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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Preaching Context is Everything…Almost! (Part 3 on The Sermon)

Today, I continue the third and final part of a 3 part series with Dr. Lenny Luchetti, Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry and Proclamation at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is a gifted teacher as well as an active blogger. You can connect with Lenny at:

There is something other than sound exegesis, solid hermeneutics, and stellar homiletics that makes good preaching, good. Truth be told, sometimes the determining factor behind whether or not a preacher gets a hearing has very little to do with the craft of preaching and very much to do with how well the preacher matches the context in which he/she preaches. For example, there are many people who would say that Charles Stanley, shown on TV all over the country, is a good preacher. While I respect the man’s love for God and his conviction that the bible is God’s word, I quickly change the TV station because I’m not into his preaching. Most of the people in Stanley’s church and most of the people outside of his church who love his preaching tend to be 60 years of age or older. Charles Stanley is a good preacher in his context because he matches his context. Andy Stanley, the son of Charles, is one of my favorite preachers. Andy is within 10 years of my age and most of the people who attend his church are younger than 40 years of age. If we invited the members of our church who are over 60 to view Andy Stanley’s preaching, my guess is that the majority of them will not readily connect with the preacher. Andy is a good preacher, for a variety of reasons, but especially because he matches the context of people to whom he preaches. Context is everything!

Why do some preachers attract a growing number of people who come hungry to hear their preaching while other preachers face the pain of a diminishing congregation? Not always, but often, it has everything to do with whether or not the preacher fits with his/her preaching context. It’s not always about whether or not the preacher has a good or bad style, but whether or not the style of the preacher is contextualized. The Apostle Paul recognized the import of context, which is why he preached differently to Greek Athenians in the town square than he did to Diaspora Jews in the synagogue. Paul realized that our preaching gets heard most when our preaching content and style match, as much as possible, the needs and perspectives of the people to whom we preach. Context doesn’t change the gospel message, just how we deliver it.

The further I go in ministry the more I realize who I am as a preacher. The more I realize who I am as a preacher the more aware I become of the fact that there are more church contexts I wouldn’t match than ones I would match. When I first began my pastoral ministry 15 years ago I would have been glad to serve as pastor to any group of people in any place without a thought to whether or not I was a good fit with the church context. Today, I think I’m a bit wiser (though some might disagree
J) and I realize that there are some churches that I would not fit in terms of my preaching convictions and preferences. I do believe that if a pastor preaches the Scriptures with passion, and loves God and the people she serves with deep devotion, a pastor can probably survive in ministry anywhere. However, I am fairly convinced that a preacher will not just survive but thrive most when the preaching, at least to some extent, matches the preaching context.

© 2010
Lenny Luchetti

Note: January 3rd is the final day for registering online for a Break Forth Canada 2011 Friday Intensive Learning Workshop. With presenters like Dan Allender, Dr. Gary Chapman, Paul Baloche, Brian Doerksen and many more it's no wonder this is the highest number we're ever seen registered for these workshops . . . in our history. Don't miss out. Check it out here.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Christmas Break - My Favourite NEW Christmas song

Over the holidays I'll be taking a break from posting (knowing that you'll be taking a break from reading). Look for the third in the three part preaching series coming up after Christmas.

In the mean time, please enjoy my very favourite new Christmas song. The song is called How Many Kings. It's by the band downhere. They will be with us at Break Forth Canada 2011. More info about the concert below.

In the mean time, click the image to view the video and hear the song:

May you have a wonderful Christmas, filled with the peace of the Messiah.

Arlen and Elsa Salte

Here is the information on the Downhere concert at Break Forth Canada 2011. Saturday, January 29, 2011 @ McDougal United Church, Edmonton, AB, Canada (tickets $9)  At the very same date and time you can choose our other concert at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton for $9 featuring Paul Baloche, Brian Doerksen, Desperation Band, Joel Auge, Jared Anderson and Don Poythress. More info here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Preaching without Notes - Guest Blogger

Today, I continue the second of a 3 part series with Dr. Lenny Luchetti, Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry and Proclamation at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is a gifted teacher as well as an active blogger. You can connect with Lenny at:

Preaching without Notes

Perhaps I am overly opinionated on this topic, but I am convinced that those who preach with few notes or no notes at all tend to connect better with listeners. There are a few manuscript preachers out there who are excellent because they come across as if they are talking to people not paper. However, preaching is primarily a conversational event, not a written or read one. This is why good content poorly communicated will not be heard by the majority of people listening. Poor content effectively communicated will, regrettably, get a hearing. So it makes sense for preachers who have something worth saying about Christ and His kingdom say it well.

I have rubbed more than a few of my preaching students the wrong way when I have encouraged them to preach with no notes or a slim outline. Public speaking is usually ranked high in the list of human fears. Public speaking without notes, then, elicits an off-the-charts fear. So, why would I ask my students and colleagues to give it a try? Because it can increase our dependence upon God, liberate us from our deepest fears about speaking, and help us connect with our congregation at a deeper level during the preaching event. Here are a couple of ideas that can assist pastors in preaching without notes:

-Prayer: Prayerfully read and re-read the preaching text. This may seem like an obvious first step, but you’d be surprised how many preachers quickly run to commentaries or internet illustrations without even giving God a chance to speak to them through the text he/she will be proclaiming on Sunday morning. See this step as one that is devotional, one that is aimed at deepening the preacher’s connection to the God who calls us to preach. As you read the preaching text, prayerfully ask God three questions: What are you saying to the original audience (i.e., Israelites, Galatians)? What are you saying to me personally? What are you saying to us corporately (congregation, audience)? Take notes as God gives you certain impressions. After this you can check your reflections and questions with a few good commentaries and dictionaries. But let God have the first word since He may want to lead you to a new discovery.

-Pictures: As you consider all the exegetical discoveries, illustrations, and applications that flow out of the biblical text you’re proclaiming, think in terms of pictures. Picturesque language will not only help you remember what you want to say but will stick in the minds and hearts of listeners more than vague, propositional language will. As you think of the 7-10 spokes that will form your entire sermon wheel, think in terms of pictures (kind of like I just did in this sentence). I would also encourage you to actually think of the entire message as one big picture. If there is a picturesque allegory that drives you sermon’s main point, it will make the sermon memorable. I recently preached a sermon on being forgiven and being forgiving. I entitled the sermon “Getting and Giving Mulligans.” You golfers know what I mean by mulligans, but now so does my entire congregation. When they think of forgiveness they will think of mulligans and when they think of golf or Tiger Woods (a media spectacle these days) they will think of the human hunger for forgiveness. Perhaps you will get to the place in your preaching in which you have pictures to describe the 7-10 parts of your sermon outline. I hope you do for it will not only aid the congregation in remembering what you said, it will aid you in preaching without notes.

-Placement: Now that you have all the pictures that make up the big picture of your sermon, you are ready to place the pictures in an order that allows for a seamless flow. This is extremely important because a poor thought flow will challenge your ability to preach without notes and your congregation’s ability to remember what you preached. Here is where, I think, lots of preachers drop the ball. I confess that for far too long I neglected prayerful and careful placement of the parts of my sermons. I threw things together haphazardly. As you place the parts try to aim for narrative flow. That is, arrange the parts of the sermon like the flow of a good story: setting, character development, plot/problem, climax, and resolution.

-Practice: Once you have all the parts of the sermon in an order that flows, you are ready to practice preaching the message. Go ahead and speak it aloud, slowly and prayerfully. As you’re doing this, consider how you want to say certain things. Think about gestures that reinforce what your words are communicating. You may discover through practicing the message that your sermon is too long or too short, that something needs to be cut or added. Practicing the sermon will allow it to stick in your brain so that you can preach without notes. I usually spend about 60-90 minutes prayerfully practicing and reflecting on the message. I do this to allow the sermon to impact me before it “lays a hand” on the congregation.

When you preach without notes you might forget a few things you wanted to say but you will remember the most important pictures within the big picture of your message. Go for it!            

© 2010
Lenny Luchetti

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Narrative Preaching - Guest Blogger

Today, I start an excellent 3 part series with Dr. Lenny Luchetti, Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry and Proclamation at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is a gifted teacher as well as an active blogger. You can connect with Lenny at:

There has been lots of buzz of late concerning the power of narrative preaching to connect with postmodern people who crave, enjoy, and are moved by a good story, or narrative. Of course, narrative preaching is not new. Some homileticians, including Fred Craddock and Eugene Lowry, have been talking about the power of narrative sermons for more than three decades. However, the presumably more practical and relevant 3-5 point linear sermons have monopolized the preaching scene since the rise of Post-Enlightenment Modernity. Point by point linear sermons can be effective but, despite their promise of practical relevance, this sermonic form has become quite predictable. And, as preachers and listeners alike will confess, predictability can crash a sermon before it even takes flight. Perhaps another sermonic form is needed to captivate, inspire, and even surprise listeners.  

The parables Jesus preached had a knack for inspiring and surprising listeners. Furthermore, the parables did not always tie up loose ends in the name of practical relevance. Jesus’ parables were structured by a narrative, not linear, logic. This is not to say that the only sermon that will honor the name of Christ is the narrative sermon; but we can conclude that if Jesus, the master preacher, employed narrative elements in his sermons, there has got to be wisdom in utilizing this form.

What a Narrative Sermon Is Not…
So, what is a narrative sermon anyway? I’m glad you asked. Let me first describe what it is not. A narrative sermon is not merely a few video clips thrown together to support the points the preacher is sharing. It is not the stringing together of a few personal stories from the preacher’s life to convey a handful of propositional points. Making points and then illustrating them with a variety of personal stories, though not homiletically diabolical, does not a narrative sermon make. No matter how many little narratives are placed within these sermons, they still incorporate an overall linear logic.

Even if the genre of the main preaching text is narrative the sermonic form may itself be more linear than narrative. Summarizing the story about a biblical character, say Moses, through linear points (i.e., Moses Prays with Passion, Moses Obeys with Passion, Moses Leads with Passion) forces a narrative text into a linear sermon that robs both the text and the sermon of their power.

Sermons with a linear logic flow from the introduction to point one (proposition, exposition, illustration, and application) to point two (proposition, exposition, illustration, and application) to point three (proposition, exposition, illustration, and application) to the conclusion. This form made good sense for a Modern world that, thanks to scientific empiricism, sought to dissect and explain the sum of the whole by reducing it to parts, or points. The desire to know, master, explain, and simplify a biblical text drove the homiletic machine.

What a Narrative Sermon Is…
The structure and goal of a narrative sermon is quite different. The narrative structure is not built with points but with the elements of a good story. Setting, character development, problem, plot, climax, and resolution make for a good story and, I would add, an excellent narrative sermon. The difference between the two sermonic forms is striking:

Linear Logic Sermons:                                                       
Point 1 (explain/illustrate/apply)                           
Point 2 (explain/illustrate/apply)                                       
Point 3 (explain/illustrate/apply)                                       
Conclusion (or more points)                                                         

Narrative Logic Sermons:
Setting/Character Development

The preaching landscape, especially in the West, has changed. People shaped by postmodernity tend to crave inspiration more than information, and experience over knowledge. This is not to suggest that postmodern people do not want to be well-informed; most do indeed. However, the people in our world and church must first be inspired before they even care to be informed concerning Christ and His kingdom.

Narrative has been the most successful mode of communication for inspiring people across cultures and centuries. Simply put, story speaks to us in a manner that inspires movement toward an encounter with God. The Bible, in its canonical form, really is a unified meta-narrative that tells the redemptive story of God’s saving love for the world. Perhaps this is the reason why the Bible is the number one selling, cross-cultural book ever.
While I have incorporated various sermonic forms in my preaching over the years, the narrative expository preaching of a single biblical passage has impacted my own faith development significantly, not to mention what it might have done for those who have heard those sermons preached. While linear sermons are a necessary and helpful form for communicating didactic information, narrative sermons seem most-suited for transformational inspiration. The church will always need informative teaching but my preaching “gut” tells me that the narrative form has a better track record for opening up the door of didactic desire. 

© 2010
Lenny Luchetti

Monday, December 6, 2010

Five Free Christmas Songs

It looks like the number of readers to the WorshipCoach blog is really growing. There must be a lot of people who are looking for 'in the trenches' tips.

As a Christmas present, I'd like to offer you five free songs from Junkyard Poets new Christmas EP.

I'd like to add a 'Creativity Warning' before you download. While these are traditional songs they ain't your Grandpa's versions on an old pump organ.

Click the Christmas present to download.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Sermon: Tips to Effective Communication in Worship

Arlen preaching in a suit - a rare site
Perhaps you are a gifted orator and you can hold the congregation spellbound for 45 minutes. If you can, you are one of the gifted few. Most of us can’t and we need assistance.
While my next entry will be a guest spot by a highly respected author and seminary professor, please humour me with a few pointers of my own (And don’t miss the true wireless mic horror story at the end of this entry):
·         Story telling is back. People are much more willing to hear a story than to listen to a lecture. Right or wrong, it’s still a fact. Accept it. Learn the skill. Have your people hear the sounds, sense the smells, relate to the people in your story and you can hold them long enough to deliver the powerful one-two punch.
·         Study the greats. This includes studying written sermons as well as analyzing delivery through video and audio where possible.
·         Rather than giving you another 2,000 word entry of repeated material I’ll just suggest that you check out my prior blog entries here, here, here and here for many of my tips on presenting testimonies and scripture reading. Many of these same ideas translate well to the sermon.
·         Remember that it is not about you. When you grasp this it will change your entire presentation. When I cover stage presence in an upcoming blog I’ll share a few of my personal secrets to live this out.
·         Relax before you speak. I will often read a scripture passage, close my eyes, say a meditative prayer and breathe deeply.
·         Start strong. This could be a thought provoking question, a controversial statement, a compelling story or any other reasonable attention-grabbing technique. You have only a few seconds before people mentally switch you off and decide whether you are or aren’t worth listening to.
·         Use your greatest strengths. Even the greatest decathlon athlete is not the best at every one of the 10 track and field events. While they strengthen their weak areas, they spend more time focusing on the areas that will give them the greatest advantage. In the same way, look at what you do best in public speaking and make this a core focus. 
·         Finish well. Your beginning must be strong but your ending must be a clincher. Focus on this as you prepare.
·         Interact with your audience. Try these:
o   Take “sit down” surveys – Have everyone who is able to stand up. Then start asking questions like, “Everyone who has been attending for more than X years sit down, etc.” This not only increases audience interaction it also creates affinity groups as people see that they are a part of other groups.
o   Ask questions of your audience. If possible, prepare for possible questions in advance and then prepare your answers. If you have a Hyperlinked PowerPoint slide to data that supports your answer you will seem like the world’s greatest genius.
o   Plant questions. Related to the above, this will help to ensure that very specific questions are asked that relate to the direction of your message. You may also find that in a less-responsive church that this increases your chance of success in the Q & A time.
o   Use ice-breakers. Have people turn to their neighbours and ask a simple question or share a piece of information. I would generally caution you to keep these topics safe, comfortable for all and easy to ask or answer. The exception is if you are with a small group that you know very well and that you are confident in their ability to share quickly and openly.
·         Consider using sermon aids. Video clips, drawing on a flip chart, graphics, live art, an object lesson or a meaningful song with the words projected as people listen can be used in powerful ways to provide impact for your message.
·         At the same time, don’t be overpowered with PowerPoint or other visual aids. It should support your message only as needed. (We’ll have a blog entry coming up on effective use of PowerPoint and other projection aids. We’ll cover things such as the 8’ rule. Stay tuned.)
·         Use variances in your voice. Variance is not only getting louder, it’s also the power of the whisper. Variation can also be used in pitch, articulation, and changing your tempo.
·         Speak as though you’re speaking to one person at a time. By placing yourself in the mindset of personal communications, you become more personal and believable.   
·         Another way to add impact is to break the message up into small sections that are woven throughout the service and only come to a form of resolution at the end. How is this done? Here are some suggestions:
o   Remember that your message is basically a three-part story. It has a beginning which draws people into the message, a middle where tension is developed and crises is reached and an end where resolution is reached. (For more information on how to prepare your story based on these elements, take a look at this prior blog entry.)  
o   Try this idea for integration of the sermon and the music:
§  Start with a song that sets up the beginning of your message. As the song finishes, keep the chords playing quietly in the background (and perhaps introduce the modulation to the next song in the set). The pastor steps to a microphone and launches a great opening that establishes theme and increases the hunger to hear more. Remember that this is an appetizer for the body of the message.
§  The Pastor steps away from the platform as the band seamlessly moves into the next set, often ending on a song that is very thematic to the sermon and sets up a sense of longing or need. Again, the chords continue on the last song and the pastor steps to the platform to continue the message. This is where the greatest content is delivered but in keeping with a great story, the tension is developed until the pinnacle of the crises is reached. At this point people are longing for resolution. Depending upon the length of the message you may ask the praise band to take a breather until you are moving to the end of this section when they will begin to pick up the chords in the background again in order to transition to the closing.
§  The music transitions into a thematic song that begins to move into dramatic resolution. This may be a special music number that the congregation simply listens to. Then, the pastor steps to the platform and offers the closing, complete with resolution.
§  At this point, you may wish to break into a congregational song of response. This may be the high point in the entire service.   
o   The same concept may be used without the tight integration of music. There is no reason why the sermon can’t be introduced at the start of the service, the body delivered in the middle and the resolution presented at the end, followed by a call to response.
o   You may even wish to assign different preachers to different aspects of the sermon. One person presents the beginning, another presents the middle and yet another presents the end. I’ve seen this done quite effectively.
·         Don’t be afraid of connecting with your congregation. Many pastors wear wireless microphones but don’t need to wear them at all during the message. They move in a 2 foot radius. Walk among your people, talk to them, ask them questions.
·         Try different postures. When you face an audience on the balls of your feet it says, “I’m in command and I have something very important to say.” When you sit on a stool it says, “This is heartfelt. Let’s talk one to one.”
·         And finally . . . . don’t imagine people in their underwear if you’re nervous (as the old saying goes). Most audiences (and preachers) don’t look good in their underwear. It’s simply disturbing.  Even more; if I think you’re imagining me in my underwear when you speak it’ll make my skin crawl. (and seeing my skin crawl when I’m in my underwear is really going to distract you . . . I promise!)
Not everyone is gifted enough to be a speaker that people flock to see by the thousands. Yet everyone can improve. Why not start today?
A true wireless microphone horror story related from a fellow minister and President of an International Relief Organization . . .
A guest speaker is about to preach at a church. He’s sitting on the platform with the senior pastor before he delivers his message. A musical group sings a special song that is so bad it’s like fingernails running up and down and up and down a chalkboard for minutes on end. My friend is incredulous. He leans over to the senior pastor, unaware that the soundperson has unmuted his wireless mic and that he’s live throughout the entire sanctuary. With a nod of his head towards the dreadful singers, he whispers the question to the Senior Pastor, “Where did you get this bunch of losers?”

Our upcoming entries on effective sermons are by a special author you will not want to miss. Stay tuned . . .

Dr. Dan Allender
Are you or is someone you know due for a refreshing leadership break? Check out the Leadership Intensive Learning Workshop on January 28 in Edmonton, AB at Break Forth Canada 2011. The highly respected author and leader, Dr. Dan Allender presents "Leading With A Limp" based on his best-selling book of the same name. This will be a life-changing day for many. Don't miss out. Check out more information here.