societies or conferences such as The Simeon Trust formally designed for and dedicated to utilizing preaching fraternities or collaborative work as tools for sermon improvement.
On a side note, meeting and developing relationships with trusted confidants, brothers in ministry with whom you share similar commitments in preaching, and future colleagues is one of many valuable reasons for pursuing residential theological training. More than likely, this is where you will meet and initially form relationships with the men who will help you the most personally and professionally throughout your ministry.
Three, Other Men’s Sermons.
My mentor Dr. Steven Smith told me on more than one occasion that you cannot do great preaching if you are not listening to great preaching. Not for the purpose of copying someone’s else content or personality, but to be sharpened continuously and have your own soul fed, I would encourage you to make a habit of regularly listening to other pastors’ sermons. Certainly, a part of the process will be gleaning naturally some positive habits for sermon delivery, content, and style.
One reason is because the pedagogy of imitation is powerful. Think about it, much of what you learned about communication did not come from a lecture in a classroom. It happened intuitively. It happened from observation and then imitation. It happened from our own repetition. So it often is with homiletics. However, do not make improving in your delivery or over all preaching the main point or main reason that you listen. Do it to glean from God’s Word through these His servants. Do it for the good and edification of your own soul.
Allow me to add one more crucial word of advice here. Listen to those who are both similar and dissimilar to you in form and content, in personality and theology. We can learn and grow even from those with whom we do not completely agree. Sometimes it is from those with have the least in common with that we grow from the most.
Notice that my three favorite types of sermon or preaching helps do not include one single commentary. I value commentaries but I have not included them here for a few reasons. One, I do not think I can add to or improve on the work that David Allen has done regarding commentaries in his book Preaching Tools. If you want help finding the best and most helpful commentaries for each book of the Bible, I would point you in that direction. Second, when I mentioned preaching resources, commentaries probably are the main tool that comes to mind. You are already familiar with these.
And finally, sometimes commentaries are over used and wrongly employed. Let me stress again that I value commentaries and believe they have a place. However, I do not believe that they should be the starting place of our sermon study process. We should learn to do our work first and then check our work and glean missed insights from them. We should use them near the end of our preaching preparation. The resources I have included here are ones perhaps you have overlooked and ones that can help you improve in dealing directly with God’s Word for yourself.
Again, notice how little money you would have to spend for any of these resources. More than likely, you already own a good English Translation and understanding language costs you time only. The same is true for engaging a preaching fraternity and beginning to listen to other men’s sermons on a regular basis. I have found all three of these have helped me in my preaching ministry as much as any other ore expensive resource. Remember, the ultimate goal of my suggestions here is to be a a tool for your ministry. I hope I have done that and have given you a boost as you continue your calling of “Preaching the Word!”
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