A Great Sermon


Here’s an old poem by Edgar Guest that's worth reflecting on, especially for all of us who teach and preach others ...

A Sermon

I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;

I’d rather one should walk with me than merely show the way.

The eye’s a better pupil, and more willing than the ear;

Fine counsel is confusing, but example is always clear.

So I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do;

It is not enough to preach it, you must live the sermon, too.

For I may misunderstand you and the high advice you give,

But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.

Discerning Truth and Error

Discernment-and-scriptureMost followers of Christ understand the need to pursue truth and avoid error. Some take it upon themselves to find error and point it out to others. Most churches I know have a statement of faith and their teaching teams speak from this foundation. They believe that the Bible is inspired by God and is authoritative in matters of belief and practice.

From time to time, I noticed that one of our teaching team may quote someone in a message and it raises questions from a listener or congregation member. This can lead to some interesting conversations. In one such recent dialogue, I raised three questions:

1. "If a person quotes someone else, does that mean that they endorse everything else that person has said?"

2. "If you disagree with a person in one area, does that mean that everything else they say is invalid or not worth listening to?”

3. “Are you comfortable being in a church where diversity of belief around various debatable theological matters is okay?”

A few brief comments about these questions:

Question 1 - "If a person quotes someone else, does that mean that they endorse everything else that person has said?"

The logical answer is ‘no’. The apostle Paul quoted Cretan poets in his letter to Titus (Titus 1:12) and Greek philosophers in his speech at Athens (Acts 17:28). By doing so, he was not endorsing everything else they said or believed. In addition, he did not feel the need to pause and say, "By the way, let me tell you everything about this person that I disagree with." He used these quotes because they were true and because he believed that they would assist him in connecting with his audience and building his message, which was always aimed at lifting up Jesus and promoting the good news he had come to bring.

For some people, however, it seems that the answer to this question is ‘yes’. They go down rabbit holes to discover everything the person quoted believes or has said and then by abstraction declare that the speaker has promoted error. It’s actually not a logical argument.

Paradoxically, in a recent conversation with a person, they quoted a statement by John MacArthur to me. I paused and then asked them whether they knew that MacArthur ran a conference last year called "Strange Fire" in which he stated that the charismatic movement was demonic. I asked the person whether by quoting MacArthur they were supporting this anti-Pentecostal sentiment. Silence. No answer. 

Question 2 - "If you disagree with a person in one area, does that mean that everything else they say is invalid or not worth listening to?”

The logical answer is ‘no’. For example, the best selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is one of the best life management books ever written. Yet some people have told me we shouldn't read it because the author, Stephen Covey, was a Mormon. If your math teacher wasn't a Christian, could you not learn something from them? Another example: People such as Billy Graham and Bill Hybels are not Pentecostal like I am, but I have gleaned so much from them as followers of Christ. In fact, when I chaired the Willow Creek Association here in Australia for 5 years, I was always amazed at how few Pentecostal church leaders would come and hear from Bill Hybels. He has one of the most outstanding leadership and evangelistic gifts in our generation. 

Unfortunately, some people believe that if they disagree with someone in one area, his or her entire life/teaching is not worth engaging with. I find this very sad. 

An analogy I have used for years is that listening to sermons or lectures or reading a book is a bit like eating fish. You eat the fish but spit out the bones in the process. Very few things you hear are pure fillet. Just don't throw out the entire fish!

Question 3 - “Are you comfortable being in a church where diversity of belief around various debatable theological matters is okay?”

For me, the answer is ‘yes’. We have a clear set of beliefs but we allow diversity around a whole range of issues, mostly matters of biblical interpretation. However, for some people, this is not something they are comfortable with. They are looking for clear 'black and white' answers and strong promotion from the pulpit on a whole range of theological issues.

For instance, in our ORIGINS series a few years ago, we talked about creation. The author of Genesis clearly tells us 'who' created the world and 'why'. They do not tell us 'when' or 'how' the world was created. That was not their intent. When it comes to these last two questions, there are a variety of views in the Christian church today, including young earth creationism, old earth creationism and theistic evolution (see my BLOG post on Creation). I believe that God created the world but we don't have an official stance on how old the earth is. We are comfortable with this diversity and see it as a strength.

When it came to disputable matters, such as eating meat, Paul did not seek to create 'meat-eating churches' and 'non-meat eating churches'. He urged people to form their own convictions then learn to live peacefully and respectfully with others who differ. We seek to do the same. Obviously, not everyone finds that comfortable. 

Final Example 

Let me pull this post together with a final example. There are different views of the meaning of the 'atonement' and the work that Jesus did on the cross (see my BLOG post on Why Did Jesus Die?). 'Substitutionary atonement' is one such common view. It suggests that God is angry because of the world's sin but he chose to take his anger out on his Son, killing him instead of us. No doubt, there is truth in this but this view, pushed to an extreme, can make God out to be some sort of 'cosmic child abuser', which is not a true representation of the heart and character of God. A variety of theologians are thinking and writing about this, so in my recommended reading list, I suggested a few books. Firstly, The Nature of Atonement: Four Views by editors James Beilby and Paul Eddy, and then A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight. I also included the book Stricken by God: Non-Violent Identification and the Victory of Christ edited by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin. This latter book is a compilation of articles by a wide range of authors speaking into this important debate. By doing so, I am not promoting everything every author included in this book has ever said or believes. For instance, Marcus Borg, who died recently, was a liberal theologian who did not believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus. I do believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus and therefore I would disagree with him on that issue. Hopefully, most people would know this because we talk about the resurrection of Jesus regularly in our messages. So, I am not, by some sort of abstraction, promoting disbelief in the resurrection by including this book on the reading list. However, I am saying that if you want to have a good think about the different views of the atonement, taking these perspectives into consideration is part of a robust process of study and reflection. That's all. Every serious theological student would understand the need for this.


Yes, let's be like the people of Berea who checked out what Paul was saying with the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). But let's avoid moving from discernment to judgment (see my BLOG posts on Heretic Hunting and Discern Don't Judge). Let's not become 'theological police' or 'heretic hunters'! Remember, we all "know in part" (see my BLOG post on The Joy of Not Knowing it All). None of us knows everything, so we need to always have an attitude of humility that is open to learn, even from our critics and/or those who see things differently than we do. Our teaching team welcomes feedback and are always happy to answer any questions or clarify any misunderstandings. We want to continue to grow in our ability to communicate God's truth in a way that changes lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

My dad used to say, "We can be right in our doctrine and wrong in our attitude and we are wrong." Love, how we treat people, is of utmost importance (1 Corinthians 13).

P.S. For further reading, check out Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology where author Gregory Boyd shows the range of Christian beliefs (each believing they have the correct interpretation!) on matters such as: inspiration, providence, foreknowledge, creation, the divine image, atonement, salvation, sanctification, eternal security, the destiny of the un-evangelised, the Lord's Supper, baptism, charismatic gifts, women in ministry, the millennium and hell.

The Ultimate Goal of Preaching (by Rick Warren)

PreachIf God’s objective for every believer is to transform us into total Christlikeness, then the objective of preaching is to motivate people to develop Christlike convictions (to think like Jesus), Christlike character (to feel like Jesus), and Christlike conduct (to act like Jesus). Every other objective of preaching is secondary.

At the end of the sermon, if people aren’t being transformed in how they think, feel, and act, I’ve missed the mark as a preacher.

To put it another way, the ultimate goal of preaching is not information. In fact, giving people a greater knowledge of the Bible can cause pride to develop in our hearers rather than humility if that information isn’t translated into obedience. And the goal if preaching is not merely instruction either. Preaching certainly includes instruction, but there is more to preaching that mere behavior modification. The goal of well-rounded preaching is transformation and obedience.

If we preach with life transformation as our goal, then the result will be believers who are more obedient to the Bible, and we call obedient believers disciples. Just look at the challenges Jesus gave as He taught people—He continually expected people to do something as a result of hearing Him.

“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:17 (NIV)

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:37 (NIV)

“But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” Matt. 7:26 (NIV)

“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matt. 12:50 (NIV)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” Matt. 7:21 (NIV)

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching…” John 14:23-24 (NIV)

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” Luke 11:28 (NIV)

Pastors, we are in the business of producing repentance. And repentance is more than being sorry, it’s more than confessing sin, and it’s more than changing some bad habits. Repentance involves a total change of our thinking to be in agreement with God, which affects our emotions and moves us to act in obedience.

Repentance is changing minds at the deepest level—the level of beliefs & values. We preach to produce the ultimate paradigm shift for people—the very transformation of their lives. And it’s serious business!

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America’s largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.


Christmas Resources

XmasBelieve it or not, Christmas is only four weeks away! For followers of Christ, and especially for those of us who pastor a church or speak from time to time, Christmas presents another excellent opportunity to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ. But how do we share this timeless message in new and fresh ways that capture people’s attention and interest?

J John from the UK has put together a variety of resources specially related to the Christmas season. Check out his web site for further details. Of note, is the recent release of the book Proclaiming Christmas, a compilation of Christmas sermons from communicators all around the world. I was privileged to contribute my message from a few years ago called “What would Jesus say to Santa Claus?”

Enjoy your Christmas preparations!

Jeremiah: Prototype for Prophets, Preachers and Pastors

JeremiahJeremiah is one of my favourite people in the Bible. He was called by God at a young age and was given a tough assignment. He lacked natural confidence but God continually encouraged him. Not everyone liked Jeremiah and he had to endure some extremely difficult circumstances. Yet he remained faithful in bringing God's word and heart to the people he served.

Here is God's first message to Jeremiah:

The Lord gave me this message: "I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations." "O Sovereign Lord," I said, "I can't speak for you! I'm too young!" The Lord replied, "Don't say 'I'm too young,' for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don't be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!" Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said, “Look, I have put my words in your mouth! Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms. Some you must uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. Others you must build up and plant.” Jer.1:4-10. NLT

In many ways, Jeremiah is a prototype for prophets, preachers and pastors. Here are a few reflections on the life and ministry of Jeremiah that we can apply to ourselves, wherever God may have us serving Him. 

Like Jeremiah, before we were born, God …

1. Knew us – yes, he knows (observes, notices, realizes) us inside and out, better than we know myself. He knows our weaknesses, sins and limitations. He knows our struggles, questions and doubts. He knows everything about us, yet he still loves us.  

2. Formed us – not only are we made in his image, our shape is from him. Everything about us, he designed (like a potter) to perfectly fit what he has called us to be. Nothing is by accident or chance. Nothing is missing. We just need to discover, then develop what is already there. Yes, we need to curb the destructive habits and reinforce the positive ones.  

3. Set us apart (to consecrate, make holy, sanctify, to dedicate, to prepare, to devote to) – we have a holy and sacred calling – specific, unique and important. To do anything else and to thereby neglect this calling is criminal activity, like ignoring our creator God and our Father. 

4. Appointed us to a specific ministry (Jer.1:5) – he gave us to, set us in, and put us in this role. The only question is whether or not we will carry it out and, if so, how well.

Continue reading "Jeremiah: Prototype for Prophets, Preachers and Pastors" »

Preparing to Preach ...

PreachPreaching God's Word at any time and in any context is always a great privilege and, at the same time, a great responsibility. All of us desire to speak by revelation, to believe for impartation (not just information), and to aim for transformation, as well as a demonstration of the Holy Spirit at work in people's lives. Here are a few thoughts to encourage those who are preparing to speak this weekend.

1. Bathe your preparation in prayer. The best thing that you can bring to people is a quickened and alive word from God. Take time to wait on the Lord and hear His voice. Before you speak, allow God to speak to you. After all, it is the Spirit that brings life. 

2. Be Christ-centered in your preaching. Don't just talk about topics, even good things like faith, overcoming, generosity, the Bible and church. The Christian life is about a Person not merely a set of beliefs or a system of behaviours. Talk about Jesus. After all, Jesus is God and therefore God is like Jesus. 

3. Once you have a sense of conviction about what to speak on, don't doubt or vacillate. Do your preparation, pray, gather your material, then speak confidently. Almost all speakers experience feelings of hesitation near the time they are about to speak. The enemy attacks our mind with thoughts like, "Who are you to speak?" or "This is not going to help anyone" and "Maybe you picked the wrong text or topic."

4. Encourage the people. We live in a world that knocks us around and people come to church to be built up. Paul tells us that the purpose of prophecy is strengthen (build up), encourage (fire up) and comfort (hold up) people (1Cor.14:3). Preaching has the same purpose.

5. Be passionate and enthusiastic (which doesn't have to mean noisy!). Believe in what you are speaking about - that it has the power to change people's lives. Remember that logic alone doesn’t change or move people. Use pictures and stories to move people’s emotions. Never preach a point without painting a picture.

6. Be practical. We need a lot more 'how to' preaching and a lot less 'what to.' All preaching should be aimed at producing life change, which means that people need to know how to apply what they are hearing.

7. Always preach for a response. Challenge people to act on what they have heard and give them an opportunity to do so. 

There is nothing more satisfying that knowing that God has used you to bring his word and his heart to people.

Finally, a great promise for us as we preach God's Word this weekend ...

Isaiah 55:10-11. "The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I sent it." NLT

I pray that God will speak through you and cause His Word to have a powerful effect on those who hear it this weekend. Go for it!

P.S. To access some more thoughts on preaching, click here.

Improving Your Communication Craft (Pt.2)

Craft 6. Visualise the people you are speaking to

As you prepare, think about the different types of people who may listen to your message. This would include unbelievers, new Christians, struggling Christians and mature Christians. It includes people young and old, men and women, single and married, employed and unemployed, rich and poor, as well as students and retirees.  Visualise them and their world … and how your message relates to them.

7. Be a vision-caster

In many ways, all teaching and communication has an element of vision casting to it. Seek to connect your message to what God is saying to our church at any given moment. Look for different ways to reinforce our vision and our values.

8. Always be preparing to speak

Have your spiritual RADAR on at all times. Listen and observe what God and people are up to. Capture those thoughts in some form of BUCKETS where you can recall them when needed. Gradually group similar thoughts and ideas together in CHUNKS. The best messages are those where we have taken time to MARINATE everything well in our heart and spirit, so that the message flows naturally from within. Good preparation increases confidence. [To read more on these concepts, click here]

9. Always speak for a response

Always preach for a response. Seek to motivate and inspire people to change and grow. As you prepare your message, clearly think through what you want people to do about what they’ve heard. What should they believe? What should they not believe? How should they think? How should they not think? How should they behave? How should they not behave? Seek to convince (or persuade) them to believe, think or do the right thing with the help of the Holy Spirit. Ensure that the content of your message is practical, informing people ‘how’ not just ‘what’.

Pray about a specific area of response you should call for. Believe that the Spirit will work with the Word as it is being preached. Think through the kind of response you are looking for (private, raised hand, standing up, coming forward, see someone afterward). Be clear with what the response is for and exactly what you are asking people to do. Have faith that people will respond and that life change will occur. Be confident, give people time to respond but don’t pressure people.

We must faithfully preach God's Word by motivating and enabling them to change. We are accountable to people, not for people. Each person is personally accountable for what they do about what they hear.

10. Bathe everything in prayer

Seek to be a prophetic speaker, in tune with God’s heart and mind in such a way that the message connects directly with what is occurring in a person’s life and world. Our goal is transformation not more information. 

There are few things more satisfying in life than knowing that you have influenced others in a positive way by helping them reach their potential in God. As we continually imrpove our craft, we can communicate to in such a way as to change lives.

P.S. Visit the "Preaching" category of this BLOG for similar articles. 

Improving Your Communication Craft (Pt.1)

Craft Here are a few tips for those of us who communicate God's Word regularly. We need to commit ourselves to developing our God-given gifts and continually seek to be more effective in bringing about change in people's lives. 

1. Choose one main BIG Idea for your message

It’s better to say one thing well than to present a scattering of many things less effectively. The quantity of information presented does not necessarily equate to the quality of implementation achieved. Sometimes we think that ‘more is better,’ when in actual fact we should ‘teach less for more.’ Have one central topic or idea for your message and deliver it clearly.

No single message needs to cover everything that needs to be said about a biblical text or topic. Have a more open-ended approach that sees your message as part of an ongoing conversation rather than the last word on a matter, with everything tied together. Leave people with some work to do – questions to answer, reflections to make, and discussion to engage in.

2. Craft an experience; don’t prepare a lecture

Take people on a journey; don’t just download information. Map out your message like a ‘story board’ for a movie script.  Consider different sermon shapes (deductive vs. inductive) and matters such as structure, mood, tension (suspense and surprise) and resolution. Avoid predictability.

Seek to connect well with the people and built rapport right from the beginning, then move into an introduction to the message that captures people’s attention and generates interest. As you progress, ensure that the transitions and movements within the message are clear and smooth.

3. Understand that our primary authority is in God’s Word

As communicators for Jesus, we are called to speak his Word, reflecting his heart and mind on whatever we are speaking about. We are his mouthpiece and his representative. To speak well, we first need to hear well and know his Word. Build your message on the foundation of the Scriptures, expounded clearly and accurately.

4. Creatively Illustrate the truth you wish to communicate

Jesus never taught without using a parable to illustrate the truth he was teaching. Ensure that your message has ample inclusion of creative elements such as stories, examples, or visuals that generate interest and become ‘hooks’ for people to remember what they have been taught.

5. Live the message

Our message is more than words. It includes who we are and the life we live. Share your life as part of your message. Be willing to share what you are learning and where you are growing, including your problems, struggles, and even failures. Be personal, open and real.

Click here for part 2.

Scrivener: Great Software for Writers, Speakers and Composers

Images-31 For anyone who writes or speaks, the task of preparation is part science and part art ... with lots of prayer and perspiration mixed in. Some people think more intuitively. I know one speaker who prepares all of their messages in their head - never writing anything down. Others write out their ideas, sometimes word for word - on paper or by typing into a word processor.

I have always used a note pad to scribble down ideas for messages, often creating a bit of a pathway or 'story board' to outline my flow of thoughts and the direction of a message. Then I will type in all the details of my thoughts and research into a WORD document - often cutting and pasting back and forth. This can be quite a challenge, especially with a long document where you can't see everything in front of you at once. 

Enter ... some new software ... Scrivener.

Scrivener was designed by a writer ... for writers. Take the time to watch the 9 minute demo here.

This is a terrific piece of software ... and it works on a MAC or within Windows (beta version currently available). You can have everything in one place, including your research and other bits of information you may not need for your final message, whether spoken or in writing. I have just started using this program and I love it already. I can't wait to watch all of the video tutorials and use this software to its fullest potential. 

For a more in-depth review click here and here.

Scrivener ... I highly recommend it!

P.S. A 'scrivener' is a scribe who can read and write. 

Free Audio Sermons

Podcast As of this weekend our church is moving all of our weekend messages online and making them available free of charge. We no longer sell CDs or DVDs. Right now there is a library of about 100 messages available. Click here to visit the library.

Messages can be downloaded for listening to either on your computer or your favourite mp3 player. You can also convert them to an audio CD using a program like iTunes.

New messages from this weekend onwards should be up on the web site by about Tuesday noon each week.

We also have a weekly podcast, which is a single selected message from the above library. This is available directly from our web site or via iTunes. Click here for more details.

If you use iTunes, we also provide an RSS feed that you can subscribe to in iTunes so that you can download the messages directly into iTunes and, if you choose, to automatically get new messages as they are added.

Happy listening!

P.S. We're still thinking through how best to make a visual of each message available now that we no longer sell DVDs. We may consider a video podcast in the near future.

The Sermon as Story


Recently, I read a book by Eugene Lowry called The Homiletical Plot: the Sermon as Narrative Art Form. It was a paradigm-shifting book as it suggests that sermons or messages should be more like stories than like a lecture presenting material in a structured and outlined manner. When Jesus was asked about who a 'neighbour' is, he didn't launch into a three point sermon with an introduction and conclusion. He told a story - a powerful one with the punch line right at the end. Jesus was a brilliant story-teller. In fact, he never spoke without using a story (often called 'parables'). Maybe there is more to learn from Jesus than just the 'content' of our message. He can teach us a lot about best the 'form' for effective communication.

Lowry encourages a new image for the sermon - see it as a sacred story, a homiletical plot, and a narrative art form. The best preaching feels like you are listening to a story in that you are guided along with interest and a sense of movement.

Great stories begin with tension and then gradually move towards resolution. In the same way, great sermons begin with an issue or a problem (the 'itch') and then move towards a solution (the 'scratch'), which is the 'good news'.

I experimented with this a little in a recent message I gave from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus taught about the discipline of secrecy (Matt.6:1-18). Rather than start with this teaching or solution (the 'scratch') I thought about what issue this teaching was helping us with (the 'itch'). I realised that Jesus was giving some advice to disciples who struggled with what we could call 'approval addition' - a need and desire to be seen. I began with this reality - our deep need for approval - then looked at the different ways we seek to meet that need, all of which are dead ends. I then moved to reminding everyone that in Christ, we have the approval we long for from our heavenly Father. However, even as disciples, we often fall back into approval-seeking behaviours and impression management. Jesus taught his disciples the discipline of secrecy as a spiritual practice to free us from the need to be seen or applauded by people.

It was an enjoyable way to present a message and felt more like taking people on a journey of discovery rather than presenting a neatly packaged lecture with a subject announced up front and three points before a conclusion. Maybe there is more to learn from Jesus and his Hebrew culture than from our Greek-influenced Western thinking patterns. Maybe that's why novels, stories, and movies are so popular. People love a story and when it addresses a real human need and offers hope - it inspires us all. Maybe sermons should be more like that.

The more you learn the more you realise how little you know ...

Communicating to Change Lives (Pt.7)

Communication_6The fifth and final question I ask is …

5. “How will I say it?” [The Method]

Be practical. If the goal of preaching is changed lives, then application is the primary task of preaching! Knowledge doesn’t change the world, but action does (Luke 10:37. James 1:22). Interpretation of the Bible (what it means) is not enough. We must bring people to application (what they are to do). Exhortation without application leads to frustration. Jesus came to give life, not just information.

Always aim for a specific action (Matthew 28:20). Tell them why – explain the benefits. Show them how. We need far less “ought to” preaching and far more “how to” preaching. “Yes, but how?” People are looking for practical answers. We need clearer application not just deeper interpretation. Don’t be a commentator (content focus). Be a communicator (application focus). Changed lives are the goal, not just explained content.

A “lecturer” speaks about the Bible, is concerned about the facts (literary analysis), and seeks to inform. A “pastoral preacher” speaks from the Bible about the congregation, tells them what God wants from them, and is concerned about people. Life-changing preaching does not talk to the people about the Bible. Instead, it talks to the people about themselves - their questions, hurts, fears and struggles - from the Bible. Preach to people about their lives. Don't just lecture about a topic.

Finally, be creative. Make the message interesting (Proverbs 15:2. Ecclesiastes 12:10). Saying, “We’re not here to entertain”, sounds spiritual. Our message is too important to present it in a boring manner. “Entertainment” is simply capturing and holding the attention of an extended period of time. We are communicators of the greatest message in the world. It is a sin to bore people with the Bible. People will think that God is boring.

Never make a point without a picture. Have an illustration for every exhortation. A picture or story is better than a definition. A point gets to the head. A story gets to the heart. Use visuals, drama, or role-playing. We live in a visual generation. Get people involved. Use humour. Be interesting, appealing and delightful. Humour relaxes people, it lowers defences, and it creates positive emotion. It’s not a sin to help people feel good.

Learn from others. No one can be brilliant every week. God has called us to be effective, not just original. Listen to good communicators and learn from them. Keep fresh. Ask for feedback.


We must faithfully preach God's Word by motivating and enabling people to change. There are few things more satisfying in life than knowing you have influenced others in a positive way by helping them reach their potential in God. Yes, you can do it. Preach to change lives!

P.S. For a list of books and resources on the art of preaching, see my list of best preaching books, many of which have been very helpful in my own growth as a speaker and from which I have gleaned many of the insights shared in these blog posts. Also, check out the preaching category on this blog for more tips and thoughts on the topic of preaching.

Communicating to Change Lives (Pt.6)

Communication_5The fourth question I ask is …

4. “Who is talking?” [The Messenger]

This makes me have a good look at myself. In many ways, as a communicator, you are the message. How you speak is very important – your personal style. Your personal style is a combination of your personality and your attitude. This has a big part in determining the impact of your message.

The basic elements of communication are message content, body language and voice quality. Communication experts tells us that effective communication is 7% content, 55% body language (things such as eye contact, a smile, gestures, dress, and appropriate movement), and 38% voice quality (things such as appropriate volume, pitch, and vocabulary).

When thinking about yourself as the communicator of your message, be enthusiastic. Do you really believe what you’re teaching? Are you excited about it? Do you believe it can change people’s lives? Put life and energy into your message. Inspire people. Make it interesting. Have a great attitude that’s contagious. Do it with excellence. Put a lot into it and show the audience their value.

Be open and personal. Honestly share your struggles, mistakes and weaknesses (2 Corinthians 1:8; 6:11. 1 Thessalonians 2:8). Be transparent. Drop your mask and let people see your heart. Talk about your problems. You’ll get people’s attention. Authenticity and genuineness are attractive. Share who you are and what you are currently learning. Be a model. This is the most effective way to change people. The minister is the message. The Word must become flesh (incarnated). Get people to trust you by being real.

Be encouraging. That’s purpose of God’s message as recorded in the Bible (Rom.15:4) and of everyone who speaks for God (1 Corinthians 14:3). Life is tough. Everyone’s had a tough week. People need their faith reinforced, their hope renewed and their love restored. Don’t tell it like it is. Tell it like it can be. “You have the potential to be … Here’s how.” Lift people to a higher level. Be positive. Jesus came to save, not condemn. He message was good news and so is ours.

The number one factor in communication is like-ability. If people like you, they’ll listen to you. Love them and they’ll like you. What you have to say (content) vs. how you say it (style) - both are important! Be yourself!

[Part 7]

Communicating to Change Lives (Pt.5)

Communication_4The third question I ask is …

3. “What will I say?” [The Message]

Once you have established your purpose and formulated an objective statement, you are ready to do your research and prepare the content of your message. Purpose first, then content and outline.

Ask yourself what the Bible say about this subject or the audience’s needs. We don’t have to make the Bible relevant. It already is! We have to show its relevance by applying it to people’s needs.

Gather information on your topic from Bible study, personal experience, and other resources (books, articles, statistics, research, or advice from other people). Think of any illustrations that could support your message. Once you’ve done your research, narrow your ideas into a few points. Be brief and concise - keep it fast paced. Eliminate what's unnecessary. Summarise key points.

Next arrange everything into a logical sequence. The basic parts of your message are: (1) the opening or introduction where you gain rapport, generate interest, and establish a need to talk about your topic; (2) the main body of your message (organised around your main objective); and (3) your close or conclusion, where you summaries and call for action and/or a response.

Work on the transitions so that you tie each part together smoothly. Each new point should begin with an overview statement and conclude with a bridging statement to lead the audience to the next point. Help move your listeners from thought to thought with you.

Also, consider the time element. How much time should you give to introduction, body (key points) and conclusion? What is most important? Allocate time according to priority.

[Part 6]

Communicating to Change Lives (Pt.4)

Communication_3The second question I ask is …

2. “What am I trying to say?” [Purpose]

Purpose is basic and central in preaching. You need a well-understood, clearly articulated and biblically justifiable purpose for your message. It is on this that you plan and execute everything you do when you preach. Whatever you do in a sermon, you should do consciously and deliberately to achieve some purpose. Everything should have its objective and you ought to know what that is.

Your purpose may be to inform, to equip, convince, or to motivate. It addresses what people should learn, believe, disbelieve or do. What do you want them to know or do?

If you can't write the objective of your speech in a single sentence, then either you're trying to say too much or you don't know what you're talking about. If you don't know what you're aiming at, you'll be sure to hit it. You will never be effective unless you know exactly what you want to accomplish with your message and thoroughly plan your strategy for achieving that goal.

Prayerfully choose a subject, then a central theme, and then narrow that down to a clear objective. Most topical messages are either in the form of an obligation message – ‘You should …’ or an enabling message – ‘You can …’ The logical question for the first is ‘Why?’ while the obvious question in response to the second is ‘How?’ For example, you might speak a message with an objective of communicating the message ‘You should pray’ and then you’ll show people why. Or you might speak on ‘You can be free from worry’ and the message will teach people how.

Whatever you speak on, it is essential that you have a clear purpose for your message and a single objective that you are trying to accomplish. Everything you then do or say in your message needs to contribute to this overall goal.

[Part 5]

Communicating to Change Lives (Pt.3)

CommunicationEvery time I prepare to speak, I ask myself five questions. Let’s begin with the first question.

1. “Who am I speaking to?” [The Audience]


When preparing to speak, I always start with my audience. Who am I speaking to? The first question is not “What do I speak on?” It is “Who am I speaking to and what are their needs?” The goal of teaching is to move people from where they are to where they need to be. Where do we start? Where they are!

We should always begin with: the patient, not the medicine; the student, not the curriculum; the customer, not the product; and the audience, not the message. Preachers at times are the only group who don’t do this! Something can be good in and of itself, yet irrelevant if it doesn’t match the needs of those being spoken to. Jesus always started where people were, not with the next lesson in his Scripture reading. The majority of his teaching to the crowd began with their needs. This determined his preaching agenda (Luke 4:18-19). We should do the same. The aim is to find ‘common ground’ (1 Corinthians 9:22-23) so you can speak words that will be helpful and beneficial (Ephesians 4:29).

Who are you speaking to? Think of your listeners right from the beginning. If you don't meet a real need, then your message is a waste of time. A message that is specific is much more powerful than a general motivational message. For every sermon we preach, people are asking, “Am I interested in that subject or not?” If they aren't, it doesn't matter how effective our delivery is, they won’t be attentive nor will they benefit from the message, no matter how good we think it is.

Ask questions about things such as people’s needs, problems, stresses, challenges, hurts, and interest. Get appropriate and relevant information. Do all you can to know all you can about your audience. Take a survey of your congregation or of the needs in your community – “I wish someone would preach about …”

If we don’t do this step well, then we will be scratching where people aren’t itching!

[Part 4]

Communicating to Change Lives (Pt.2)

Communication_3Jesus was a master communicator and therefore he is our model for preaching to change lives. Jesus was the greatest speaker, teacher and communicator who ever existed. He spoke to large audiences in places like the synagogues, the mountainside, the seaside, and in the streets. He addressed small groups such as the Pharisees who liked to debate him, the disciples who wanted to learn from him, and his friends such as Mary, Martha and Lazarus who conversed with him about their daily needs. He also spent time one-on-one with people like the Samaritan woman and the rich young ruler.

Jesus was always prepared and he spoke with authority and confidence. So much so that the people were often amazed at his teaching (Matthew 7:28-29). He used simple language (not shallow, but easy to understand) yet the awed the educated. He used a variety of techniques (parables, object lessons - coin, analogies, humour, role models, questioning, and lectures). No wonder the Gospel writers tell us that the common people heard him gladly – they listened to him with delight (Mark 12:37).

In John 12:49, Jesus tells us that the Father told him what to say (the content of his message) and how to say it (the delivery style of his message). Both of these are important. Through learning from Jesus, the disciples gained confidence in speaking even though lacking in formal education (Acts 4:13).

The objective of our communication is not oratory or brilliant speech but to make the message clear so that people can respond (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). The great commission commands us all to be teachers of the gospel and of God's ways of living. There must be a balance between our preparation (skill) and our dependence on the Holy Spirit (anointing).

Tomorrow we’ll begin looking at five questions I ask myself every time I prepare to speak.

[Part 3]

Communicating to Change Lives (Pt.1)

Communication_2A healthy growing church has good leadership and good teaching. It is well-led and well-fed. There is clear vision and change is occurring in people's lives. Teaching heats up the church’s values. It is like a rudder that steers the church in the right direction. What do you want to see happen in your church? Teach it into existence. Teaching is an important factor in church health and growth.

Preaching and communicating the message of Christ is to be a vital part of every church and ministry (see Luke 4:18. Mark 16:15. Acts 2:42. Romans 1:15. 1 Corinthians 9:16. 1 Timothy 4:13. 2 Timothy 4:1-5). Evangelist D.L. Moody once said, “The best way to revive a church is to build a fire in the pulpit!”

Our desire as ministers is to be clear communicators anointed by the Holy Spirit to impart truth that will bring godly change to people's lives. People come to church with a desire to hear a message that is both practical and relevant to their life situation. Learning to communicate better will pay off in every area of church life. Good preaching enhances your leadership skills, gains respect and credibility, and enables you to help bring about change in people's lives.

Some people have a God-given gift of teaching. How do you know if you have this gift ? I once heard Bill Hybels share five indicators that you have the teaching gift. Here they are:

  1. You sense a positive anticipation towards the preparation of a message and the communication experience itself.
  2. You enjoy the wonder of discovering truth and the creativity of working through how best to communicate it.
  3. You have an unusual confidence in the power of God’s Word.
  4. You receive regular uninvited affirmation from others after you have spoken.
  5. You sense a quiet affirmation of the Holy Spirit after you have spoken.

Although only some people have the gift of teaching, each one of us can learn and grow in our ability to speak well. Preaching and teaching are gifts but they can be developed. You can preach, enjoy doing it, and do it well by blessing people through your message. Keep learning and improve your God-given abilities. Presidents have speaking coaches. Speaking is not a natural skill yet doing it right is important and essential to our success as a minister.

Tomorrow we’ll look at Jesus as our model for communicating in such a way as to help change people’s lives.

[Part 2]

Preaching Thoughts from Rob Bell

PreachingLast year I took a course on 'Preaching' with Haddon Robinson and Rob Bell, as part of my Doctor of Ministry program with Fuller Theological Seminary. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned so much.

There is an entire field of study in preaching and communication and although I’ve spoken thousands of times, I've only given it occasional thought and attention. Yes, I've taken a class or two on preaching, read some books on the topic, and listened to a lot of preachers, but there is so much more to learn about communicating to our contemporary audience from the timeless Word of God and about helping people grow and change. I want to keep learning in this area and help others to do the same.

I'll be making occasional posts on my blog about some of the things I've been learning. [See my post on 'Look Mum, No Notes!', under the preaching category of my blog, for some thoughts on preaching without notes]

Rob Bell is the Teaching Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan. He is a speaker, author, and the creator of the Nooma visual presentations. Rob is a very interesting person – creative, arty, humble and insightful. He spoke mainly about ‘text in context’ and the benefits that come from thinking through the context of Scripture thoroughly. He also had some excellent tips on sermon preparation and how to be always on the look out for insights well ahead of when we preach them. He uses four words to describe his process: RADAR, BUCKETS, CHUNKS, and MARINATE.

Let me unpack those for you ...

Continue reading "Preaching Thoughts from Rob Bell" »

"Look Mum, No Notes!"

For the last year, I have been speaking my main messages to our church without using notes and without a pulpit to stand behind.

This has been a big change for me. I've been speaking for over 20 years now and although there have been a few shorter messages I've given where I haven't used notes, I've usually taken my Bible and 6-10 pages of typed out notes to the pulpit each time I speak.

So why the change?

As part of a course I did on preaching last year, I was challenged to consider speaking without notes. My instructors noted that when you watch a movie, the actors don't read their scripts. By the time they record the movie, the actors have taken on their role and they have internalised the message. As preachers, we are delivering a more important message than any actor, so why not put the same work in?

They also noted that if someone asked you to share your life story, you wouldn't pull out a notebook. You would quickly draw from your memory and share parts of your story, selecting different things, based on how long you want to take.

So this is what I now do in preparing to speak:

  1. I spend time in prayer, preparing my heart as to what to speak on.
  2. I then spend time studying and researching for my message.
  3. This results in a typed Word document, usually about 8-12 pages long.
  4. I then summarise this into an A5 document (2 sided) with bullet points on.
  5. I then spend time praying over this, memorising the main structure, main points and illustrations of the message. In a sense, I create a 'mind map' for each message that includes where I will start, where I will take people, and how I will conclude.
  6. I then step up to speak with just my Bible (I do have this A5 sheet in the front of my Bible just in case I need to refer to it) and without a pulpit to stand behind.

When I first did this for a full 35-40 minute message, it was pretty scary. I felt a bit 'naked' in front of everyone, especially without the pulpit or podium (although I was never one to hide behind a pulpit anyway!).

Some of the benefits I've found with this approach are:

  1. As a speaker, I have to really 'own' the message. It has to be a part of me. I need it to be on the inside of me.
  2. It makes me more spontaneous, as I only memorise the structure and key points, not the actual words. I simple share the message 'as it flows'.
  3. I feel that the level of connection with the people I am speaking to is much higher, as I am able to make eye contact with them all of the time.
  4. I also sense that I'm a little more 'in tune' with God while I'm speaking, as well as 'in tune' with where the people I'm speaking to are at.

So it has been an interesting journey. I have found it quite exhilarating and I've been surprised by how much the mind can remember. I'm enjoying speaking as much as I ever have. It's been fun.

Of course, I am in no way saying that others need to take this step, including those on our teaching team. It's just something that has worked for me and I'm really enjoying it. I kind of feel like I've found 'my voice' in a new way.

P.S. For those who want to head in this direction, start small. Take some 'baby steps'. Share a short communion message without notes OR make some announcements at a meeting from memory (thinking chronogically helps - last week, today, this coming week). As you gain some experience, you'll build confidence for longer messages.

Best Preaching Books

Learning to communicate God's Word in a way that captures people's attention and imparts principles for life change is quite an art. Even after years of hearing many excellent preachers and gaining much preaching experience myself in a variety of settings, I'm still learning.

Here is a list of the most helpful books I've read:

  1. Communicating for a Change - by Andy Stanley
  2. Preaching with Purpose - by J.E. Adams
  3. Biblical Preaching - by Haddon Robison
  4. How to Speak so Youth Will Listen - by Ken Davis

Rick Warren also has an excellent course called ‘Preaching to Change Lives’ which is on CD or DVD with an accompanying manual.