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Posts Tagged ‘illustrations’


I recently had lunch with a young pastor. It isn’t easy being a young pastor, having been one a long time ago. I asked to share some observations with him. Perhaps these observations may be helpful to other young, or not so young, pastors.

Don’t Jump to Application Too Quickly. Some pastors are quick to jump to application. I understand, we want our preaching to be practical and transformational. It should be! But our application should flow from the text, and therefore rely on the exegesis we do. Our people need to see the clear connection between the text and the application.

We should also beware of eisegesis in terms of our application. It was a small sample size, I noted, but in nearly every lesson and sermon this man brought up the same event or experience (we can all have our hobby horses). In this case, all roads seemed to lead to suffering or evangelism. These texts weren’t about suffering. Nor was their connection with the gospel exclusively regarding justification or conversion. But we can allow our current struggles or interests, however important, to cloud over the text. We read things into the text that aren’t clearly there. We aren’t showing people how to rightfully divide the Word. Neither is every text a “come to Jesus” text, even if every text is essentially a Jesus text. Knowing how a text fits into the history of redemption helps us to bring the gospel to bear appropriately so our congregation grows in faith, hope and love.

Find Balance in Personal Stories. This man mentioned himself and his circumstances frequently, as I noted above. I encouraged him to read biographies to know and show how the gospel was at work in those people’s lives in order to enrich his preaching. I did tell him about another pastor I know who never refers to his life in his sermons. This is wrong because his people need to know that he needs the gospel, and how it is at work in him. The people need to see your heart in your preaching. But that is not the only heart, or the most common heart.

Finding that balance is tricky. You aren’t the hero of your sermons. You aren’t the main character of your sermons. But you are part of the larger story. It requires wisdom, and a broader range of learning to illustrate from something in addition to your life. Others have suffered, succeeded, struggled etc. Some of those examples are biblical. Some are historical. Draw on them.

When you do speak about yourself, continue to use wisdom. There are things I have decided I will not share about myself in public ministry. People just don’t need to know such things about me. Such information is not safe in everyone’s hands (or mouths). I may share those things in personal ministry if appropriate.

For instance, I listened to a sermon by a colleague once. In it he revealed that he was raped at a summer camp and subsequently struggled with pornography. He made a decision that sharing that was better than not sharing it. He came up with a different answer than I would have. Just as we don’t know EVERYTHING about anyone in the Bible, including Jesus, the congregation (and the world thanks to the internet) doesn’t need to know everything about you. Use discernment.

Continue to Clarify Your Theology. No one leaves seminary or Bible college knowing everything there is to know. There are areas of everyone’s doctrine that need more study for clarification. There have been seasons of ministry when I’ve invested time in particular doctrines.

This young man had made, from my perspective, conflicting comments on a particular doctrine. I didn’t want to force him to share my theological views. For the sake of his congregation, I want him to be sure of what he believes. I want them to be sure of what he believes.

It is not enough, as in some circles, to say “I believe what the Bible says.” At some point you have to state what you think the Bible says. That is doctrine. Paul exhorted Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely. Both. Not one or the other.

16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4

Not every doctrine is equally important. You should start with the big ones. You may have to revisit them periodically. The more mature your mind becomes, the deeper you will be able to think about a particular doctrine.

When I was a young pastor I spent time with a seasoned pastor who had a Ph.D. in theology. It was a good reminder that I still had plenty to learn in terms of the inter-connectedness of doctrine and depth of thinking. This takes time and investment of your mental life. A pastor can’t spend his life making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for people. They need to make some more involved meals too. For the congregation to mature spiritually, they need to hear about more than “Jesus loves this I know…”.

While some people use doctrine as a substitute for a real relationship with Christ, you can’t have a real relationship with Christ without doctrine, beliefs about who He is and what He has done. Hand that doctrine on to the next generation, after you have invested the time to understand them.

 

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The office: a bastion of distractions!

Kevin DeYoung did a post, tongue in check I think, about what sermon preparation looks like. There is much truth in there as pastors deal with distractions, important interruptions and family issues as they prepare their sermons. Yes, our life is like yours. We don’t live in ivory towers untainted by the mundane matters of life.

Here is what my schedule looks like without the interruptions and lunch appointments (and times of prayer).

Monday am: Glad I don’t have the day off to turn the sermon over in my head all day. I hate how much of a perfectionist I can be. I work on the liturgy for the next worship service. I may work on SS lessons and some administrative stuff.

Monday pm: I have to head home to watch the kids. While they “rest” I read and study. Right now I’m finishing up a series on Revelation I will teach beginning in the Fall. I’ll prepare for community group or Men’s ministry as well.

Tuesday am: This school year, I spent the mornings teaching CavGirl. I can’t wait to have those mornings back!

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In the 3rd chapter of his little book, The Work of the Pastor, William Still expands on the topic of feeding the sheep from chapter 1.  He is wrestling with a somewhat different set of problems through the majority of the chapter.  The main point he tries to make, though he declares two, is “the eternal Word of God is ever contemporary.”

He starts by returning to some familiar ground of chapter 1.  We are to preach the whole Word of God, not just a few particular doctrines some call “the gospel”.  Don’t misunderstand, he’s not condemning groups like The Gospel Coalition.  He’s arguing against people who think all they can do is preach justification week in and week out.  He’s talking about avoiding the difficult things of Scripture, and avoiding the reality of sanctification.  We must preach through all of the Bible, even the seemingly difficult, ugly or boring passages precisely because they are the Word of God and He has something to say through them.

The Spirit does not just a small number of passages to evangelize people.  For instance, Augustine was converted by a passage of Scripture having to do with sanctification.  We need to forsake our pet subject, or subjects that make people happy (never-ending conferences on prophecy or healing for instance).

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I posted on this topic a few years ago.  But recent studies have brought this topic back to the surface.  The Gospel Coalition has a number of posts about this issue of integrity.

Collin Hansen

Collin Hansen notes the professional price to be paid for plagiarism.  Sadly, politicians seem to pay no such price.  But as pastors, getting fired should not be what motivates our heart in anything.  He doesn’t suggest this should be our motive by the way.  But after learning a prominent evangelical pastor used Collin’s work without credit, he learned that evangelicalism has a different approach.  I guess it would be similar to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Steve Brown used to tell us that a borrowed illustration should be noted the first time, “then it’s yours.”  He was speaking tongue in check of course.  Surely we aren’t expected to footnote our sermons for influential ideas.  But, if we are quoting someone we should not that with a simple “As Jonathan Edwards noted…”.  We can credit people for their important ideas, and should.  It is about integrity, not fanning the ego of the one whose work benefited us (see the interesting comments on Collin’s post).

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