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Ten Distinctives of Emotionally Healthy Preaching

Posted on February 1st, 2011


I remain firmly committed to doing our study/exegesis of texts that we preach, basing our sermons firmly on having dug deep into Scripture. Eugene Peterson says it well: “Exegesis doesn’t take charge of the text and impose superior knowledge to it; it enters the heart of the text and lets the text “read” us. Exegesis is an act of sustained humility. There is so much about this text I will never know.” (Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book). However, the following are ten questions to which I return over and over again – both for myself and our Teaching Team at New Life: 1. Is my “heart at rest?” This is a phrase out of the famous Lao Tsu poem “The Woodcarver“. It parallels Jesus’ time with the Father before His own preaching. This is about slowing down enough to ensure my life and teaching is flowing from the love of God. 2. Have I spent adequate time with the Father so that I am not preaching from a reflected sense of self? I want to get to the point each week where I am free from what the congregation will think or say about my sermon, that I am not looking for validation from others. 3. Have I allowed the text to go deep beneath my own iceberg? It is one thing, for example, to preach generally about not fearing, and another to take 1-2 hours wrestling with my present fears around security, the future, my children, etc. This involves giving room for the complexities and nuances of absorbing a text into our being. 4. Am I eager for a “live encounter” with people? It is a temptation to be so absorbed in the process of preparing the sermon that I run out of time to eagerly anticipate the “liveness” of the moment of bringing a Word from God to His people. This requires space to ponder implementation for the specific people before me, i.e. what skills, tools, and practical helps I can offer to put flesh on the message. 5. Am I living with integrity? It is easy to skimp on my own inner work under the pressure to deliver a message.  I am referring to integrity with myself (Do I really want people to imitate me as I imitate Christ), others (especially your spouse and children, if applicable), and in your leadership (no skimming, lying, exaggerating). 6. Have I finished editing and simplifying the message? One of the most important, if not the most important decision in every sermon, is what are you not going to say. Less is almost always better. 7. Am I fighting or surrendering to God’s process in the birth of a sermon (“I got the kernel of revelation/truth!”), the death of the sermon (“This is going nowhere”), burial (“God I am waiting!”), and the resurrection of God’s Word for this particular weekend (“I never anticipated this is where I would end up”)? 8. Am I being prudent, thoughtful and honest in my preaching? Have I done a final review of every aspect of the message, especially my examples and illustrations? It is easy to be sloppy and communicate wrong things by what we fail to say. 9. Have I honored the principle of walking “two by two,” i.e., the power of community exegesis? I almost always try to have at least one other person in my life (often Geri) who can add perspective, insight and raise issues I have not seen. This almost always adds depth and clarity to my messages. 10. Is my life different as a result of this Word before I stand up? The message must pass through my own life first. Sadly, I am sometimes rocky, thorny soil distracted by the urgent demands of leadership in the church. Without exterior silence (in silence and solitude) and interior silence (time for my inner voices to be quieted), the sermon rarely passes through my heart. What might you add to this list?

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