Six Different Types of Preaching Plans

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This book primarily answers three questions:

  1. Why do we preach?
  2. Why should we plan our preaching?
  3. How do we do (1) and (2)?

I like the way Gibson puts it when he talks about the goal of preaching. He says,

“We engage in what we do for the growth of men and women and boys and girls in the faith. We want to stretch believers to expand their faith and obedience as they grow in grace. Our goal is Christlikeness, and we know that believers in Jesus Christ will mature in their faith through faithful sermon planning and the preaching of God’s Word.” (13)

Notice he includes not just preaching, but also faithful sermon planning. Gibson reminds us, we want to provide food that’s both healthy and tasty, and while purposeful planning for preaching may take time, in the end it also saves time. So do it!

Scott M. Gibson believes, “For your preaching to reach the goal of maturing believers, you want to be purposeful – you want to have a strategy.” (107) In this book Gibson provides a framework to do just that – for purposeful preaching that moves men and women and boys and girls toward spiritual maturity, including a very helpful 15-step plan at the very end of the book that I plan on utilizing very soon. Gibson reminds us that for planning purposes – it isn’t very important how many people are in the pews – what is important is that we take note of where our congregants are at spiritually.

What are our strengths? weaknesses? idols? struggles? joys? sorrows? If each member of your congregation were placed on a bell-shaped curve, where are the majority of your people as regards to their spiritual states? Gibson says, preach to that! That way you aren’t just preaching what you want to preach, you are preaching what they need you to preach based on who they are and what their actual, current spiritual needs are at the moment.

While I look forward to utilizing Gibson’s prescribed process by which to plan sermons, I also appreciated reading about the different (legitimate) types of sermon series available. A few of these I’ve never seen and never tried myself (especially some of the ways to utilize different calendars for determining what to preach when).  It was helpful for me just reading through the different options and thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of each one. As far as I saw it in this book, the six main options include:

  • The Calendar Year Plan. This type of sermon series follows the calendar. One preacher in this mode begins his preaching calendar with Easter. Spring offers rich sermon topics (Easter is the big hook, drawing once-a-year visitors, and then there are relationship topics – Mother’s Day and Father’s Day), followed by Summer (creatively linked random topics), Fall (regrouping and spiritual life), Winter (the holidays and a strategic series that focuses on the mission and vision of the church), Bible book series (February and March, the longest series being ten weeks), and then what he calls “pre-Easter” (evangelistic focus, reminding people to invite friends to the Easter services). Other similar variations include:
  1. The Christian Calendar – Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, Ordinary Time, Etc.
  2. The Secular Calendar – January through December
  3. The School Calendar – Think in terms of “semesters” or “quarters”
  4. The Church Calendar – What activities is the church engaged in, and when? How should sermons be aligned with this?
  5. The Denominational calendar – Similar to above.
  6. The Preacher’s Personal Calendar – When will the preacher take vacation? What part of the year is most busy? Etc.
  • The Bible Book Plan. This can include preaching verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, idea-by-idea or section-by-section. One preacher began in the first verse in Genesis and continued through the last verse in Revelation. Some preachers focus on particular genres. Martin Lloyd-Jones for example, favored preaching on the Epistles. He once preached on the book of Romans for fourteen years. Others, in an attempt at providing the congregation a well-balanced diet, will alternate between OT book and then NT Book. Another way of picking books may be to preach different genres throughout the year so as to provide a well rounded “menu.” Preach a prophet, then a law, then a narrative, then an epistle, than an apocalyptic, then a pastoral, etc.
  • The Church Attendance Plan. In this format, sermons are placed at strategic points during the year, based on the specific audience in attendance.
  • The Lectionary Plan. Usually utilizing the New Revised Common Lectionary, preachers follow the assigned years and preach from the texts already assigned.
  • The Special Days Plan. [Technically this probably falls under another bullet point, but it is such a novel idea for me that I put it here as completely separate.] Instead of planning for one Thanksgiving sermon, one Christmas sermon, and one Easter sermon, for example, they plan for five of each, one for each of the next five years. This prevents them from falling into the bad habit of using the same approach to these special occasions each year, and at the same time makes for broader, more balanced, more comprehensive preaching. (121)
  • The Topical Series Plan. This is when the preacher decides on a topic to talk about, how long s/he wants to talk about that topic, then picks passages to go with that topic. Gibson reminds us there are creative ways to do this, including:
    • Preach the series on only one Sunday a month.
    • A series may be sporadic. That is, say that you’re preaching through the Gospel of John intending to teach throughout the year about who Jesus is. But you want to vary the intake of the content with other series. Your intention to preach through John can be spread out over the year by preaching an eight-week series on John and then a different series. After the second series, you pick up the series on John for several more weeks.
    • Spread the sermon series over a two-year period of time.

Typically, my own church goes back and forth between the topical series plan and the Bible book plan. Most of the times our series don’t go for longer than three months – although our most recent series on I Peter lasted 5 and 1/2 months. The church I attended before my current church followed the lectionary and I loved that as well. However, after reading this book I’m intrigued by the idea of calendar preaching and want to think about if that would ever make sense for the congregation I’m a part of.

 

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Preaching to Confront Racism Includes…

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In this book, Will Willimon argues as white people, our racial history is like toxic waste: we attempt to cover it up, deny it, but then it bubbles up or gives off its stench and we are finally forced to admit its toxicity. Instead of trying to cover it up, the author would like us to own up to our inherently racist society. Even more, as preachers, we ought to speak against it. And not just vaguely. As Willimon’s argument goes on page 20,

“The conscientious preacher must not allow himself to be browbeaten into vague, harmless generalities…Too many preachers have been like the cowed Israelites across the valley from Goliath, trembling at the reverberations of his authoritative voice. There have been, however, praise God, many Davids…who have picked up five smooth stones known as facts and hurled them with deadly aim and effect.” 

Willimon would prefer we preachers be more like David than the others. We should be willing to acknowledge our racism calling it by its proper name, repent of it, and then boldly and prophetically, preach against it. This is our way to “make the invisible visible and publicly addressing the unmentionable” (38) and upending the dynamic that makes racism “so dominant in this society that it just seems normal” (59). Willimon wonders if however difficult this may be to hear, the congregation may be already waiting for it. As he says,

“In my experience, we preachers tend to overestimate the possible resistance of our congregations to sermons on controversial matters and underestimate the number of people in the congregation who long to hear a sermon on a subject of importance” (54).

Willimon believes the Gospel gives us the means to be color-courageous, to talk about matters our culture would rather keep silent. The Apostle Paul says that in God’s realm, Jews and Greeks, slave and free, “all are one in Jesus Christ” (Gal 3:28). This is a baptismal call meant to be proclaimed – not for color-blindness or arguing that gender or race are inconsequential, but rather a theological affirmation that Jesus Christ enables a new eschatological community where conventional, worldly signifiers don’t mean what they meant in the kingdoms of this world. Therefore, “we must preach” (63).

This book was convicting for me, to say the least. Eye-opening would be another way to put it. Written in a prophetic tone – reading this book reminded me of what it’s like to read the Old Testament according to Walter Bruegemann. Similar style, similarly bold. Without getting into all the good details, I can’t do much better than to highlight the type of preaching that Willimon believes confronts racism. Willimon’s list includes, and I quote (from pages 126-127):

  • It speaks up and speaks out
  • Sees American racism as an opportunity for Christians honestly to name our sin and to engage in acts of detoxification, renovation, and reparation.
  • Is convinced that the deepest, most revolutionary response to the evil of racism is Jesus Christ, the one who demonstrates God for us and enables us to be for God.
  • Reclaims the church as a place of truth-telling, truth-embodiment, and truth enactment.
  • Allows the preacher to confess personal complicity in and to model continuing repentance for racism.
  • Brings the good news that Jesus Christ loves sinners, only sinners.
  • Enjoys the transformative power of God’s grace.
  • Listens to and learns from the best sociological, psychological, economic, artistic, and political insights on race in America, especially those generated by African Americans.
  • Celebrates the work in us and in our culture of a relentlessly salvific, redemptive Savior.
  • Uses the peculiar speech of scripture in judging and defeating the idea of white supremacy.
  • Is careful in its usage of color-oriented language and metaphors that may disparage blackness (like “washed my sins as white as snow,” or “in him there is no darkness at all”)
  • Narrates contemporary Christians into the drama of salvation in Jesus Christ and thereby rescues them from the sinful narratives of American white supremacy.
  • Is not silenced because talk about race makes white Christians uncomfortable.
  • Refuses despair because of an abiding faith that God is able and that God will get the people and the world that God wants.

Personal apology, and confession: Both the first and the second-to-last bullet points may be the ones that makes me most squeamish. Clearly, I have some prayin’ to do.

 

Preaching in the New Testament

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This is the newest book published in the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series, technically to be published on March 14, 2017. The goal of this book is to answer two interrelated questions:

  1. Is there such a thing as “preaching” that is mandated in the post-apostolic context – and, if there is, how is it defined and characterized? (Similarly, how is “preaching” unique/similar as compared to other word-based ministries in the church?)
  2. How does post-apostolic “preaching” relate to the preaching of the Old Testament prophets and of Jesus and his apostles?

While question two is certainly important, I was personally more interested in the answers to #1. As “preaching” is a thing I do every once in a while, I am constantly curious about how closely my own practice of it may or may not align with Biblical definitions. The author, Jonathan I. Griffiths, goes to task in exegeting the three main “semi-technical” Greek words that refer to preaching in the New Testament in their own context: euangelizomai (occurring 54 times in the NT), katangello (occurring 18 times in the NT) and kerysso (occurring 59 times in the NT).

The passages Griffiths highlights as most pertinent to this project are the following:

  • II Timothy 3-4 (with a particular focus on 4:2)
  • Romans 10
  • 1 Corinthians (especially chs. 1-2, 9 and 15)
  • II Corinthians (especially chs. 3-5)
  • I Thessalonians (especially chs. 1-2)
  • Hebrews – which is itself a written sermon

In this post I will not rehearse the authors’ examination of the Biblical texts in detail. But I would like to highlight a few of his conclusions which in my mind give us a good “starting base” on which to begin to understand what Scriptural preaching actually entails.

  1. Griffiths argues that “preaching” in the NT is the job where a person passes on, or “testifys accurately” what he had received from Christ and by no means to misrepresent Christ. True preaching in the NT would “enable God’s own voice to be heard” (122) because preaching is itself an activity solely revolved around Jesus – God’s own Son. As Griffiths explains, preaching in the NT typically refers to “fundamentally nothing more and nothing less than an accurate transmission of the received gospel of the sin-bearing death and resurrection of Christ.” (81) So, preaching in the NT revolves around the words and works of Jesus Christ specifically (see II Tim. 3:15-17; I Cor. 1:17; 2:2; 15:3-5; II Cor. 3:14-16 and the entire book of Hebrews).
  2. Additionally, most typically, it is not just anyone who is allowed to preach in the NT. Rather, time and time again, the preachers in the apostolic and post-apostolic time periods were commissioned and duly authorized by God and the community of faith. There is typically some sort of command to preach from God and/or from the leaders of the church. This is the case for the angel who came to Zechariah (Luke 1:19) for John the Baptist (Matt. 3:1-3 and also Mark 1:2-7); for Jesus (Luke 4:18-19; 4:43); for the apostles (Mark 3:14; 6:7-13; Matt. 10:7, 27; Luke 9:2; Acts 10:42; 16:10 [here including Paul’s associates]; I For. 1:17; Gal. 1:16; Eph. 3:8; and for Timothy (II Tim. 4:2; cf. I Tim. 4:14; II Tim. 1:6). In order for Christ to be heard through their preaching, it makes sense that the preachers are not self-appointed, rather, they are commissioned as God’s heralds.
  3. As well, I learned that the three main verbs typically refer to the act of making a public proclamation. While this could include preaching within a home if we allow for a definition of public as “any context where a group of people would gather to hear a speaker” usually preaching would be done in an open arena or most often, within the synagogue. “Preaching” usually refers to a communal proclamation or declaration within a local assembly of people.
  4. The result? “A transformative encounter with the Lord himself!” (91) According to II Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” An encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ (“who is the image of God – II Cor. 4:4) results in his people being “transformed into the same image” in increasing degrees of glory.

When preaching is done in light of God’s good purposes, the hearers “become imitators of us and of the Lord” as they “receive the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (I Thessalonians 1:5-6). Not only does the Holy Spirit empower the proclamation of the word, but he can also cause the recipients to accept it with conviction of its truth and with joy, even in the context of trial so they grow in faith and obedience.

I can’t do better than end with some of Griffiths Final Reflections:

The public proclamation of the word of God in the Christian assembly has a clear mandate from Scripture and occupies a place of central importance in the life of the local church. Preaching is necessary and vital – but not all-sufficient – for the nourishment and edification of the local church. All God’s people are ministers of his word, and a healthy church will be a church where all kinds of word ministries (formal and informal) flourish and abound.

However, none of those other ministries of the word can take the place of the public preaching of God’s word. The primary feeding and teaching of God’s people should come from the preaching that takes place week by week in the assembly. That preaching ministry should, in turn, fuel and shape many other ministries of the word, as all believers speak (and sing!) the word to each other and to those outside the church.

The preaching of the word of God is God’s gracious gift to his people. It is a gift by which he speaks to us, encounters us, equips us for ministry, and, throughout the power of his Spirit, transforms us – all for his glory. (Page 133)

To read a different but related book review of mine from the same series (Timothy S. Laniak’s book, Shepherds After My Own Heart) about how scripture defines pastoral leadership, click here.

How Craig G. Bartholomew’s “Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics” Can Affect Our Scriptural Reading/Preaching

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I love Craig G. Bartholomew’s description of Scripture as that “field in which is hid the pearl of great price” (5). Scripture is a treasure-filled-trove since in its’ authority it “adequately renders Jesus Christ and thus God to us” (8).  If that is true, then WE (both academics and ordinary Christian readers) should learn how to plow the ground, together and even for one another. That is, our goal in reading Scripture is nothing less than cultivating a communal “obedient attention to God’s address through his Word” (12).  A proper hermeneutic will allow the reader to really catch God’s address, to facilitate true, real communion with God. This reading, its not a game. It’s a chance to encounter the God of the universe. So, how should we do it? Enter: The Task of Hermeneutics!

Chapter Two gives us a good start. Titled “Listening and Biblical Interpretation,” it was my favorite chapter of the entire book. Bartholomew believes our approach to Bible reading should be described more than anything else as fundamentally a kind of surrendera way of listening. Bartholomew’s “philosophy of listening” includes reminding us that before we can attempt to analyze this text-of-beauty, we must first “LISTEN!” as the imperative sema in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 instructs. What is primary is our embrace of sustained humility. Our respectful listening. Our trembling, open receptivity. The vocative “Israel” in Deuteronomy 6:4 alerts us to the fact that God’s Word is addressed primarily not to individuals, but “to his gathered people” (33). This means listening doesn’t just include my own ear, it includes all of us hearing with our ears, together. Of course, analysis of the Bible has a vital place, but only after our acknowledgment of God’s presence. After all, “How can one answer without listening?” (31) We need  to slow down, we need to be in the presence of one another, and we need God’s Spirit BEFORE we can even BEGIN to think about properly understanding what God’s Word is saying to us.

This has implications for preaching. A preacher shouldn’t simply illumine (much less “analyze”) what a congregation doesn’t already know, although certainly this is part. Preaching is more: It is primarily to “enable us to encounter again and again the living God who has come to us in Christ” (35). Here we are looking for what Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones also looked for, “preaching that ushers us into the presence of God” or as John Stott asserted, “what we need in our pulpits is truth on fire.” Karl Barth notes that since this encounter can only be created by God himself, our hermeneutic must always be pneumatic and prayerful since it is the delight of the Spirit to use the Word to bring us to God. If we read and preach this way, then the hearing of God’s Word allows us to take possession and apply in our hearts that which God ALONE has for His people.

An illustration: This hermeneutic process, this attentive, contemplative stance with Scripture is much like taking a hard candy into one’s mouth and slowly letting it circulate as one’s tongue explores its surface (41). This is a distinctive clarification. Bartholomew notes that “In my library, as I glance through major books on theological interpretation and biblical hermeneutics, it is rare even to find a reference to prayer in their indexes” (43). How sad!

Bartholomew returns to the subject of preaching in part 5, in pages 487-585. Chapter 14 (pages 487-522) includes an example of what this can look like if the book of Hebrews were the focus, and chapter 15 (pages 523-585) highlights the primacy of preaching – as well as its’ main challenge today: application. His question is one I ask myself in particular ways almost every week: “How does one preach a biblical text for all it’s worth so as to allow its full force to address a contemporary congregation?” (535) How can a sermon amount to “Christ walking amid his people and addressing them“? (537) If we want Scripture to act as a “spectacle” of reality (Calvin), then Bartholomew reminds us to seek wisdom, to utilize prayer, practice lectio divina, and to rejoice in the wounds of our work so we can be formed more like Christ as we ingest the words of Christ in our hearts. This allows us in our reading and preaching of God’s word – to bless the whole world! To joyfully and boldly proclaim God’s whole truth, to the whole of God’s creation! As Psalm 19 reminds us, this world is “drenched with God’s speech” (33) – so why not join the choir? We should and can gift to others through our reading and preaching not just a “church-view” but a truly comprehensive, Trinitarian “world-view.”

Granted, this proposed contemplative stance, this pneumatic hermeneutic, this comprehensive world-view… it is meant to be a learned, informed one. In-between chapters 2 & chapters 14-15 lie some 400 encyclopedic pages of “history of hermeneutics” as it relates to philosophy, history, literature, theology, and even the university. All of it was helpful for me. We become better readers of Scripture when we learn how other giants have read it before us. But more than anything else, what will stick with me from this book is the importance of surrenderlisteningpraying. slowing down. meditating. trusting. gazing… after all, what I’m looking at in Scripture is “The field in which is hid the pearl of great price.” I may-as-well slow down and stay awhile.