Monday, July 25, 2011

Substance and style, and all that good stuff...

Today we're continuing the series on message preparation, as I was requested to share some helpful hints by a friend in ministry last week.  If you've missed the previous posts on this, go here, here and here.  Many times I have been asked if I stick with topical or expository preaching and how that determination has been made for me personally.  The answer is that I have done both, and continue to. The decision is made by whether I am dealing with one specific text in a message, or whether I will be pulling from several or many different areas of the Bible.  If I am doing the latter, I generally set it up as a topical message versus going verse by verse. 

Some ministers believe very strongly that expository preaching is the ONLY right way.  I don't agree.  I believe it all depends on the way the spirit is leading and I know God works through both. My life has been changed through both.  For those who say that is not really possible I'll just say that a man or woman with an experience is never at the hand of a man or woman with an argument.  :)

For those who are hearing the terms "expository" and "topical" for the first time and wonder what I'm talking about, expository is presenting a message, verse by verse that usually includes a historical, grammatical study of the entire passage, taking care to cover it's context in detail and apply it to life today.  (At least a good preacher will make it relevant to life today! lol)  Topical  is bringing a message on a certain topic, supported by various scriptures.  For instance, you could preach a topical sermon on prayer, and support it with many different verses and passages from the Bible, and go however deep you desired to with it.  I believe just because a sermon is topical doesn't automatically make it shallow.  Some of the meatiest messages I've ever digested were topical ones. Obviously if you have felt led of the Lord to teach on something like the book of John as a series, you are going to be preaching expository messages.

So, in answer to this important question, I preach both kinds.  Please note we'll go much more deeper into helps for the actual "delivery" of a message in subsequent posts and until then, here are some further helps along the lines of what we've covered above:

  • Decide everything through prayer.

  • Don't ever preach expository vs. topical just to appear "deeper" or "smarter."  First of all it really is true that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Speaking from your heart about the Word of God and it's power to change, and how it has changed you is much more important than being able to tell the audience what temperature it was outside when the 2nd chapter of I Corinthians was written.  
  • Be yourself.  Present God's Word in the way He's given it to YOU.  As someone once said, "Be yourself.  Everyone else is already taken!"  . 
To illustrate this I will share something my husband recently shared with our church about the importance of being yourself.   When Larry first became a lead pastor, he suddenly changed his preaching style.  He morphed into somebody else but I wasn't quite sure who! He was 26 years old and he was so concerned that if he kept preaching as he did during his 7 years as a youth pastor (and he was a great preacher then, I might add!) they might question whether he was really that knowledgeable about the Bible.  So he quickly changed his style and I didn't know each week who I was married to!   Sometimes I thought it was Rod Parsley, other times John Hagee.  He went into these long boring backgrounds of things from commentaries and sermon books that nobody really cared about.  Riding home in the car one day after one of these kind of messages I said, "What happened?  You used to be such a great preacher."  That momentarily took the wind out of his sails, and was probably not the best thing to say but it did get his attention.  He said, "what do you mean?"  I said, "Larry, please just be yourself.  Go back to how you preached as a youth pastor.  The people are going to love it, and love you, I promise."   Of course they did.
  • Don't feel compelled to tell people everything you know in one sermon.  That will go over like a lead balloon, I assure you.  You may have extensive study on a topic and hundreds of scriptures to support it but that is best shared over a series, not in one message.  If you aren't given time or opportunity for a series, select carefully and make an effort to stick to the time frame given.
  • Have respect for authority in your planning.  It is different if you are the pastor and have authority in the local church as to how much time you will preach.  I have total liberty to go longer or shorter, within reason, when I'm at home, in our church.  (That's  one reason why there's nothing like home!)  However, I do keep in mind people's attention span.  When I am a guest, ministering at the invitation of another pastor or leader of a ministry, I absolutely stick to the guideline I am given.  This is out of respect to the authority of the one inviting me.  If they say 30 minutes, I stick to 30 minutes, no ifs ands or buts.  But what if God wants to do something different? 
Here's a great example of exactly what happens when I know God wants to do more, but I'm given strict instructions by another pastor, ministry leader or event planner about what they expect.  I believe very strongly in honoring the man/woman of the house. Last year I was preaching at a women's event of a large church and weeks before when calling me to go over the agenda, the pastor's wife had given me strict instructions, there was to be no altar call, nobody coming up for personal ministry, but that when my message concluded after 30 minutes I was to turn the microphone over to her and she would close in prayer.  As I prayed about it the Lord told me that He was going to do something different.  In fact, the night before the event I told my husband, "this will be interesting because God already told me that although I'm going to do as they requested, they won't be able to close the event tomorrow as they planned but I'm not sure how it's going to unfold." 
 
I completely respected their wishes and preached for 30 minutes on the dot.  I never said a word about the instructions I was given nor referred to altar calls or anything like that.  (Sure fire way to absolutely kill not only your relationship with your host, but guarantee you will never be invited back:  complain about the amount of time you've been given, publicly ask them, "pastor, is it alright if I go a little longer?" "who will give me five more minutes?"  or say to the church, "I know I'm already out of time with what I've been given..." or remark, "I'd love to give an altar call, but we don't have time, we need to close..."  Yeah, definite way to kill it.  Always, always, always honor and respect God's appointed man or woman in charge.)  When concluding the message I called upon the pastor's wife to come to the podium and close out the event.  She came and as she did her hands were trembling and she took the microphone and with tears running down her face she said, "Ladies, I can't even talk right now, you're going to have to give me a moment to collect myself..." and she bowed her head, with her hand over her mouth while she wept for a while, just moved under the spirit of God.  And then she said, "we're going to invite people to come to the altar for prayer."  They came and oh what a time we had while God did His work around the altars!! Always obey and God will honor His work, and you.

The bottom line here is, be led by the spirit in what type of message you are going to prepare, and then you're going to base how long of a message you prepare for based upon the amount of time the leader in charge has given you.  Tomorrow we'll cover helpful hints on knowing how many pages of notes to prepare based upon the amount of time, and the best way I've found to outline my messages.

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