It used to be that a good sermon had anywhere from three to five points, and if the sermon was especially great, those points all started with the same letter, or rhymed, or something else totally rockin’ like that. But I’m convinced that style of preaching doesn’t fly with post-modern audiences. It feels forced and artificial.

Today, the best sermons have one point. You say one thing, and say it well. You exegete the text not so that you can make a series of points, but so that you can deliver the overall meaning, and then apply that to the specific circumstances of your congregation.

One of the images that helps me as I prepare my sermons is a bullet. Bullets are streamlined, smooth, and come to a lethal point. They find a single target and take it down. The opposite of a bullet is buckshot. Buckshot spreads out all over the place and doesn’t have that laser-like focus on a single target. Preaching with buckshot is scattered, hard to follow, and overall ineffective. You want to preach with a bullet.

I know the violent language may turn some people off, but one way to think about preaching is as an assassin of the “old man”. Paul talks about crucifying, with Jesus, the person we used to be. Our old ways of living and being must die. Preaching the word of God is a kind of killing (and, hopefully, a kind of raising to new life in Christ). Thinking about your sermon as a bullet may seem morbid and violent to you, but preaching is, and should be, an act of violence against the kingdom of darkness and the ways in which we still obey that darkness. You’re not going to sweet talk anybody out of hell. You’ll need bullets. Lots of them.

One of the things that evangelicals are learning to do really, really well is get creative with their preaching. Preachers are bringing massive props, and even live animals, on stage to help drive home the point of their message. I even heard of a pastor who tried to get a tank (army style) on stage one Sunday. No word yet on whether or not the baptismal was blown to smithereens.

The use of video has grown immensely, as well. Playing video clips from popular films used to be cutting edge, but now preachers are developing their own film houses, a la Rob Bell and nooma, to communicate the gospel. Speaking as a video producer and a preacher, this is an encouraging trend, particularly given the high-quality of some of these productions.

But most preachers can’t afford their own film crew, an army tank, or a petting zoo for a Sunday morning sermon. There are still ways to be creative, however. Remember, the point of creativity is memorability, and the point of memorability is transformation. Our aim, as preachers, is for God to transform those who listen to us (including ourselves). So your aim, as a preacher, should be to communicate God’s word in such a way that it sticks with those who hear you.

This can take a lot of different forms. You can use powerful imagery or good design to support your message. You can try your hand at creative writing or poetry. (Hey, Jesus told parables that he probably made up on the spot! Why shouldn’t you?) Think critically about the way that you make your point. The shorter, the better. And the more audacious, the more memorable. But please, whatever you do, never, ever alliterate. Alliteration is dangerous. Alliteration is devastating. Alliteration is dead.

Creativity doesn’t have to cost money. The best artists (and preachers are artists) are those who pull their work together through resourcefulness and determination. They pour their souls into their work, not their (or their church’s) bank account. Creativity is about remembering. Remembering is about transformation. Transformation is what Jesus is up to on this planet.

It seems silly to even have to mention it, but honesty is vital to the task of preaching. It should go without saying that truthfulness is fundamental to the proclamation of God’s truth. And yet, preachers are so often tempted to fudge the details of their illustrations, read their own thoughts into the Scripture at hand, or out and out plagiarize another pastor’s sermon.

While I’ve never thought about plagiarizing another sermon, I have been tempted to manipulate the Bible to make it say what I want it to say. My conscience has been clear thus far; that is until my last sermon. I was given the assignment of preaching on bad choices from the book of Proverbs, and the texts that I wanted to use had already been claimed in the sermon series. So I took the best of what was left (for my topic) and made up the rest. Sort of. I developed a framework for the sermon and overlaid it on the whole book of Proverbs, rather than working the other way around. In other words, I started with the sermon instead of the text. The framework, rather than the Bible, dictated where the sermon went.

Although my conscience wasn’t overburdened with the sermon, and what I did probably fell into a gray area of creative license (maybe), it is still a practice I don’t want to turn into a habit. While I can justify what I did (I was given the topic not a text; nothing I said was unbiblical; you could make a case that my framework is mostly derived from the text), it is a path I don’t want to walk down. True honesty is staying faithful to the text. God can speak for himself, and God’s word can speak for itself. Neither need my fancy-pants preacher’s tricks to communicate the message.

The core temptation of the preacher is to be the man or woman who delivers the message that saves the world. We tend to have overblown messiah complexes, even while we tell people about the true Messiah. This creates pressure (mostly internally, but sometimes externally as well) to write and deliver better and better sermons. This pressure can leave us looking for shortcuts, which so often means falsifying stories, playing fast and loose with the biblical text, or stealing another sermon.

But communicating God’s word demands honesty. How can you lie and preach the gospel at the same time? Haven’t you become horribly corrupt? How can God’s ends be served by your Satanic means? Deception is the native tongue of hell. Are we to communicate the glories of heaven in the diabolical language of hell? Flatly, no. Beware of the temptation to exaggerate and falsify stories. If the text doesn’t fit what you want to say, change what you want to say to fit the text. If you use another sermon or an extended quote, give credit where credit is due. God’s word is truth, and he will not abide it to be spun with lies.

Seeing how this is a blog by a preacher (sometimes, anyway), I thought I should occasionally talk about preaching. So this is the first in a series of posts called “Preaching Essentials”. As I’ve studied preaching in seminary, listened to great preachers, and done a little bit of it myself, I’ve developed a particular philosophy of preaching. These posts will be my attempt to communicate that philosophy to those of you who are interested, which is probably a small percentage of you. Hopefully, if you are a preacher, you’ll find something of value here.

Now to it.

Humility is the most important thing in the world, and therefore it is the most important thing in preaching. The preacher must be humble. There is nothing less tolerable and more awkward than an arrogant preacher. Oh, let me guess, you’re the hero of this story, too? Ah, another personal illustration of how godly you are! Let me give you some practical advice: Never tell a story that makes you look good.

You need to understand that the congregation assumes, simply by the mere fact that you are preaching, that you are more mature, more spiritual, and just plain better than they are. They expect you to have wisdom they need. They anticipate that you will say something that will change their lives. They are willing to sit, in silence, and listen to you talk without interruption for up to an hour. You, preacher, are highly-esteemed and wield a power that is unparalleled by any other vocation in our soundbite, jump cut, 140-character tweet culture. If you do not come to the task with humility, therefore, it will swallow you whole.

The preacher’s responsibility is to step down from the pedestal upon which he has been placed by the congregation. God, alone, can be lifted up. You cannot take his place. If you stand too tall you will block the congregation’s view of the risen Christ. So how can a preacher stay humble?

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Your task is important, but you are not. Don’t get caught up thinking that you’re going to save the world through your preaching. That’s ridiculous. God’s going to save the world through his Son, you just get to talk about him.

Be Self-Effacing

Make fun of yourself. Be open about your shortcomings. Tell stories about how you’ve gotten it wrong. Name your sin before the congregation. Too many preachers think they have to maintain some kind of image in the society of their church, but that kind of image is from the devil. The only image you need to maintain is the broken-but-being-repaired image of God you carry with you everywhere.

Praise Others

If you’re going to share a personal illustration, make sure it’s one where someone else in your church comes out looking good. Heap praise on other staff members. If you share a pulpit, talk up the other preachers on your team. And, most importantly, mean it.

Be Respectful of Opposing Viewpoints

Who knows, but maybe you’re not nearly as right as you think you are. Don’t let arrogance seep out of your soul by trashing someone else’s viewpoint (or, even worse, someone else’s humanity). Talk about it as though you were having a respectful dialogue with someone with whom you’re trying to share Jesus.

I’m sure there are other things we could do to demonstrate humility in the pulpit. Maybe you’ve seen a good or bad example of this: please leave it in the comments so we can all learn. Remember, whether you’re a preacher or a CEO or a college student, humility is the most important thing in the world.

Someone recently posted a comment at Scot McKnight’s blog Jesus Creed accusing him (and most of those who post there) of hating evangelicalism. His point was that there was so much criticism coming from his blog that the evangelical church must be doing nothing right. Scot posted a winsome reply, but I think the commenter’s point is interesting.

It’s so easy to be a critic. There’s nothing easier than standing back and offering your commentary while others go about their business. I do this. You probably do this, too. To counter the easy, critical mentality, I wanted to think about some of the things that evangelicals do well. You’ll find, below, an incomplete list of some of the things that I think evangelicals tend to get right.


Maybe we don’t have the most finely-tuned christology, but evangelicals tend to do a good job of putting Jesus at the center of our faith. We’re “Jesus people”, and we will always find our way to Jesus in any conversation. We love him. We worship him. We try really hard to follow him well.


Well this one’s obvious. We love to share the gospel with our neighbors! It’s always at the top of the list for how we define spiritual maturity, and we live with the guilt of not doing it enough. We are eager to share our faith with others, and we’re always looking for better ways to do it.


We’re always talking about grace. In fact, most evangelicals have probably attended a church called “Grace” at some point in their lives. (I grew up in one.) We lean, heavily, on grace, and shy away from even the slightest hint of “works-righteousness”. God has saved us because he has chosen to do so through his son Jesus, and not because we have somehow earned his salvation.

Spiritual Growth

We’re obsessed with growing in Christ. We tend to think in terms of progress. How am I getting closer to God? Am I becoming more like Christ? We know that we’re not perfect, and most of us try hard to follow Jesus well. We want to be better Christians and better people.

Biblical Authority

Evangelicals take the Bible seriously. We read it at home. We want it to be the center of our sermons. We try to live by it, obey it, and understand it. We give it authority over ourselves, and not the other way around. We’re constantly on guard against those who don’t, in our estimation, take the Bible seriously.

These are just five that, I think, we evangelicals get mostly right. What are some others?

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