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Investing in Preparation

I am facing the dilemma of all retirees—Australia’s inflation rate continues at between 1 and 2%, at the same time as interest rates are virtually non-existent.

This means that $1 in the bank after a year is worth 98c and there is no gain added from the bank in interest. Bank balances therefore are shrinking. So retirees are looking for return on investment, at least buying shares in Australia’s banks returns 3-4% on investment.

What does this have to do with preaching? In preparing to preach it is important to invest your time where it will pay a rich dividend!

First, invest time in understanding what the Biblical writer is saying. Remember your authority is in your text—the preacher is an ambassador for God by delivering the message of the text. Observe the text, note repeated words, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, tenses. Make sure that difficult sayings are understood and that you are giving attention to context.

Can you reduce the thought of the passage to one statement sentence or big idea? At this point the preacher is not to be creative or innovative, he must pass on faithfully what the Bible says, after all he is an ambassador. Haddon Robinson quotes Jowett in the Yale lectures as saying that getting this big idea is the most difficult part of sermon preparation. Invest time in your text! Commentary work comes after the preacher’s time alone in the text.

Second, invest heavily in your introduction. This is where you are showing respect to your hearers, not presuming on their listening, showing the relevance of the text for them.

Investing in the first point, above, without an equivalent investment here will lead to wastage. People will not grow through preaching unless they are switched on to listen to you.
Billy Graham spent one third of his sermons here, marketing the question which the text’s statement was answering. I have not preached a sermon that, in my opinion would not have been stronger with a bigger investment here. Investing in the marketing of the Big Question will pay rich dividends!

Beginnings like, ‘Today we come to John chapter 2’, as distinct from last week’s first chapter are not good enough. I would ask students, ‘tell me your first sentence’, and that was indicative of whether the sermon would engage the audience. Think about the angle you will take to enter the sermon and get to your point, and remember, Dick Lucas would say in golfing parlance, ‘Don’t spend too much time wriggling on the tee.’

In his book Why Johnny can’t preach, T. David Gordon says that every sermon must have one idea—what is your sermon about? Is the idea related to the text and are relevant applications offered?

Getting the Big Question right will show the uniting idea of the sermon, give the sermon structure and lead to relevant application.

Take Luke 1:1-4, I have seen a sermon on this portion preached on the question, ‘Why did Luke write Luke/Acts?’ That is a good exam question for the lecture room, but not so good for Sunday’s sermon. A more marketable question must be sought. Luke’s last word is ‘certainty’, in verse 4. He wants his patron Theophilus to be certain of the things Luke has written. Luke has consulted eye witnesses, he has done his research in order to prepare an orderly account of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection (Luke’s gospel) and the spread of the gospel in the early church (Acts). A more engaging question may well be, ‘Where can certainty be found’ or ‘Why is being certain so vital?’

The preacher needs to tease out the issue of certainty and consider its opposite, ‘uncertainty’. And hopefully I will be developing a sense of expectation in the congregation as to the explanation of the text—that Luke wrote so that we might be certain about the will and purpose of God.

Investing time in the introductory big question is both respectful to the text and to our people.

Our ‘Lather and Shave’ preaching Clubs are an opportunity to encourage each other to be both faithful and engaging preachers, ambassadors of God’s Word.

Our Clubs at Abbotsford and Armidale are full, but we still have a couple of places in Marrickville and Cronulla available, use the Contact Form on this website to register. Good coffee, food and fellowship, freely available.