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3 Rules in Preaching

They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mk 1:22). 


I’m no homiletician, although I do preach every week. Here’s my preaching “philosophy”, although I hope it’s not empty deceit (Col 2:8). The greatest preacher of all time is Jesus Christ, and He still preaches from our pulpits every Sunday. After examining Jesus’ preaching, particularly in Mark 1, I’ve made some rules. We don’t want to get in the way, but God uses different men to preach, and that means each preacher will be different. Most homiletical rules are meant to be broken, but you never want to break the first rule. 


The first rule in preaching is to preach what the Bible says. You could follow the next two rules to a tee, but if you don’t preach what the Bible says, you very well could be a used car salesman or a stand-up comedian. Both have their place, but neither saves souls. “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written…” (Lk 4:16-17). Jesus preached from the Bible. He’d open up a scroll, and explain it. Even more than that, since Jesus is God, whatever He says is the Word of God. 


Don’t be a Gospel Reductionist. Preach the whole Bible, even those passages that offend us. Don’t have any passages you’re uncomfortable with. If you are, ask the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to make you comfortable with the Word. We don’t want is to be embarrassed by what Jesus says (Mk 8:38). 


The best way to become a better preacher is to read the Bible. Read it on your own. Read it with others. Listen to other preachers preach to you. Listen to guys smarter than yourself on podcasts talk about the Bible. The Gottesdienst Crowd Podcast is great. Don’t limit yourself to Lutherans. Listen to how other traditions say something. Maybe you wouldn’t say it the same way that a Presbyterian preacher would say it, but yet again, maybe you would. The goal is to always be steeped in God’s Word, so that on Sunday morning, you have divine indigestion (a phrase I picked up from Peter Scaer) and have to get it out. 


The second rule in preaching is to be clear. The last thing you want is for someone to be mad at you because they didn’t understand what you said, but it’s just as bad when someone isn’t mad at you when they should be. The crowds were so astonished at Jesus’ preaching because He left no doubt. There was no hemming and hawing. He told them to repent and believe in Him. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). 


Whenever He’d tell a parable condemning a particular group of people, they’d get it. “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them” (Matt 21:45) Jesus was so clear that even the demons, who can’t think for themselves, got it. The demon says, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (Mk 1:24). Talking about sin in the abstract is easy and makes everyone comfortable. Once you start calling for repentance for sins that are prevalent by name, people squirm, but they aren’t left wondering what you’re talking about.


Here’s the third rule in preaching: don’t be boring. “But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him” (Mk 1:25-26). Yelling and shaking at church. It looks more like a Pentecostal service than a Lutheran one. I’ve thought about trying the whole Pentecostal thing, but the saying is, “Never trust a faith healer who wears glasses.” Our consolation is that we’ll sing Bach in heaven. 


The third rule is last, but it tends to be rule number one for most hearers. I can sympathize to a point. Who wants to hear a guy drone on for any amount of time? If you break this rule from time to time, it’s okay. The Holy Spirit works through the clear preached Word of God. But we really should try to not be boring. I’m not saying you have to tell jokes, although I will firmly defend homiletical jokes as long as they make or support a point. Maybe that’ll be a blog post sometime - homiletical jokes and their place. When I watch Joel Osteen’s sermons, I turn the screen off after the opening joke. 


Jesus preached with authority. That’s exciting preaching, unlike the scribes who droned on and on and never really said anything. If you’re going to get in the pulpit, say something. Chesterton, who was a lay Catholic, once said that if he was given an opportunity to preach, he’d make sure that it was the last time he preached. 


Making sure each sermon follows these 3 rules is a lot of work for the preacher. Self-assessment is tough. Sometimes I love a sermon I preached, but I can tell it had little effect. Other sermons seemed boring to me, and my parishioners are probably just being nice seeing that I wasn’t on my A-game, but the ones I thought were mediocre get the most “great sermons.” Oh yeah, that’s another thing. Ultimately, it’s God who judges sermons. We’re going to have to answer to Him, so just be faithful. 


 “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10b). 


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