One of the biggest questions that preachers and teachers of the Word of God wrestle with is, “Is what I’m teaching biblically true?” followed by, “…and how do I know that?”
We all set out with the intention that everything we share in a sermon will be biblically accurate, however if we’re truly honest with ourselves this is unlikely to be the case.
In fact, N. T. Wright, a well-known New Testament scholar, put it this way to some of his students: “20% of what I’m about to teach you is not true. I just don’t know which 20% it is.”
In the Reach & Influence online preaching course, Lee Burns notes that while we’re never going to be 100% right in everything we teach from the Bible, we do have to accept that we are both accountable to God and responsible to the people that are hearing what we have to preach.
As our Senior Pastor, Brian Houston, is so well known for saying, we should aim to, “Love God and love people.” If our aim while preparing our messages is to wholeheartedly and faithfully fulfill these two goals, then we’ll stay on the right path.
In the Reach & Influence course, Lee builds on this foundation by sharing four keys that will ensure you are asking the right questions of your text.
1. What is the content?
In other words, what is it that you are trying to get people to hear? What is it that you’re trying to get people to do? What’s the practical element?
Whenever Lee prepares a sermon, he always writes at the top of his notes: “By the end of this message the congregation will…” and then proceeds to fill in the gap.
For example – “By the end of this message the congregation will understand that faith involves courage, action and vision.” This prevents against message drift as you prepare, not allowing you to go down irrelevant trains of thought.
When you’ve defined the content of your message it will determine both the direction of your message and the scriptures you use to either illustrate or authorise it.
2. What is the context?
If we’re going to share a scripture with our congregation, we’ve got to keep in mind that the more we know about what’s going on in the Bible, the more we can bridge that gap between what was happening back then and what is happening today.
This is one of our biggest challenges but where, thankfully, commentaries are so invaluable; while also doing our own homework to look at both sides of the verse, usually at least up to a chapter either side, if not considering the context of the whole book itself.
3. Where is the conflict?
The conflict reveals itself within the characters portrayed in the Bible – for example, Jesus’ relationship with the Pharisees.
Whenever we observe a conflict, Lee says we have to ask ourselves, “What is the human problem and what is the divine answer?” Consider what is the issue/problem/challenge the characters are facing, and what is God’s solution.
For example, if we can understand what Paul is seeking to do with the church in Corinth, we may be able to understand what we need to do in our own congregations.
Every book in the Bible is written to a particular people group to achieve a certain outcome. If we can understand the issue from the chosen Scripture and how God solves it, we may be able to understand and align with that to bring out His will and purpose to the congregation.
4. Are we contradicting ourselves?
Finally, we want to ensure that we’re not contradicting ourselves in our message. Perhaps with the illustrations that we’ve selected, or the way we present our introduction, or maybe even the title we’ve used. Are they all aligned?
Potentially something that Paul says may appear at first glance to contradict something that Jesus said when we don’t reveal the full context or perhaps the genre of the reference.
We want our congregation to leave the message with clarity rather than confusion.
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