Tag Archives: preaching

Six Great Quotes from “The Courage to Teach”

I recently finished Park Palmer’s The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life.  It’s a powerful reflection born out of a lifetime seeking to understand the craft of teaching.

This isn’t a how-to manual filled with tips and tricks on how to teach effectively.  Those hoping to plunder Parlmer’s decades of teaching experience for practical nuggets will find themselves disappointed.  Instead, The Courage to Teach is offered as spiritual direction more than professional development.  It’s a rich work that attempts to give voice to the nuanced, mysterious, complex dimensions of teaching that those who care about communicating ideas to others often struggle to articulate.  It was a very satisfying and inspiring read.  I highly recommend it to teachers of all stripes and expressions.

Here are the six quotes from The Courage to Teach that I found particularly powerful:

1. “This book builds on a simple premise: good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. The premise is simple, but its implications are not. It will take time to unfold what I do and do not mean by those words. But here is one way to put it: in every class I teach, my ability to connect with my students, and to connect them with the subject, depends less on the methods I use than on the degree to which I know and trust my selfhood—and am willing to make it available and vulnerable in the service of learning.”

2. “The behaviors generated by fear—silence, withdrawal, cynicism—often mimic those that come with ignorance, so it is not always easy for me to keep believing, when I look at some of my students, that anxiety rather than banality is what I am looking at. I need to keep renewing my insight into my students’ true condition in spite of misleading appearances.”

3. “The way we diagnose our students’ condition will determine the kind of remedy we offer.”

4. “If we embrace the promise of diversity, of creative conflict, and of “losing” in order to “win,” we still face one final fear—the fear that a live encounter with otherness will challenge or even compel us to change our lives. This is not paranoia: the world really is out to get us! Otherness, taken seriously, always invites transformation, calling us not only to new facts and theories and values but also to new ways of living our lives—and that is the most daunting threat of all.”

5. “Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul.”

6. “Truth is an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline.”

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One-Minute Review: “Preaching” by Timothy Keller

I just finished reading Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism.  Here’s my one-minute review:

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“What’s ‘Preaching’ all about?”
Preaching is a book designed to help people “present the Christian message of grace in a more engaging, passionate, and compassionate way.”  Notice I wrote people and not pastors.  While Preaching will find a place of prominence in every thoughtful pastor’s bookshelf, Timothy Keller’s book is aimed at anyone who desires to learn how to communicate the Christian faith in a way that challenges and changes the hearer.  Therefore, it’s meant to be a resource for those who teach the Bible in a variety of contexts beyond the pulpit.

“Should I read it?”
Yes.  I can’t imagine a Christian who wouldn’t be deeply impacted by reading this book.  Ironically, Preaching isn’t simply focused on how to preach, but how to unleash the power of God’s Word in an age where skepticism reigns.  It’s an invaluable resource to pastors/teachers, but its discussion about how to get to the gospel from every biblical text is required reading for every Christian.  I especially appreciated Keller’s chapter on preaching to baseline cultural narratives that often keep people from fully embracing the Christian message.

More than a how-to manual on preaching (although it’s imminently practical in this regard!), Preaching is a book that challenges you to read and apply Scripture Christocentrically.  In the process, Preaching reveals how doing so will lead to lives being transformed, beginning with your own.

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How I Write A Sermon

A friend recently asked me about the process I use to write my sermons. In putting my process down on paper for her, I thought it might be interesting/helpful/enlightening to post the process I work through here on my blog.

I entered into a regular preaching pattern about five years ago, and during that time I have learned a ton about how to craft a sermon that is biblical, engaging, and God glorifying. Although I’ve tried many different processes over my five years of preaching, here’s the most current iteration.

This is pretty much how it works.

Ok, so it’s not that easy. 😉

From start to finish, a typical sermon is built over four phases:

Phase 1: Exploration and Information Gathering (4-6 hours)
This phase happens the week before I’m scheduled to preach. I’ve usually landed on a main passage for my message by this point, and will research it as thoroughly as possible via my Logos software and any other pertinent books I own. I have two goals for this phase: i) get comfortable with what the text is saying so I don’t mishandle it, and ii) begin to note the themes/ideas that seem to be jumping out at me.

Phase 2: Team Brainstorming (1 hour)
This phase happens early in the week I’m scheduled to preach, usually 4-5 days after I’ve completed Phase I and let the ideas incubate a bit. I usually sit down with Matt Pamplin, Kristi Gringhuis, and Richard Saunders and go over the skeleton of my message. They then offer any feedback on my proposal: Scriptures I should include, stories I should emphasize, examples within our community, hesitations or cautions if the message’s theme is sensitive, etc. This is one of the most helpful steps in the sermon preparation process, because it allows me to get out of my head and bounce ideas off of others whose input I respect and value. Sometimes these discussions lead to major alterations in the proposed sermon, and at other times they only lead to a minor tweak here and there. Regardless, they are always extremely helpful and make my sermon much stronger in the end.

Phase 3: Constructing the message (8-10 hours)
In this phase I take about a day to pull all the pieces together. I usually have 50% of my message “done” in my head by the time I start this process, and spend the day putting everything down on paper, making sure everything fits, flows, and “works” as it relates to the goal of the message. I’m a big believer in writing out my message word-for-word. I used to rely on bullet points in the past, relying on my skill as an on-the-fly presenter, but I believe that taking the extra time to write the sermon out in full has made me a better preacher. For some (many?) pastors, writing their sermon out word-for-word feels too constraining. However, I think my preaching has gotten stronger as I’ve worked down into the details of exactly what I’m communicating and how I’m communicating it.

Phase 4: Review and Rehearsal (2-4 hours)
This final phase has a few parts to it, and is often a very, very difficult one.

By the time I’m done crafting the message, I usually have a 10-12 page Word document that I need to trim down to 9 pages. While whittling things down is usually excruciatingly hard for me (I don’t want to leave anything important out!), the following questions help me keep my message “lean and mean”:

1. What is the MAIN point of my message, or am I trying to squeeze two (or more) sermons into one?
2. Do ALL of my teaching points reinforce the sermon’s main message?
3. Does the sermon have any unnecessary tangents?
4. Have I spent too much time explaining any one particular teaching point? Could I say the same thing more efficiently?

Then, I usually ask myself the following questions to make sure the sermon will have resonance with my church community:

1. Have I answered the question, “Why should I care about this?”
2. Have I answered the question, “What do you want me to do about this?”
3. Have I include at least one element that speaks to the four different “types” of Christians in my church: Heart types, Soul types, Mind types, and Strength types?
4. Does the message explicitly glorify Jesus and direct people to him?

After I’m comfortable with the sermon after working through these questions, I try to rehearse it out loud at least once. This helps me to discover any elements of the message that “look good on paper,” but don’t work as intended once you’re delivering them out loud.

Conclusion

Writing a sermon is tough, grueling work. But it’s also extremely satisfying. It’s a privilege to be able to teach others from the Word of God, and I don’t take that calling lightly. I aim to do my best with each sermon I preach, and pray throughout the process that Jesus would use the message as he sees fit. My goal as a preacher is to “make straight the way for the Lord” (John 1:23). For me, that means crafting a message that makes it as easy as possible to see Jesus and come to him.

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