Who Are The Preachers I Learn From?

I watch and listen to 10-15 sermons a week from other preachers. This is not part of my sermon preparation, it is part of my personal growth plan.

I listen to other preachers because I need someone to preach to me. If spiritual nourishment only flows out of me and never into me, I will quickly be emptied.

I listen to other preachers because I learn from their technique. Every preacher is different and every sermon is different. I learn about structuring a sermon, extracting truth from a passage, presenting a message and more by watching and listening to others who do it differently than I do.

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I don’t align perfectly with the theology or practice of all these preachers. Yet, we’re all playing on the same team and I find I learn a great deal from them even when my ears perk up due to a minor doctrinal difference.

Here are a few of my favorites to watch:

Keith Sandison. Calvary Church, Muskegon, MI. Keith is an old friend, a former team-mate and a one-time student of mine. His passion for Jesus and desire to point others to Him is matched by few.

Jason Tovey and Josh Tovey. Grand Rapids, Michigan. These two brothers have been around my life since they were in middle school and high school. Now they are both lead pastors in the same city. Their styles are different, but they both feed their people solid biblical content every week.

Paul Robie. South Mountain Christian Church, Draper, UT. Paul planted a church in the middle of Mormon country and over the past few decades it has grown into a thriving multi-site church. He doesn’t preach as much anymore, but when he does his messages are practical and accessible with an unexpected depth.

Mark Driscoll. Yup. him. His style is unique and his past is checkered, but Balaam even learned from a donkey, right? Actually, I like Mark. He is unapologetically committed to the authority of Scripture, and while that is not as popular a place to be anymore, I still appreciate it.

Doug Sauder. Calvary Chapel, Ft. Lauderdale. I have a secret crush on the Calvary Chapel movement. I love that they are fully committed to verse-by-verse teaching. Doug’s church is one of the largest in America. His preaching is to-the-point and conversational and his delivery has just the right amount of energy to keep you interested without overwhelming you.

Rick Warren. Although Rick isn’t a regular of mine, he has an unending supply of sermons on Youtube and I can often find a sermon of his that deals with a topic I’m wrestling through. I don’t preach exactly like Rick but I greatly appreciate his systematic approach and his willingness to pack his sermons with helpful and growth-oriented content.

Here are a few of my favorites to listen to: (these are the preachers currently on my phone’s podcast app)

Jonathan Misirian. Southbrook Church, Franklin, WI. Jonathan and I were freshmen together in college. He’s done an incredible job of pastoring the people in his church and turning around a church that had become stagnant. Jonathan’s delivery is pastoral, you can sense the love he has for the people in his church. His messages are always relevant for today and he has found a way to strike a healthy balance between being gospel-focused and missionally active.

Vince Black. The Town Church, Fort Collins, CO. Vince and I worked together at a summer camp 20 years ago. Since then we’ve stayed in touch and tried to encourage each other through the different phases of ministry. He planted the Town Church several years ago with the Acts 29 group. His sermons are Christ-centered and thoughtful. He draws great insights out of each text he covers.

Community Christian Church. Chicago. CCC was one of the pioneer churches in the multi-site movement. They have mastered a process of building every week’s sermon with a team. The result is a finely tuned presentation that focuses people’s attention on one Big Idea (which is the name of their book about this process). This is not a slight, but I listen to these sermons less for the content and more to learn about their structure. They do a great job of illustrating their main point and then creating practical and achievable next steps for their listeners.

This is just a taste of what is available today. Technology has provided us with a goldmine of resources we can share with one another. It is now possible to have sermons playing in the background of your study all day long if you like (I rarely listen to music as I feel more inspired if I’m listening to others preach). If you don’t like the list I’ve created, make your own and learn from them!

And… if you want to watch/listen to my sermons, you can do it here.

 

 

Sound-Bite Sermons

Over the past several years, I’ve noticed political speeches include increasingly more “sound-bite” type statements. Speechwriters know the media will only play short clips of the speech, so they feed them ready-made lines to appear on the evening news. These sound-bites are driven by the campaign’s foundational “talking points” which is why you feel like you hear the same speeches over and over again.

The problem is that most political speeches have become a constant stream of sound-bites without any effort to provide substantive content. On the rare occasion a politician takes time to explain the “why” behind his campaign goals, they get killed by pundits for being “boring”. As a result, most political speeches are pretty shallow these days.

I prefer a speech that mixes important content with memorable sound-bites.

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Often, when I preach, I try to have several sound-bite type statements sprinkled throughout my sermon. Not because of the media, but because a short, memorable statement is a good way to wrap up a point and help the hearers take it with them. These statements are usually the last piece of my sermon to develop as they are in many ways the transitions and summations of the key points of the sermon. The danger I have to avoid, however, is the temptation to develop a sermon full of short, witty statements that inspire people and get them excited, but don’t really teach them anything new or direct them toward life change.

As an example of sound-bites in a sermon, here are some of my transitory statements from a sermon on 2 Timothy 2:14-22:

  • How disappointing is it to God when the feuds and drama within His church are mirror images of the workplace fights that happen among those who don’t even know him?
  • Handle the Bible in such a way that there is no question as to the RIGHT way to live.
  • Whatever your talents, resources, position, or possessions; use them in ways God would approve.
  • If we are not willing to rightly handle the gifts God has given us, we cannot be useful to him.
  • We need to discipline ourselves so that our first response to temptation is to flee.
  • Because of faith, God has already declared me righteous, so when I pursue righteousness, I am simply living up to the person God has already declared me to be.
  • Faithfulness is demonstrated by consistency over time.
  • Faithfulness is choosing to consistently rely on Christ every day. This kind of faithful life is the catalyst for righteousness.
  • When I’m consistently relying on Jesus to provide my righteousness, I have no need to take care of myself. Therefore, I can focus my attention on others… on loving them.
  • The greatest obstacle we face in pursuing loving relationships is too great a sense of self-love. I cannot completely love you the way Christ loved me if I am worried about fulfilling my own needs and desires.

An added benefit of creating these sound-bites is that they are ready made for social media. I can tweet these, put them on Facebook or create Instagram and Pinterest graphics with them. I might use them to spice up my YouVersion live event or in an all-church email the week after I preach. If my church members follow me on social media, these quick statements are a great reminder throughout the week of how God has spoken to our community.

These statements are not the “meat” of the sermon, they are the seasoning. They won’t provide the protein, but they make the meal memorable. If one of these sound-bites sticks with someone and enables them to receive God’s truth so that It changes their life, then my time spent developing them was well spent.

Download This Four-Week Sermon Preparation Plan

I love crockpot cooking. Allowing the meal to sit in it’s own juices for hours seems to heighten the flavor of every bite. I look for chances in life to add a crockpot mentality to my tasks. Taking the crockpot approach to sermon preparation allows me to let passages soak in my mind for several weeks before I present them. This means when I stand up to preach, the wrestling is done and the passage feels like an old friend.

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Most of my sermons take four weeks to prepare. That doesn’t mean I’m working on one sermon for four weeks, but that every week I’m working on four sermons. Each week I have a specific goal to accomplish for each sermon:

Week One: I need to understand what the text says. I have two study sessions set aside during week one in which I devote my efforts to exegeting the text.

Week Two: I need to determine how this text applies to our church community. During week two, I work through several exercises to help me look at the passage from several different angles. The fruit of week two is several short “next step” ideas.

Week Three: I need to discern the most effective method for communicating the truths I’ve unpacked. As in week two, I’ve created several exercises which help me consider a variety of possibilities for my sermon presentation. The goal of week three is not to create or find new content, but to arrange the content I’ve already discovered.

Week Four: I need to get ready to preach. Throughout this week, I have several tasks to accomplish so that Sunday’s sermon will be clear and concise. I also use week four to create a variety of follow-up materials for those who desire to go further with the sermon.

You can download the google doc template I use to work through my planning process at the link below:

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Different sermons lend themselves to different processes, so I may deviate from this template from time to time, but it is my starting point for every sermon. I’ll post later about some of the exercises I use each week, but you can see them all listed at the template link above.

If you have questions or would like to chat more about this template, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email.

The Work Is Not Complete Until The Truth Is Communicated

Preaching is speaking. A sermon is a presentation. The greatest content in the world is not helpful if it is not heard.

The work of a preacher begins in God’s Word and the majority of effort must be spent in the exegetical process. However, the work is not complete until the truth is communicated and if we desire to communicate more effectively, we can learn something from other skilled presenters.

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Here are three presentation articles you might find beneficial.

9 Things Pastors Need to Know About Sermon Delivery

Brandon at ProPreacher writes, “Effective preaching is more than just about what you say. It’s also about how you say it. Too many sermons fail not because of bad content, but because of bad delivery.”

3 Ways To Give Your Presentation An Emotional Punch

Storytelling is not something that we do; storytellers are who we are. The power of story helps us make sense of the world and gives us a powerful tool to articulate our ideas. In business, however, we seem to have lost that essential component that binds us together.

4 World Champions of Public Speaking Explain How To Give Presentations Your Audience Will Love

Being a great public speaker requires much more than confidence. It’s about connecting to audience members on a personal level and leaving them with a satisfying message they can act on.

You Are Not The Hero of Your Sermon

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Preaching is presenting. So I hone my craft by learning from other presenters.

Preaching, however, is far more important and urgent than presenting. Most presenters are selling something (a product, a subscription, themselves). When I preach, I’m not selling anything, I’m just point to Someone. The Holy Spirit does the selling work.

My message is far more critical than the message of any pitch artist, but I am communicating to people, just like every other pitch artist. So I hone my craft by learning from pitch artists.

6 Pitching Tips To Impress Any Audience is an article by Jon Levy. You can read the whole thing on your own, but I wanted to zero in on his second tip.

In a great pitch, the hero is your pitching audience–only they can save the day. Your idea is the tool that they will use to vanquish the enemy. Allow the story to play into their ego.

Stop making yourself out to be the hero, because it does not matter if you’re amazing. What matters is that they can use your knowledge, experience, strategy or product to save the day.

I think he’s partially helpful for preachers here. Stop making yourself out to be the hero, because it does not matter if you’re amazing.

We are absolutely not the hero of our presentation, however, neither is our audience. God should always be the hero of every sermon we preach. If we have a secondary hero, it can be the listener. It should never be the preacher.

Matt Chandler brilliantly made this point several years ago while preaching at Steven Furtick’s “Code:Orange” revival (watch it here).

Practically, this has a few implications for Sunday’s sermon.

  1. If the congregation leaves with a sense that they know me better than they did before, but they don’t know God better than they did before; I’ve failed.
  2. The wisdom which undergirds my sermon should come from God’s Word not my mind and the humor that spices up my sermon should be honoring to God, not me.
  3. If I use myself in an illustration, I should be the heel or the villain, not the hero. How can I expect my congregation to humbly approach the throne if I only speak of my virtues and never my vices or shortcomings?
  4. Those who hear my preach should be overwhelmed by God’s grace, not my eloquence.

I am not suggesting you not let your personality shine through. If God has given you the gift of teaching, use your gift to it’s fullest! But use it to point people to God, not back to yourself!

How to Bake the Perfect Sermon

The most difficult task when preparing a sermon is knowing what NOT to say.

Almost every week, more of my study material is left out of the sermon than makes it in. I ruthlessly cut and trim because I want to sharpen the main point of the message.

I recently read a tweet from @JoshWeidmann. He quoted H.B. Charles , “People don’t want to know the details of the recipe, they just want to smell the fresh baked bread.” My pre-sermon study discoveries are the flour and the eggs and the yeast and whatever else you put into your bread (raisins maybe). The sermon is what comes out of the oven.

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I came across this article at Fast Company recently. The author, Judith Humphrey, writes this:

Streamline your thinking down to a single, essential idea–the point you want your audience to buy into. Sometimes speakers have too many ideas, or else they have no idea what they’re trying to say. Too many ideas or no idea–both produce the same thing: confusion.

If I can’t identify my main point before I stand up to preach, I am likely to do my listeners the great disservice of confusing them with my words instead of pointing them to His Words.

Humphrey suggests five criteria by which to evaluate your message before you speak. If your message meets all five, you are ready to present a clear and compelling concept which will hopefully lead to action.

  1. It’s one idea
  2. You can express it in a single, clear sentence
  3. It’s engaging
  4. It carries your convictions
  5. It’s positive

Her five criteria all apply to sermons as well. Checking your message against this list may help you bake just the right sermon for next Sunday.

Prepare To Preach By Creating An Elevator Pitch

Preaching is not pitching. However, pitching is communicating and so is preaching. Before you attempt to speak for 30-45 minutes, you should be able to deliver your main point in 90 seconds or less.

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What is the one thing you want people to take with them when they leave? This is your elevator pitch. By turning my sermon into an elevator pitch before I preach, I know exactly what I must communicate and I know how to evaluate my sermon when I’m done.

Try creating an elevator pitch of your sermon. Then fill in the gaps with supporting Scripture, compelling illustrations and practical next steps.

Check out this article by Ryan Robinson about crafting an elevator pitch that leaves a lasting impression.