Sermon or TED Talk

Most Bible believing evangelical preachers will confess that the power of preaching resides in the Word of God. Unfortunately, however, in the actual practice of preaching, this confession often becomes mere lip service. As the preacher then begins to forge an  inspirational talk, centred on and derived from the insight, experiences and skill of the preacher. The Bible, is of course quoted, but merely to buttress conclusions and premises the preacher has already proposed, to proof text principles that have already been propositioned, or to springboard off into the priorities and agendas of the speaker. The Bible is relegated to a footnote, lost in the shadow of the preacher’s attempt to generate inspiration. Drawn from the well of their own ingenuity and charisma.   


This is not a sermon; this is a TED Talk.  

Rather than crafting a message around the pop psychology pearls and glib stories of the TED Talker however, the faithful preacher derives and crafts their message from the revelation of Scripture. The faithful preacher recognises that they are a conduit for what God wants to say through His Word. The Biblical text now dictates the meaning, message, and application for the preacher, as the preacher is under the authority of the text. This is the beauty of expository preaching, for example, as it forces the preacher to sit in one passage and be governed by its flow and meaning rather than treating the Bible as a collection of anecdotes used as icing on a cake of pre-cooked points. The preacher’s points are now derived from and dictated by the meaning, context and structure of the text. The substance of the message is now the interpretation and application of the text itself, iced by the personality and experiences of the preacher, not the other way around. I remember preaching one particular message and most of the feedback I received afterwards was of a similar vein. People would say how funny they believed me to be, what a good communicator they thought I was, or what a great story I told. And whilst I am grateful for the encouragement, for this to be the lasting impression of a message was slightly disconcerting. I began to ponder; “was the text central to the message, or did I get in the way?” I will hasten to say though lest I be imbalanced, I am not suggesting that as preachers we suppress our personality or creative aptitudes.  Phillips Brooks rightly commented that preaching is ‘’truth communicated through personality”1. That is to say we honour God when we are authentically ourselves as we faithfully handle the truth of God’s Word.  

Moreover, if you have been blessed with wit, oratorical flair, a great sense of humour or story telling prowess, by all means use those things! Nor am I suggesting that preaching does not require a level of skill.  Homiletics, or the art of crafting sermons requires a level of  competency and creativity, as effective communication does not happen by accident in preaching. What I am saying though, is that your personality, gifts and skill as a preacher is a means to an end, that end is the proclamation, and preeminence of the Word of God. 

In Mark 4: 26-27 Jesus says: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”  In this parable the farmer who scatters seed is representative of the preacher or evangelist, and the seed is representative of God’s Word. The farmer sows the seed of the Word, it then produces a harvest that is representative of kingdom growth.  The application for the preacher from this parable is multifaceted but I will focus on two takeaways. Firstly, the farmer is not responsible for the harvest, in fact he even goes to bed! The Lord brings growth, as the Lord of the harvest (Matthew 9:38). Secondly, the power that produces kingdom growth does not reside in the sower, the power resides in the seed. The seed is the means God sovereignly uses to cause the seed to germinate into a crop of kingdom growth. The power resides not in the skill, cultural savviness or charisma of the preacher, the power resides in the Word. 

The Purpose of Preaching.  

There is much that could be said about the purpose of the preaching, fundamentally though the purpose of preaching is the conformity of God’s people into the image of Christ. Theologian Dennis E. Johnson comments “Christian preaching has as its purpose nothing less than the complete conformity of every child of God to the perfect image of Christ the Son.”2 The sanctification or spiritual maturity of the saints is the chief end of preaching. The Apostle Paul tells us that the purpose of our proclamation of Christ is cultivate maturity in Christ (Col. 1:28-29). The agent of sanctification is the Word energized by the Spirit of God. 

Jesus said “Sanctify them by thy word for thy word is truth” (John 17:17). The Word is not a static book of religious instruction, but rather a living organism, alive and active (Hebrews 4:12).  Convicting the sinner and comforting the anxious, cleansing the redeemed and the calling the lost to repent.  Edifying and reproving, equipping and stripping (2 Timothy 3:16-17),casting down strongholds, and renewing the mind. The Word of God has always been a living active Word.It is by His Word that He spoke the universe into existence (John 1:1-4).  It is His Word that God uses as the means to accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 55:11).  The faithful preacher is the conduit by which the rivers of this living inspired Word flows. The preacher is to proclaim God’s Word to God’s people to effect conformity into the image of Christ.  Michael Horton comments “the choice of preaching as a medium is not incidental. This puts us on the receiving end of things; not only does justification come through faith alone, but faith itself also comes through hearing”

The Pillars of Preaching:

Perhaps you are wanting to prepare a faithful sermon that is communicated effectively. Whilst it is beyond the scope of this blog to give an in-depth teaching on sermon preparation, here are three preaching pillars that I believe serve as a good skeletal structure of a sermon.    

1. Interpretation 

Upon preaching from your selected Biblical Passage (I highly recommend sticking to one text and walking through it, referencing the wider body of scripture to cross reference only), your first responsibility is to exegete the passage. Exegesis means to draw out of the text its intended meaning. This means you are answering the question, not what do you think it means, but what did the text mean, when it was written by its original author, written to its original audience, in its original setting? You are looking for what is called authorial intent; what did the author intend this passage to mean? How does the literary context (what comes immediately before and after the text) and historical context (the backdrop) of the text inform the meaning of the text? What is the genre of the text and so forth? You can never know what the passage means for us today, unless you first answer what did the author intend this passage to mean when it was originally penned.   

2. Implication 

Once you have unpacked the meaning of the text through your exegetical work, the implications of the text will organically emerge. By implications I mean what the truth of the text is calling the listener to know, to be, or to do. Now I know what the passage means, I can now tease out the timeless implications for God’s people today without bruising the text as they are aligned with the implications the author intended.  As John MacArthur put it “There are implications built into the truth of the text”4. It is then incumbent on the preacher to expound upon those implications and admonish the listeners to heed them. The preacher you could say is charged with cornering the listener into the implications of the passage, to bring to bear the full weight of what the text is calling them to know, be or do upon their hearts and minds.  

3. Application:

I believe the faithful preacher not only faithfully exegetes the text and expounds its implications, but also to a certain degree exegetes the context they are preaching into. I am not suggesting becoming experts in sociology or culture, but rather being able to bridge the chasm between Word and world.  To ‘bring the word home’ so to speak. To faithfully translate the timeless implications of the Word into applications that will resonate with your context. A good teacher makes a truth clear, a good preacher makes a truth real, by connecting the dots for God’s people where they are.

I remember preaching at a Youth Sports camp last year, I preached on Philippians chapter two, on the humility of Christ. As a preacher it was a humbling experience to say the least! It went down like a wet balloon. Why? My exegesis was sound, my implications were good, and my delivery was ok.  But I failed to contextually apply those implications in a way that would connect and resonate with a group of Pacifica youth at a sports camp in Auckland. I was preaching as if it was a typical Elim service at my home church in Manurewa!  

There is real value in taking time to know the people you are speaking to, not only to honour the context and build rapport with your audience which is important, but in order to craft applications of God’s word in ways that will connect with them.  It is imperative though, that your applications are filtered through the lenses of your exegetical ground work and a good grasp of Biblical theology. This will safeguard against making unwarranted applications and thereby abusing the passage.  


Jake Stowers.  

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