Friday, May 15, 2009

Preaching longer passages

Just in the middle of preparing the third of 8 messages in Judges.
That means 21 chapters in 8 sermons.

This week it's Judges 4 & 5.

Some delights and challenges of preparing such messages.

  1. you can get a good overview of a good length book in a brief time. In itself this has several advantages
  • You can help the congregation to see the wood from the trees. So, Judges in just 8 sermons will give a very clear picture of the rapid descent of Israel from holy nation to anarchic Sodom-like state. The model of Othniel will sill be fresh in our minds as we look at the subsequent judges, etc.
  • In eight short weeks it should become very clear what the distinctive contribution of Judges is to Scripture.
  • If this enables you to get through several full series each year, then your congregation will be able to have a reasonably balanced diet. Within two or three years they will have heard expounded books of the bible from all the major genres: law, history, prophecy, poetry, gospel/acts, Pauline epistles, general epistles/ revelation.
  • Within a couple of decades you will have the opportunity to preach through the whole bible. If you stick to an average of 10 verses per week, you'll take 60 years to preach the whole bible. If you follow Spurgeon and preach a single verse, it's going to take you about 31000 sermons! Even if you preach twice a week, that's still 300 years!
2. You are helping people to see how to read the bible in context by giving a whole lot of the context all at once. It is important to see that it is not just that verses of the bible have a particular significance, but that chapters, and whole sections, and whole books of the bible have unified coherent messages.

3. Particularly in narrative one has the opportunity to capture the narrative flow in larger sections. the danger in preaching small sections of narrative is that you end up preaching a sermon that could have come from an epistle, and thereby lose the emotive impact of the story.

1. Preparation: to preach several chapters in one sitting poses a challenge in preparation for several reasons.
  • it may become unrealistic to do as much work in original languages (unless your greek and hebrew are rather better than mine)
  • you've got a whole lot more text that you have to understand; having said that, because you are not going to preach it in such depth, perhaps it is excusable not to study it in much depth too.
  • because one will not have time to read in full what several commentators have said on the whole passage, it may mean that one is more influenced by the commentaries that one chooses to read, and less aware of the interpretative decisions that one is making in coming to an understanding of the text.
  • There is SO much you have to leave in the study, that you might be tempted to keep the most interesting / intriguing pieces, rather than the most central themes.
  • another danger is to want to bring out as much as the text as possible, and thus squeeze out time that you might have had for application.
2. Preaching:
  • you may not have time to read the whole passage during the sermon. there is an upside to this though, as it gives a good opportunity to impress upon the congregation the fact that EVERY week they should be preparing to hear God's word preached, in part at least by reading the section of scripture that is to be preached upon.
  • not reading the whole passage means that the congregation will have to trust your summary / selections of it more than normal.
There are certainly many other advantages and disadvantages of preaching long passages.
in conclusion, I wouldn't like to do it every series. I think there are so many valuable things in preaching through short passages that it is also worth doing. So, before Judges I preached Colossians in 9; before that Malachi in 4, before than Mark in 16. After preaching Judges, dv I'll preach through Jude (one chapter) in 4 sermons, then Genesis 1-3 in 10 sermons, then Matthew 1-2 in at least 4.
Maybe after that we'll return to more of an overview: Psalms in 5 perhaps - one per book? Maybe not!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Twitter, Brevity and Clarity.

So, I'm about 3 years behind in technology and have just joined Twitter
Twitter is the latest and most bizarre of the popular social networking sites. Posts are limited to a minuscule 400 characters or less.
I'm MGilbartSmith (even the user ID's are minuscule with not enough space for MikeGilbart-Smith.
So, as Christians, can we make use of Twitter for the gospel?
There's an interesting "Twitter the gospel" competition that the Church Matters blog has launched.
I thought I'd join as it might help me into the discipline of ensuring I don't waffle in my sermons.
However, as the gospel twitters have shown, the danger of brevity is that you might sacrifice clarity. We are commanded to set forth clearly, by implied command, example and prayer.

2 Cor 4:2: Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

Galatians 3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

Galatians 4:3-4: And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

Nowhere are we commanded to set it forth briefly, though wisdom might encourage us to be brief in some circumstances.

Twitter might be a great place for soundbites that might provoke conversation. But NOT a good thing to replace conversation or proclamation with mere twitter.