3 Points and a Cloud of Dust

I’m fairly new to this whole preaching thing. Don’t get me wrong, I have preached and taught for several years–I served with Campus Crusade and as a pastoral intern at our last church. But I have not preached on a regular basis week-in and week-out for several years in a row. Even now in my new role at Grace Chapel, I’m not our primary Sunday preacher. This week, I will have preached four times. That’s nothing. I’ve heard it takes about preaching about 100 times to really feel like you are in a groove. Yikes.

Since I’m preaching this Sunday, I spent time today thinking through how to organize my sermon. Now, when it comes to sermon organization, there’s no shortage of opinion. Whether you are a preacher who preachers or the faithful member who listens each week, you probably have a preference of how a message should be structured. On second thought, I should not say “everyone” has an opinion. After my first sermon, a man in our church, named Joe, said that his wife particularly enjoyed my message. He said, “She was so happy that you were well organized! She told me, ‘It was great! He had three points!’ She said she followed along easily. I said to her, ‘Three points? I didn’t notice no three points.’ But, you know, she’s an English teacher, and I coach wrestling.” Obviously, Joe does not have an opinion about sermon structure!

Yet, whether people realize it or not, the way a pastor structures his message is of utmost importance. Good structure may not always help a sermon (content may be bad, may lack passion, etc.), but it will never hurt a sermon. My structured helped Joe, even though he didn’t notice.

I’m still trying to find my own particularly way of structuring messages, and while no message should be structured the exact same way, I’m learning how to keep my messages simple, and, yes, tethered together by points. I realize that some passages, particularly narratives, may not lend themselves to this approach, but in general, I’m more convinced of “point preaching” as I learn to preach and as I talk to the people who actually listen to the sermons. Call it three–or two or four or twelve–points and a cloud of dust, if you want. It may sound boring and cliche, but when a sermon is road-mapped with points, people can track easily. And when people track easily, they are much more likely to be helped by what the preacher says.

WIth that in mind, here’s two personal reasons, as a preacher, why I lean toward using points and two things to keep in mind when preaching with points (you see what I did there?):

  • Why #1: Preaching with points helps me make sure I know what I’m going to say and then forces me to say it. Preaching with points focuses my attention more narrowly. I am less likely to go on tangents and just blabber if I have points that I want to make sure to communicate.
  • Why #2: Preaching with points can help draw out the heart in a passage. I am more likely to sound like a running commentary if I just “move through” the text verse-by-verse.
  • Keep in mind #1: Let the text determine your points’ substance and the number of your points. The Scripture text drives the way a sermon is structured. Do not force the text into your structure, or else you have undermined the whole point of faithfully preaching the word of God.
  • Keep in mind #2: If you use points, make sure to make them clear to your hearers. One of the reasons (not the main one!) people forget what they hear in sermons is due to the fact that they do not participate in any other activity like it in our culture. Don’t burden your audience. Be helpful by clearly telling and reminding them what you want them to hear.

This isn’t the only way to do it. You can certainly do all of these with narrative preaching–I just find it harder for myself (go ahead and call me a Westerner, I can take it).

What’s most helpful for you when it comes to structure as you preach or as you listen to sermons?

Life Ministry Theology

Effectively Shepherding Yourself and Others

If you are like me, then you have probably wondered how to be an effective self-shepherd. God’s family—the church—is absolutely essential and necessary to our growth. We cannot be Lone Ranger Christians. But we can’t always talk to a pastor or a friend when we feel defeated, and we are primarily responsible for our own progress, so we need to learn to be self-feeders and help others to be self-feeders as well. We need to learn how to be self-shepherds.

I recently read Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission, the newest book from Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. One of the most immediately helpful parts of the book (along with Chester’s You Can Change) is a section on how shepherd yourself and others.

Chester and Timmis say that in order to experience genuine transformation we must first be clear on the gospel. The gospel is not positive thinking, it is not good advice, and it is not law (legalism). When I need shepherding, and when I shepherd others, I cannot resort to these three alternatives to the gospel. I must give myself and others good news. The gospel is the good news that God in Christ has done for us what we cannot do on our own. He has redeemed us from sin, giving us a living hope, and empowers us by his Spirit to glorify him. Only this good news can transform us from the inside-out. The first way we shepherd is to preach this good news to ourselves and others over and over and over again.

Secondly, Chester and Timmis say that the gospel leads us to believe the following four essential, basic truths. As we preach the gospel to ourselves, we must apply these specific truths to our circumstances.

  • God is great, so I do not have to be in control (Ps. 115:3; Isa. 40:12; Heb. 1:3; Eph. 1:11).
  • God is glorious, so I do not need to fear others (Ps. 18; 27:1-3; 34; 93:1; 119:120; Isa. 40:25).
  • God is good, so I do not need to look elsewhere (John 4:13-14; 7:37-39; Heb. 11:24-26).
  • God is gracious, so I do not need to prove myself (Neh. 9:17; Luke 15).

This is not, of course, everything about God we need to know. But these truths will be applicable to nearly every area of our lives.

Lord, help us as we seek to shepherd ourselves and others for your glory and our joy!


More on Multi-Site and Bigger Buildings

Back on June 6, I shared some thoughts about multi-site churches.  Now, on the Gospel Coalition blog, there is a conversation going on about churches and buildings. Whether you are a pastor or a lay-person in the church, it’s good to be thinking about these things.

David Platt: Should Churches Spend Money on Nice Buildings

David Gobel: Reforming Church Architecture

J.D. Greear: We Want to Stay Light and Mobile, Flexible and Ready

Matthew Lee Anderson: Buildings Matter Because Bodies Matter


To what extent should churches and pastors engage in politics?

Each day, I have a short (“short” is relative) discussion with the junior high pastor (Jack) at my church about any topic related to theology, culture, or practical living. We rotate who chooses the question every day. Today, the question was the title to this post. I plan on posting one or two takeaways from the better discussions we have.

The posts will be abbreviated, and I realize I risk oversimplifying the answers to these tough questions in a 500-word-or-less post. But I hope these short blogs are an appetizer to fruitful debate that can happen in the comments section.

Jack and I agree on most subjects.  Hopefully we won’t someday and it will turn into a swashbuckling bar-brawl, Indiana Jones-esque fight scene.  Okay, maybe not.  Nevertheless, when we disagree, I hope to faithfully represent the other side of the debate here.

Life Theology

How were people in the Old Testament saved?

David Murray, professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, answers this question when asked about preaching Christ from the Old Testament:

I’d also like to encourage preachers and teachers to be clear and consistent on the question: “How were Old Testament believers saved?” The most common options seem to be:

1. They were saved by obeying the law.

2. They were saved by offering sacrifices.

3. They were saved by a general faith in God.

4. They were saved by faith in the Messiah.

Unless we consistently answer #4, we end up portraying heaven as not only populated by lovers of Christ, but also by legalists, ritualists, and mere theists who never knew Christ until they got there. Turning back again in order to go forwards, may I recommend Calvin’s Institutes Book 2 (chapters 9-11) to help remove some of the blur that often surrounds this question.

Read the whole post to see thoughts from Murray, as well as Tim Keller and Don Carson, about some cautions when preaching Christ from the Old Testament.