The Reason to Preach Vision

 

The Reason to Preach Vision.

 I have been thinking a lot about preaching recently. That probably because I prepare a message every week and it is my favorite part of what I do. I am constantly thinking about how to get better at it and how to be a better communicator.

I typically preach expository messages that are verse-by-verse, teaching through a book of the Bible. I love teaching this way because it brings a balanced diet of scripture to my people and it forces me to teach things that I might shy from talking about. Recently, I have been impressed with the need to preach vision in my messages. Here are 4 reasons why I think you should preach with vision.

 1.    The church needs it. Every church needs to keep on mission. It is easy to become focused on content and not mission. I believe our people need to learn the scriptures but the purpose of preaching the Bible in depth is not just for information it is for transformation. Our people need to know what they are being called to.

 2.    People have a hunger for vision. I have been pleasantly surprised to find out how frequently people go back and listen to vision series on our video and audio podcasts. Our sermon series on vision, strategy and Elders are some of our most downloaded messages. I regularly hear from  new visitors to Green Hills Church mentioning to me how refreshing it is to hear the vision of our church mentioned so clearly and how it has  brought them to buy into our church.

 3.    Sunday morning is the best time to communicate vision.  I know that all of us hope that people will capture vision in our membership classes and our small groups, but that is not the best forum to really hear the vision clearly. Those are certainly helpful places to hear vision and have it explained clearly, but Sunday morning is the time that people really buy into. What is preached in a sermon is what people take home with them. I know that is not trendy in some church philosophical circles but it is reality.

 4.    You are teaching vision on Sundays even if you don’t realize it. Every time you preach, you are casting vision. You might be casting a vision that the church is all about the experience, or the senior pastor, or being hip and cool. You might be even casting vision that the church exists to be deep and that you don’t care about being hip and cool. The point is, you are always sharing vision. So be intentional about what vision you want your people to follow. Tell them about the mission they are called to. Be passionate and point people to the calling that Jesus wants them to live out.

 

 

5 Tips to Preaching Narrative Passages

One of the hardest things to do is to preach through Biblical Narratives. There are several reasons why it is so difficult. First it is usually cumbersome to tell a long story concisely. Any story worth telling takes a certain rhythm and timing and with time constraints in a message you have to be careful with every minute you have in front of your audience. Secondly stories are often easy to misunderstand. Many times trying to bridge the cultural divide of previous millennia is difficult to do in a world that is Western and Post Modern.  Here are several methods I use to bring a Narrative Passage of scripture to life.

1. Let the text speak for itself.

It is tempting to gloss over the scriptures because you think that people might be bored if they have to hear you read a long section of scripture. As a result, paraphrasing and summarizing the scripture seems like an attractive option. I have found that this is a failed tactic. The scripture is usually more concise at telling the story than me trying to paraphrase it. If the text is too long, break it up and read it piece by piece and use your breaks in reading as places to teach from. Pausing to explain confusing passages in the text while teaching it is a helpful way to teach the passage as well as explaining it.

2. Put yourself in the Character’s shoes

It is easy to miss the emotional content of a passage of scripture. This may be because the passage of scripture is really familiar or because it is very different than the culture you are currently in.To avoid this, I ask myself in sermon prep, “what would it feel like to go through this situation?” I also ask the audience the same question when I teach. Seeing the situation through the characters eyes brings a visceral element to your teaching. If they can feel the emotions of the Characters in your sermon they will identify with the truth you are teaching.

3. Interpret it with Correct Hermeneutics

Teaching a narrative is very different than teaching a Pauline letter. Something to remember is that narrative passages are usually descriptive not prescriptive. That means that they usually describe God’s truth and how people interact with revelation instead of being a list of things they need to do or know. Teaching your audience about it being prescriptive or descriptive will really help them understand the scriptures better.

4. Translate the story to today.

Application of a text is the most difficult and important step of any sermon. How do you make the message relatable to where people are currently living? The best tools I have found is to ask questions and paint scenarios. Ask open ended questions about how to deal with the content. This allows space for the Holy Spirit to speak into people’s lives and convict them of sin. Painting scenarios is an art. You have to hit different situations that people may currently be experiencing. It is important to make scenarios realistic but still vague enough for people to find themselves in them. For example if I was teaching a sermon on Esther 4 (which I currently am) I would say something like, “Maybe you are someone like Esther who is struggling with being bold. You are in a place where you need to speak out but you are afraid. You dont know what to do about it. What you need to consider is that God wants to use you and the only thing keeping you from seeing God use you is that first step of courage.”

5. Tie the story to the gospel

We are to be people who point others to Jesus and what he has done for us in every aspect of our lives. It is the same thing with preaching. If we preach a good moral message with practical points but dont point people toward Jesus then we have failed. I think it is really important to bring the gospel to bear on every aspect of our lives. So I try to tie the gospel message to every sermon. It may not lead to an altar call every week but it should point people to knowing and trusting Jesus with their lives.

The best way to point people to the gospel when teaching a narrative passage is to bring passages of Jesus’ teaching or the New Testament as a lens that you use to interpret and apply the text you are teaching. Letting Jesus speak through your message is really powerful. I find that it t allows people to get to know his voice and hear his teachings as well as see the Bible as being a book that is united in its message.

I hope this is helpful. Please ask any questions in the comments.

The Purpose of Preaching

People have a variety of opinions about preaching. Most pastors are convinced that their way of preaching is the right way. Lets look at some of the preaching models.

Some pastors approach preaching by making it all about meeting people where they are at. This is commonly known as felt need preaching. You answer the questions that people are asking about their lives. You speak to people’s needs and hopes and fears. The hope is that if we can interpret culture and be culturally relevant then people will see how attractive the gospel is and want to follow Jesus.  The goal here is to be relevant to culture and build a bridge to culture.

Other pastors look at preaching as an information dump. They look at trying to educate their audience. They hope that they can give their flock enough information then they will be enlightened and continue to desire to grow. So they talk about theology and historical backgrounds and point to the past. Often attending a church where information is the focus, you as the member will grow in your knowledge of your scriptures and become a very informed Christian.

Some teachers focus instead on a very active, practical approach to their teaching. They try to give their congregation a clear path to taking control of the presenting problems they face. They give action points on how to overcome life’s dillemas. They focus on really practical subjects like managing your money, having a good quiet time and having a good sex life. These are usually pastors who are doers and type A leaders.

A newer, postmodern development in preaching is the teacher who brings his audience on a journey. This teacher is often the direct opposite of the active, practical teacher. They focus instead on asking questions and pondering weighty issues without resolving the tension that those questions bring about. They desire to struggle with issues and bring them to the surface but often have not desire to answer the questions they struggle with. The journey is what matters.

Still other churches are focused on the emotional response to the preaching. They focus on how the person feels in light of the sermon. There are several different expressions of an emotionally focused church. Some want you to feel a certain way during the sermon or worship service. They want you to either be emotionally moved to tears or laughter. They want you to be moved to feeling really worshipful. Or they may desire the polar opposite of someone feeling an emotion. They want a non emotional response and are very careful to not offend their audience. They try very hard to not be offensive by anything that they say, do or teach. They are very politically correct and measured.

Personally I think all these models have their strengths and weaknesses. Any thoughtful teacher should strive to preach in a relevant way that brings new helpful information to the table.  In fact, good teachers incorporate all of these elements into their teaching to be able to connect with the different kinds of people who are a part of their audience.

Recently I have had a lot of clarity concerning the kind of teaching I feel God is calling me to grow in. In my quiet time I came across Colossians 1:27-28.

It reads:

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. [28] Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. Colossians 1:27-28

I love how it says that God is making known among us a great mystery. That mystery is that Christ is in us. This is our hope of glory. Think about that we have Christ in us.  During the sermon on the mount Jesus said that we are the light of the world. Thats remarkable. God is in us to be a light in the darkness. We all know we live in a dark place but it is better to be a light in a dark place than curse the darkness. jesus is calling us to be light. To show that we have his light in us. But that isn’t easy. It is hard to be consistent without community around us to encourage us to be faithful

But what Paul continues to say in Colossians 1:28 has shaped my teaching: Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Preaching at its core should be to present your audience mature in Christ. If you arent doing that you are missing the mark. Jesus said in the great commission that we are to make disciples. He didn’t say we are to make fans, or to make followers, but that we are to make disciples. When you teach you are to make people into replicas of Jesus through your teaching. That means as Paul says in Corinthians that you are to proclaim Jesus, warn people and teach them with all wisdom.

So that means that every teacher should ask themselves the following questions:

Am I calling people to be mature in this message? This is so hard because you have to work hard to be clear and practical about what you want people to change in their lives. But you have to have maturity as your target or else you will focus on either a creative idea or a truth that you are fond of but that may not transform a life.

Am I warning people? It takes a lot of courage to warn people about the dangers of this world. Often there are sermons that we don’t preach because we know that it is not a popular message. If you are going to really be a godly pastor you are going to have to be ok with offending people. If we are going to be like Jesus we will be unpopular when we teach what he said.

Am I proclaiming Jesus? It is easy to make a sermon about so many other things than Jesus. If you are going to a preacher of the gospel, then Jesus’ teachings need to permeate both your life and your teaching. You need to tie what you teach back to what he says. Be grounded in the word. Use it as your standard of truth. Use him to be your measuring stick concerning truth.

This past week we started a new series at Green Hills Church. The point is to drive people to maturity as we discuss hard topics found in the book of Exodus. The first week we had to tackle what the Bible had to say about slavery. I hope you enjoy the message.

You can hear the first sermon of the series here: What the Bible has to say about Slavery.