Draw Straight Lines to the Text

Any good book you read about sermon preparation is going to say something like this: the point of the sermon should be the point of the text. You could say it backwards too: the point of the text should be the point of the sermon. 

The Biblical text is not there to be used as a jumping off point for us to share our ideas. A fellow pastor was talking the other week about a sermon he heard based on Luke’s account of what we call The Prodigal Son. The speaker used that passage to share tips on handling money. That’s awful. The point of the sermon had nothing to do with the point of the text.

When I was preaching regularly, it would bother me when I did not feel I preached well. It probably bothers you a bit too when you have those days. I could live with that. But I never wanted to look back on a sermon and know that I had not handled the text properly.

When I use that expression – handle the text properly – I mean that the points of the sermon could be clearly seen in the passage I was preaching. I didn’t want my people to wonder, “Where on earth did he get that?” I wanted them to see that what they were hearing was a representation of what the text actually said.

When we are at the point where we’re writing our sermons, before it reaches its final form, we need to ask ourselves if we have taken each of our points from the text. If we can’t answer in the affirmative, our job is not done.

One reason (and there are many) why this step is essential is that when we preach, we are teaching our people how to read the Bible. If we are not careful, they will learn not to be careful. If we come up with something obscure, they will be more likely to come up with obscure meanings and applications. 

Sometimes a point I was making in my sermon lent itself to a few moments of explaining how I got there. In other words, I would say, in effect, “Let me show you where I got this from.” It was an opportunity to give a brief lesson in reading the Bible well.

If you have been in a small group Bible study, you know that people can make exegetical blunders. Every small group leader has had that uncomfortable moment when someone has come up with something that’s a bit “out there.” As pastors, we can’t do that. Yet we’ve all probably heard a well-meaning preacher come up with an obscure or out-of-left-field point.

You do not want to be that guy.

One of the best ways to be sure we are staying on target is sequential expositional preaching. Topical preaching has its place. But if our preaching follows the pattern of choosing a subject and then finding a passage to support it, it is very possible to press a meaning into the text that is not there.

Before you close down your study for this coming weekend’s sermon, the Sunday School class you are teaching, or the small group you are leading, ask yourself: Can I draw straight lines from the points I am making to the biblical text?

Tools of the Trade for February 3, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

I hope you’ve had a good weekend. Here are some links to read, file, and share.

For Pastors/Church Leaders

David Murray, always worth reading, writes about guarding our relationship with God. It’s easy to let that become part of our “professional” persona.

This Podcast, with Tim Chester, asks the question “Are We Undervaluing the Lord’s Supper?”

There’s an intriguing statement in this article about the source of power in our ministry. “All Christian work is about responsibility without authority. Therefore, it’s easy to get discouraged.” Thought provoking and worth the read.

If you interview for a position in a church, you’re going to be answering a lot of questions. But what should you be asking? Jeff Robinson shares some insights.

Peter Mead, from biblicalpreaching.net, talks about some preaching paradoxes that originated with John Stott.

This article is from a secular source, but it describes 10 characteristics of good learners. These kinds of articles can be helpful for those wanting others to learn.

If your church is not familiar with some of the great creeds of the Christian faith, here’s a short introduction.

Sad story, great point. Don’t overlook older people in your church.

Here are “5 Lessons on Faithful Endurance from a Longtime Pastor.”

Gene Edward Veith writes “An Open Letter to the Pastor in a Post-Christian World.”

What are your people wondering about and asking when they hear you preach? David Qaoud gives us some food for thought.

For You and Your People


My wife loves snow, but to her disappointment there’s been very little snow for us this winter. We’ve had a 3 inch “storm” and two half-inchers that have barely covered the grass. Driving has been without difficulty. However, it’s been generally grey and dismal. Winter can affect what’s going on inside of us as well, and David Mathis writes an incredibly helpful article on that subject.


Have a great week!

Tools of the Trade for January 27, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

There’s some good reading in the articles below. I hope that you will find them helpful.

For Pastors

We are blessed with a large number of Bible study guides for personal or group use. But some are better than others. How do you tell the good ones from the ones you should pass by? Taylor Turkington gives some advice for evaluating study guides.

My wife and I have had the opportunity to visit a number of churches over the last year or two. I’ve seen interviews, discussions, and video-driven talks in the place of the sermon. Here’s an argument for keeping the traditional sermon.

My friend Jay once suggested going to the back of our auditorium for the benediction. Why even bother giving one? Drew Hunter explains the value and place of the benediction in the worship service.

This article, written primary for church planters, is still relevant for young men embarking on their first pastorate. It’s called Planting Churches With a Lasting Gospel Legacy.

Here’s another reason why it’s good to know even a little bit about church history.

Religious liberty is a hot topic in the news today, and the current administration made a statement earlier this month that church leaders should be aware of.

9Marks’ Jonathan Leeman has started a series called “Preachers Talk” Here’s where you can download the first 30-minute episode.

The commonly quoted stat is that “faithful” church attendance is something like two or three times a month. Phil Newton writes about how pastors can encourage church attendance.

I find articles on productivity to be helpful at times, as long as they don’t send us on a quest for productivity perfection or make us focus on tasks to the exclusion of people. I’ll link to an article from time to time that might have a helpful nugget. Here’s one.

Reviews and recommendations of this book have appeared on a number of sites over the last few weeks. I’m sure it would be hard reading, but there are people in your church who have been abused, and you need to know both how to help them and what to give them to read. This is a review of Mez McConnell’s “The Creaking on the Stairs.”

To Share

The Apostle Paul was aware that prayer on behalf of his ministry was vital. Following his example, it is appropriate that we ask our people to pray for us. Colin Adams shares Something You Could Pray for Preachers. Put it on your literature table.

People going through hard times need to be reminded often that God is good and that he is with them in their times of trouble. This article, by Marshall Segal, will be a great encouragement to your people.

This is one for pastors to read too, but also one that you can share. It provides counsel on helping Christians struggling with depression. David Murray has written extensively on this topic.


Have a good week!

Give Them A Head’s Up

By now (I hope) you know what you are preaching on Sunday. But do your people know?

Does that matter? I think so. When I watch a movie, I want to know what it’s about. I don’t need to know the whole plot or story line, but knowing the nature of the film is helpful. The same is true with TV shows and books. Though the information might be minimal, it prepares us for what we’re going to watch or read.

Your church probably has an email list. I want to suggest that you send an email to your people on Friday or Saturday with the following information:

  1. Remind them that there is a worship service on Sunday and encourage them to attend. In a day when “regular church attendance” is often viewed as twice a month, it doesn’t hurt to include a line that conveys “I’m hoping to see you on Sunday morning.” And on occasion, a kind admonition as to why they ought to come is certainly in order.
  2. Tell them what passage you are preaching from and encourage them to read it before coming on Sunday.
  3. Give them the basic theme of your sermon. You might be reluctant to give away the “punch line.” But you can identify the topic and possibly also indicate why it is important.
  4. If there are important announcements, briefly list them. If your people get used to relying on the church bulletin and your email, you won’t have to spend as much time making announcements during the worship service.

You could approach this by inviting people to sign up to receive your email, but I’d encourage against that. You have the list, and while you don’t want to abuse that, you’re not going to be overtaxing their inbox with a short email. And it needs to be short. If it takes them more than a minute to read it, they may not bother.

We need to pull out all the stops when it comes to helping our people engage with the sermon. An end-of-week email can do that. A mid-week email briefly identifying the main points of your sermon and the main application can also be a helpful way of refreshing their memories.

You probably won’t see the results of this practice, but I do believe it is helpful. Let me encourage you to give it a shot.


A friend of mine has a funeral today, and I was reminded of the great opportunity funerals provide for preaching the Gospel. It’s almost a guarantee that you’re going to have unsaved people present at every funeral. They may be friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even family members. And they need to hear the Gospel message.

I was sharing with my friend that I purchased a quantity of Randy Alcorn’s booklet on Heaven. He has written a full-length book on the subject, but this little booklet, available at Amazon for $1.99 is contains some biblical answers about life after death and a clear presentation of the Gospel. Near the close of the service I would say something to the effect that a the loss of a friend or loved one reminds us of our own mortality. Then I would invite people to take a booklet if they had questions.

We had a ledge on the back wall of our auditorium that was a perfect place for a couple dozen booklets. I would suggest that you put them somewhere close to where people naturally pass by on their way out, but not in a place where it looks like you’re hawking them. And by all means, don’t charge for them.


I hope you have a good weekend of ministry! Whether you are preaching, teaching, or engaged in some other form of ministering to your people, may God bless your efforts to serve him!

Tools of the Trade for January 20, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

There’s some good reading in the articles below. I hope that you will find them helpful.

Ligonier published an article from the late (and greatly missed) R.C. Sproul on “Accepting ‘No’ As God’s Will.” His comments on prayer are helpful.

Kevin DeYoung writes about God’s existence, presenting the doctrine in less than 500 words. This is a helpful summary and starting point for study.

This is not from a Christian site, but “15 Effortless Memorization Tricks to Remember Anything” may come in handy. I include it this week because I didn’t want to forget. (I know. Corny.)

Colin Adams writes “The Eleven Commandments for Long Winded Preachers.” Not that any of us need that, but we might have a friend who . . .

How are Christians to deal with the various purity laws in the OT? Some of them get thrown in our face when discussing the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. Here’s a helpful article by Peter Leithart.

This article on handling disagreement has a host of applications.

If you’re looking for a helpful conference to attend, The Institute for Expository Preaching with Steven Lawson would be worth considering. Details here.

Tim Challies reviews a new book by Jared Wilson, The Gospel According to Satan. Read it here.

Ministry can become task-driven, but it needs to be people-driven. Here’s an article by Nicholas Batzig on loving the people God has put under our care.

In our Sunday pastoral prayer, we used to pray for a specific nation where Christians are persecuted. Joe Carter tells us where Christians are most likely to face danger.

Sometimes we can preach on a specific sin and leave people feeling that there’s no hope. John Sloan talks about this in relation to abortion.

John Muhlfeld writes in the Tabletalk magazine about Encouraging Men in Ministry. There are so many ways in which this can be applied. Read it and ask God to bring someone specific to mind.

Finally – and I might be the first Christian blogger to break this news – cartoon genius Gary Larson has a website where he displays some of his previous work from The Far Side and promises some new material. Oh joy!!!

Have a good week!

Tools of the Trade for January 13, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

There’s some good reading in the articles below. I hope that you will find them helpful.

First, WTSBooks is having a sale on their staff favorites from the last decade. Books are about half price in most cases. Some might be good for the book table, but you may want to treat yourself.

David Mathis writes about the significance of praying in Jesus’ name. This is one that is worth sharing.

Kathryn Butler encourages us to “Point Kids to the Gospel Through Great Books.” Yes, kids can still read books.

Erik Raymond writes about praying for our church family. Here’s one definitely worth sharing with your people.

Scott Hubbard shares a helpful article on what it looks like for the fruit of the Spirit to be in our lives.

David Gunderson tells us “Why You Need Sermons That Don’t Directly Apply to You.” Share this!!! Lots of copies!!

Here’s a video/transcript by Tim Challies on “How Should We Think about Technology as Christians?” Tim writes about this periodically and has some helpful insights.

This is another share-worthy article. Your people may encounter wrong ideas about the Bible that sometimes sound plausible. This will strengthen and educate them.

Kevin DeYoung asks and answers the question, “What Is Preaching (And Who Does It)?” Anything Kevin writes is worth reading.

Here’s one more from Tim Challies that challenges us to be reading.

John Piper writes about praying according to the will of God. Another one for the literature table.

This article, from a secular website, talks about some helpful planning and productivity principles.

For any of you who are church planters, here is a helpful article on patience in church planting. Actually, this is a helpful article for all pastors.


Have a great week!

Tools of the Trade for January 6, 2020

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

Here is this week’s list of links to articles and resources that you hopefully find helpful. On Wednesday I’ll be posting part 1 of a list of books that you would find useful on a book table, should you decide to go in that direction in your church.

Peter Mead has spent ten years blogging on BiblicalPreaching.net and has written some really helpful articles over the decade. Here is a look back on the last ten years of his writing.

This isn’t from a Christian website, but Lifehacker has some good stuff on productivity. Whether or not you’re in to New Year’s resolutions, this is helpful as it relates to making plans and setting goals.

Journaling Bibles are available in a number of translations. I am expecting one today that I can carry with me in my man bag, murse, or whatever they are called. John Piper writes about how to use these resources.

Some of your people work in high pressured work environments. In this article, Matt Rusten writes about dealing with anxiety in the workplace. This is one of those print-a-number-of-copies-and-put-them-out-for-your-people resources.

The aforementioned Peter Mead writes about using multiple passages to present what the Bible says about a main idea. Good stuff.

Eric Davis writes at The Cripplegate, and here’s an article on dealing with 2020 election stuff. As I wrote a week or two back, we need our people to learn how to navigate through this process and still maintain unity. But we also need our people to behave themselves toward those outside the church. I love the title: “2020 and Your Political Cage Match.”

Here’s an article you may feel hesitant to share, but you should. Nicholas Batzig tells us about 5 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor in 2020. Hey! Paul asked for prayer. Why can’t you?

Colin Adams writes about planning your preaching schedule to balance the diet of your people.

Jared Wilson is a good writer, and I can’t recall anything I’ve read by him that isn’t helpful. Here is an article that I saw today on Faithful Application of the Word of God. Must reading.

Genesis 6 talks about the “Sons of God.” If one of your people asked who these being were, what would you say? This is one of those “send to Evernote and hold for future reference” articles.

Burk Parsons writes a solid article on prayer. His focus is on our privileged standing as a child of God. Really good reading.

And that will do it for today. See you on Wednesday with a continuation of the discussion on a literature/book table for your church.