Posts Tagged ‘effective sermons’


November 17, 2009 1 comment

In sports there are two kinds of coaches: coaches’ coaches and players’ coaches. A coaches’ coach is a coach who knows the technicalities of the game, runs a tight ship, imposes a restrictive system on the team, and gives his players little freedom to operate outside the structure. A players’ coach, on the other hand, tends to have a good feel for the game, tends to implement a less structured system, and tends to give his players more latitude in dictating the flow of the game. In short, a coaches’ coach connects with those familiar with the technicalities of the game, while a players’ coach connects with the players who are actually playing the game.


I feel like the same is true of preachers. There are some preachers who know the scholarship regarding effective communication, who are familiar with a variety of approaches to sermon structure, and who are very intentional to follow the rules for illustrations and self-disclosures and a bunch of other details that the typical audience is oblivious to. Then there are other preachers who are not as familiar or who just don’t care as much about the formal guidelines of preaching but who have a sort of sixth sense that allows them to be extremely effective in connecting with an audience.

If the ultimate goals of preaching are to enlighten and inspire, then it seems to me that connecting with the audience must be of primary concern. It’s through that connection that truths are imparted and transformation is facilitated. While I know it’s possible to craft a technically correct sermonic masterpiece that connects with an audience, I also know it’s possible to craft one that does not. I don’t want to preach sermons in that latter category. I don’t want to be a preachers’ preacher. I want to be an effective preacher, whether or not I appeal to the leading experts in my field.

That’s because there’s much more at stake in preaching than formal rules of communication. In the end, I want eternal truths to be imparted into the hearts of the listeners. Whether or not technical guidelines are followed in the process is of minor importance in comparison to that.

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November 14, 2009 2 comments

A few months ago I was on the couch in a hospital room talking to the patient’s family member about genealogies. She told me stories about how she’d got started on her quest, about adventures she’d had in searching for more of her ancestors, and about future trips to Europe she’d love to take to continue her search.


In the course of our conversation, she made a statement that to me was ripe with intrigue and insight. “I’m not satisfied with writing my ancestor’s names on a piece of paper,” she said. “I want to see their pictures and read their stories.” That’s when her history comes to life. It’s the faces and the stories that she’s after, not mere lifeless letters arranged on a piece of paper in a particular order to form names.

As soon as those words left her mouth, I immediately began contemplating the implications of that statement for me as a preacher.

  • When I talk about characters in the Bible, do I treat them as simple, one-dimentional stick figures from the past–mere characters–or do I view them as individuals with complexities and inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies–real people?
  • Do I tap in to the power of story to engage, enlighten, and inspire as Jesus did so masterfully?
  • Am I interested enough in the people I preach to each week to hear their stories, feel their pain, share their joys, sympathize with their weaknesses, praise their strengths, endure their frustrations, give them the benefit of the doubt for their imprudence, and accept their quirks (as they do for me)?
  • Am I in touch with the human experience enough to connect absolute truth to everyday life? Or do I unintentionally imply a disconnect between the two by teaching truth abstractly, as though truth were something only to be understood and believed and not lived–nothing but useless fodder for intellectual curiosity?


October 16, 2009 2 comments

Those who know me know that I tend to be a bit analytical (ok…so I have a strong tendency in that direction). This means that if I’m buying a vehicle, I’ll track down the actual price the dealership paid for it before making an offer. If I’m listening to a news story, I’ll be wondering what information they have not included in the story because it would weaken their particular angle. If I drive through McDonald’s when their large drinks are $1, I’ll figure out whether it would be cheaper to buy a value meal (and forfeit the discount on the drink) or buy everything separate (and forfeit my value meal discount). If I’m planning a trip, I’ll probably not depend on a travel agency to ask all the questions and get the best deal and make all the plans for me; I guess I just feel like I’ll be more attentive to my vacation than someone else will be.


What does my analytical nature have to do with airplanes circling the airport? A few years ago I was taking a graduate class in preaching. The main critique of one of my sermons was that I kept circling the airport but never did land. In other words, my analytical tendency led me to figure out the accurate interpretation of the text without bothering to show how the truth of that text should impact the lives of the individuals in the audience (and my own, of course).

That humbling experience has proven quite helpful. Now when I’m preparing to speak, that critique helps me remember to remind myself frequently: Stop circling the airport. Be sure to land the message in people’s lives.

Land…like Jesus did so well with his illustrations from daily life and his human interest stories. Land…like the Bible itself does so well–it informs and transforms (if analytical preachers don’t get in the way).

It transforms, that is, on one condition: that we stop circling the airport and let the message land in our hearts and lives.

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