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One of the most common questions I hear related to preaching is, “How long should a good sermon be?”

The best answer I’ve heard is from John MacArthur who said, “As long as it takes to cover the passage adequately. If you have nothing worthwhile to say, even twenty minutes will seem like an eternity to your people. ”

We did a little research of our own to discover just how long the most watched preachers in America preach. You might be surprised by the results. We certainly were.

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The screen printer standing in my living room was trying to sell me on a new four-color process for the kids Bible club shirts my church needed. One problem: he came to the door asking for “Mike,” not “Mark” because I kind of forgot to tell him the truth… (I used to use a pseudonymous email address out of overblown security concerns.)

We still joke about that. He’s now one of my best friends. But back then I had no idea of the wonderful story of God’s grace in his life. He and his wife were brand new to the area, and my wife and I invited them over and started a friendship. We found out that this clean-cut young man had, not too many years back, been a drug addict. As a last resort his non-Christian family had sent him to a Christian program in a rural area. Most guys go there to get clean, and they’re willing to use the God stuff temporarily if it will help them get their lives back from drugs and alcohol.

But my friend’s experience was different: God wouldn’t let him be temporary. He got hold of this young drug addict’s heart. After graduating from the program, he immediately went on staff, then married the daughter of another graduate. The screen-printing gig was his first venture into “the real world” since coming clean and turning to Christ. He was full of faith, hope, love, and zeal. He and his wife found a church that was known for engaging (ahem, read: wild) worship services, not so much for theological depth.

Pins and needles

So I was surprised when, one Sunday, he called me and asked if he could come to my church, where the proportion of wildness to theological depth was rather different. “Of course!” I said; I was thrilled. But I immediately became afraid, too. My pastor was going through Isaiah. We had just made it to chapter 21, a somewhat recondite passage full of judgments on people such as the Dedanites, Temanites, and Kedarites. I had to listen to a lengthy expository message through the ears of a guy sitting next to me who, as best I knew, had never heard an expository sermon.

To make matters worse, the title of the message that evening was “Shuddering Over a Harsh Vision.” That was me: I envisioned my friendship with this guy ending. In my vision, he was looking at me like I was an alien, and he was heading back to a church where he could be sure he’d never have to hear about the Dedanites again.

My pastor, an experienced expositor who also taught preaching, said something at the beginning of the message that I’d never heard him say before: “This is one of those obscure passages of Scripture that, if it went missing, no one would notice.” Oh no, I thought. The pins and needles under my pew cushion grew longer, and I was required to sit on them throughout the detailed explanations required to get us all through Isaiah 21.

When the service was over, I couldn’t bear to ask my friend what he thought. I didn’t want to put him in the awkward position of having to tell me with a glazed expression, “Church is not supposed to feel like a sentence-diagramming party.” So I changed the subject of our conversation to something else, maybe football.

He changed it right back. With deep feeling he said, “Wow. . . Now there’s one part of the Bible”—and here he held up his hands to indicate the space of about a chapter—“that I understand.”

Shortly thereafter my friend and his wife were eating up the kind of in-depth Bible teaching I was afraid to introduce him to that Sunday; they listened with the zest of someone who has just discovered that meat exists.

Exposition

Expository preaching is sometimes criticized (and sometimes rightly so) for being all about understanding and not about feeling. All head, no heart. But you had to be there to see my friend’s eyes. Few people get excited about hour-long expositions of Scripture. He did, because he had the new heart of the New Covenant. He hungered to know God’s words.

John Piper advocates preaching that is what he calls “expository exultation”—head and heart. And in my experience there’s nothing quite like it. The capacity for deep feeling is itself made deeper by a greater depth of exposition. I’ll never forget singing “The Church’s One Foundation” with my fellow church members after we’d been treated to an exposition of that foundation in Ephesians 2.

As is nearly always the case, Piper’s “expository exultation” is only an encapsulation of Jonathan Edwards, who said in Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England,

I don’t think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond a proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with. (387)

After hearing a message on a harsh prophetic vision, a congregation is supposed to shudder—as Isaiah himself did in this portion of his book (“My heart staggers; horror has appalled me”). The Bible, rightly preached and rightly understood, creates negative feelings as well as positive in hearts made soft to God’s words. The Lord evidently thinks we need to hear passages of comfort as well as of warning. The Bible clearly instructs us both to love the Lord and to fear him. A New Testament preacher must bring in gospel comfort, too, but not by removing the teeth from God’s warnings.

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While beginning to sense God’s call to ministry in February of 1998, I joined a car full of college-aged men to travel north from Mobile, Alabama, on I-65 to Birmingham, to attend the Conger Lectures on Preaching at Beeson Divinity School. ‘The Supremacy of God in Preaching’Friends described that year’s lecturer as the “John MacArthur of the North.” His name was John Piper.

So there I sat in the Hodges Chapel at Beeson, hanging on his every syllable. With each word, my call to ministry intensified. The Minneapolis pastor spoke as one having authority—an authority rooted in God’s Word and accentuating God’s glory.

It was an introductory dose of what all who’ve heard Piper have come to expect—an unveiling of the majesty and supremacy of God. That day I grabbed a copy of his book The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Baker). I quickly devoured, marking up every page. I’ve since re-read it every few years, and now, 25 years since its initial publication, it deserves renewed attention. (Baker recently published a revised and expanded edition to mark the anniversary.)

6 Takeaways from an Enduring Volume

How has the volume stood up over a quarter-century? It remains as powerful, convicting, and encouraging as at the outset.

Here are six takeaways:

1. To preach is to put one’s deepest beliefs on display.

For better or worse, what comes out in the pulpit each Sunday will, over time, reveal what the preacher truly believes and prizes. At the most foundational level, this begins with his theological presuppositions. Mark it down: the preacher’s presuppositions always shape the sermon. Luther and Spurgeon’s Christ-centered hermeneutic impacted their exegesis and their preaching. Calvin’s God-centered approach did the same.

Piper’s God-centered “Christian hedonism” radiates throughout his preaching. It also drives this book. Piper puts preaching on a higher ground—pointing preachers to engage the true, deep longings of the human heart. As he observes, “People are starving for the greatness of God, but most of them don’t even know it.”

2. The preacher should point his people to the grand truths of God.

In doing this, it is not that the preacher dismisses felt needs; he eclipses them. Piper writes:

My burden is to plead for the supremacy of God in preaching—that the dominant note of preaching be the freedom of God’s sovereign grace, the unifying theme be the zeal that God has shown for his glory, the grand object of preaching be the infinite and inexhaustible being of God, and the pervasive atmosphere of preaching be the holiness of God. . . . Then when preaching takes up the ordinary things of life—family, jobs, leisure, friendships; or the crises of our day—AIDS, divorce, addictions, depression, abuses, poverty, hunger, and, worst of all, unreached peoples of the world, these matters are not only taken up. They are taken all the way up to God.

3. The preacher should be relentlessly and precisely biblical.

After all, the preacher is to be God’s mouthpiece—his human spokesman—and it is high treason to misquote, misrepresent, or under-dignify the King and his Word. When the preacher vaguely references Scripture, Piper warns:

We are simply pulling rank on people when we tell them, and don’t show them from the text. This does not honor the Word of God or the work of the Holy Spirit. I urge you to rely on the Holy Spirit by saturating your preaching with the Word he inspired.

4. Balance gravity and gladness in the pulpit.

Reading The Supremacy of God in Preaching is a refresher on the majesty of God and the gravity of preaching. It is simply impossible for a warmhearted, thinking preacher to finish the book without sensing anew the weightiness of the preaching task. But Piper couples the call to gravity with a plea for gladness, rooted in the character of God:

Gladness and gravity should be woven together in the life and preaching of a pastor in such a way as to sober the careless soul and sweeten the burden of the saints.

There is a difference between being glad and being giddy, between being weighty and being dour. Strive for the former; reject the latter.

5. Preach to stir up holy affections within your people.

Piper perceptively observes:

Good preaching aims to stir up “holy affections”—such emotions as hatred for sin, delight in God, hope in his promises, and tender compassion. The reason is that the absence of holy affections in Christians is odious.

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“One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

TEN REASONS: Why Pathetic Pastors Stay Silent on Serious Issues

By  / 12 March 2014

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Here are 10 reasons why pastors avoid political and cultural issues:

1. Fear of man. If you purport to be a man of “the cloth”, then your regard for God and his opinion must trump the trepidation of the creature he created from spit and mud. Come on, man of God – don’t fear us. We’re ants with cell phones who’ll shoot Botox into our foreheads. We’re friggin’ weird and fickle weather vanes of the modern media. Lead us – don’t just follow us!

Man of God, fear God! Declare his will and his way and let the chips fall where they may. Within both the Old and New Testaments there are very unmuddled, eternal opinions on current political issues. These opinions should be embraced and shouldn’t be publicly curbed and bridled because some deranged deacon, some quacky congregant or a preening politician doesn’t agree with the scripture and might get their panties in a wad over a particular political issue. Never live for a nod from the congregation or some political twerp or a particular party, especially when said group is way off biblical base.

2. Ignorance. Most people are not bold in areas where they are ignorant … always excepting Michael Moore, of course. I know keeping up with all the pressing political issues is maddening but that’s life, Dinky, and if you want to be a voice in society and not an echo, you have got to be in the know. Staying briefed, running each political issue through the gauntlet of the scripture and determining God’s mind on a certain subject is par for the course, for the hardy world changer. It’s the information age. Get informed and watch your boldness increase.

3. Division. I hate the current non-essential divisions in the church as much as the next acerbic Christian columnist. Squabblin’ over the color of the carpet, who’ll play the organ next Sunday or who the Beast of Revelation is! Puhleese!

Dial down on the inconsequential seditiousness, okay, Jedediah? Relax. Go into the desert and get focused. The church is currently so divided and defeated with such minutiae that we can’t agree on which shade of white to use for our surrender flag.

4. Last Days Madness. Many ministers do not get involved in political issues because they believe that, “it simply doesn’t matter” since “the end has come”, and Jehovah is about to run the credits on this failed earth flick. These defeatists believe that any change in the jet stream, war, earthquakes, success of a corrupt politician, even a new Britney Spears video, is “proof” that God is getting really, really, ticked off and His only recourse is to have Christ physically return and kick some major butt.

Their only hope is in ‘The Rapture’. They see the church and themselves as impotent and having no real ability to change things culturally with any long-range ramifications. Thus, any stab at a better tomorrow is simply an exercise in futility for this crew. Attempting to right culture is, in their eyes, equivalent to polishing brass on a sinking ship. They are, therefore, content to simply pass out tracts, tramp from Christian rock concert to Christian rock concert, eat fatty foods, and stare at Christian TV.

5. Sloth. Classically defined, sloth is lethargy stemming from a sense of hopelessness. Viewing our nation and the world as an irreparable disaster, where our exhortations, prayers, votes and labors will not produce any temporal fruit, leaves one with all the fervor of a guy who’s forced to French kiss his sister.

If you wonder why your flock is so apathetic, ask yourself, Pastor Grim Carnage, if you have stolen their earthly hope that their valiant efforts can actually prevail in time, and not just in eternity. If you constantly pump the doom and gloom message, if you teach them that evil will ultimately triumph on our terra firma, if you spew messages that consciously or unconsciously convey “big anti-Christ and little Jesus Christ”, then you have effectively zapped what’s left of your parishioners passion.

6. Tax Exemption Pre-emption. Many pastors, priests and parishioners have been cowed into inactivity by the supposed loss of their tax-exempt status if they say anything remotely political. This can make folks who don’t or won’t get good legal advice as politically active as Howard Hughes during the flu season … but it needn’t.

First of all, there’s no need to have an IRS 501[c][3] tax-exempt charitable status to assemble and be a proper church. The church has been around a little bit longer than the 501 [c][3] statutes, right? We are afforded the right to assemble, by God and by the Constitution. Not having the tax exempt status simply means you’ll have to pay taxes at Costco when you buy hot dogs for the church picnic.

Secondly, 501[c][3] or not, we are called to obey God rather than men, and God has called his leaders to be involved in civic affairs, and to represent Christ and his word in all areas of society. And that entails expounding the biblical worldview all the time, including election time. Sometimes you have to rebel against unrighteous, limiting laws. There’s nothing wrong with proper civil disobedience when the need arises, especially if the government tries to stifle your scriptural rights and obligations.

Off the clock, in his personal capacity, the pastor or priest can endorse and support – or oppose – whoever or whatever he wishes, like any other citizen. There are no limitations to the individual; the ones which do exist under the 501[c][3] statute are only for the church entity and/or the pastor in his official capacity, not for the pastor or the members who make up the church.

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Read more at http://clashdaily.com/2014/03/ten-reasons-pathetic-pastors-stay-silent-serious-issues/#2xEM7rHCrGBlzWwY.99

How 450 Sermons Revealed Four Preaching Truths

by Ed Stetzer more from this author »

Date Published: 11/7/2013
LifeWay Research discovered four common factors in good preaching. Are they part of yours?

At LifeWay Research, we recently studied the variety of ways pastors use the Bible by looking at 450 different sermons (all by different preachers). We gave our research team the audio files of these sermons and some objective questions about how the preacher handled God’s Word. Let me share about the research and my views on preaching at the same time.

In these sermons, the preachers handled God’s Word differently. The way pastors organized their sermons varied widely. Half of pastors traveled verse-by-verse through a passage, and almost half organized their sermons around a theme. Almost one out of five pastors named and explained a Greek word in their sermon. More than half explained verses by using other verses in the Bible.

Even though different preachers handle the Word differently, I believe they’re all obligated to teach it as authoritative, not merely as a scriptural footnote proving something they already wanted to say. Four things have to be true about a pastor’s handling of the Bible if that pastor is to preach authoritatively.

1. The Word Should Be Heard.

Our central task as preachers is to present God’s Word. Paul asked a series of questions that should haunt all of us who preach: How can they call on him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14 HCSB) A preacher isn’t a self-help guru. A preacher is not a political activist or an entertainer. Those who preach are truth-dispensers, proclaimers of the Word. If we don’t do our job as preachers, people will not hear the good news, and therefore can’t respond to it. What we do is crucial.

At a surprisingly high level, most of the preachers we studied seemed to understand the need for the text. Four out of five of these sermons conveyed the correct meaning of the chosen text, according to our research team’s analysis (which was not denominationally specific). I’m encouraged by this. People will not really hear God’s Word in our churches if we’re not preaching it accurately.

Of course, you can preach the Word accurately and still no one will really “hear” it; we must share God’s Word in the way our hearers will understand it. No matter how accurately the Bible is preached, our message can get lost behind jargon and phrases that mean nothing to our congregations. This doesn’t mean that we should gloss over difficult words within Scripture. But we do need to explain the original language and “churchy” words we use. Words we only hear in church—such as “holy,” “righteousness” and “propitiation”—can help hearers understand God’s truth only if properly clarified.

Many of the preachers we studied did this. In fact, 41 percent explained at least one church or theological word during their sermon. Another 21 percent avoided such words altogether. This means more than half of the preachers we studied either avoided or at least explained some of the church or theological words they used. While this is notable, it still means that one out of three preachers are not speaking in the vernacular of their audience—at least if the uninitiated or unchurched are in attendance.

Paul could have just asked, “How can they believe without a preacher?” But he didn’t. Without people hearing—really hearing what you say—they will not believe the message.

2. The Word Should Be Organized.

If God is orderly, and the story of creation suggests he is, then the preaching of his Word should be as well. Having a good sermon structure matters as listeners try to make sense of your message.

A good sermon structure simply allows your listeners to more easily grab upon truth. It’s like a well-organized toolbox: If you know where everything in your toolbox is located, you can go find a tool even when your lights are out. Why? You know where everything is. A good sermon structure can do the same thing. If you’ve organized your sermon well, your listeners will be able to understand the Word more easily—even when you’re dealing with difficult subjects.

But different people and different cultures think differently and organize their thoughts differently. Not everyone looks for their tools in the same places. Your task as the preacher is to know how your listeners organize their thoughts and to organize your sermon likewise. (And you should note that our sample was in English, which limited the cultural diversity of our study group.) As we studied these 450 sermons, we saw three main categories of biblical preaching. Each category pointed to an important element in biblical sermons.

Half of these preachers focused their preaching around one block of Scripture text, moving verse-by-verse through the passage. In truth, every sermon should strive to explain Scripture. If the sermon fails to do so, it’s hard to say the Word is central to it.

Another 46 percent of preachers focused their preaching around a main theme, question or topic, using multiple Scriptures to support it. Themes may address issues that listeners deal with throughout their life, or they might highlight a biblical principle or doctrine that should impact the listener’s thinking. Again, this method effectively helps listeners apply the Word to their lives, no matter what organizational method they use.

Finally, the other 4 percent organized their message around one main biblical character, using multiple Scriptures to support the theme. This demonstrates the necessity of personalizing biblical truth—letting listeners see the truth lived out in someone else’s life. (Wayne Cordeiro does a helpful job unpacking this approach to Scripture in his book The Divine Mentor.)

All of these examples are appropriate ways to structure a sermon depending upon your audience, and all point to essential elements in a good sermon.

3. The Word Should Be Sufficient.

Preachers today can be tempted to use all sorts of extrabiblical resources to make their sermons more interesting to the unchurched. Much of those efforts are good. For example, a movie clip may make a nice illustration. A quote from popular culture may show listeners the relevance of what you’re teaching. What a commentator says about a verse may help explain the Scripture better.

But, the best way to explain Scripture is with Scripture itself. Sometimes it isn’t the most convenient place for us to go, but the Bible is simply far better equipped to explain itself than popular culture. More than half of the sermons we studied (56 percent) used cross-references to explain the Word.

I am not saying that cross-references are the only way to help us explain the Word. In many of the sermons we studied (just under half), the preacher gave contextual background information on the biblical book being studied to help listeners understand the text’s meaning. About four out of 10 preachers explained their text by talking about its context or what came immediately before and after the passage. Almost one in five preachers gave little to no background information to help explain the texts they preached upon.

4. The Word Should Be Useful.

God’s Word should make a difference in the lives of our listeners. When God’s Word is preached boldly and authoritatively, people change. Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16 HCSB)

Paul says God’s Word is useful (or profitable) to equip us to do his work. In fact, he says all of God’s Word is useful for this—this includes Leviticus, Amos and the lineage of Jesus. He doesn’t give any exceptions.

The preachers we surveyed had a definite preference for the New Testament. Nearly three quarters (71 percent) of the main biblical texts were found in the New Testament. More than a third (37 percent) of the sermons came from the New Testament letters alone. A quarter came from the Gospels.

When preachers flipped through their New Testament looking for a passage to preach upon, they didn’t flip far. Matthew was the most preached-upon and the most referenced book in the entire Bible. Genesis was the most preached-upon Old Testament book. Luke, John, Acts of the Apostles and Romans—all from the New Testament—were the other most likely biblical books for preachers to use as a main text.

Every book, every page of the Bible, is useful to make us more like Christ and prepare us for ministry, not just our favorite books or pages. In fact, an important part of authoritative, biblical preaching is helping listeners discover “the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27) This means we have to flip further into our Bibles if we’re going to be completely obedient to our call.

How we handle the Word of God matters. As preachers, we have a limited time with our audience every week. The question is, how will we use that time? Will we handle the Word of God in a way that demonstrates its authority in our lives and over the lives of our listeners?

How important is this issue?

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by JUSTIN TAYLOR

How to Preach without Putting People to Sleep

On the new book, Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell:

“I have read books on how to make sure your sermon is interesting, and I have read books on how to make sure your sermon is faithful to the text, but this book wants your sermon to be both. If I could, I would make this little book mandatory reading for seminarians everywhere, and then urge them to read it a couple more times during the course of their ministry. It avoids cutesy and manipulative suggestions, and makes its practical points while urging integrity, faithfulness, and imagination. Many books on preaching are published every year; this one is a “must.”
—D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“This book deserves to be included in the ‘must read’ category for preachers. It is readable, which always helps! And, as we would expect, it is biblical and practical. But it is also funny and forthright in a way that made me re-evaluate my preaching and resolve with God’s help to improve. This is a different book from Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers and Between Two Worlds by John Stott, but it may prove to be just as influential.”
—Alistair Begg, Senior Pastor, Parkside Church, Cleveland, OH

“Some writing so solemnly exalts the task of preaching, or so heavily complicates the method, it depresses and discourages ordinary mortals like me into thinking we can never really do it and should just give up. Since most preachers feel that every Sunday night anyway, such books don’t really help the cause! This one does. I like it because it is short, (lighthearted but not lightweight), very human, and very much to the point. I am involved in training preachers, but I still have plenty to learn. I am very grateful for a resource that will both help me, and help me in helping others—with enjoyment, encouragement and some fun along the way!”
– William JU Philip, Senior Minister, The Tron Church, Glasgow

“This book teems with ‘plusses’: it is short (as a tome that takes Eutychus as its poster boy must be); it is stretching (the authors force one to deal with longer texts—and leave one asking, “Why can’t I summarize extended passages like that?”); it is specific (they include actual sermons with critique); it is searching (in case you skip the first chapter, ‘pray’ occurs eight times in the conclusion); and stirring (you still want to preach when you’ve finished reading). If you don’t buy the book, don’t cry if Eutychus isn’t saved!”
—Dale Ralph Davis, Bible expositor and author

For the rest of the reviews…

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