I don’t know what comes to your mind when you hear the word “art,” but I tend to think of paintings like the Mona Lisa. But art is much broader than paintings. Of course, the always trustworthy Wikipedia defines art as “a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts, expressing the author’s imaginative, conceptual idea, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.” Thus, art includes activities such as designing, acting, writing, and speaking.
Church leader, have you ever stopped to consider that preaching (or teaching) is an art.
Preaching the Word is a similar activity to that of Shakespeare writing Hamlet, Van Gogh painting The Starry Night, Gaudi constructing the Sagrada Familia, Mozart composing Symphony No. 40, or Andrea Bocelli singing Con Te Partiro.
In this brief post, I want to share with you how I approach the A.R.T. of Preaching.
A–stands for AIM. When I am crafting a message I always have gospel-transformation as my aim. I’m praying that Jesus transforms the hearts of the people who sit under the teaching of His Word. To arrive at gospel-transformation, I think of the information/truth of the text, the audience I’ll be communicating to, and how to apply that truth to the heart of the listener. If you are a formula or math person, think of it this way:
Truth + Relationship + Application = Transformation
R–stands for RHYTHYM. I have initiated a preaching rhythm (or calendar) over the years. At the beginning of each year I start with a mini-series to set the tone and direction for the church. This past year, I began with the series, “A New Thing” given that we were about to launch our one–three-year strategic plan called Project New Thing. For the spring I go through a book of the Bible—verse by verse/chapter by chapter. However, I take a small break for Easter where I begin a series on Easter Sunday in hopes of creating an on-ramp to entice the “Chreasters” to finish out the series. I then go back to the book series until the summer.
In the summer—particularly June and July—we have our cultural engagement series. In June, we have our T.E.D. (Theological. Educational. Discussions) series, which is designed to help Christians think biblically about topics relevant to our culture. In July, we have our A&E (Arts and Entertainment) series. Here’s the synopsis of this series:
Did you know the movies and songs our culture creates serve as a cultural anthropology and theology? In other words, they depict what we believe about man and God. Thus, they speak to our hopes, fears, dreams, aspirations, longings, desires, hurts, heartaches, pain, and suffering as human beings. As Christ followers who live in the world but are not to be of the world—and who are called to reach those far from Jesus—it is important that we know (or exegete) the culture and context that God has planted us so that we can better communicate the truth of God’s word in the heart language of the culture.
When school is back in session and we have entered into the fall, the preaching rhythm includes topical series that would apply to families or individuals. I’ve done series like, “How to Lose Your Family in 10 Easy Ways,” “Sticks and Stones: The Power of Words,” and “Scared to Death: Moving from Fear to Faith.” These fall series are designed to teach people what the Bible says systematically about topics relevant to our lives. Finally, I conclude December with a Christmas series.
For me, this rhythm is helpful for a few reasons. First, it keeps the preaching fresh. I don’t feel like I get in a rut. Second, it creates on-ramps for new people. By having a few breaks throughout the year in beginning new series, it gives our people an opportunity to invite people to something “new.” Third, it tries—to a degree–to be all things to all people. In other words, it seeks to be diverse, as some people like preaching that goes through a book of the Bible; some people like short 3–5-week series; and some people are really interested in knowing what the Bible says about a certain topic. This rhythm seeks to give a little something for everyone.
For those who don’t like a certain series, I tell them to wait for the next—for not every series will be a home run in everybody’s eyes.
T–stands for TECHNIQUE(S). The word technique is defined as “a way of carrying out a particular task—especially applied to the realm of artistic work or scientific procedures.” Applied to the art of preaching what kind of technique or techniques are appropriate? Now while my rhythm consists of topical series and book studies, I almost always use the technique of expository preaching.* Here are some definitions of expository preaching:
- EP “is the contemporization of the central proposition of a biblical text that is derived from proper methods of interpretation [proper exegesis] and declared through effective means of communication to inform minds, instruct hearts, and influence behavior towards godliness” (Ramesh Richard, Preparing Expository Sermons, 19).
- EP is a more or less extended portion of Scripture being interpreted in relation to one theme or subject where the bulk of the material for the sermon is drawn directly from the passage and the outline consists of a series of progressive ideas centered around that one main idea (James Braga, How to Prepare Bible Messages, 53).
- EP “begins with a substantial passage of Scripture and allows the principal thoughts of that passage to become the outline for development and the basis for application.” (Edwin V. Hayden, “What is Expository Preaching?”, Preach the Word, 1–2).
- EP “is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality of the preacher, then through him to hearers” (Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, 20).
To put in my own words:
Expository preaching is doing exegetical and Christocentric (gospel-centered) work to lift out the main idea of a text and to craft it in such a way as to teach the truth of God’s word in a faithful and culturally relevant way in order that the hearers might know how to apply the transforming truth of God to their lives.
While this is predominantly the technique I apply to crafting my messages, I do implement a variety of other techniques in my delivery. I’ll use props, word pictures, humor, personal stories, images, pictures, clips from movies or sitcom scenes, etc. I’ve gleaned a lot from books such as The Power of Multi-Sensory Preaching and Teachingby Rick Blackwood and Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Mindsby Carmine Gallo.
In addition, depending on how the Spirit crafts the message in my heart and mind will shape the way in which I deliver the points. In other words, while I always have a main point that I aim to flesh out from the passage, I develop my subpoints differently. For instance, I might develop my subpoints in the form of questions like, “1. What is God’s mission for marriage? 2. How do couples faithfully execute the mission? 3. Why does it matter?” Other times, my subpoints might try and be catchy phrases like, “Wounding words should come from faithful friends; You are what you speak; Cloaking daggers in playful words can be hurtful to others; etc.”
When it comes to delivery, I’m always seeking the most effective way to communicate the truth in a meaningful and retentive way. I believe that we can (and should) use a variety of techniques to communicate God’s divinely inspired word. In fact, that is the way God had His Word written. There are various genres (narrative, apocalyptic, prose, etc.) and languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) that God used across the millennia to communicate His Word to the original context.
In conclusion, the history of the world has been mesmerized and influenced by some of the most brilliant artists in their field. And it is time that church leaders, pastors, and teachers realize that we are artists too—for preaching is an A.R.T. In fact…
I believe preaching is one of the most important art forms out there, for in what we craft on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis has the potential to bring life, community, and even world transformation!
*I do believe there are times where it is appropriate to do topical sermons that serve as more of a systematic study on a topic.