Many preachers are like a light switch when it comes to passion, it’s either flipped on or off, either talking or yelling. To more effectively use passion in your preaching, think of it as a dimmer switch with various levels of passion and smooth transitions from one to the other.
Calvin Miller, in his book Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition, points out six ways to preach with passion, each with its own spot on the dimmer switch:
Ask yourself how [the six purveyors of passion] must be used in your preaching to convince your audience that you feel strongly about your subject. Consider how these six elements of passion might be used to connote how you want your audience to feel the resurrection Let us take the account of John 20:1-2, 11, 16-17.
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was dark” (John 20:1a).
They said nothing as they walked. Silence. Aching silence. Heavy, breaking, agonizing silence. He was dead – dead – dead.
“Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance” (John 20:1b).
Tears, hot, cutting, desperate. He was not there.
“But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb” (John 20:11).
“So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2).
They have taken the Lord!
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabonni!’ (which means Teacher)” (John 20:16).
Mary cried out at this point. The volume must keep pace.
“So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved…” (John 20:2)
Mary came running (let the rhetoric pick up speed).
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
This is but a tiny model of the aspects of passion but is valid in all the rhetorical aspects that compose passion. Use each aspect only when the text or your feeling about it connotes passion.
But anywhere you suspect that you’re saying things louder than you feel them, then you need to rein in your rhetoric with conservative humanity and let the other aspects of passion show their stuff. But getting loud and staying loud is neither true humanity nor good homiletics.
What I appreciate most about Miller’s model for passion is that it takes its cues from the text. It is not so much a response to a disinterested audience - I’m losing them, I better whip up some passion to get their attention back – but a response to the passage. When you respond with passion to what the passage says, your congregation will respond to God’s word, not to you. Which I think is the goal of preaching in the first place.
If your priorities in ministry are out of whack, there is no better place for you to turn than Acts 6:1-6. The pastor’s single priority is a triune priority. We are to shepherd God's flock as prophets, priests, and kings. One priority in the three, three priorities in one.
In Acts 6, the apostles model this triune shepherding priority for us.
The apostles had an issue to deal with. The Greek widows were not receiving portions of food, and the Hebrew widows were. “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” (6:1). Even in the early days of the church, we see conflict between those who participated in the Old Covenant, and those who didn’t.
As the apostles deal with this issue, they also fulfill their role as prophets, priests, and kings.
The apostles as prophets
This role is clear throughout the NT, and especially the beginning of Acts. Peter and the other apostles teach, and the young Christian community devoted themselves to their teaching (Acts 2:42).
In Acts 6, the apostles declare that their word ministry is the most important thing they do, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (6:2).
So as they confront this issue of favoritism, they do not forsake their main responsibility of teaching.
The apostles as priests
We see the apostles’ commitment to priestly ministry in two ways.
The first was to ensure that the widows were cared for by appointing men “to this duty” (6:3). Caring for widows is ministry of mercy and compassion, a priestly ministry.
But it is not as if the apostles wanted to sit in their study, sport their tweed jackets, and puff their pipes without being bothered by the flock. They were fully committed to priestly ministry themselves, too.
We see this in the second priestly ministry the apostles committed, the ministry of prayer: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6:4).
The apostles as kings
Lastly, we see the apostles as exemplary kings in these verses.
It’s not explicit on the face the passage, but it is abundantly clear nevertheless. Take note of all the “kingly” actions the apostles take:
1. They held a congregational meeting: “And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples” (6:2).
2. They delegated fixing the problem to men who are qualified: “…men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty” (6:3).
3. They even delegated the task of choosing the delegates! “Therefore, brothers [i.e., the full number the disciples], pick out from among you seven men…” (6:3).
4. They ordained the newly founded deaconate: “These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them” (6:6).
A apostles were prototypical prophets, priests, and kings.
A complete pastor – a shepherd – will serve as a prophet, a priest, and a king.
A prophet/priest shepherd will never lead the flock to greener pastures.
A priest/king shepherd will starve the sheep in the midst of a lot of activity.
A prophet/king shepherd will be effective and efficient, but he won’t care for the flock.
Most pastors are strong in one slot, decent in another, and weak in the third. But wherever you are weak, strive to serve your flock in that area, and let Christ be strong in your weakness.
Not knowing what to tweet is a common obstacle for pastors who want to impact their church through Twitter. Without a plan, your tweets will lack purpose, or you won’t tweet at all.
When I first joined Twitter, I waited several days before I finally tweeted something. I was clueless about what to post and scared of saying something stupid!
But then I noticed pastors like John Piper (@JohnPiper), Mark Driscoll (@PastorMark), and Rick Warren (@RickWarren) constantly tweeting helpful links and encouraging comments. I realized I had to take advantage of Twitter to lead the church.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a Warren, a Piper, or a Driscoll to serve your church through Twitter.
You don’t even have to be a pastor.
You may be a deacon or deaconess, a small group leader, an elder, or none of the above. Whether you hold a position or not, these ten suggestions will enable you to intentionally lead your church through Twitter.
1. Tweet to break news about how God is working in your church. Tweet about your church’s baptisms, small group gatherings, or other church events. Include pictures.
2. Tweet to share the content on your church’s website. If your church website has a blog, tweet a link to new articles when they are posted. If you have multiple blogs on your church site, tweet each pastor’s article.
3. Tweet to build anticipation for Sunday’s sermon. Tweet one-sentence previews of your sermon as you prepare it. Your contagious excitement for the coming message will build your church’s anticipation.
4. Tweet to inform your church about the ministry world. Your people don’t read about the Bible and theology as much as you do. But there is content on the Web that will benefit them. As you read helpful articles and blogs, tweet the links. It will keep your congregation up to date biblically and theologically.
5. Tweet prayers for your church. I don’t mean that you should publicly pray for private issues. But as you personally pray for your church, tweet some of your requests. It will encourage your people to see how you are praying for them.
6. Tweet to start a prayer chain. There may be times when an emergency strikes, making urgent, public prayer appropriate. Tweet the prayer request, and ask your congregation to retweet it.
7. Tweet to keep the vision of your church in front of your people. If you don’t constantly communicate your vision, your church will forget it. Twitter is a great way to remind your congregation why your church exists, and how you are moving forward.
8. Tweet quotes from what you are reading. As you read the Scriptures, or books on the Bible and theology, tweet quotes that impact you. This is kind of like #4, except here your congregation benefits from what you are reading offline, too.
9. Retweet the other pastors and leaders of your church. When someone else in leadership tweets something good, retweet it yourself. This demonstrates the partnership shared among the leaders, and also reinforces the values you want to cultivate in your congregation.
10. Tweet to remind your congregation that you’re a real person. Tweet funny things your kids say, when you take your wife out for a date, and when your basement floods. Identifying with your church in this way will make them more receptive to your teaching, care, and leadership.
It will not take long for you to see the impact your tweets have on your congregation. As folks shake your hand on Sunday morning, they will not only say, “Thanks for the sermon!” They will thank you for that link you shared, too.
Many pastors have written and spoken concerning the ways expository preaching benefits your congregation, but few talk about how it benefits the soul of you, the preacher.
I say this as one who sometimes loses sight of the blessings of expository preaching because of the exhaustion of week-in, week-out teaching ministry. Pastors can succumb to the mindset of Grandma on Thanksgiving Day, who eats a cold plate because she was so busy cooking for everyone else. It fills the stomach, but lacks the celebration and joy.
The celebration and joy of preaching God’s word will return to you when you remember the blessings that God has in store for preachers who give themselves wholly to the task of expository preaching. What are those blessings? Here is a list of five.
1. You will maintain your integrity as a preacher
We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 4:2)
Based on Paul’s logic in this verse, someone who does tamper with God’s word is not able to commend himself to anyone’s conscience in the sight of God. Someone who uses the Bible to say something that it doesn’t mean – whether from good motives or ill, accidentally or on purpose – makes a breach in his integrity.
If the structure of your sermon is aligned with the structure of the passage, and if you derive your sub-points from the author’s sub-points, then it is difficult to tamper with the message of the passage. You dramatically increase your odds of getting at the author’s intended meaning if you follow his logic.
2. You will grow in passion for Jesus
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself…“Did our hearts not burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:27, 32)
When you commit to expository preaching, eventually you will hit an obscure or difficult passage. Some pastors get frustrated by trying to derive a sermon from such texts.
But seasoned expository preachers know better. They have wrestled with such passages and have come away seeing the gospel and the work of Christ in a new light. These new insights will fan the flame of your passion for Jesus.
The clincher here – and with the next two benefits below – is the all part, as in Moses and all the Prophets. Only when you commit to preach the entire Bible, tough passages and all, will you get this joy of a fresh look at Jesus’s person and work.
3. You will be innocent of the condemnation incurred by those who reject your preaching
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27-28)
You will be held to account for your ministry, and you will even be judged with more strictness than others (James 3:1). One way to ensure that you will be found faithful on that day is by preaching through all of Scripture. That doesn’t mean you have to pull a MacArthur and go through the whole New Testament verse by verse. You can go Dever style and preach book by book, too.
The point is that you are not leaving out anything in your preaching, whether in terms of content or theology. You will be innocent of anyone’s blood if you preach all the Scriptures, no matter how offensive, irrelevant, or uninteresting it might seem.
Are you shrinking from declaring the whole counsel of God? You know you are supposed to as a preacher, but for some reason – perhaps you cater to your listeners’ felt needs, you don’t feel qualified to teach difficult passages, or you are trying to be tolerant – you are consciously minimizing your use of the Bible. Realize that your hands are red. You are not innocent. Wash the blood off at the foot of the cross, and go preach straight through Galatians.
4. You will experience Jesus’s eternal presence
…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20)
Again, that pesky word "all." In order to teach all that Jesus commanded, you have to preach all of God’s word, since the whole thing is the word of Christ (Colossians 3:16). Only expository preaching specifically intends to do this, by preaching through entire passages and entire books.
The benefit to expositors comes in the second half of the verse: “I am with you always.” Jesus’s eternal presence goes with those who teach all of his commands. That’s not to say Jesus’s presence leaves those who preach topical sermons, since he certainly enters the heart of those who believe in him (Ephesians 3:17).
But there is a sense where those who preach the whole counsel of God especially experience Jesus’s presence, even when they suffer for not editing out the offensive parts. Paul wrote, “But the Lordstood by me and strengthened me [‘I am with you always’], so that through me the message might befully proclaimed [‘all I have commanded’] and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Timothy 4:17)
Now, theoretically, someone could preach all Jesus commanded without preaching straight through passages and books of the Bible. But even my four year-old daughter knows that hopscotch is easiest when you toe each square sequentially.
5. You will persevere in salvation
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:16)
I have to be honest, I am frightened by the thought that I might be an instrument by which God saves others, without actually being saved myself. How tragic would that be? How do I make sure that I don’t find my assurance of salvation in my call to ministry, but simply in the gospel of Jesus? I preach through passages of the Bible and try to apply them to myself, not just my hearers.
Some might contend that there are many pastors separate their self-watch and teaching-watch. They keep a close watch on their teaching, but not their life, and therefore fall headlong into sin and eventually ditch the faith.
I say they stopped watching their teaching first. They stopped preaching to themselves and thus stopped watching their life. Notice that Paul does not say, “persist in these,” as if keeping a close watch on yourself and the teaching could be divorced. He says, “persist in this,” because they are two components of one activity.
What does expository preaching have to do with this? When you closely tie your preaching style to the Scriptures you put yourself in a position for the word to work on you as you do your work in the word. This will open your eyes to areas of your life – not just your congregation – that need to change, and will strengthen you in fighting the good fight of faith.
Why wouldn’t you commit to expository preaching?
The question remains: what do you, the preacher, gain by preaching topically or textually? I can think of some practical benefits: less time consumed by sermon prep, appealing to a broader audience, and being relieved of having to show why what you’re teaching is relevant.
But the ways your soul benefits from expository preaching far outweigh temporary conveniences.
It takes more work, but God will reward you with eternal rewards. So commit to expository preaching, not only because it honors God’s word, and not only because it feeds your flock nutritious meals for their soul, but because it feeds your soul, too.