Christ-Centered Preaching

These lessons will be a daily reflection of the study schedule I normally keep in order to prepare to preach the main worship experiences each week at the New Hope Baptist Church of Oakland, California. Check back daily to see the days added as we progress the preparation process through six days. My greatest appreciation goes to my family who gives me space and time to prepare. My greatest respect goes to the members of New Hope who love the Word and expect it to be faithfully and rightly divided.

MONDAY – Since I am in a series I have the benefit of knowing the next text. Today I read Revelation 2:8-11 out loud.  I am using the King James Version as my first version. I hear the text as I read it. I read it as if I were in the pulpit reading it as my text. This helps me hold the text mentally and begin feeding on it spiritually. After reading the text out loud, I then read it silently. I want to make sure that I am clear on the context. I want to make sure I know what I am reading. I read it until I know what the verses are saying.

Having finished reading the immediate context of my preaching  I focus on the one or two verses that will supply the exegesis and exposition. It is very rare that I exposit or exegete from more than two verses. I have begun to memorize the “anchor text”. I am repeating it and muttering it as I move through Monday. Scattered thoughts may come. I write them down and make notes. No order or structure needed, yet.

The next text I will be preaching is Revelation 2:11. The series will be entitled, “Only For The Overcomers”. The overarching truth of the series is, “Jesus wants believers to be overcomers.”

TUESDAY – This is usually my administrative day. The duties of the senior/executive  pastor requires casting vision, managing the needs of  staff, negotiating the expectations of people, supporting the strength of the institution and providing administration for ministers, ministries and networks of ministry. It pulls me away from the preparation of preaching during office hours. Tonight I burn the midnight oil.

What I was able to accomplish on Tuesday is the exegetical work.  Today I have read the text in other versions and paraphrases to see if they give me any insight or inspiration. I then do the interlinear study of the text. I am looking to see if any of the etymology is obviously expository. If it is, I make the note and return to the word studies.

No word or punctuation is insignificant. I don’t assume I know the meaning of a word in a text, even if it is a word I have come in contact with before. I still look it up. I want to know what mood and tense is the word in. I want to know where else is this word used, especially its first mention. I am using Vines Expository Dictionary, Word Meanings by Earle, Wuest’s Word Studies, Robertson’s Word Pictures and Thayer’s Definitions. I rarely now do my reference work with the Hebrew and Greek lexicons. The internet’s access to sacred languages and their etymology makes my studies less time consuming. Www.Blue Letter Bible can get you started.

Now that I know  the context and what the text says, I ask this question, “What does this text teach or tell us about God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit?  This is where my proposition takes shape. The proposition is the main truth that you seek to convey. The proposition is your sermon in a sentence. I am not ready to preach until and unless I have my proposition. My exposition has nothing to hang on without a proposition.

The proposition is theological. The most important truth that can ever be excavated from a text is a truth about God that changes or transforms the perspective and psychology of  a person. This is what Jesus and the apostles called “the saving of the soul’. The proposition is declarative. It makes a clear and cogent claim that is born out of the text. Topical preaching will not fit in this format. Topical preaching is by definition centered around a topic with a scripture(s) to support it. Propositional expository preaching is steeped in the Scriptures and centered around a text. The text gives the preacher the topic to preach.

The proposition keeps the preacher honest. You can only claim what the text claims. Preaching with a proposition makes you commit to the truths of the text that support and strengthen the position of the proposition. What the text claims must be consistent with the claims of the whole Holy Canon.

The proposition must be positive. It must make a claim that is in contradiction to the negativity of humanity. People need to hear something good about God every time you preach! The proposition is always stated in terms that are insightful and hopeful. The proposition must be absolute. If it is true, it must be the truth. If it is about God it is a truth that can stand any scrutiny.

The proposition is so necessary. It reveals the antithesis in the text and begins to require a synthesis. The antithesis and the synthesis are in the text or context. Illustrations of realities that seem to contradict your proposition are always in the culture. If you are preaching with the proposition, “God’s love is unconditional”. An opposing truth could be, “People put conditions on their love”.  I will develop the opposing truth or what I call “the tension” only after I have the overarching truth. Proposition before tension is the order.

The foundation for the sermon has been poured . I have unearthed the proposition of the text. Now I can rest and get ready to start writing the manuscript in the morning. Most manuscripts take me eight to twelve hours to complete.

WEDNESDAY – This is the most important day of my studies. I am up at 3:00am to review my notes for the National Prayer Call. I am responsible for a 12 minute exhortation on  the teleconference five (5) times a week. After the NPC I type out my outline. This is the first stage in “The Model” for the manuscript.

“The Model” begins with the proposition. After I say what the text says what will I have said? After putting the proposition in the most simple single sentence possible I outline the thesis. My thesis in the outline form is no more than three sentences. The thesis will give contextual support to the proposition.

The thesis is the time when I can articulate and argue some of the more historical-doctrinal points that the text or context lends itself to. This is when I am quoting ancient rabbis and twentieth century theologians and philosophers. My favorite twentieth-century theologian is Dr. Karl Barth. He is arguably the most Christocentric theologian in modern history.

If the proposition is “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) my thesis sentences will support the existence of God, the extent of God and the emotive of God. The alliterations are not necessary, just easy.  I will have the message and mandate in the text to argue that God exist, “For God”. I can argue that the extent  of God’s love is revealed in the word ‘so”. I could argue that God is emotive. God can be moved by love to do the extraordinary, “He gave His only begotten”.

The next part of “The Model” is to construct the antithesis. The antithesis is exactly what it says it is – the argument against your proposition. Still using John 3:16 as an example, the antithesis could be held in the one word, “perish”.  The opposing reality to God loving and giving His Son is a world that is perishing. What does the Bible say about the world and what does it mean “to perish”?  This becomes your case for the urgency of your preaching. Why did you have to preach this message?

The message has to be preached because there is a tension that needs to be resolved. You stand to preach and resolve the antithesis not only in the text, but in the lives of those who hear you preach. There are people whom God loves who are still perishing. That’s tension!

I am now ready for the “Relevant Question”. This is when I simply sit back and ask, “In light of the tension, what has God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit done, provided, willed, enabled or determined to address this antithesis”? The text holds the answer.

At this point you must let the text structure how many points your sermon will have. The “points” of the sermon are supposed to be points of resolution. Once you start to deal with your points  you want your message to be geared toward resolution and synthesis. Sometimes I have one point. Three points are not inherently divine. I can only take what the text gives me.

The Resolution is where you make your point(s). From John 3:16 one the clearest points of resolution is that believing will save you from perishing. God has blessed us with somebody to believe. We can believe “in Him”. We can believe in Him and have eternal life. That is resolution!

The manuscript is well underway. I will not finish on Wednesday. I edit and delete excess in the process. Thursday (late night) I will be looking to land the exposition. Going to bed thinking about how to close the message. If it’s John 3:16 I’m leaning toward putting a heavy emphasis in my close on the importance of  believing in “Him”.

THURSDAY – The manuscript is usually completed by Thursday evening. The development of the manuscript is in a flow until its conclusion. I am still reading commentaries on the text. I’m not real big on commentaries. Commentators can be real good on ancient manners, customs, little known facts from the context. They can also be real wrong on doctrine and interpretation! Be on guard! Commentators have a tendency to filter their comments through a particular dogma. If it is an Old Testament text I will check Brueggeman. If it is a New Testament text I will check Barclay. I go through the manuscript finally to restructure paragraphs, rethink illustrations, delete sentences, reference quotes, and check references.

One of the primary reasons for the manuscript is precision. I encourage all young preachers to write full manuscripts so that you can find your voice and your style for the sermon. It is a scaffolding. You may not carry it to the pulpit but the discipline of writing will better your clarity. Writing the sermon will help to shape well-thought out theological conclusions and propositions. If it’s worth God saying, it’s worth you writing it down. Remember, the Bible is a manuscript. All great preachers preach from The Manuscript!

I am also paying close attention to how the introduction begins. The introduction can begin with the “tension”, the thesis or the proposition. Like a good movie you want to set up the plot, reveal the tension and then spend the bulk of the time reaching a resolution. I never advise that you announce al your points at the start of your sermon or the exposition of the text. No one watches the game or the movie the same when they already know how it ends. Bring your audience along with you. Let them look in the text anticipating what might come next.

How soon the text is introduced is vitally important. You want to get into the text and its treatment soon. Textual, expository and exegetical preaching does not need a lot of “fillers and preservatives”. The text has something to say. Don’t get in the way of the text! You want your audience interested in the text. You want the text to be the main attraction. As I and the other seminary students were told by Dr. Don B. McCoy, “When preaching don’t let your porch be longer than your house!”

The conclusion of the sermon is a call to action, not just a celebration. Now that you have preached, what do you want the people to do with this Word? The close of the sermon is to press for a commitment. Your close should drive a point (or the points) home. This is why I close many sermons with lists or what preachers call “runs”. Thisi gives me the cadence to drive home a point with repetition.

The conclusion is the final summation and the last pitch. How will you close the deal? The late Dr. Manuel Scott Sr. was heard saying, “Preaching is taking a text and cutting a path toward Calvary”. Never be intimidated to close with the Cross. The Resurrection is our Grand Resolution. There are no more powerful events than the Cross and Resurrection.

Now that the manuscript is completed. I spend the next 48 hours in consecration prayer and in the practice of my delivery. I am reading the manuscript over and over. I am reading it out loud and silently. I want to get it like it got me!

FRIDAY – Reading and repeating manuscript.





















One thought on “Christ-Centered Preaching

  1. Marsha Hartfield says:

    This is beautiful. I am not a preacher, but what you describe is an excellent means of studying the Bible.

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