Pastors were given tips on everything from how to prepare a sermon to how to relax their throats before preaching during the Priority of Preaching Conference March 12-13 at Oklahoma City, Southern Hills. Led by icons in the preaching field, Haddon Robinson and Michael Duduit, the conference stems from the report of the state convention’s Mission Advance Team, which recommended developing preaching as a priority.
Duduit, founder/editor of Preaching Magazine and the founding dean of the College of Christian Studies at Anderson University in South Carolina, compared preaching to kite flying.
“The kite moves through the wind, yet is linked to the ground by a string,” he explained. “If you cut the string, the kite comes down. Likewise, preaching adapts as cultural winds blow, but if there is a disconnect from the Word of God, it comes down.”
Duduit, in his presentation, “Structure in the Sermon,” said preaching needs to stay in touch with the lives of people, and is always communication of what God says in His Word.
“When we no longer say what God says, we are no longer preaching,” he emphasized.
He said to take a text and develop it into a sermon, there must be one “big idea.”
“Too many preachers preach several sermons every Sunday morning,” he said. “Most good sermons have one point, which must point back to the central theme or ‘big idea.’” He added sermons, to be effective, must be concise, compelling, clear and creative.
Steven Smith, dean of the College at Southwestern and professor of communication, preached a message on the prophecy of Psalm 2 being fulfilled in Revelation.
“Revelation is not a book of prophecy,” declared Smith. “It is a revelation from Jesus about Jesus. It’s how God wants us to think about Jesus.”
Smith said God throws open the doors of Heaven and the first thing John, the writer of Revelation, sees is a white horse, symbolizing victory.
“Sitting on that horse is One called Faithful and True, the One coming to make everything right,” he explained. “This is Jesus, the Warrior Messiah. This is not the Jesus of your grandmother or the Jesus of Vacation Bible School. This is the Jesus clothed in a robe dipped in blood, not His own, but His enemies’ blood, symbolizing domination over His enemies.”
Smith said this is not the average way we think about Jesus—baby Jesus, hippie Jesus or whipped Jesus.
“These are outdated,” he exclaimed. “That’s Who He was. This is Who He is.”
For all of church history, Smith noted, Christians have been whipping boys, but the Warrior Messiah is coming back to make all things right.
“Are you ready for battle?” he asked. “You don’t have to be. There is no battle, so why all this imagery? This shows us Jesus, the Warrior Messiah Whom we must trust, must fear and must imitate.”
In a breakout session, Robinson, Harold John Ocenga distinguished professor of preaching, senior director of the doctor of ministry program and former interim president at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, trained the preachers in how to speak, using their optimum voice, breathing the right way to take strain off their throats and how to do simple exercises to relax the throat.
He also said if they had to drink before or during the sermon, not to use an iced beverage because it constricts the throat.
To put variety into their preaching, he suggested doing four things with their voices—change the pitch, change the force, change the rate (faster or slower) and pause for emphasis.
In addition, he pointed out that eye contact is essential and that gestures should be normal, not exaggerated.
Duduit, in his session, “Interpretation of the Sermon,” said determining the meaning of a biblical text is essential in preaching.
“Hermeneutics refers to the process of interpreting a biblical text. It is the way we handle a text to determine its meaning,” he said.
“But the challenge is to make sure we really know what it says—and to be sure we are expressing that accurately and effectively when we preach and teach, or even when we are doing our own personal Bible study. We interpret the text to try to get at the best, most accurate meaning that God has given within the text.”
But, why is hermeneutics necessary?
“For one thing, we are reading a text for which the most recent portions originated two millennia ago,” Duduit pointed out. “We are reading across a historical and cultural gap that has to be bridged. When we read about the ancient Hebrew people, we are dipping into traditions and culture and worldview very unlike our own, and we need to recognize those differences if we are to read texts that originated within that ancient setting.
“We also have language differences. Unless you are a Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew scholar working from the original texts, then you are reaching into another language to try to understand how the words and phrases and ideas expressed in that language would be accurately expressed in contemporary English.
“Finally, I would argue we need hermeneutics because we take the Bible seriously. If you consider the Bible to simply be a man-made collection of inspiring writings, then finding the authentic meaning of a passage is less crucial. But if you believe that the Bible is the God-breathed, God-given, infallible Word of the living God, then hermeneutics is absolutely vital, because what God has said to us is a message that is the difference between life and death.”
Duduit said hermeneutics is a four-step process involving the scriptural text as a preacher develops a sermon. The steps include exploring the text, examining the text, expressing the text and evaluating the text.
“Context matters; that’s why hermeneutics is necessary,” he declared.
Exploring the text includes selecting a biblical text that represents a single unit of thought.
“Read the text in different translations,” Duduit urged. “Let the Holy Spirit shape in you an understanding of what He is trying to teach through this passage.”
Examining the text is determining its genre.
“What type of literature is the passage? Are we looking at narrative or poetry, a prophetic or parabolic text; is it an epistle or apocalyptic literature? The genre matters, because you will interpret a poetic text differently than an epistle.
“Second. Identify the author. If possible, determine who is the human author of this particular portion of scripture. Each author writes out of his own unique personal and historical set of circumstances, and knowing that helps us as we seek to interpret the text.
“Finally, consider the historical and cultural context. Analysis of the context of a passage is vital to interpreting it with any level of accuracy.”
Expressing the text.
This will happen in two phases: theologically, then homiletically.
“This includes three important aspects,” Duduit said. “What is the theological significance of the passage? What is it that God is trying to say to His people through this passage? What’s the message for us today?”
Homiletically means to “craft a sermon that will faithfully present and apply the theological meaning of this text in a way that the people will hear, understand, and be motivated to respond as the Holy Spirit leads.”
Evaluating the text (Sermon).
“Before you stand in front of the congregation, analyze the message to make sure it communicates your ideas effectively,” Duduit stressed. “Preach it aloud to see how it sounds—check for clarity.
“After every sermon, take some time to evaluate what you did, what you missed, where you could have done better and how you might modify your sermon if you were doing it again.”
Bob Nigh is managing editor and Dana Williamson is associate editor of the Baptist Messenger.