I’ve just finished a seminary extension course titled Contemporary Christian Preaching. The text for the course was The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching, by Wayne McDill.
The premise of the book and the course is that preaching is both a calling and a skill. As a skill, it can be improved through skills development, application of technique and practice. The twelve skills identified by Mr. McDill are 1:
- Getting the Text in View: recognizing and noting the relationships of various ideas in the text.
- Seeing What Is There: recognizing and noting the significance of details in the text.
- Asking the Right Questions: asking questions leading to the best research to interpret the writer’s meaning.
- Naming the Textual Idea: naming from themes in the text the one idea that unlocks the text’s meaning.
- Touching Human Needs: tracing from textual truths to the hearer’s particular need for those truths.
- Bridging from Text to Sermon: constructing an interpretive bridge for bringing the truth of the text to its expression in the sermon.
- Writing Sermon Divisions: wording divisions clearly to state the teachings of the text on its subject.
- Planning Sermon Design: determining the arrangement of sermon materials for the most effective communication.
- Developing Sermon Ideas: planning development for the understanding, acceptance, and response of the hearer.
- Exploring Natural Analogies: finding natural analogies that precisely and vividly picture sermon ideas.
- Drawing Pictures, Telling Stories: using vivid language to create word pictures of biblical and contemporary scenes and stories.
- Preaching for Faith: planning every aspect of sermon design toward the aim of a faith response in the hearer.
In addition to the practical advice, the author struck home with some points that I needed to be reminded of. For instance, in the chapter on addressing the real needs of people:
The fundamental remedy for every need is to trust God. The overarching purpose for every sermon must be a call for faith. Most sermons, however, are do-better preaching rather than trust-God preaching. The preacher’s aim is more often to call for a change in behavior than to encourage more confidence in God. It seems that most preachers would be satisfied with attitudinal and behavioral changes, whether they are rooted in faith or not. But moral reform is not our aim. Spiritual transformation by the power of God will bring moral reform, but moral reform cannot bring spiritual transformation. “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” [Romans 14:23] 2
Wow. That’s one of those things that I know but often fail to put into practice, whether as a father or as a teacher. Fortunately, the author provides some practical advice for how to move from “do-better” preaching to “trust-God” preaching.
The essential message of the Bible is that God is, that God can, that God will, and that God has already. These are indicative statements. You see in these statements of faith the four aspects of pleading the credibility of God: His character, His capabilities, His intentions, and His record. Any imperative or subjunctive emphasis must come in the context of a basically indicative approach to preaching. Everything is based on the credibility of God.
That probably doesn’t make much sense yet, so let’s keep reading.
I am always a bit mystified that so much evangelical preaching is preoccupied with man. It seems to me that the Bible is about God. It is first theological, not anthropological. Rather than reflecting this emphasis on the nature of God, some preaching reflects a fascination with the sin of mankind…
It is only in the context of the indicative that the needs of persons are really clear. God Himself must be the measure, particularly as seen in the person of Jesus Christ. Without indicative preaching about God, His character, capabilities, intentions, and record, there is no reference point for human attitudes and behavior. Neither is there any hope for improvement. The goal of the Christian is not moral rectitude. The goal is to glorify God! Anyone can try to be morally decent, but only a Christian can produce the fruit which glorifies the Father [John 15:8].
Still with me? Now’s where it gets good.
If the essential message of Scripture is about God, the basic thrust of preaching should be indicative. In preaching the reality of the living God, we preach for faith. In pleading the credibility of God, we can emphasize that He is, He can, He will, and He has already. These terms express the truth of His character, His capabilities, His intentions and His record. In light of this, what then shall we say to our hearers? How can the preacher overcome the habit of constantly saying “We need to,” “We ought,” “We must,” “We should”? The best term to use for maintaining the indicative perspective while challenging your audience is “can”.
To say, “You can” is to call for a faith response to the credibility of God. Because of all we have said about God, “You can.” This does not diminish the truth that you are a new creature in Christ and that you will live eternally in Christ. But for right now, in the stress and struggle of life, the good news is “You can.”
Now for the clear, practical application:
Instead of telling the people what they ought to do, we go beyond ought to can. Whereas ought, must, and should give obligation, can gives promise. “You ought to love your neighbor” becomes a new and exciting idea when it is “You can love your neighbor.”
This change of emphasis seems subtle, but it has an amazing effect. It places the emphasis on faith, believing you can do something because of what God will do. This is much more dynamic and exciting than hearing that you have an obligation you cannot fulfill. 3
Mr. McDill continues that once you have stated the “can” the natural response is “how?” We then head back to the Bible for our answers.
I wish I’d understood this much earlier in life. It seems to be a powerful tool that can be applied to parenting and any leadership situation. “You should be nice to your sister” may appeal to guilt and obligation, while “You can be nice to your sister” offers hope and confidence. I can already think of ways to put this into practice, and I’d guess that you can, too!
- Page 12
- Page 109
- Pages 254-255