Faithful. Effective. Famous?

Recently, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, associated with Baylor University, published the results of their survey seeking to name the twelve most effective preachers in the English speaking world. You can follow this link for the entire list:

Since reading the list, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be an effective preacher. I’m convinced that any faithful preacher can become effective by understanding three elements of preaching: exegesis, hermeneutics, and homiletics. Or, to use less academic terms, preachers craft effective sermons through investigation, interpretation, and communication.

Effective preaching begins with investigating a text. First, the preacher analyzes the preaching unit from large to small by considering context, structure, and individual words and phrases. These exegetical/investigative steps bring out the details necessary to determine a passage’s meaning.

Second, the preacher interprets the text from small to large by considering the connection between the individual words and phrases, structure, and context. This hermeneutical/interpretive step seeks the text’s intended meaning for its original audience by considering the writer’s setting and purpose. A preacher must know what a text meant to explain what it means.

Third, the preacher determines how to communicate a text’s meaning. In this homiletical/communicative phase, the preacher builds the sermon to present the text’s meaning so that the congregation understands what the biblical author meant and how that meaning applies to their lives. At this phase, the pastor determines the sermon’s structure, how to introduce the message, and how to conclude and call for a response.

I believe that any pastor can consistently preach effective sermons. The three elements of investigation, interpretation, and communication aren’t complicated. They are just hard work. Every week, the dedicated local pastor can walk into the pulpit knowing that the message will reflect God’s Word and be applicable and understandable. For this to happen, each pastor must be willing to put in the time it takes to effectively work through these three elements.

Preacher, let yourself off the hook. Very few pastors become famous. Few are appreciated beyond the walls of their local church. I believe this reality is a good thing. Let the famous be famous. Someone has to do it, so let them take care of it. For the rest of us, let’s faithfully dive into the text, find its meaning, and then report our findings to the congregation.

We might not all be the most effective preachers in the English speaking world, but we can all be the most effective preachers for our congregations.

Preacher, Exhort Thyself

I hate yard work. If yard work were a person, I could believe in selective reprobation. This past Friday, I spent five hours in the yard—three and half weed eating. Then, like a non-reformed monk, I tortured myself by going to the gym on Saturday morning. Weights don’t lift themselves, folks.

When my alarm went off on Sunday morning, I wasn’t excited about facing the day. I keep the same routine each Sunday. I wake up at 4:30, shower, and then run through my morning sermon before the family wakes up. I had to drag myself out of bed.

Preacher, if you’re honest you’ve had Sunday mornings like mine. Maybe the week’s ministry exhausted you or family issues drained you. Whatever the cause, don’t think that there is something wrong with you when you see Sunday as a day to survive rather than to enjoy. We’ve all been there. We just can’t stay there.

God offers a cure for the Sunday blahs. It’s the same medicine you’ve prepared for your people all week—His Word.

Paul’s familiar words in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 remind us that, “16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (NASB).” It is no coincidence that two verses later, in 4:2, we are told to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction (NASB).”

While sitting at the kitchen table reviewing my sermon, God performed a work in my life. Walking through my message, I found energy and excitement. God used Galatians 3:1-5 to enliven my spirit and body. By the time I printed out my sermon notes, I wasn’t tired and looked forward to the day.

Preaching the Word demonstrates the power of the Word. As we prepare to preach, His Word changes us so that we can proclaim that Word to His people. God’s Word grows our faith so that, even in weary moments, we find joy and God-given energy.

Take a step back and stop seeing the sermon as an item on your to do list. Instead, view it as God’s message to you first and to your people second.

You’ll find that the Sunday blahs melt away.

Preacher, Do Some Laundry

Our church recently participated in a combined worship service with three churches in our area—South Jackson. The service and fellowship afterwards honored the Lord and encouraged attenders.

Our guest speaker called us to engage in God’s mission.

While the sermon’s main idea challenged me, I’ve been returning to something else the preacher said.

He mentioned being tired in the work of the Lord, but not being tired of the work. He illustrated this point by sharing how he enjoyed doing laundry.

This idea might sound strange, but I understood what he meant. Laundry is a big part of how I relax. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m typing the first draft of this post between loads.)

In the pastorate, you are never really finished. There is always something to be done. To be “off,” a pastor must choose to “stop” for a while. The clear beginning, middle, and end of laundry is its appeal. Once clothing is put away, it’s done. That’s a difficult feeling to find in the ministry.

Every preacher needs to find this type of outlet. It might be a hobby, like golf or hunting. I’m always reading a novel. Yard work offers an escape. At least that’s what I hear. I want to escape from my yard work. But, to each his own.

Whatever your method, rest in it. Your family and congregation need a well-rested pastor.

As Hercule Poirot would say, the “little grey cells” need time to rejuvenate.

Preacher, find your outlet. Plug in. Recharge.

Thank You, Haddon Robinson

“Expository preaching at its core is more a philosophy than a method.”[1]

A few day ago, my Twitter feed filled with reactions to the death of Haddon Robinson. Ironically, the majority of the folks in the pews, unless they’ve heard Robinson’s radio program, aren’t familiar with the man who so heavily influenced evangelical preaching.

Robinson championed, taught, and wrote about expository preaching. He defined it as, “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 and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers.”[2]

This long definition mentions each component of a good expository sermon. First, the sermon communicates “a” biblical concept. The sermon is about one thing. Second, proper contextual study determines the passage’s main idea, or concept. Third, the Holy Spirit applies the point of the passage to the preacher, so that he can then communicate that same idea to the congregation.

Robinson wrote, “Whether we can be called expositors starts with our purpose and with our honest answer to the question: ‘Do you, as a preacher, endeavor to bend your thought to the Scriptures, or do you use the Scriptures to support your thought?’”[3]

Expository preachers have one job. We report what God said and explain how it applies. Robinson’s legacy, to those committed to this philosophy, is invaluable. I’m particularly grateful for his focus on the sermon’s central idea—that the sermon is an arrow, not a shotgun.

Robinson’s contributions will live on through his foundational book, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, which is now in its third edition. Generations of believers will continue to benefit from Robinson’s teaching, as it impacts their pastors. God will use the influence of someone they never knew to help them grow closer to the Lord.

Biblical Preaching

I can’t think of a better legacy.




[1] Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 5.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Are You Preaching Christian Sermons?

A few years ago, I listened to a well-known pastor preach about leadership from the story of David and Goliath. The sermon offered leadership advice based on David’s actions before and after killing Goliath.

As I listened, I realized that the same points given about David’s leadership could have been about any successful leader. I thought while the man preached, “He could have preached that same sermon about Winston Churchill.”

The sermon offered truth, just not specifically Christian truth.

What makes a sermon Christian?

Is it the speaker?

In this instance, the speaker is a Christian pastor, but I don’t think the sermon was Christian.

Does using the Bible make a sermon Christian?

The sermon was built around a famous Bible story, but lacked what I believe to be (as I share below) the key element of Christian preaching.

While a Christian preacher and the Christian Scriptures are necessary for a sermon to be Christian, they are not a guarantee.

Rather, for a sermon to be Christian, one single element must be assumed—the necessity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If a sermon can be just as effective if Jesus is still in the tomb, then it is only a motivational speech.

The resurrection of Jesus vindicated everything He said about Himself. To paraphrase Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, if Jesus is still dead there is no Christianity.

There is a fundamental assumption behind New Testament commands. When Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude, or the writer of Hebrews gives a command, they assume the reader is capable of obeying.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, “4 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one (NASB).”

Paul also wrote in Romans 8:9-11, “9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (NASB).”

Christians are spiritually alive. This life enables obedience to God’s commands. The Holy Spirit empowers believers to live godly lives.

If a sermon’s application can be followed by a non-Christian, then there is no spiritual substance to that application. A lost man may be able to follow “Ten Rules for Dating Your Wife,” but he will not be able to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). That type of love is impossible for a spiritually dead husband.

The contrast between spiritual life and spiritual deadness demands that preachers apply sermons in two ways. First, the preacher calls Christians to obey and believe the Scripture. Second, the preacher calls the non-Christians to repent and believe so that they can then begin to do what the sermon text instructs.

For instance, when preaching from Ephesians 5:22-33, the pastor’s evangelistic motivation is that the principles found in a godly marriage are available to all who will call on Jesus for salvation. It is only after conversion that a couple can expect to begin reflecting God’s plan for marriage.

The power to live out Ephesians 5:22-33 is only found through the indwelling Holy Spirit, who was sent by the resurrected Christ (John 16:7).

Two types of people hear a pastor’s sermons: the lost and the saved. He must consider both when offering sermon application. By contemplating the needs of both groups, each sermon builds up the saved while also calling the lost to salvation.

Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, “1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (NASB).”

Paul closely connected pastoral preaching (reproving, rebuking, exhorting, being patient, offering instruction) with evangelism. The meaning, power, and necessity of Jesus’ resurrection allows the preacher to minister to the congregation with God’s Word while also calling sinners to the Savior.

I’m Going to Ask You a Series of Questions.

Blade Runner

Without application, there is no sermon.

It is a great challenge to offer sound application from the text. Discovering the meaning of the text is hard work, but preachers have countless resources for exegesis and hermeneutics. Between atlases, dictionaries, commentaries, and sophisticated Bible software, the text’s meaning should not be a mystery.

Application is different.

To truly apply a text’s meaning, the pastor must know his congregation and context. While each text has only one meaning, there are many applications of that meaning. The pastor’s job is to challenge the congregation with these applications, so that they can live out their faith in their context.

Several years ago, I created an application worksheet that I use for each sermon. I write my thoughts under each heading as I work through the questions.


I insert this set of questions into my sermon prep document.


  • Theological (What does this passage say about God?)
  • Universal (What does this passage say about Man?)
  • Relational (What does this passage say about how we relate with others?)
    • With God
    • With our spouse
    • With our family
    • With our church
    • With those at work/school/activities/neighbors
  • Individual (What does this passage say about you?)
    • Attitudes
    • Actions


After I’ve whittled the text’s meaning down to its historical, contextual, and sermonic theme sentences, I ask questions of my findings.

I begin by asking what a passage says about God (theological application). As I reread the text and my study notes, I look for truths about God. I use the traditional systematic theology topics as my guard rails. What does this paragraph teach about the character of God, or the Trinity, or His providence? What does it teach about Jesus? What does it teach about the Holy Spirit? Does it say anything about the doctrine of salvation, the church, or the end times? I try to maintain a good collection of systematic and biblical theologies for reference.

I continue by asking what the paragraph says about man (universal application). Once again, theological works will aid your findings. Very often you will find that the some aspect of man’s fallen nature is displayed in your pericope.

Next, I ask what the passage says about relating to others (relational application). Having looked at the big picture, God and Man, it is now time to look at the smaller picture. This step asks how believers relate to God, their spouses, their families, their church, and those outside the church, based on the truth found in the text. Not every text will have a specific application for each area, but by asking the questions, the text’s best applications will emerge.

Finally, I ask how a passage impacts actions and attitudes. Does the text apply to a certain sinful attitude, such as envy? Is there a particular action to be taken because of the text’s meaning?

Sharing a text’s application is genre specific. A didactic text, such as an epistle or Psalm, requires sharing application throughout the sermon. While preaching narrative texts, it’s often best to place application near the sermon’s conclusion, after the entire story has been told.

I encourage you to create an application worksheet, whether you model this one or create your own. I created mine because I felt application was my weakest area and I needed to improve. This approach keeps me from being lazy. It forces me to think fully about the text.

Good luck with this.

It will grow and challenge you, just as much as it will the congregation.

What’s the Point?: Part Three

Several years ago, while a seminary student but not yet a pastor, I was walking towards the sanctuary of my home church. Passing by a senior adult Sunday School class, I heard two of the members talking about that day’s guest teacher. One man said, “Did you know what he was talking about?” The other said, “Nope, didn’t have a clue.

I’ve never forgotten that moment. It helped me to realize that if I am not clear, then I have wasted people’s time.

I’ve been describing the development of three sentences to discover a sermon’s point or main idea. My previous two posts discussed the Historical Theme Sentence (HTS) and the Contextual Theme Sentence (CTS).

The final sentence, the Sermonic Theme Sentence (STS), is the point of a message. It simplifies and makes memorable the Contextual Theme Sentence (CTS). You will present this statement to the congregation as you preach. Instead of three points and a poem, you will have one point that drives home the preaching text’s main idea.

Below are examples of Sermonic Theme Sentences (STS) with their accompanying historical and contextual phrases.


John 1:1-5 (STS): Who is Jesus?

John 1:1-5 (CTS): Creation and salvation declare the deity of Christ.

John 1:1-5 (HTS): John wrote that Jesus, being God, is the eternal creator and the light of men.


John 3:16-21 (STS): What do we need to understand about Jesus?

John 3:16-21 (CTS): Because God loves the world, He sent Jesus to rescue us from judgment.

John 3:16-21 (HTS): John wrote that because the Father loved the world, He sent the Son into the world to rescue anyone who believes in Jesus from judgment.


Romans 1:1-6 (STS): Because He lives, anyone can have eternal life.

Romans 1:1-6 (CTS): Since Jesus was raised from the dead, we are to take the message of salvation to the world.

Romans 1:1-6 (HTS): Paul attributed his mission and apostleship to the resurrection of Jesus, which declared Christ to be the Son of God.


James 1:1-4 (STS): Tough times build strong Christians.

James 1:1-4 (CTS): Our trials, if we view them correctly, will build our spiritual endurance.

James 1:1-4 (HTS): James encouraged the Jewish believers to view their trials as joyous because they would increase their spiritual endurance.


2 Kings 5 (STS): Faith brings salvation.

2 Kings 5 (CTS): Faith brings salvation.

2 Kings 5 (HTS): Naaman, because of his healing by faith, became a follower of the true God.


Notice that these five examples vary between questions and didactic points.

I enjoy using a question as my main point when it fits with the text. As I preach, I revisit the question and build the answer as I explain the preaching paragraph. I may present the answer with a formal statement, much like a didactic STS, or I may offer the conclusion conversationally.

When I use a statement rather than a question, I attempt to repeat that statement as I transition through the major sections of the text.

The temptation is to become cute with this phrase. Pithy statements are okay if infrequent, but I believe that a memorable, yet simple, phrase works just as well without risking corniness. The test of your communication effectiveness isn’t whether the congregation remembers your statement. Instead, the goal is to be clearly understood. If your people know what you were talking about, does it really matter if they don’t remember your STS?

My typical pattern is to introduce the statement or question towards the end of my sermon introduction. I then refer to it during the sermon’s body. Finally, I like for it to be the final thought in my sermon’s conclusion as I extend the invitation. In future blogs about these sermon elements, I will include advice about using the STS during sermon delivery.

I developed the method I’ve described in this and the previous two blogs over the course of ten years. In my early preaching, I often forced texts into a three point alliterated structure. If you enjoy and are gifted at alliteration, please use it sparingly. I fear that many sermons are outlined to impress the congregation rather than to express the text’s meaning.

Using these three sentences can be hard work. I assure you, the work is worth it.

What’s the Point?: Part Two

“To me, this text means . . .”

Expository preachers cringe at any words spoken like the above. When God inspired His Word, He did so within a certain context and towards a certain audience. The expositor’s job is to study the text so that he can, to the best of his ability and gifting, communicate what God said in His Word.

In my previous blog, I described the first in a series of three sentences that aid in expressing and communicating the author’s original intent. That sentence, the Historical Theme Sentence, described the meaning of a preaching paragraph in past tense and historical language.

The second sentence, the Contextual Theme Sentence, moves from then to now by using present tense universal language.

The process is not complicated, but does take work. The goal is to alter the text’s Historical Theme Sentence so that it applies to all of God’s people for all time.

Below are the historical theme sentences I shared in the previous post, along with my contextual theme sentence for each text.


John 1:1-5 (HTS): John wrote that Jesus, being God, is the eternal creator and the light of men.

John 1:1-5 (CTS): Creation and salvation declare the deity of Christ.


John 3:16-21 (HTS): John wrote that because the Father loved the world, He sent the Son into the world to rescue anyone who believes in Jesus from judgment.

John 3:16-21 (CTS): Because God loves the world, He sent Jesus to rescue us from judgment.


Romans 1:1-6 (HTS): Paul attributed his mission and apostleship to the resurrection of Jesus, which declared Christ to be the Son of God.

Romans 1:1-6 (CTS): Since Jesus was raised from the dead, then we are to take the message of salvation to the world.


James 1:1-4 (HTS): James encouraged the Jewish believers to view their trials as joyous because they would increase their spiritual endurance.

James 1:1-4 (CTS): Our trials, if we view them correctly, will build our spiritual endurance.


2 Kings 5 (HTS): Naaman, because of his healing by faith, became a follower of the true God.

2 Kings 5 (CTS): Faith brings salvation.


Notice two things about these Contextual Theme Sentences.

First, the language is universal to all believers and framed within the present. My goal is to word the sentence applicationally. I am a firm believer that sermon points are to be fully expressed applicational ideas, not descriptive sentence fragments.

Second, the Contextual Theme Sentence is not my preaching point. It serves only as a bridge that moves the preparation process from the past to the present. But, like any bridge, it must be solid. If I miss the point of the passage when formulating this sentence, then my sermon will not reflect the text’s main idea.

I encourage you to spend much time working on this sentence. Write, rewrite, edit, and then edit some more.

After completing the contextual theme sentence, you will be ready to move on to the topic of my next post: the Sermonic Theme Sentence.

What’s the Point? – Part One


What you are talking about

The old joke goes: How many points should a sermon have?

The punch line: At least one.

I’ve mentioned that preaching is the combination of exegesis, hermeneutics, and homiletics. So far, this blog discussed exegesis. In hermeneutics, we use our exegetical discoveries to determine the text’s meaning.

Keep in mind that we strive to discover authorial intent. The Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors to write for specific audiences and purposes. The text means to us what it meant to them. We cannot be faithful to the text and apply it properly in our context until we understand it in its original setting.

I recommend crafting three sentences to help determine what a text meant and, therefore, what it means.

The first sentence I use to express a text’s meaning is the Historical Theme Sentence (HTS). This sentence states the text’s main idea in past tense language.

By the time you are ready to write this sentence you have read the text thoroughly, analyzed its structure, performed word studies, gathered background information, and read commentaries.

The key for this step is to combine your information about the text into a coherent thought. Before writing the sentence, read back through the text. Because of your exegetical work, you will have a deeper understanding of the verses. The results of your study, if done properly, should link in your mind and allow you to summarize the text.

Here are a few examples of Historical Theme Sentences from my preaching this year (2014).

John 1:1-5: John wrote that Jesus, being God, is the eternal creator and the light of men.

John 3:16-21: John wrote that because the Father loved the world, He sent the Son into the world to rescue anyone who believes in Jesus from judgment.

Romans 1:1-6: Paul attributed his mission and apostleship to the resurrection of Jesus, which declared Christ to be the Son of God.

James 1:1-4: James encouraged the Jewish believers to view their trials as joyous because they would increase their spiritual endurance.

2 Kings 5: Naaman, because of his healing by faith, became a follower of the true God.

Admittedly, these statements read a bit blandly. But, I’m not concerned about their literary quality. My goal is to state the text’s meaning in the original audience’s context.

What did God want them to hear and know?

What did they take away from the text?

This sentence is the key to good expository preaching. If properly written, then the remainder of the preparation process falls into place.

I’m a firm believer in one point sermons, where the explanation, illustration, and application of the paragraph reflect the text’s main idea. The writing of the Historical Theme Sentence is the first step towards producing that point.

Grab Your Reading Glasses. It’s Time to Break Out the Commentaries.


Reading commentaries is a vital step in sermon preparation. Once you have read the text, analyzed its structure, conducted word studies, and gathered background material, it is time to hear from others who have investigated the passage.

Keep in mind that each step of sermon preparation brings you closer to uncovering the author’s intended meaning. By the time you are ready to read commentaries, you probably have a good idea of the text’s meaning. Commentaries serve to check your ideas and to deepen your understanding of the paragraph.

Before discussing types of commentaries, let me offer some advice for purchasing them. You would do well to acquire two resources: D.A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey (7th Edition) and Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey (5th Edition). These surveys discuss the major commentaries available for each book of the Bible. The publications are updated every few years (I have the last three editions of each), so you will want to occasionally check for updates. Also, before purchasing a commentary, consult the reader reviews found on sites like or

When choosing commentaries, keep in mind the three basic types: technical, expository/exegetical, and homiletical.

I know this is shocking, but technical commentaries tend to be quite technical. The authors use the original languages extensively and present findings based on the intricacies of grammar. Unless you have studied Greek and Hebrew, and retained much of what you learned, do not spend much time or money on technical commentaries. I have found that it is very difficult to be a faithful pastor and a biblical language expert. However, if you are a language guy, then by all means, go for it.

Expository or exegetical commentaries should comprise the bulk of your collection. Use the helps mentioned above to choose your commentaries. I have found many of the New International Commentaries (NICOT, NICNT), New American Commentaries (NAC), the Baker Exegetical Commentaries (BECNT), and the Pillar New Testament Commentaries (PNTC) to be helpful.

Expository commentaries are written by the scholars who can understand the technical commentaries. These commentaries divide the text into units and discuss the background, language, and meaning of each verse or group of verses. Reading these studies is the equivalent of being in a seminary class that focuses on a particular Bible book. Be open to learning from these writers. At the same time, do not be afraid to disagree with their findings. Just be sure you can back up your conclusions biblically.

Homiletical commentaries should be used sparingly, especially if you have a seminary education. Well known preachers publish commentaries based on their own pulpit ministries. If God has called you to preach, then you must use your gifts to produce your own sermons. Mainly, homiletical commentaries should be used for finding a few illustrations or application ideas.

I suggest purchasing three to five commentaries per Bible book. My habit has been to collect five commentaries for a Sunday morning book series and three for Sunday and Wednesday night sermons and Bible studies.

Read the most technical commentary first, followed by expository works, and finally homiletical. Make notes and type out quotes as you read. Use a reference system, so that you can retrieve the information if necessary. I use parenthetical citations.

If you are a book person like I am, then this phase of preparation will be one of the most enjoyable.

So, grab your books and get to work.