Archives For Preaching

My earliest preaching mentors taught me that every sermon needed four things: a compelling introduction, a body that included two or three points of biblical exegesis, illustrations to make it memorable, and a conclusion that helped people apply the truth to their lives.

Boy were they wrong.

Group of people watching boring movie in cinema

Three points and a poem may have worked at one time; not anymore. Listening habits have changed, listener attitudes have changed, and the environment of the preaching event has changed.

Today, every sermon must do these seven things to capture attention and motivate life change.

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As a pastor for most of the last 30 years, I had one burning question: Am I doing this right? The reason pastors wonder about that is that (a) there are many different ways to do church these days, and (b) there are so many people telling us we’re doing it wrong.

The word "PASTOR" written in vintage metal letterpress type in a wooden drawer with dividers.

Given that leadership theory is now the dominant way of evaluating pastoral effectiveness, it’s fitting to apply the advice of  Warren Bennis, the grandfather of modern leadership theory, to pastoral ministry.

Thirty-five years ago, Bennis said, “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.”

Rather than asking “Am I doing this right?” a better question for pastors is “Am I doing the right things?”

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I entered pastoral ministry in 1986, and I’ve experimented relentlessly with preaching forms and techniques for nearly three decades. Preaching today is both more interesting and more challenging than ever before.

Though much of my speaking has been in the pulpit, I’ve also done a good bit of presenting in classrooms, at conferences and retreats, and in business settings. For the first 13 years of my ministry, I delivered three different messages a week. I still preach before a live audience almost every single week.

Preacher and Congregation

Over the years I learned many lessons on how to improve preaching, and the most important one is this: If you want to boost your impact on an audience, preach without notes.

That sounds daunting, I know, and perhaps you think it unnecessary. But I believe you should give it a try. Here’s why.

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Al though there are several preaching styles, nearly all sermons these days fall into two broad categories: textual and topical. Given that numbing lack of variety in form, it is no wonder many congregations (and not a few preachers) have grown bored with the sermon as the centerpiece of Protestant worship.


Perhaps it is time to recover two elements that were once hallmarks of great preaching: imagination and  creativity. 

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Preaching has been the central element in most Protestant worship services for over 500 years. It’s the main thing pastors do, in terms of time consumption. Yet remarkably few pastors have a strong sense of identity as a preacher.


Not every pastor approaches the task of preaching in the same way. There are at least four distinct approaches to the pulpit.

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is known as a civil rights leader and as a great orator. His iconic speech, “I Have a Dream,” is one of the greatest pieces of oratory in American history.


Yet before he was either a civil rights leader or orator, King was a preacher. He was pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., and preached widely in other pulpits.

Today’s pastors can learn a great deal from King, the preacher.

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