The following thoughts are straight talk to those who want to go into the ministry – who desire to be preachers. With more than forty years of ministerial experience behind me, I will endeavor to be as forthright and concise as possible. The ministry is serious business, for it is God’s business.
No human can call you into the ministry. It has been often said, “If you have the call to preach, nothing can hinder you: if you do not have, nothing can help.” The reason for this is that God will not use a vessel He has not designed and prepared for this work. If you are unsure regarding your calling from God into the ministry, do not pursue this path. Preaching is a privilege; not a right.
It has been well stated, “Don’t get into the ministry if you can get out of it.” That is to say, if you can talk yourself out of it, you were never called in the first place. To move toward ministerial credentials with any denomination just because others have suggested you would make a good preacher is a horrific mistake. There is little danger of seeking ministerial status due to greed, since it is traditionally one of the poorest paying professions in America. Still others seduce themselves into believing they can supply though education what they lack in the gift. Although a presbytery may affirm your calling, no on can bestow upon you the gift of effective preaching.
It is evident we are moving away from Spirit-anointed preaching in the Pentecostal churches. This is not surprising in view of numerous scriptural predictions. Jesus warns that in the end times, “The love of many will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12). He affirms that Satan will deceive even those who are spiritually strong (Mt. 24:24). Paul states, “In the latter days, there will be a great falling away from the faith” (II Th. 2:3). These verses validate that there will be a shortage of Spirit-filled preachers in our day because “men will be lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (II Tim. 3:4). A symptom that we have deceived ourselves regarding our preaching priorities is that we deny we have deceived ourselves. Then we deny that we deny it, which is a more advanced stage of the deception. One of the great pioneers of the Pentecostal movement, E. S. Williams told me when he was 95 years old in 1981, “In the early days, the cutting edge was preaching with Biblical authority, but today that has deteriorated.”
The following is an excerpt from a message by Joseph B. Lightfoot, Lord Bishop of Durham, delivered to ordination candidates in 1880:
“You are entering upon a ministerial career. There is a definite thing to be done, and you will do it. You will do it with your heart and soul, do it with all your might, do it through evil report and good report, do it in season and out of season, do it in success and in failure. You will do it, knowing that though you may fail, God cannot fail. You will do it, because it is not your doing, but God’s doing. Forget not, that in a very special sense, you are temples of the Holy Spirit. This is the three-fold cord of your assurance: the authority of your commission, the potency of your message, and the reality of your inspiration. Here is the triple-breastplate with which you will gird yourself for the fight: the call of God the Father, the message of God the Son, and the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.
Resolve this once and for all and resolve it now, this day, and be steadfast in your resolution. In your silent hours of self-examination, let this be your one vow, your one prayer: “God helping me, I will do His work, because it is His work. God helping me, I will preach His truth, because it is His truth. I will not be discouraged by failure, nor elated by success. The triumphs or defeats are not my concern: they are His. God helping me, I will help my brothers and sisters in Christ, because they are my brothers and sisters.” Do they spurn my advances, or do they welcome my message? It shall make no difference to me and my work. They and I are alike in God’s sight. In the career of a minister of Christ, the surest way to success is to think nothing at all about success. Many who are entering the office of the ministry have a predominant feeling of hope. Their eyes are dazzled by bright visions of ministerial success – of a church filled – of a spiritual wilderness turned into a garden of the Lord – of a devoted people hanging upon their every word…but if this be your feeling, I entreat you to stamp out this emotion! It is egotism – sheer egotism – however much it may assume the guise of zeal for Christ. It is putting self in the place of God. A year’s ministerial experience has shattered many a proud hope. So then, put away all thought of results, for you cannot control them: they are in God’s hands. Be not disheartened as were the disciples, “We have toiled all night and caught nothing.” Yes, but the morning will break – and your nets will be full. Fishers of men: persevere!”
Exegetical anointed preaching will always be the primary method God has ordained to reach the lost. “God has manifested His Word through preaching” (Titus 1:3). He has provided no other method of winning people to Christ. Although the Old Testament prophets predicted the Savior would come, the New Testament preacher proclaims the fulfillment of their messianic prophecies.
3When Jesus began His ministry He immediately begins to preach. When He teaches in the Temple, He always refers back to the Old Testament prophets, but He applies their words to His current era. When the disciples begin to preach after they received the Holy Spirit, they echoed what Jesus taught and expounded upon it (Acts 2:33). At no time did they deviate from the foundational doctrines of Christ. It was the direct guidance of the Spirit that kept them on track. Paul warns that adding something new to the Gospel negates the Gospel altogether (Gal. 1:7).
It is an invariable Biblical pattern that there is always a close connection between the message and a text. Indeed, what other authority do you have? If your message is not clearly Biblically based, the greatest oratory skills are worthless. Preachers are never called by God to become game-show hosts or comedians. Your job is not to entertain, but to be a vessel of hope and encouragement. You are called to impart rather than to impress.
Through His Son, God reaches out to people the “experts” claim will never make it. As my pastor, Tommy Barnett, often says, “Let’s take the people nobody wants and turn them into the people everybody wants.”
Eliminate all distractions as you pray and study. Jesus said when we want to communicate with Him effectively in prayer we should do so privately. Kneel before God before you stand before the people. In order to complete a mission effectively, you must understand the assignment clearly.
Expect Satan to oppose you. He usually does this by using other people. You must love them anyway, for you hold eternal souls in your hand. You help them best by instilling in them a genuine and deep love for God and His Word. Jesus mingles with the people He teaches: He is not afraid to touch those He heals.
No person can teach another how to preach, for a dynamic pulpit ministry is a gift from God entrusted to a precious few. It is unfortunate the term “anointing” as applied to preaching is often treated cheaply today. We must bear in mind that the true anointing upon a message is sacred, for it comes from the Holy Spirit. The anointing is only imparted by God to a preacher and his message in order to help others come to Christ and know Him more intimately. It is never given for one’s own personal edification or gratification. Because Biblical writers were inspired directly by the Spirit, it is logical that only the Spirit can properly interpret any text. Neglect the leading of the Spirit and you will be forced to rely on dead languages and deceased commentators for your inspiration. Paul preached under a divine compulsion, declaring “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel” (I Cor. 9:16).
Although you do not always know what the people need, the Spirit of God always does. The message is always greater that the preacher when it is really from Holy Spirit. When you give the Holy Spirit second place, your preaching becomes second rate. The anointing is never bestowed without a reason: it is empowerment with a purpose. Martin Luther said, “Satan is nervous when people read the word…but he runs when the Word is preached.” God imparts the anointing. It is so sacred others are warned not to harm or hinder those God has anointed with His Holy Spirit (I Chron. 16:22).
Jesus Himself does not begin to minister until after He receives the Holy Spirit. His disciples are told to stay in Jerusalem until they receive the Spirit. Why do some today dare to imagine they can minister effectively without the Spirit? Just as the Book of Acts begins with the events at Pentecost, so your personal ministry must also start with a Pentecostal experience. The Baptism of the Spirit is standard equipment for the preacher, not optional equipment. Your effectiveness in the ministry depends on your communication with Jesus, not your ministerial title and credentials.
NEW TESTAMENT PREACHING
The most common Greek term for “preaching” in the New Testament is kery soo which occurs over 60 times. Another term is evangelizo. Both words have the same basic meaning: “to declare; to herald; to announce publically; to make known; to proclaim.” But the difference between someone simply speaking and someone preaching are two basic elements: the content of the message and the preacher’s personal investment in it. The preacher is a person driven by a specific twofold mission: to win people to Christ and to disciple those who come to Him.
Preaching about Jesus in order to win the lost is God’s method. Human beings do not have the right to invent another. When and if they do, time has proven any other method ineffective. God chose “the foolishness of preaching” to save souls (I Cor. 1:18-21). Instead, today we often have “the preaching of foolishness.” The preached message delivered under the anointing of the Spirit has the power to change lives, because He is directly involved in the redemption process. It is only by the Spirit men and women are convinced of their need to repent and belong to Jesus.
Jesus preached openly to crowds, but usually reserved teaching for His disciples. Most of His teachings concern how to treat other people. In fact, the entire New Testament can be regarded as one lengthy explanation of what is expected of members of the Kingdom of God. The Old Testament writers rarely used the term “preaching” to describe the ministry of the prophets, for their foundational presentations were usually restricted to the themes of obedience to the laws of God and future predictions. However, today’s preachers expound upon both Old and New Testament Scripture. Because Jesus explains certain parables, He establishes the unfolding of Scripture as a normative aspect of preaching and teaching (Mt. 13:38). The definitive link between the two testaments is provided by Isaiah when he predicts the Messiah’s ministry would involve preaching (Isa. 61:1) and Jesus quotes this same passage to affirm His preaching ministry (Lk. 4:18).
A brief overview of the New Testament establishes the primary topics we should address in our preaching. The first is Jesus and the Gospel message (Mt. 11:5 & 26:13). Foundational to these topics is the necessity to establish our preaching ministry upon the Word of God (II Tim. 4:2). Although preaching may take many forms, exegetical preaching is the only sanctioned avenue that convicts the hearts of men and women. Once a preacher is convinced that the Gospel of Christ and the Bible are absolutely essential to effective ministry, he or she can begin to focus upon the goal of preaching: repentance and subsequent faith in Christ (Lk. 3:3 & 24:47). The personal response to Jesus’ preaching is key to the listener’s destiny (Mk 8:38). If your goal is not for people to repent, you should ask yourself why you want to preach.
The subject of the Kingdom of God is preached by Christ consistently (Mt. 5:3-20; Mk. 10:14-15; Lk. 9:60 & Jn. 3:3). It was important to Him that people know there are rewards involved for serving Him. He is not shy to share regarding both the temporal and the eternal rewards. Once we enter into relationship with Him, we begin to reap the benefits immediately and on into eternity. The Kingdom of God is not found in material things, however, but finds its expression in the joy of the Holy Spirit (I Th. 1:6). When we commit ourselves to Christ, we are assured of what we will receive both now and in the future.
It is important to understand that Jesus did not send His disciples out to preach immediately. In fact, they were forbidden to preach until they received the Holy Spirit (Lk. 24:49). The pattern for New Testament preaching is based upon a living, current, vibrant relationship with the Holy Spirit. Because preaching with the aid of God’s Spirit is established by Jesus Himself, truly effective preaching without the assistance of the Spirit is impossible. To negate the Spirit is to ignore the established Biblical pattern. When we speak of preaching being “anointed” it always means the Holy Spirit’s anointing. If we want to understand the Spirit’s priorities we must study the themes of first century preachers. The sermons delivered in Acts prove the relative stability and consistency of the Gospel message. Paul allows no deviation from this, lest people become confused. Paul corrected a few doctrinal errors, but his fundamental evangelistic priorities never changed. His personal preaching style is imbedded in the epistles he wrote.
Through the New Testament writers we can ascertain several things concerning preaching:
~ It centers on the atonement of Christ.
~ It calls for repentance.
~ It utilizes proof-texts from the Old Testament.
~ It is appropriate for the comprehension level of the audience.
~ It clarifies misunderstandings about God and His Son.
~ It is designed for direct application.
Just as first century preachers made use of the Jewish, Greek, and Hellenistic worldviews, so must preachers in our century seek to understand the mindset of the people to whom we minister.
THE CHARACTER OF THE PREACHER
The authority to preach is based on the Great Commission Jesus set forth. Paul assumes those he wrote to regarding preaching were sent or commissioned by God for the work (Rom. 10:15). Preachers are to maintain a transparent and holy life. We must strive to become honest, intelligent, organized, prayerful, goal-setters, responsible, committed, punctual, motivated, optimistic, enthusiastic, decisive, focused, persistent, joyful, team players, energetic, healthy, competent, grateful, teachable, courteous, diligent, thrifty, resourceful, of good character, loyal, respectful, caring, fair, compassionate, supportive, sincere, attentive, personable, encouraging, open-minded, a visionary, wise, courageous, confident, humble, hardworking, disciplined, communicative, consistent, good listeners, maintain integrity, and have a good sense of humor. You don’t stop preaching when you leave the church. People put the lives of preachers under their microscopes. They have the right to examine you, seeking for a glimpse the Jesus you proclaim.
You must earn the right to communicate with people. Your vocal tone must always communicate respect. Never speak condescendingly. They will know if you really love and respect them. Ignorance is not evil: arrogance is. You must learn to measure success by the quality of what you give to them rather than the praise you receive from them. It is important to love to preach, but it is imperative to love those to whom you preach. Establish contact with each person. Make each one feel they are important. Don’t scold anyone for not being in church the past Sunday, but rather give them a reason to want to come back the next Sunday. You can’t build your kingdom and His Kingdom at the same time. Ask yourself what is really operating in your ministry: the power of love or the love of power? You must be genuinely interested in the spiritual welfare of your people. The following is a great example of this truth:
Ed Kimball was a shoe clerk in Chicago and also a Sunday School teacher. He loved the street children and spent all his spare time trying to win them to Christ. Through him, D. L. Moody got saved in 1858. In 1879, Moody won F. B. Meyer, who also grew up and became a preacher. Meyer won J. W. Chapman to Christ and he too became a preacher. Chapman won a baseball player named Billy Sunday. Sunday held a revival in North Carolina along with Mordecai Hamm. Hamm preached and Billy Graham got saved. But how did this chain of events start? When Ed Kimball decided it was more important to win impoverished kids than it was to sell shoes.
Your character and personality are imbedded in your message. Do not assume they will be interested in what you have to say: create interest. Paul instructs Timothy to study in order to be approved by God (II Tim. 2:15). People may eat the table scraps of your ill-preparedness, but no one grows spiritually healthy on leftovers.
A good message is always progressive: it takes the people to a specific destination. Any sermon has but three elements: an introduction, elaboration, and conclusion. Your material must relate to the title of your message, for the title is your controlling concept. All illustrations and humor must support the topic. Maintain consistency throughout the message. Do not introduce material that doesn’t fit. Don’t major in minors. Avoid chasing “theological butterflies” during your sermon.
Examine Paul’s preaching methods and you will discover:
~He preached the crucified and resurrected Jesus.
~The living Jesus was constantly affirmed.
~He made no apologies for the Gospel.
~He set forth truth clearly and boldly.
~He preached forgiveness and reconciliation.
~He was positive the Gospel could effect real change in people.
~His theology was consistent and never obscure.
~He made no attempt to conceal the real issues.
~There were no self-doubts regarding his calling to preach.
~He never hesitated to warn against compromise.
~His messages were laced with compassion.
Expounding Scripture is at the heart of good preaching. When Jesus walked with His disciples to Emmaus, “He expounded to them the Scriptures” (Lk. 24:32). The Writer to Hebrews insists people need “strong meat” rather than milk (Heb. 5:12-14).
Develop your outline, organize your study materials, select your illustrations, practice, rehearse, then stand and deliver. Time yourself. When you mount the pulpit, speak with enthusiasm. Be confident but not cocky. Vary your vocal tone and volume for the sake of emphasis. Enunciate clearly and pronounce words correctly. De-emphasize any goofs you make. Pass over them without calling attention to them. Never exasperate or antagonize your people. Do not say, “…and finally” unless you are really concluding. Avoid conclusions that don’t conclude. When your sermon is over, stop talking.
There are several types of messages, but all should incorporate expounding Scripture:
~ Impromptu messages may be appropriate for certain applications, but are usually an excuse for poor preparation.
~ Memorized messages may be fine for a person with a great memory, but as a preacher ages his ability to recall is often challenged.
~ Manuscript sermons are the worst method because when you read, you lose eye contact with your people.
~ Outlined messages are the most effective because you can never lose your way. Your outline keeps you right on track. This method allows great eye contact and greater freedom of movement. Certain points can be skipped if time becomes a factor. Outlined messages prevent you from going in circles and covering old ground again. Each point carries your audience one more step forward. Therefore, each point should be distinct, not just worded differently than another point. Although this method allows you to take your people to a destination, you must determine where you want to take them. Your outline is your map, so don’t lose it. If you preach from an electronic device, have a hard copy on hand as a back up.
Organization is a key ingredient in preaching. Know what your passage says, title it, and then outline it. Clearly define your objectives. Your text must dovetail with your GOAL. An outline is a skeleton on which you must hang flesh to make the Word come alive. Far too many sermons are full of interesting facts but lack unity.
Is your outline in harmony? Is it progressive? Is it unified? Is it balanced? Number your sermon points and announce each one as you come to it. This lets your audience know you are heading someplace specific. Each point should be a clear statement of truth: concise, original, and intriguing. You must show the relationship of every point to your main topic in a logical sequence.
Every point should take them a bit higher as you move toward the plateau of your conclusion. The climax in any novel is always located near the end. Your last point is your summit. No one wants to read an exciting book only to find the last few pages missing.
Few preachers “practice what they preach.” That is to say, they do not rehearse. In order to be effective, you must. Stand in front of a full length mirror and preach the message. Do not blame the mirror if your face looks unhappy. Establish a place of study. Again, do your best to preclude distractions and interruptions. Meditate on your message and read it several times throughout the week. Be more prepared than you have to be. Condense, delete, add, improve, and polish.
You are striving to help them make a decision, but what exactly do you want them to do? Plan their destination and then take them there. Picture the altar call in your mind. Decide beforehand what your sermon will do for them. In this particular message, are you asking for people to get saved, to witness to others, break a bad habit, pray more, read their Bibles more, or become a better spouse? You can bring them to a crossroad, but you are powerless to choose their direction. Your message cannot convict or actually change anyone: only the Holy Spirit can.
Whatever you can do to illustrate your message increases the likelihood people will remember your message. Consider your audience before inserting any illustration. Just because you may like a particular illustration does not mean it will fit. Select your illustrations for relevance rather than impact. Jesus has his audiences visualize. He uses such things as bread and wine, withered fig trees, loaves and fish, and divine healings to emphasize what He says.
Because bad habits behind the pulpit can be distracting, avoid them at all costs. Re-educate yourself. Such things can include playing with the mike, your keys, notes, laptop, cell phone, adjusting clothing or your glasses, shuffling your feet, picking at your fingernails, scratching your face, wiping your brow, or clearing your throat.
There is no preaching rule that every sentence must be verbally connected with the next one. This is usually done because of the fear that somehow a pause is harmful. Conveying nervousness can cause the audience to lack confidence in you. The trick is to channel nervous energy into your delivery.
Verbal mannerism are all too often inserted in sermons in an attempt to “connect” one statement with the next one.
Here are a few examples:
“ya de ya de ya”
Never “talk down” to your people in order to elicit a response. Such phraseology can include:
“know what I mean?”
“Can I get an ‘Amen’ out there?”
ANY repetitive phrase can distract your audience.
Other preachers use spiritual phraseology as fillers, such as the constant use of “Glory to God” or “Hallelujah” or “Can I get an ‘Amen’ out there?” If you are nervous, never let the people know it: they will tend to lose confidence in your presentation. If you view yourself as hesitant or uncertain you will convey that. Try to appear much more at ease than you feel. The only cure for stage fright is experience. Proper preparation is a major solution to this problem. Focus on your goal. You will be more confident and effective when your points are relevant, they are organized logically, and you share God’s Word with confidence and sincerity.
Although good humor is a great attribute, your pulpit is no place for a stand-up comedian or a clown. Use no euphemisms. Humor must be appropriate and be in harmony with your message. Do not tell a joke simply because you think it is funny. Do not strain to make puns or to force nervous laughter. Humor must fit where you place it in your sermon and serve to enhance your point. It cannot be sexist, racial, gender-biased, or borderline immoral. It is never appropriate to refer to private body parts. Never call attention to what is done in the bedroom or the bathroom.
If you joke about a gender, you alienate the other one. Ethnic jokes are always at the expense of that particular ethnic group. Joking about death can hurt a person who has recently lost a loved one. You want to unify your audience, not alienate them. When did Jesus ever make fun of anyone?
If you’re going to preach, you must understand how people learn. Do not expect them to memorize anything, because memorization is rarely taught in elementary or high schools in recent years. It is a proven fact people retain less than 5% of what they hear in a teaching, lecture, or sermon. This is why it is vital to put the messages you preach in a digestible form. Put them on your web site so anyone can access them anytime from various devices.
The motivation for others to listen and learn cannot be legislated. Your preaching can arouse their desire to act upon what you suggest in a message, but you are powerless to force them to take any action. However, when anyone discovers it is the Word of God that helped them thru a crisis they will learn to trust their Bibles and want to learn more.
Two key concepts in preaching are innovation and illustration. You will analyze and learn the comprehension level of your congregation rather quickly. Meet them on that same level. Don’t try to dazzle them with your knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. Your challenge is to hold the interest of people, many of whom who have perfected the art of sleeping with their eyes open. Make every message interesting and invigorating. You are preaching to motivate them to do something, to change certain behavioral patterns in their lives. Do not take them on a world tour from Genesis to Revelation in every sermon. Isolate a passage and exegete it. Sow the Word, but you are not responsible for the seed after it leaves your hand. You will always need God’s help to make it grow.
Remember the old adage, “You cannot make a sermon immortal by making it everlasting.” Avoid controversial issues and hot topics, such as politics, theological problems, and illegal aliens. Determine why you are really there: what exactly are you asking your people to do? You are persuading them to take some specific action; to motivate them to adjust something in their lives. At the core of most dysfunctional people is some sort of unscriptural thinking disorder. Few people change all at once. They need real support to effect real change.
Even God won’t violate a person’s free will. The Spirit guides people, but never controls their thinking or their actions. In the Gospels, there are often sidebars or personal notes regarding the people Jesus meets before He ministers to them, but there are few footnotes after He does so. What do we know regarding Nicodemus, Bartemaus, Lazarus, Jairus, the woman at the well, or the girl caught in adultery after they encounter Jesus? The reason we are told little or nothing is clear. If and how they have changed is not the point. What is important is that they had been given the opportunity. Even in His parables, He almost always leaves us at the crossroads. Did the Elder brother get over his grudge? Did the unmerciful servant eventually learn mercy? Jesus wants us to stand in their shoes. We who preach should help our hearers do the same.
We must genuinely love those we preach to. We are not called to legislate, dictate, or intimidate them. Church is a classroom not a courtroom. If we want to see people change for the better we must observe the techniques of Jesus. How does Jesus invite people to change? By providing opportunities to do so, for He never forces His will upon anyone. He mentors people by getting them involved or by giving specific instructions:
~ The woman taken in adultery is commanded to go and sin no more (Jn. 8:11).
~ When His disciples inquire concerning the payment of their taxes, they are encouraged to go fishing. The very first fish they catch, Jesus says, will have a coin in his mouth worth enough to cover their dues.
~ As He prepares to enter Jerusalem, He informs His disciples where to find a colt He has need of (Lk. 19:30).
~ The disciples who inquire about the hungry multitudes are ordered to take charge of feeding them.
~ Regarding the Passover meal, He instructs His disciples where to find a man who has prepared an upper room suitable for this occasion (Mk. 14:13-15).
Many Christians expect the Holy Spirit to overpower them and thereby force them to do things differently. But the conviction of the Holy Spirit and obedience to His promptings are essential to effect permanent change. You will soon discover that the reluctance of people to be accountable to Scriptural standards is the heart of most problems. So take care to accurately exegete the passages you select.
As a preacher of the Gospel, you can only guide people to make the right choice. Although you want to teach them how and why to change a behavioral pattern, you must ask yourself what specifically are you challenging them to do differently in order to improve? Your purpose determines your message. Most people are open to change when they are facing a crisis. This is your God-given opportunity to be there for them. The Lord has been guiding preachers by His Holy Spirit for two thousand years. He will be there for you as well.