Tag Archives: Preaching

Acts 10 & the importance of preaching

Acts 10 is at a revolution point in God’s wonderful work. It’s where the news of Jesus goes directly to a non Jew. The whole world has direct access to Jesus by trust – always God’s plan, now fully revealed because of the completed work of Jesus.

And God’s revolution comes by preaching.

Proclaiming the news of Jesus often feels and looks unutterably weak. Yet many indications of Acts 10 show apostolic preaching to be God’s chosen way. (Brackets for verse numbers.)

  • Cornelius needs to hear the gospel, so God sends an angel (=messenger) who says: send for Peter (5). Why not let the angel talk? Because it had to be the apostle. This is extraordinary preparation to hear preaching
  • Peter experienced a disturbing vision from God to show that all people have immediate opportunity to trust Jesus (15). God could have given Cornelius this vision. This is extraordinary preparation for the preacher
  • When Cornelius sent for Peter, the go-betweens specified that it was to hear what you have to say (22)
  • Even more than that, Cornelius himself knew that Peter had been commanded by the Lord to speak (33)
  • Cornelius is scared of the angel (4), but tried to worship Peter (25). Mistaken worship, but a right assessment of relative importance
  • Cornelius’ crowd already knew about Jesus’ ministry (37). This is not information transfer. They needed Peter’s preaching
  • The apex of Peter’s sermon is that God sent people to speak about Jesus (42-43). Beforehand were the prophets, and after the resurrection Jesus sent eyewitnesses to preach and testify
  • It was while Peter was speaking that the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius (44)

The major amazement of Acts 10 is that the benefits from Jesus are poured out freely “even on the Gentiles” (45). But along the way we read plenty of reminders that God’s chosen method of saving is by preaching the apostolic message.

May we never lose confidence in speaking the gospel of Jesus.



Average preachers, a follow-up

Last week I wrote a tip for average preachers. The tip (pray for better listeners) follows my belief that sermon quality for average preachers depends on the quality of the listeners.

I kept that bog post short, even though my mind was full of other implications. This post is all about the implications.

The big implication is this: usual church preaching is a co-operative activity. Preaching is a team event, not solo performance – it’s the activity of a body, not a hero. Speaker and listeners work together.

The ways we live that out are many:

  • We start with thankfulness for each other
    Speaker & listeners are joining in the great task of hearing God speak, with dedication to faithful obedience. It’s immense that we do so together, no matter what the numbers, abilities, etc
  • We encourage everyone’s part
    It’s wonderful that people come to church (preacher or not). Let’s say that more often, and to each other as well
  • We work on the preaching setting
    How’s the room you meet in? Can people hear OK? Is it too cold, too warm? Are there Bibles available, especially for visitors? I’m sure there are weeks when a sermon ‘worked’ because someone decided to close the back door and block the traffic noise
  • We work outside the preaching setting
    A church that builds its members in love for 167 hours a week will make better use of the 168th hour of the week, the hour that includes a sermon
  • We train listening ability
    Everyone helps training happen, preachers and non-preachers. We can learn better how to listen well, to understand, to seek clarification, and to expect God’s word to change us. In addition, churches can run formal training on making the most of sermons
  • We practice humility
    This is for the preachers. It’s not that our finely-crafted words are the secret to church life. The ‘secret’ is God’s word calling forth faith in his children – if God uses us, that’s a wonderful privilege and kindness


A tip for average preachers

No teasing – here’s the tip for average preachers: pray for better listeners.

This post is not about extraordinary and brilliant preachers. These people have wonderful content that’s true and challenging. Their communication is excellent, being clear, engaging and memorable. Even those who disagree enjoy the listening.

This post is not about poor preachers, who fail in both content and communication. Everyone who hears them goes away confused.

I am writing about the majority of preachers. They have something to say, but  are not Einsteins of the text. These preachers communicate adequately, but they won’t take Olympic gold medals for oration.

I’m convinced that, especially for average preachers, the quality of the sermon depends on the quality of the listeners. Faithful and devoted listeners make for good sermons. Grumbling and faithless listeners make for poor sermons.

the quality of the sermon depends on the quality of the listeners

Why? Because the listener to average preaching will find what they’re looking for.

A grumbler has real reason to say, ‘He’s not that insightful. The jokes are half funny. And those tongue stumbles when he gets excited – I just can’t listen.’ It’s poetic justice that a selfish listener gets no benefit for self.

A good listener is the opposite. This person finds the gold amid the dross, and overlooks odd verbal habits of the preacher. This generous listener is kind to the preacher, and the result is spiritual blessing to the one who hears.

So, as an acknowledgement of our own ‘averageness’, pray for better listeners.



Preaching: the best way to learn is …?

At regular intervals, people involved in serving churches (whether paid or not) get told how people learn. We hear that listening is ineffective. That seeing is better. And that doing is best of all.

Then follows a therefore moment. Quite often, it’s something like: therefore we now know that sermons and preaching are ineffective, and we should try something else. Strangely, this whole argument is always delivered in speaking-listening mode. Rarely visual, never by doing.

I’ve always been troubled by the apparent equating of preaching with teaching/learning of content.

So I was intrigued to read the following quotation, from Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. (Grandin is also the subject of the title story in Oliver Sacks’ An Anthropologist on Mars.)

observational learning. When it comes to evolutionary fears, as well as to many other areas of learning, animals and people learn by watching what other people or animals do, not by doing something themselves and learning from the consequences. I have the impression this lesson hasn’t been absorbed by most educators. You read that hands-on learning is best, but that may not always be so.
p. 210

The examples she gives centre on people and animals learning to fear something without ever having had a related bad experience. For example, lab monkeys with no fear of snakes learn to fear snakes by watching the fear reaction of wild-reared monkeys upon seeing a snake. The fear was caught, not hands-on.

As Grandin sardonically puts it, ‘Presumably most people with fear of flying, just to give a common example, have never come close to crashing.’ (p. 211)

Which brings me back to preaching. My personal concern in preaching is not that people will remember a sermon. My prayer is that preaching will change lives, by God’s grace. Memory might be a tool God uses to help someone, but it’s not the goal.

Allowing for the fact that Grandin’s observation is only for some types of learning, I suggest there’s a useful observation to make about preaching. One part of preaching, in my view, is that listeners catch and follow the example of the preacher.

That is, preaching should model prayerful, willing and submissive listening to God’s word. Preachers, to some extent, are a picture of the obedience of faith that follows gospel proclamation. Preachers train wisdom by speaking the fear of the Lord.

So I’ll keep preaching. All the while, I need to remember that a sermon is less about my text than it is about me as a preacher standing before God.