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A Layman’s Advice For Preachers

Tim Ellsworth, a fellow Tennesseean, recently wrote an immensely good post called A Layman’s Advice For Preachers. It is so good, I cannot in good conscience merely tell you to follow the link. Here it is in its entirety.

I’m not a preacher. Though I’ve done it a few times, preaching is not what I’m called to do, nor do I consider myself to be any kind of expert in sermon preparation.

I do, however, know a few things about what preaching should be. Just as you don’t have to be a chef to know if the food you’re eating tastes good, you don’t have to be a preacher to know if the sermon you’re hearing has any value.

So to those of you who are preachers, here’s one layman’s encouragement and advice to you as you proclaim the Word of God to God’s people.

1. Preach the Bible. That sounds simple enough, but sadly, it’s growing more and more uncommon in today’s pulpits. And when I say “preach the Bible,” I don’t mean “Pick a topic and tell me what the Bible says about it.”

Instead, pick a text from Scripture – any text will do – then tell me what that text means and how it applies to my life. I desperately need a deeper understanding of Scripture. Give it to me.

2. Preach the gospel. I’ve listened to too many sermons where the gospel was nowhere to be found. What I need more than anything in my life is the gospel. I need to be reminded of what God did for me through the work of Jesus Christ. If your sermons don’t include any mention of the gospel, then you have failed your listeners.

If I’m ever at a point where I’ve moved beyond the gospel, I’m in a bad place. So please don’t think that just because I’m a Christian, I don’t need to hear the gospel anymore. I need to hear it every day. I need to hear it in every sermon. Don’t leave it out.

3. Talk less about yourself and more about God. Too many times after I’ve listened to a sermon, I could tell you quite a bit about the preacher, but precious little about God. There’s nothing wrong with using personal examples from time to time, but keep it to a minimum.

As an I example, I can cite a sermon I heard about a year ago from Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Baptist Church in Las Vegas. Vance was preaching at a conference I attended. I’d never heard him before and didn’t know anything about him. After the first time I heard him preach, I still didn’t know anything about him – but I knew more about God. He exalted the Lord in his message, and not himself. Follow this pattern, and your listeners will benefit.

4. Don’t tell me about the Greek and the Hebrew all the time. Yes, I think studying Greek and Hebrew has value. Greek was one of my majors in college, so I know how valuable it can be. But while it’s OK for you to study the Greek or the Hebrew in your sermon preparation, you don’t need to make it a point to inform your listeners of that. Constantly referring to Greek and Hebrew words and constructions comes across as arrogant.

And please, if the Greek word means the same as the English word, don’t spend 10 minutes dissecting the language to tell me that.

5. Keep the humor to a minimum. Too many preachers think it’s their job to get their listeners to laugh. It’s not. Your job is to proclaim to them the Word of God. If you spend the first 10 minutes of your sermon telling jokes, and I’ve heard preachers do this too many times, you’re telling me that you don’t have anything important to say.

There’s nothing wrong with interjecting humor from time to time. But when you’re finished preaching, what I should remember most is what you had to say about God – not the joke I heard you tell.

6. Have a structure to your message. Don’t just give me a running commentary about the passage on which you’re preaching. Decide what the main points of the text are, and build your sermon around those main points. Clearly listing your main points makes it easier for the listener to follow what you’re saying.

7. Don’t read your sermon. When it’s time to preach, I hope the sermon is so burned into your heart and mind that you don’t have to read it verbatim. Using notes is fine, but you’ll lose your listeners if you stand up and read.

8. Believe what you’re saying. Preach with emphasis and earnestness. Make me think you believe in the importance of what you’re saying. If you speak like you’re bored with your subject matter, don’t expect me to be interested.

I’m grateful to God that for most of my life, I’ve been blessed to listen to men regularly whose preaching was exalting to Christ and challenging to me. My father was the first one who fit that description. My pastor now, Lee Tankersley, does as well.

I respect the position that pastors and preachers hold. Your work is important. It has eternal ramifications. Listeners like me need for you to take your task seriously, as the wellbeing of our souls is at stake.

May God help you to fulfill what He’s called you to do.

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