Last week we proposed four ways to continue faithful sermon preparation in a busy ministry (Part One and Part Two). Today we’ll look at how regular routine and a pragmatic use of biblical languages will help us achieve what seems to be impossible at times.
Faithful sermon preparation in a busy ministry…
5. Follows a regular PATTERN
How Sermons Work is not the most devotional or heart-warming book on preaching – there are lots of those around; it’s more like a mechanical instruction manual that guides the reader through the sermon preparation process step by step, taking nothing for granted. There are lots of checklists and practical guides.
My aim is that as the preacher gets used to the exegetical pattern I set out, he will no longer need the book. It will become second nature to him, part of his mindset, a way of thinking that is automatic and instinctive.
Each time I went up a level at Tae Kwon Do, I used to think, my legs or arms will never manage that. It felt so awkward and unnatural even when done at 1 mph. However, after we repeated the movement a thousand times – and believe me it was at least a thousand times – it felt so normal and even boringly easy. The brain and muscle tissue had learned the pathways and patterns and it became second nature, even instinctive.
Similarly when we get into a sermon preparation pattern, the moment we settle into our office chair, the brain knows it’s time to start whirring, and knows what to whir and when.
The more routine we build into our sermon preparation, the more routine it will become. There is a supernatural element to it, of course, but there’s a lot of routine as well, basic mechanics, which if we learn and practice, the brain gets into the usual groove, allowing more space and opportunity for the supernatural as well.
I’m not saying that the How Sermons Work routine is the best for everyone, but I do believe everyone should have a basic pattern of reading text, translating, word studies, structure/outline, exegesis, commentaries, illustration, application, into, outro, etc.
6. Is PRAGMATIC in the use of biblical languages
I teach Hebrew exegesis. I want preachers to use Hebrew in their sermon preparation. However, I also want to be realistic.
When I started in the ministry I used to spend hours parsing verbs, looking up lexicons, etc., for 10 or more verses. I ended up with lots of lovely pages of Hebrew study, but not a sermon.
I’ve therefore adopted a method which I believe still places great importance on the study of God’s Word in the original languages, while at the same time increasing my time-efficiency.
So, I am very much against abandoning Greek and Hebrew. However, I am for re-positioning them, especially in the early days of our ministries, as we grow in knowledge and ability. I would not want any of us to kill our ministries or ourselves by trying to be a Lambdin or a Wenham while trying to preach three sermons to lost souls every week. If we try to persist in this we will soon give up on the original languages altogether – as many, sadly, have done.
My more realistic approach to the original languages has five components:
- I read the text in various English versions first of all, to familiarize myself with the various translation options and differences.
- I limit my original languages study to the 2-3 main verses. If I’m preaching OT narrative or a NT parable, I try to identify the few key verses and focus my study on them.
- I study the Greek or Hebrew text, parsing and translating, with a particular focus on what my study of the text in the English versions highlighted. For example, if 4-5 mainstream translations agree on 90% of the text but differ on 10%, then I focus on the 10%. I don’t see the point in reinventing the wheel.
- I make use of the many electronic helps to parse and translate my text. My preference is for Logos Bible Software.
- I try to get time throughout the sermon preparation process to meditate on the text in the Greek or Hebrew. Apart from the subconscious and spiritual effects, such meditation will often yield thoughts and ideas which may not have been suggested by studying only English translations. God honors and rewards study of His Word as He originally gave it.
This is not the ideal, but almost everyone I know who has tried to reach for the ideal has fallen far short, got discouraged, and has given up all language study.
I prefer a more realistic approach that will maintain contact with the original languages, and will, over time, actually increase skill in them in a way that the “ideal” approach rarely will.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the last two strategies for faithful preparation of sermons in a busy ministry.