Preaching Skills (Jon Fryer)

Part 1: Spiritual Preaching

Preaching and teaching, (which are not quite the same thing), within the context of the church, are both spiritual gifts. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach” (Romans 12;7-8). Like other spiritual gifts, some of you will only preach occasionally, just as you only prophesy occasionally, for example, when you are asked to because you are leaders of a church. For others, it will be their gifting, the gift that they are called to use on a regular basis throughout their lives, and even indeed in every part of their lives.

If you are called to be a preacher then you will know it – you will have an overwhelming, burning desire to speak the words of God to the people – “when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.” (1 Cor 9;15-16).

If preaching is a spiritual gift, then even its details should come from God – remember “Apart from Him you can do nothing” (John 15;5). Its not a school presentation exercise, where you have to wrack your brains to find the words – once you know you have to preach, even if you have been given a passage or scripture, spend the weeks or days before hand talking, and especially listening, to God about it on a regular basis and see what he gives you to say… we preach for only one reason – that the Word of God might be proclaimed in order that the people might be blessed. It’s His word that is important, not yours!

Again, if preaching is a spiritual gift that comes from the Holy Spirit then we should do our best to make sure our lifestyle is appropriate to working with Him – He will not dwell with unrighteousness. “You then who teach, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you yourself steal?” (Romans 2;21). When you preach you are asking God’s Holy Spirit to come and speak through you, so in a spiritual sense make sure you are in a place where you can be used – “If a man cleanses himself, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Tim 2;21). – pray to God and confess your sins before you preach, so that you might be used powerfully by God, for “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1;9)

Not only that, but on a purely practical basis, how can you preach against stealing if everyone knows you are a thief? Your hypocrisy will be evident to all, and they will not listen to you, for you will have no right to speak – instead, as Paul said to timothy, a young man whom he was training to be a preacher “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for all the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. And until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. And in this way, do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you” (1 Tim 4;12-14).

Preaching and/or teaching are different from most of the other spiritual gifts that come from the Holy Spirit, in that they require a lot more from you personally in order that you might use them well. For example, to prophecy or speak a word of knowledge requires only that you hear God and then have the courage to open your mouth. This is not true of preaching. Preaching is logic on fire – preaching is your human words set on fire and given power by the Spirit of God. Listen, Jesus said: “Every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matt 13;52). The new treasures are the words that God gives you by His Holy Spirit. The old treasures are the work that you have already put in, reading your Bible and learning theology. God gives the fire, but if you are going to preach then you have to put the work in too! “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim 2;15) – to handle the word of truth correctly requires you to work. You have to work at preparing your message in advance – and as new preachers that means writing it out word for word in full – you don’t have the skills and experience to wing it.

And listen to this “The goal of [preaching] is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” (1 Tim 1;5-7). To preach and teach you have to know what you are talking about! – you need to study hard, because you “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2;1) And this is very important – “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3;1) – you are responsible before God for everything that you teach. If you teach someone else to sin, God holds you responsible for that sin – they are just sheep, going where you say, but you are the shepherd, and it is YOUR fault. A useful prayer to pray before preaching should be “May I keep silent until your Living Word speaks through me”! If you truly pray that prayer then you should be in no danger! Not only should you be preparing your sermon carefully, but if you are called to preach, or know because you are a leader that you will be called on to preach regularly, you should be preparing your theology and your entire life through regular, careful study of the Bible – to preach and teach is a great responsibility that requires hard work and consistent study, which is why the Bible says that “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5;17). As new preachers and young Christians you should stick carefully to the sermon you have prepared and not wander off the subject – not only will you not have the practical skills and experience to make stuff up on the spot, but you probably won’t have the safe and sound knowledge of God’s word either – if you see a more experienced preacher who seems to be making stuff up on the spot, rest assured that they have actually prepared for years in the background, learning the Word of God so that they can use it whenever they need to. As a young preacher, you probably aren’t there yet, but that is your goal, to “handle the word of truth correctly on all occasions and in all circumstances as a workman approved by God”. Remember, even your casual words can stick in peoples minds for years without them remembering the context – don’t put yourself in a position where you might lead someone astray by accident, just because you were too lazy to plan in advance.

Finally, preaching is spiritual warfare. “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword” (Heb 4;12). When you preach the Word of God you fight against dragons, you go into battle against the lies of the enemy, to tear down the strongholds of wrong behaviour and wrong thinking in peoples lives, to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10;5). As I’ve already said, this isn’t a public speaking exercise, although some of the skills are similar – preaching is a spiritual activity, the Holy Spirit of God going amongst his people to teach, empower and convict. As with any kind of spiritual warfare, before you preach you should prepare yourself first, taking up the whole armour of God. Once you have made yourself right with God you should get others to pray with you for your empowering and protection – you do not go into battle alone, but with the whole family of God – you speak, but you are upheld by your brothers. Also important, you should get people to pray with you after you preach as well – as I said, some part of your preaching and teaching comes not from God but from within you as well, and if you preach with the power of God it can be very draining on you personally as well – “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5;8) and a lion looks to take down the weakest member of the herd, and if you have truly preached the Word of God then that is likely to be you.

Part 2: Practical Preaching – putting together a message…

I’m not going to talk about how to speak to a crowd – you should learn that in school – things such as project your voice to the back of the audience, move around to keep their attention, don’t invite a response from the crowd or ask them questions unless you are very confident about holding their attention, speak slowly and clearly. Instead I’m going to speak about the things that should go into your sermon – the content of your preaching:

True preaching contains two elements – what God has done for us, and what we must do in return – “…Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘The kingdom of God is near at hand... Therefore repent and believe the good news’” (Mark 1;14-15).

As we have already said, true preaching is the declaration of the Word of God in the power of the Spirit “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit.” (1 Cor 2;13). “ We preach the gospel but not with human wisdom, lest the cross be emptied of its power” (1 Cor 1;17) “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor 2;4) Preach on the thoughts that you have shared with God and received from God, in the words that God has given you – don’t try and make the whole thing up out of your own head – that’s trying to do God’s job for Him - He doesn’t want you to do the work, He wants to share the work with you… and use the words of the Bible itself, for they have power. The Words of God have truth and there is life in them that may save those who listen.

Jesus is the centre of the Bible, the key to understanding everything it says. Jesus should be the centre of your preaching too – “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1;23), “we do not preach our own message, but we preach Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4;5), “ for I resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2;2). The true words of the Holy Spirit always point to the Living Word, Jesus Christ.

True preaching is Biblical preaching. Stick to your text – you can’t go wrong using the words of the Bible itself! We use the Bible to explain the Bible, so that our human ideas don’t get it wrong. There is no use reading the passage once, and then talking about whatever you like! Stick to the passage, take your ideas from it, explain it, follow it – as preachers we are submissive to the written Word of God as much as the Living Word – our job is to preach and explain what the word of God says and is saying to the people who hear us, not to wander off into our own human imaginings. Preach the text, and as with praying, watch for what God is saying through that text to the people, so that after you may pray for them with insight and wisdom. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3;16-17)

Structure your sermon so that you don’t lose your listeners, or lose yourself – people don’t enjoy being lost and not knowing where they are going - prepare your words carefully in advance whilst listening for the voice of God. This is a good, practical structure:

  • Start with your thesis – this is the title of your sermon, a single sentence that is your message and will hold your sermon together.

  • Give an introduction – tell the people what you are going to tell them! This is the time to hook your hearers. Some people tell jokes – that’s fine if they are relevant, but remember you are serious people doing a serious job, holding out the words of life, you are not here to entertain like a stand-up comic. Whilst on the subject of jokes, never use your position as preacher to attack another person, even in joke – firstly, its crass and cowardly, for you have the microphone and the audience, and your target can not respond; secondly, the Bible says that “whoever has his brothers blood on his sword shall not be used to build my house” and that is what you do if you use your position as a preacher with the sword of God to attack a brother – as a preacher you are here to build the Lord’s House, not tear it down. Back to the introduction, some other ways of hooking your listeners: Give a relevant example from your own life – people like to hear the details of other people’s experience; Ask a rhetorical question that needs an answer or throw down a challenge – “Where’s your passion?”; Tell a story that introduces your message, for people respond better to story than to being told what to do – this was Jesus’ own preaching method.

  • In the body of your sermon, preach and teach the text. Draw your points out from it – show the connections from the text to your message – logical, dramatic, psychological, theological, whatever God gives you, but your message should come from the text – you shouldn’t be struggling to use the text to match up with what you are saying. Use illustrations to keep their attention from other places in the Bible, or from history, or the news, or science, or the TV, or whatever is appropriate to the message and the audience – as preachers we take captive all human thoughts and make them serve the gospel of Christ. And keep coming back to your main message – try not to have more than three main ideas in your sermon, and keep linking them back to the main message. Keep repeating the key phrase or question or challenge – weave the call to action throughout the message, make each point strike home rather than leaving the thrust of your argument to the end.

  • To finish, give a conclusion. Tell the people again, briefly, what you have told them. Drive your message home with God’s challenge to the people, with an invitation to decision, with a call to ministry.

  • Wherever you preach, try and ensure that space is left for ministry time at the end – what is the point of preaching if the people have no chance to respond to God and what has been said through you? You have wasted your breath. True preaching results in change, for the “word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” says the Lord in Isai 55;12.

    Jesus the Man
    What was Jesus like?

    The Character of God
    How do we know what God is like?

    The Authority of Scripture
    How should we obey what the Bible teaches us?

    The Wise Mans Tragedy
    What can we learn from Solomon?

    What can we learn from the mother of Jesus?

    Cain and Abel
    What can we learn from the first murderer?

    Who is Aslan? Who is Jesus?

    When the Fire Burns Low
    How do we cope when we have grown tired of God's way?

    Fix Your Eyes
    How do we look for God?

    Why should we look after the world God has given us?

    How do we know who we are in God?

    Lent - Pride, Doubt and Jealousy
    What is the period of Lent all about?

    I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked...

    Close Encounters
    How do get to have intimacy with God?

    Can we feel the breath of God?

    Hearing From God
    How can I hear what God wants to say to me?

    The Story We Find Ourselves In
    The Bible tells the story of all creation - what is my part in that story?

    What does Passover mean to us as Christians?

    What does it mean to say that Jesus is alive?

    What is the Fruit of the Holy Spirit?

    Teaching for Christmas Eve...

    What does it mean to have authority?

    What can we do when it all seems like too much?

    I Will Be With You
    What does it mean to say "God is with us"?

    What are angels, and what can we learn from what the Bible says about them?

    A contemplative service for Pentecost

    A creative/contemplative baptism service

    How do we know what we should do?

    A creative prayer/worship service

    The Holy Spirit
    Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?

    A Relationship With Jesus
    What does it mean to have a 'relationship' with the Son of God?

    The Pilgrim's Progress
    If we keep our eyes on the prize, what a journey it could be!

    Heroes, Promises and Trust
    How does our relationship with Jesus realy work?

    Warrior's Confession
    A liturgy for masculine prayer

    Living Life to the Full
    How do we get the most out of life?

    What is so speacial about the faith of Abraham?

    The Presence of God
    What does it mean to say God is present?

    How Do I Know My Faith is Real?
    We all wrestle with doubt, so how can we cope?

    Who is Jesus?
    ...and what does he want from you?

    To Act Justly Every Day...
    What does the Lord your God require of you?

    Sex and Self Image
    Don't you know how beautiful you are?

    Will you let Jesus be in charge?

    Recognising Jesus
    Would you know him if he met you on the road?

    The Person of the Holy Spirit
    Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?

    The Passion of the King
    What does Jesus really want?

    How can we really 'count it all joy'?

    More Than Words
    "... but words can never hurt me"?

    The Armour of God
    What tools does God give us to protect us from the Enemy?

    The Heart of the Gospel
    The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you, therefore...

    Following Jesus
    Do you really want to follow him?

    Preaching Skills
    How should I prepare to give a sermon?

    The gift of healing comes from the Holy Spirit, but how does it work?

    The People of God

    The Bible
    What does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?

    Jesus Part 2: The Deity of Christ
    How can Jesus be God and Man at the same time?

    Jesus Part 1: Who Do You Say I Am?
    Who is Jesus, and why does He matter?

    How do we resist?

    What is holiness and how do we try to achieve it?

    The Art of Spiritual Warfare
    We're in a constant battle, so how do we try and prepare to fight?

    Forgiveness Part Two: Forgiving Others
    What is forgiveness and why do we need to forgive others?

    Forgiveness Part One: Forgiven by God
    Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?

    Prayer Part Two: Receiving From God
    Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?

    Prayer Part One: The Lords Prayer
    We look in detail at the Lords Prayer

    It's one of the spiritual gifts, but what exactly is it, how does it happen?

    Basics of Christianity
    Here we delve into the Nicene Creed

    Becoming a Christian
    What is a Christian, how do you become one?