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How Do I Know If My Preaching Is Good Enough? (Part 3)

To the reader: I will suspend what I’ve been writing about on Fridays for the last several weeks to finish the discussion I began on Monday. Monday’s and Wednesday’s posts assume a fictional conversation with a young pastor who is concerned about the effectiveness of his preaching.

Hey! Good morning!

These are the big ideas I wanted to leave you with on Wednesday:

  • Be yourself.
  • Be a pastor, not just a “speaker.”
  • Know that God can and use you even when you don’t feel great about your sermon.

I wanted to deal with attitudes you have about yourself as well as beliefs you have about God. I hope that I communicated them clearly. If not, talk to me about them, ok?

In 2 Timothy, Paul writes: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. – (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV). Paul is talking not only about the way Timothy lives, he’s talking about the way Timothy preaches. If you want to be an effective preacher, you need to care for both. And both of them are hard work!

You know that as a pastor you are constantly giving out to people. If you don’t care for your own spiritual needs, you’re gonna limit your ministry. You’re gonna run out of gas. So you need to cultivate your own relationship with God. You need to pray. And you need to have people in your life who are spiritual helpers. I wrote about this the other week.

Your feelings may differ, but I often used my preaching passage for my quiet time. When I was in Bible College one of my professors warned us against mixing our quiet time with our sermon/lesson preparation. He felt the two should be distinct. I don’t agree. Sermon preparation is a spiritual activity. I see no reason to create a dichotomy between our “quiet time” and our study. But that’s my opinion, and as a good friend says, “That and $1.39 will get you a cup of coffee.”

Anyway, here are two ways that I think will help you improve as a preacher:

First, as a young preacher, it’s helpful to listen to other men preach. Especially if they do it well (ha ha). Some men whose ministries I’ve appreciated in particular include Al Mohler, Alistair Begg, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, and R.C. Sproul. These guys are very from each other, but they are master communicators. And Alistair Begg has this fantastic Scottish accent. I’ve always thought if a preacher has an English accent, he can transform a “C” sermon into an “A.”

When you listen, pay attention to how other men handle things like introductions, illustrations, and conclusions. Do they use humor? If so, how? How long do they preach? What makes them compelling preachers?

Now a word of warning: like I said, you can learn a lot from listening to others, but don’t imitate them. You know – be yourself.

Second, read about preaching. Try to read at least one or two books on preaching each year, regardless of how long you’ve been doing it. We’re fortunate that there are so many helpful books on the subject.

  • Tim Challies lists some Kindle books on his July 23 (2019) a la Carte column. In particular, David Helm’s book is very helpful.
  • Searching Westminster Seminary’s bookstore yielded several dozen books on preaching. In particular, I would recommend Preach the Word, edited by Leland Ryken, Christ-Centered Sermons, by Brian Chapell, Feed My Sheep, by Don Kistler, The Archer and the Arrow, by Jensen and Grimmond, and Preach by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert. I couldn’t seem to find the latter on but it is listed here at Amazon. I’ve left off some books that some would consider classics, and you should read those too, but these are basic books on preaching that will keep you focused on doing it right.
  • Check in periodically with Proclamation Trust. While they hold conferences in the United Kingdom, they have good number of online resources.
  • Subscribe to Expositor Magazine. If you look at the website, you’ll see why it’s a good investment.

These books and resources will help you develop sermons that are biblically sound and enable you to minister more effectively to your congregation.

Before we go our way urge you to make two commitments:

  • First, commit to never taking a passage out of context. I have heard guys who have good things to say, but what they are saying has little to do with the passage they are preaching from. Make sure that somewhere in the preparation process you ask yourself, “Does my sermon accurately reflect the passage?” Or, to put it another way, “Are all my points derived from the text, or have I allowed myself to force the passage to fit what I want to say?”
  • Second, avoid “seminary speak.” I’m not advocating that you avoid technical terms or difficult subjects. But remember who you are preaching to. If you are in seminary or have recently graduated, you’ve lived in a world that almost has a language of its own. It wouldn’t hurt to run your sermon manuscript through a grammar checker. There are several online, but ProwritingAid is the one that I’ve found helps the most. It’s a subscription service, but among other things it can tell you the reading level of your manuscript. Remember that you’re preaching to people with a variety of backgrounds and ages. You don’t want to be preaching over the heads of your people.

Well, we should probably get going. I hope that some of this has been helpful to you. As I have said, and will say often, I was an ordinary preacher in an ordinary church. I’m hardly an expert, but these are some things that were helpful to me.

We can talk again if you like. Thanks for getting together and thanks for picking up the tab for the tea and coffee. Have a great weekend!

Note to readers: What books have you found helpful? Are there any online resources that you’d recommend? Click on the title of this blog post if I a comment box is not right below and leave a comment for me. I’ll be glad to share your comments with other readers.

How Do I Know If My Preaching Is Good Enough? (Part 2)

This continues the fictional encounter with a young pastor friend that I began on Monday.

Good to see you this morning! I hope your week is going well.

The other day you asked me how you can know if your preaching is “good enough.”

I think a lot of us wonder that, especially when we’re young. Like I said on Monday, even veteran pastors wonder from time to time about their preaching. But it’s not an easy question to answer because it’s hard to quantify exactly what is and isn’t “good enough”.

When you ask that question, you’re really asking if your sermons minister to people. You’re thinking about how to be a better preacher. So let’s talk about that. I’ve got some suggestions that I think are really key to a young man developing as a preacher and teacher, so here goes:

First, it’s vital to remember that God created you, gifted you, and called you. I can’t overstate this. You are unique. Everyone develops their own unique preaching style and developing your style takes time. But your style should be your own.

I was thinking about David and Goliath. Remember how Saul wanted David to wear his armor into battle, and David tried it on and then tossed it aside because it wasn’t him? Obviously that passage has nothing to do with preaching. But it illustrates my point: David couldn’t be Saul and be effective. And you can’t be someone you’re not and preach well. So at the outset, don’t try to imitate someone else.

Another thing to remember is that our effectiveness as preachers is greatly enhanced when we show humility and genuinely care for our people. They can tell whether we’re merely orators or whether we’re caring shepherds. If you love your people, your preaching will have credibility even if it doesn’t have polish. I suspect that there are a lot of churches who hear perfectly average sermons from perfectly average preachers Sunday after Sunday. But those average preachers are effective in their churches because they love their people.

You should also keep in mind that most of the time we can’t see how God is working in people’s lives. Occasionally someone will tell you how what you said was helpful. Some congregations might be given to that more than others. But the best measure of your preaching is seen over time. In another blog post, I compared the result of hearing the Word the way we form an object from paper mache. We add layer upon layer until the object finally takes shape.

Think about what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians: And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV). We are being transformed. It’s a process.

You will be surprised by how and when God uses you. Sometimes here would be a Sunday when I thought my sermon was awful. And guess what? I’d have people tell me how God ministered to them. I’d be thinking, “That can’t be – the sermon was horrible.” But God used it anyway. So remember that how you feel about how you did on a particular Sunday is probably not a good measure of what really took place.

It may not be easy to know how good your preaching is, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a more effective preacher. If you keep these things in mind, I think you’ll be laying the foundation for being the kind of preacher you want to be.

Let’s talk again on Friday about some practical ways we can improve our preaching, ok?

How Do I Know if My Preaching is Good Enough?

Question Mark, Question, Response, Search Engine

This is a question that was raised by a young friend. I think it’s a great question. I want to answer it in two parts. Today I’m going to set the stage for some suggestions I want to offer on Wednesday. So be sure to come back then!

Picture us sitting across from each other in a coffee shop. We talk about how your ministry is going, and then you say, “The reason I wanted to talk to you today is because I’m wondering if my preaching is good enough.”

“Tell me what makes you wonder about your preaching,” I respond. You tell me you study hard, you work on connecting to your people, but when you’ve finished preaching, you wonder if it’s been adequate. Did it help anyone or was it merely helping pave the way for some afternoon naps?

Some thoughts:

First, younger preachers probably struggle with this more than more experienced preachers do. At the same time don’t think guys who have preached or taught for decades don’t have moments (or even seasons) of self-doubt. So you’re asking a question that we have all asked about ourselves.

Second, I’d have a question. I’d want to ask “Good enough compared to what?” What do you think is “good enough” and where do you think you fall short? I’d be very interested in how you answer those questions.

Your answers may range from what you perceive as a lack of response to an inner sense that you’re just not communicating. Whatever your reason(s), the issue is bugging you, because you want God to use you in the lives of your people.

I would tell you I am glad that this is something you’re concerned about. We should be concerned about our effectiveness because we’ve been entrusted with such an enormous responsibility.

I’d ask if I could listen to some of your sermons. I’d want to listen to one or two that you felt good about and one or two that you felt missed the mark. I’d also like to read your manuscripts or sermon notes.

We’ve talked awhile, and it’s time for you to go to back to the office, so we’re going to meet again. When we do, I want to share some lessons I’ve learned about preaching – things that may help you be a better preacher, but also some things that may help you see yourself and your preaching ministry more accurately. I would be careful to tell you I am not an expert on preaching. I was an ordinary preacher, and I had good Sundays and Sundays that were not as good. I can relate to what you’re thinking.

So I’ll see you then, ok? And I’m buying. It’s a privilege to talk to you, and I’ll be praying for you!

Preaching Is Shepherding!

A Minister’s Preaching, Part 4

My Master God,
I am desired to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertaining to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people,
and set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached.
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that men might be made holy.

I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.

On Fridays, I’ve been commenting on a prayer from The Valley of Vision – a wonderful book of Puritan prayers. The prayer is called “A Minister’s Preaching.” I found it so helpful in focusing my own prayers on Sundays that I copied it and put it in my Bible, often using it privately on Sunday mornings before I preached.

I’ve written about the first part of the prayer here, the second part here, and the third part here.

Today I’d like to look at the section I’ve highlighted in boldface. There are several requests in this section of the prayer. I’ll focus on three of them.

First, the author asks that God would enable him to preach to “leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.”

Faithful preaching is Gospel-centered preaching. Without forcing the passage to say what it does not, at some point in the sermon we need to make sure we are explaining what it means to trust in Christ. If people hear nothing more than a motivational talk or a list of behaviors to adopt or put off, they won’t hear the Gospel. They may even make the assumption that being right with God comes through doing good things.

Weaving the facts of the Gospel into a sermon is not always easy. We need to pray for God’s help in this, just as the writer does. It is almost certain that you will have people in your audience on Sunday who don’t know Jesus, so keep the mercy that God showed in Christ prominent in your sermons.

Second, the author demonstrates a shepherd’s heart by asking God to enable him to minister to the sorrows of his people and bring them comfort.

Certainly we want to motivate our people to a greater love for Christ and greater service. But many in your congregation are wounded, discouraged, beaten up, and sorrowing. They hurt.

Help them. Encourage them. Bind up their wounds. Teach them about the love and care of Christ, who urges us to service but is also a tender shepherd. I’m reserving a future blog post for this theme, because I honestly fear that too many of us are championing our church programs and “mission statements” at the expense of pastoral care.

Finally, note that the author asks God to “awaken the attention of my slothful audience.”

Wow. That sounds harsh at first blush, doesn’t it? No doubt there will be people in your church on Sunday who have prepared their minds and hearts. But think: you’ll also have some who are attending out of habit (which is not the worst thing in the world), some who would rather be somewhere else, and many who have other things on their minds, like the burdens of the week or the afternoon’s ballgame or activities. They live in a media-rich environment and are used to being entertained. They are not bad people. They are products of the culture. And so are we. But we happen to be preaching so we have to pay attention! In this part of the prayer, the writer is asking that God would wake them up and help them focus on what God wants to say to them.

Whether you are preaching or teaching on Sunday, these are worthy requests to bring before the Lord. He desires to use you to minister to the varied needs of your church. Maybe it’s a good Sunday to use this prayer on your own or with your elders before the worship service begins.

May God bless your ministry this weekend!

Great News for Pastors (and Everyone Else Too!)

My intent is to post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. However, I am a software junkie of sorts and have been experimenting with a some different blogging tools. I’ve settled on one called Ulysses. You can pick up the basics pretty quickly, but from what I’ve read the program has a great deal under the hood.

One thing I’ve learned about Ulysses is that if you press the “publish” button, your writing gets published. This is great if you’re ready for prime time, but not so good if the post is still in process or you want it to be posted at another time.

On Tuesday (yesterday), I had written a post for today and ended up not being attentive enough. So it published a day early. Which is hardly a major issue, but it’s not a good idea to leave too much time between posts. With that in mind I will post this brief quote that I hope will be an encouragement, whether or not you are in vocational ministry.

There’s a devotional book based on the writings of Martin Luther that you can get at Amazon. On the January 7 reading, reflecting on 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read these words:

”You must rely on these and similar verses with your whole heart. The more your conscience torments you, the more you must rely on them. For if you don’t and try to quiet your conscience through your own sorrow and penance, you will never find peace of mind and will finally despair in the end. If you try to deal with sin in your conscience, let it remain there, and continue to look at it in your heart, your sins will become too strong for you. They will seem to live forever. But when you think of your sins as being on Christ and boldly believe that he conquered them through his resurrection, then they are dead and gone. Sin can’t remain on Christ. His resurrection swallowed them up.” (Emphasis mine)

Whoever we are, whatever vocation we find ourselves in, the simple fact (as you well know) is that we are sinners.

May God encourage you with Luther’s thoughts on God’s word as you wrestle toward holiness!

Here’s Some Help to Get Things Done

There is no secret method.

I have to say that at the outset. I’ve followed productivity blogs and read productivity books for 30 years or more and there’s just no perfect system that’s going to be the magic bullet for life and time organization. The key to time/life management is to find a system that works and stick to it.

This is particularly important because a lot of people tinker with their systems and keep trying new things. As a result, important tasks don’t get done because too much attention has been given to the organizing tool.

I’m going to recommend a particular system that I think is workable and easy, but if you spend a little time researching what people say about it, you’ll find that people have spent hours drawing flowers and fairies in their planners to make them look cute. I mean, people are certainly free to do what they want. But spending hours decorating the tool you use to help you get things done seems a bit counterproductive. But, to use a cliche, “I digress.”

One of the decisions you need to make is whether you want your organizational system to be analogue (pen and paper) or digital (computer/phone). Some people use a hybrid system. Shawn Blanc, who writes for The Sweet Setup uses a hybrid system.

If you decide on a paper system, I would investigate the Bullet Journal system. You need a notebook. Nothing special or costly. If you want to read more than you’ll find on the website, author Ryder Carroll has written a book that you can get through Amazon.

The reason that I like the Bullet Journal system is that it makes sense, it is not complicated, and unless you find yourself wanting to draw pictures and fancy up your journal (please don’t!) you won’t spend hours setting it up before you use it.

There are other analogue tools, like the time-tested DayTimer system and the FranklinCovey planner. But I found the Bullet Journal to be workable and less expensive.

Digital tools are there in abundance, and I’ve tried several, but the most helpful and least expensive is Todoist. I’ve used it and recommend it. You can buy into a premium version, but the free version might be just fine.

If you want to go bare bones, you can keep a calendar and then a master list of tasks on paper of a document on your computer. Each night before you leave the office you can review both and write down the “musts” for the next day. Author Stephen Covey has a great illustration about planning the “big rocks” first. Here’s an article that explains it, but adds an important caveat.

You should also read about time/life management. Here’s where some discernment is needed. New books on time/life management are coming out all the time. Having a biblical perspective on time and life is important, and there are two recent books that have been very well-received. First, Tim Challies has written Do More Better and while I haven’t read it, Tim is a fine writer and understands a biblical perspective on life. Another book worth reading is Matt Perman’s What’s Next Best: How the Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done.I’ve given links to Amazon, but you can check out the Westminster Seminary Bookstore as well.

I also want to put in a word for Evernote. If you do a lot of online reading, you probably find that there are articles or quotes that you want to save. Rather than having an eternal list of browser bookmarks, you can install the Evernote Clipper extension and, after you set up an account, copy what you want to save to Evernote. Evernote is available online, as a computer app, and as an app for both IOS and Android. Most of us probably don’t need anything more than the free version.

Have you been using a productivity tool to keep on top of your busy life? I’d be glad to hear what’s working for you. Click on the title of this blog post and leave a comment. Thanks for reading!

Are You Working Too Much?

There’s a trio of time- and work-related tensions in pastoral ministry. First, unless you work in some kind of weird regime that makes you punch in and punch out, you set your own schedule. Second, you have a lot to do. And third, you are never finished. You may complete a project, but there are more projects. You’ll finish your sermon, but then there’s the next sermon.

I feel your pain. Juggling these three balls is hard. Despite the tired old joke that pastors only work one day a week, most people in ministry work long hours.

Why do we work as much as we do?

For some, it could be pressure from above. And I don’t mean from God. Maybe the elders have unrealistic expectations, or the Senior Pastor is a workaholic and expects his staff members to be that way too. For others, it could be an overactive desire to please people. And while none of us want to admit it, some pastors equate their worth (both to the church and the Lord) with the number of work hours they accumulate. 

But even if we struggle with one or more of the above, the fact is that effective ministry takes time, and there always seems to be more to do. I’m pretty sure that few pastors have ever come to the end of the work week and said, “Well, I can’t think of anything else that I can work on.”

Think about your typical week. People needs, meetings, programs, and preparation all crowd into our work time. People drop in. There are unanticipated phone calls. Your study time is more difficult than you expected. You have projects that must be finished. As a result, it’s easy to keep working more hours. But if we don’t learn to manage our lives, we’ll pay in the long run.

Some tips:

Plan to take the same day off each week. For some it’s Monday. Sunday is draining and Monday is a chance to recharge. For others, Friday or Saturday works best. Obviously, there will be times when something unexpected comes up. But most weeks you should be able to manage a day away from work. But make it the same day so it is something that you have scheduled.

Find a rhythm for your work week and stick to it. For example, I spent time on Sunday night planning my week. Most of my administrative work was scheduled for Monday and Tuesday and then I focused on my sermon prep Tuesday through Thursday. I would finish my sermon on Thursday, let it marinate on Friday, and then on Saturday I would tweak the sermon and, when possible, catch up with whatever was left over from the week that had to be finished.

A word about evenings: Because our people are generally not available during the day, a good deal of ministry takes place in the evening. But don’t plan something for every night of the week. And don’t bring your work home. Sure, bring a book if you want to read at night, but don’t be working on your sermon outline while you’re eating dinner.

Find a good time management approach and follow it religiously. We have an incredible number of helpful tools available for managing time. On Wednesday I want to look at some of those resources. Whatever system you end up using to manage your responsibilities, consider planning an hour or two each week where you can read for personal growth. Schedule lunch with a fellow pastor regularly. And don’t forget your family! Take your wife out regularly, even if the best you can afford is to go to McDonald’s and split a small fries. If you don’t plan those kinds of activities, they’re not likely to happen.

I know these bits of advice are basic, but they could be life-changing and ministry-saving if adopted early on. How are you doing in the area of work and life management? Are you working too much?

Image by Theodor Moise from Pixabay

Free Stuff!!!

I’m a software junkie and I’ve been fooling around with some different programs for blogging. Yesterday I pressed the wrong button and posted what I had planned to post today. So I thought I’d post about some free stuff that comes my way and might not be familiar to you.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has some excellent resources. You can subscribe to their newsletter (which contains most if not all of these). I found some good articles on preaching, and with Al Mohler at the helm of the school, you can count on some superb analysis of contemporary culture and issues.

Years ago, we did not have access to many Study Bibles. I remember the Scofield Reference Bible, which featured notes from a Dispensational perspective, and the Thompson Chain Reference Bible. In our day, we are blessed with many helpful Study Bibles. While I have Logos Bible Software and Accordance on my computers, I have been using Olive Tree Software on my iPad and phone. Some modules cost, though they have periodic sales. But if you want something free, the study notes from the MacArthur Study Bible are available for free for both IOS and Android. You can swap between the King James Version (KJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the English Standard Version (ESV).

I used to live about 10 minutes from Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, PA. When they had an on-campus bookstore, I visited regularly to see what was new. Today they are a web-only enterprise, but if you log on to their site and sign up for the free newsletter, you’ll get info about new books, special deals, and other sale items. The link to sign up is at the bottom of the page.

If you’re doing some research – or just want to keep up with current theological trends, this site takes you to the home of Themelios, the journal of the Gospel Coalition. You can search hundreds of articles from the beginning of the journal’s publication. The journal contains book reviews as well. I find it helpful.

Another excellent online journal is Credo Magazine. You’ll find up-to-date podcasts and articles and an opportunity to have the latest issue sent to your email. A form to subscribe (for free) is on the above page.

Maybe there’s something new here for you. I’ll post articles like this from time to time. Do you have any favorite free resources?

A Minister’s Preaching, Part 3

On Fridays we’ve been looking at a prayer from the Valley of Vision titled “A Minister’s Preaching.” Today we’ll look at this section:

Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertaining to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.

In an earlier post on Expectations, I told about a man who said that he wished he could be a pastor so he could study the Bible all day. Obviously, there is far more to pastoral work, and my response to him was that I had to fight for the time to study. You may feel that way too. But there’s another battle that we fight: the battle to include God in our study.

See, it’s easy to pull the books out, fire up the computer, and work on the passage we’ll preach and crafting the sermon. But the Puritan writer reminds us we need God through the entire process. We know this, but it’s good to be reminded. It’s good to have the opportunity to recalibrate our habits if we’ve gotten used to launching out on our own.

There are several requests in this part of the prayer: First, there is the confession that we need God’s help. It rightly acknowledges our insufficiency to delve into spiritual truth without God’s aid.

Having done that, he next asks God for specific ways in which we need help. He asks for insight, for an understanding of the passage. He asks for guidance in choosing the right way to express what he has learned. He wants to apply the passage to his own life, and he wants God’s help in applying it to the lives of the people. He desires to do more than educate. He wants to stir his listeners, to reach into their hearts.

And finally, he asks that God would protect him from pride. Pride is a killer.

Early in my ministry there were two young men in our church who were preparing for pastoral work. They spoke in our prayer meeting on successive Wednesday nights. The first spoke humbly. The second, well, he did not. Who do you think was most effective?

There’s an old story about a young man who preached for the first time. Perhaps you’ve heard it. He entered the pulpit with an air of self-sufficiency and it went downhill quickly. At the end of the service, the veteran pastor met him and told him “If you had gone up like you came down, you would have come down like you went up.”

Public people are subject to pride and self-sufficiency. Involving God from the time we first open our books to prepare through the time we close our sermon is a help not only in beating back that monster, but in having God speak to our people.

I hope you’ve had a great week of study and that on the Lord’s Day you will experience his help in ministering his word. God bless you!

Get the Gospel Right While You are Young

“With every head bowed, and every eye closed, if you want to receive Jesus as your personal Savior, raise your hand.”

Those words are a part of the church experience of my youth. Most sermons closed with this kind of invitation. Usually it would include a call to come forward, talk to the pastor, and pray a prayer. If you prayed the prayer and meant it, you would become a Christian. It was very similar to the approach that Billy Graham used for his crusades.

The Jesus Movement hit the Christian world in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was the time of Hippies, Woodstock, the drug and sex revolutions. Older people were disenchanted. Younger people were experimenting and looking for purpose. As a result, Jesus was presented as the remedy for unhappiness, bad marriages, and finding satisfaction.

The so-called Seeker movement of the late 20th century and the early years of this century followed in this tradition, presenting Jesus as someone who could fix life’s problems and be a friend in an uncertain world. Many claimed that the Seeker movement avoided the hard parts of the Gospel message so that people were not turned off. If they were, they would stop coming to church.

The Gospel-Centered resurgence (sometimes called the Young Calvinist movement) of the early 2000s sought to restore the clarity of the Gospel message. There was a renewed effort to express the gospel fully and accurately. Doctrinal themes and biblical terms that had been regarded as difficult to understand were now at the forefront of Gospel preaching.  

Here’s my point: I’m realizing that over the last 50 years the way we have expressed the Gospel has changed several times. And I don’t think that’s a good thing.  

Now before I go on, let me say that no one should be a Gospel Curmudgeon. A Gospel Curmudgeon is someone who takes delight in being critical of others who don’t dot every “i” and cross every “t” the way he or she does. Some of these people have websites. Their sites are the children of the “Fighting Fundamentalist” newsletters from the days before the Internet. Man, were they wild! You and I don’t want to be one of “those” people.

Yet I believe that it’s essential that those of us who preach and teach a) understand the gospel, and b) express it in ways consistent with the biblical message. As I became more influenced (and for this I am thankful) by the Reformed Resurgence, words like “imputation” and “justification” were often used and explained often in our church. In fact, I semi-jokingly told our congregation that if I called any of them at 3am and asked them to tell me what it meant to be justified by faith, I hoped they could do it. 

I never tried that. Though I kind of wish I had.

How should we present the Gospel? Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve observed that something is lacking in some Gospel preaching that I have heard over the last few years. Too often it seems like I’ve heard the facts of the Gospel presented accurately. But I’m missing a call for people to believe it.

Believing is the way we respond to the Gospel. If people don’t believe the Gospel, they aren’t believers.

Can we say we’ve accurately and adequately presented the biblical Gospel if we haven’t called for a biblical response? The Gospel message always includes responding by faith or believing.

It should be rare that a sermon or lesson does not have a connection to the Gospel. Others have written far more eloquently and persuasively than I can that teaching the Bible without a Gospel or Christ-centered focus leads to moralism. But presenting the facts of the Gospel without appealing to people to believe is not sufficient. We haven’t finished the job.

Most of the people in our congregations may be believers. It’s possible there are some who were warming themselves by the Gospel fires but have never trusted Christ. But in most cases our audiences are predominantly Christian audiences.

Yet we should still call on them to believe when we come to the content of the Gospel. In fact, without being manipulative, we should urge them to belief/faith as the way to respond to the Gospel.

Is that “preaching to the choir?” No!

We don’t know people’s hearts. We don’t want people to assume that they are Christians just because they are hearing the Gospel message. And we shouldn’t want any to answer the question of “How do you know that you are a Christian?” by saying, “Because I prayed a prayer.” or “Because I went forward at an invitation.” or “My life was a mess so I turned it over to Jesus.”

May I encourage you to check your preaching and teaching? The Gospel message includes a call to respond. Be sure that your Gospel presentations and explanations ALWAYS include that appeal to believe the Gospel, to put faith in the finished work of Christ.

You have your whole ministry life ahead of you. No matter how large or small your church or class is, you’ll speak to hundreds of people if not thousands over the years. Let me encourage you to get the Gospel right while you are young.