10 Foolish Obstacles to the Foolishness of Preaching

God chose the foolishness of Gospel preaching to save them that believe (1 Cor. 1:21). The Gospel message is foolishness to the world. But so is the Gospel medium – preaching. Who in their right mind would choose a regular 30-45 minute monologue from one sinful man to many sinful hearers to communicate the most important message in the world?

God would and did.

And he did it knowing that this method of communication would upset many people and cause them to find many foolish reasons for not listening. Some of the foolish obstacles I’ve come across (in myself and others) are:

1. Patchy grammar: Thankfully most people’s English education was as bad as mine and don’t notice too many of my grammatical faux pas, but there are always a few Grammar Girls (and boys) in every congregation. One misplaced preposition and down come the shutters.

2. Boring voice: Drone, groan, mumble, stumble, yawn. Is he trying to send us to sleep? Yet even the most attractive and varied voices eventually sound “meh” to regular hearers. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a different voice every week?

3. Pastoral mistakes: Sometimes we can make a blunder in a personal relationship, an email communication, or at a social occasion which prejudices a hearer’s mind against us for a long time or even forever. We could be preaching the best truth in the best way but we’re still the worst preacher they’ve ever heard because we stood on their toes somewhere along the line.

4. Text choices: Why does the preacher never pick my favorite texts? Why does he never preach from my favorite book? Why does he always preach from such simple texts? Why does he always preach from such difficult texts? I’m not going to listen until he preaches on…

5. Preaching style: There are probably hundreds of preaching styles: fast, slow, loud, quiet, teachy, preachy, passionate, reasonable, sad, happy, smooth, jerky, etc. We all have our peculiar preferences and rarely do we find such a peculiar preacher.

6. Pulpit mannerisms: Why does he keep fiddling with his glasses? Does he think spinning his wedding ring will help spin this terrible sermon? Why doesn’t he look at us? Why does he keep staring at us? Has he only got one arm? Hands in his pockets again! Why does he grip the pulpit – is he about to faint or something? I wish he’d quit sniffing/coughing/frowning/grinning…

7. Verbal ticks: How many times did he say “in other words” today? Or “as I was saying” or “literally” or  ”finally.”

8. Christian Cliches: Can he not find another way of saying that? Does he have to use the same phraseology as every other time he preached on this? He says that in every sermon. Where’s his imagination?

9. Too young/old: Yes, before the preacher even opens his mouth, the old people might close him down because he’s so young, or the young people might tune him out because he’s too old.

10. Personality clash: I just don’t like him. He rubs me up the wrong way. He’s too cocky. He’s too defensive. He’s too apologetic. He’s too aggressive, etc.

It’s amazing what obstacles preachers have to overcome.  One slip-up in any of these areas and some people won’t give a minute of attention to the sermon that took you 10-15 hours to prepare. Although we pray every time we preach, that God would prevent anything we say or do getting in the way of the message, yet it will inevitably happen. It’s amazing anyone at all gets saved.

Why did God choose this method? Why not send a perfect angel with a perfect message delivered in a perfect manner? Wouldn’t that have been wiser? More effective?

God chose this method to demonstrate that the Gospel, not the preacher or his preaching, is the power of God unto salvation. He chose one of the most foolish methods and some of the most foolish creatures to reach multitudes of foolish sinners with a “foolish” message. And he did it this way in order to magnify His wisdom and power (1 Cor. 1:22-31).

We get grace. He gets glory.

Pastoring the Pastor [Book Review]

Pastoring the Pastor: Emails of a Journey through Ministry by Tim Cooper and Kelvin Gardiner

This is a pastoral theology with a difference. Instead of the usual systematic and logical dissection and examination of the pastor’s office, call, duties, relationships, etc., we have an email dialogue between rookie Pastor Dan and his Uncle Eldon, a mature Christian elder in another congregation. There are a few other email exchanges thrown in, revealing a bit more of the story from different angles, but the vast majority is the varied correspondence that passed between Pastor Dan and Uncle Eldon when Dan went to his first congregation…and started sinking.

Although the email correspondence is novel and entertaining, initially I didn’t think I was learning much from it all, and almost gave up. But as the book progressed, I realized more and more that some fairly fundamental lessons were subtly yet powerfully seeping into my life via the narrative. I like system, logic, bullet points, and summaries as much as the next person, and yet I found this “story” approach surprisingly effective in communicating important and memorable lessons for ministry.

Admittedly, some of the correspondence stretched belief and some of it is simply silly (e.g. the congregational barn dance), but some of the most ridiculous parts of the story are, I’m afraid, all too real, as many pastors will testify.

Uncle Eldon is a wise mentor to his novice nephew and dispenses a wide range of priceless encouragement, rebuke, and direction that will be applicable to most pastors, and especially to those just starting out. It’s like an inside look into ministry, a sort of “ministry reality show,” that should help prepare seminary students for the transition from classroom ideals to the treacherous bogs of pastoral ministry. Read it with a notebook on hand and you’ll be surprised at how frequently you’ll jot down valuable counsel.

But it’s not just for pastors, it would also be a helpful read for every Christian, giving you insight to what ministry is like behind-the-scenes and how your actions and words can impact pastors and their families for good and evil.

Above all it’s an encouraging story of transforming grace as we watch a proud and self-sufficient young guy be shaped and and transformed in the ministry for ministry, and in the process watch his congregation be similarly and beautifully metamorphosed by God’s almighty grace.

Pastoring the Pastor by Tim Cooper and Kelvin Gardiner (Published by Christian Focus). Tim Cooper teaches Church History at the University of Otago, New Zealand, and is a member of the leadership team at Dunedin City Baptist Church. Kelvin Gardiner has pastored churches in New Zealand, the Philippines, and the US.

Check out

Your pastor isn’t a pundit
“Often we put the pastor in a position demanding that he speak as a professional expert into an issue about which the wisest thing he could probably say is, “I don’t know.” One of the wisest things a pastor can do is to admit a lack of knowledge and refer people to someone better suited to help. If only we would let them do so.”

Depression Seminar
I’ll be leading a Depression Seminar this coming Friday and Saturday in Hudsonville. You can get more details here, but if you come along you’ll get advance viewing of three episodes from HeadHeartHand Media’s forthcoming documentary/curriculum on how the church can better serve the depressed and those who care for them.

A New Image for Black Men
I wish there was more Gospel in this, but it’s still a phenomenally brave challenge both to white and black men.

Endtimes Infographic
This is very well done. Click on the graphic to enlarge.

I will not let you go
Last week Greg Lucas ended up in a violent and vicious fight with … (you’ll have to read to find out)

The Rich Tapestry of God’s Providence
This fantastic story tells two sides of how Tim Challies mother was converted. And here’s Tim’s mother’s take on it.

Interrogating a Text: Translation Questions [Video]

Email and RSS readers click here to view video.

The first six questions to ask when “interrogating” a text are concerned with translating the text:

  1. What are the limits of my text?
  2. What is my translation?
  3. What do the lexicons say?
  4. What are the tenses, moods, and voices of the verbs?
  5. What syntactical features are important?
  6. How do other versions translate the text?

Previous videos in the How Sermons Work series here.

Glory Veiled and Unveiled [Book Review]

Book Review: Glory Veiled and Unveiled by Gerald M. Bilkes

My friend and colleague Dr Jerry Bilkes’ first book was worth waiting for! Those who know him best will find Jerry written all over the book: wise, insightful, discerning, warm, Scriptural, Christ-centered, pastoral, concise, practical, experiential, organized, Church-loving, and inspiring. That’s the book, and that’s Jerry!

Of course, there are other books on the parables, but this book is quite unique in the genre, especially in the way Jerry arranges the parables under four main headings:

  1. The Glory of the Kingdom
  2. The Glory of Kingdom Grace
  3. The Glory of Kingdom Consummation
  4. The Glory of Christ the King

Each parable is then set out using four categories

  1. The Scenery: How does Christ use the context, setting, background, and culture reflected in the parable to reach within human hearts?
  2. The Substance: What is the main message that Christ gives in the parable about His kingdom or aspects of it?
  3. The Savior: What does the parable unveil about the glorious Savior, His person and His work, to those who believer?
  4. The Searchlight: In what ways does the parable search our hearts and lives and expose what is in them, as well as guide us into the knowledge of Christ as the gracious and glorious king of the kingdom?

Jerry’s also managed to encapsulate each parable in a pithy memorable phrase. Some samples:

  • The Glory of Kingdom Mercy: The Parable of the Good Samaritan
  • The Glory of Kingdom Fruitfulness: The Parable of the Unfruitful fig tree
  • The Glory of Kingdom Wisdom: The Parable of the Rich Fool
  • The Glory of Kingdom Provision: The Parable of the Great Supper.

I’ve enjoyed using this book as a daily devotional, reading a chapter a day (25 parables with 8-10 pages on average), but I’ve also found it an indispensable aid to preaching the parables. The only downside is that you’ll find it hard not to preach them as Jerry writes them!

Glory Veiled and Unveiled: A Heart-Searching Look at Christ’s Parables by Dr. Jerry Bilkes. Available from Reformation Heritage Books and Amazon.

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Gospel Hatred
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Why I’m thankful for common grace
Few of us are thankful enough for this.

Let the children fail
“A recent study continues a growing body of research that shows parents who help their children too much are doing them a disservice. The study says that such actions are prompted by a parent’s “misguided attempt to improve their child’s current and future personal and academic success.” It blames the “high responsiveness and low demandingness” of parents.”

More talking about listening
Some thought-provoking quotes on listening from Adam McHugh.

Resources for Preaching
I agree with most of Mike Leake’s conclusions here.