Two Essential Ingredients to Effective Preaching

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We expect lawyers to have a vast knowledge of the law to be able to apply its precepts to our case.

We expect physicans to know their fields inside and out so they can apply their knowledge to heal us.

In the same way, parishioners expect preachers to know the Bible in depth in order to help grow and form the congregation spiritually. It’s our job to know what’s in that holy book, who the people are through whom God worked, and especially the history of our salvation.

That information will help us preach knowledgeably. But to preach authentically—to preach transformationally—we need more than information.

We need to let that knowledge inform us, and let the Holy Spirit form us.

That’s what we mean in our tagline “Be Good News to Preach Good News.” We allow ourselves to be formed like Christ first. Then we can preach Good News we know—in our souls—to be true.

It’s the former that will preach more eloquently than any words we utter. Our lives preach as much as our sermons.

The Gift of Information

Preachers collect information for a variety of purposes, from personal growth to leading Bible studies to preaching.

The process for sermons, of course, is conducting exegesis where we gather information about and from:

  • biblical languages

  • bible translations

  • bible footnotes

  • commentaries

  • podcasts

  • social science

  • archaeology

  • trips to the Holy Land

  • the wisdom of the saints

  • and related fields, like ethics, theology, and cultures

It’s critically important to develop a breadth and depth to our knowledge of the Bible so we can apply its truths to the people in our congregations during sermons.

Knowledge allows us to open up passages in scripture that can’t be accessed from a surface reading:

The connotation of a word or phrase in the original language.

The cultural or geographical or historical context of a scene.

The norms of behavior or power structures in existence during a story.

The ways Jesus and his followers disrupted said norms and power structures.

Our education and training allows us to “see” beyond the words on the page a fuller picture of the dynamics at play in these familiar stories. We offer this additional information as a gift to our listeners, so they, too, can understand and relate in new ways.

But this information falls short if we do not pursue it to its meaning, its why, its “so what.”

Formation: Understanding and Responding to the Information

Formation is different.

Information goes to our heads. Formation goes to our spirits.

Formation asks why. It seeks the meaning beneath the facts and figures. It brings a vulnerability to the information-gathering process.

We let ourselves be vulnerable to what we’re learning.

We let the characters’ foibles reveal our own.

We allow the psalmist’s lament to draw out our own tears of grief.

We share the disciples’ confusion and ask Jesus to clear it up, not just so we know what to say on Sunday but so we draw nearer to Christ.

We recognized ourselves and our culture in the power structures, insecurities, fears, and hopes of the stories in scripture.

When we go beyond information-gathering to meaning-making, we are shaped, molded, and formed to be more like Christ.

We grow as a Christian while we grow as a preacher.

How to Be Formed as You Preach

This work is exactly what we do in the Backstory Preaching Mentorship.

We examine mindsets, learn tools, and develop strategies to help preachers be formed by their exegesis—and entire preaching process. We support preachers in being formed by their time in scripture—even sermon prep time—so they can use information to its greatest effect in preaching.

We’re including a brief exercise here that provides a taste of this work. In it, you’ll both explore the historical context of a scriptural idea and then consider its implication in your own life.

I hope it will inform about what we do in The Mentorship, as well as form you in your spirit.

And if this integration of spirituality and craft intrigues you, we invite you to head to our Mentorship page to learn more and download our info booklet to discern whether this preaching intensive is right for you.

Applications due this week. Apply today!