Former SBC agency head gives practical advice for preaching

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)-Paul Powell, former Annuity Board president and chief executive officer, gave step-by-step instructions on how to organize a sermon during a series of preaching lectures at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, Calif., March 17-19.

"You begin with the text -- the Word of God," said Powell, guest lecturer for the H.I. Hester Lectureship, held annually to discuss preaching issues. "You must do an exposition of the text that burns in yourself for some reason to see what God says in this passage. We are here to preach God's Word, so we need to find out what the King wants said."

He recommended that preachers focus on one book of the Bible at a time.

"It saves you from a frantic search for a subject, and it allows you to get more out of the reading," he said. "It also covers subjects that you would otherwise skip over."

He said it gives preachers a sense of accomplishment when they finish a book of the Bible.

Second, sermons should focus on a thesis.

"Boil down what God is saying to a central truth that you want to get across, like a nail to drive home. It's awfully hard to drive in two nails at once. One most likely will get bent."

From the thesis flows other points, "blows of a hammer to drive the nail into the hearts of people," that need to be clear and logical statements in present tense.

"Take one idea, and give it a whack. Talk about it for a while and whack another idea. Repeat until you get to the final idea, and give a 'terrible' whack."

Third, preachers should find illustrations that make the message come alive through communication and delivery. Powell gave 12 ways to enhance the content of the sermon:

1) Preach simply, plainly and naturally. "Talk where people understand it. We're feeding sheep, not giraffes, so don't go over their heads. You can be deeply spiritual and perfectly natural at the same time."

2) Preach in the present tense. "People want to know how to live in the freeways and crowded apartment buildings of life. Eternal truth is not just in the sweet bye and by, but in the nasty here and now."

3) Preach with passion. "Don't be afraid of emotion in your preaching. Any preacher who neglects emotion may find his congregation dying. People are looking for more emotion and less intellectualism in church, but do not go into excess."

4) Preach freely. "Either don't use notes or use scant notes, so you won't have to rely on them. Use your whole body in preaching. To be talked to death is a terrible way to die. Some preachers wear robes and hoods, and that's their prerogative, but people need to see what we feel."

5) Preach interestingly. "Develop an eye and ear for illustrations in magazines, television and conversations. Carry a pencil and pad around with you constantly, or they may pass you by. They let light and fresh air into a sermon. There's enough dullness in the world without you adding to it. Sermons should be interesting. If some people go to sleep during your sermon, you're the one who needs to wake up."

6) Preach enthusiastically. "When you preach, someone has got to get tired -- you or your congregation."

7) Preach with an element of confession and humanness. "We don't need to pretend we're someone we're not. We struggle just like they do. The disciples never pretended to be super-saints."

8) Preach for a verdict. "What are you driving at? What do you want the audience to do? If you don't know what you want them to do, how do you expect them to know? Every preacher should preach like a lawyer and know what the verdict is going to be."

9) Preach with authority. "You can't wake up a church that's asleep without disturbing it. The ministry of preaching can be a hot seat sometimes. If you're a wimp, then go sell shoes. If you preach, speak boldly and with authority and tell the truth in love. That kind of preaching touches the heart."

10) Preach with humor. "Humor breaks down barriers. If you can get a congregation to laugh, you can come back and say almost anything to them."

11) Preach with a sense of hope. "We're to encourage people, not browbeat them. If you have to err, err on the side of grace. We're in the business of throwing ropes, not throwing rocks. Never leave the Son on the cross or the prodigal son in the pig pen. Leave people with a sense of hope that they can find mercy and forgiveness."

12) Preach prayerfully. "Do not confuse or amuse, but infuse with the gospel. We're not just being clever speakers and telling sob stories. Rely on prayer, and see what God can do."

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