I think about the art of preaching like I do about being a musician.
- It requires a lot of sweat and determination.
- You often feel daunted.
- You shouldn’t leave it to the last minute.
- It feels divine when everyone loves what you deliver.
- It feels sickly when you know people are so bored that they are playing with their iPhone during it.
- You should never feel like you’ve arrived at perfection.
- Some are way too confident about their own talent and really shouldn’t be. That’s just deluded and annoying.
- You should always check to see if your fly is up before you walk on the platform.
- Sometimes you do a dodgy job and people can still be really moved.
The other thing is that, as in the case of music, with preaching you do well to seek out advice from different sources – even if they are not strictly from your field.
This TED talk from Nancy Duarte is an example of me seeking advice from different non-preaching sources.
Duarte makes a really powerful observation about the art of public speaking: a communicator will inspire when they switch back and forth between the “what is” and the “what could be” – ending in the new bliss that is possible from now.
It is my idea that according to Duarte’s logic, preachers would inspire congregations if they incorporated these polarities into their script. I suspect, however, that it is a rare skill to be able to do this well.
Shall we give it a go?
If the passage was:
Jesus Calls His First Disciples Matthew 4:18-22
18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
To determine the “what is” and the “what could be/new bliss” how do you get there? I’m glad you asked! Begin with the normal exegesis steps, determining the main point of the passage and the main application. Let me do the work for you.
Possible main point: You don’t need to be a ‘perfect’ spiritual person to respond to Jesus’ call (even average fisherman can!).
Possible main application: Respond to Jesus invitation to follow him today and start a new life as a disciple.
Now determine the “what is” and the “what could be/new bliss.” For sake of example I’ve chosen to focus on the spiritual, social and psychological life of the person apart from Jesus (these are just examples, it would have to be nuanced for the context).
What is spiritually: You pray sometimes but don’t really know who to. You think of yourself as ‘spiritual’ but don’t know what that really means. Death seems hopeless – you don’t really know what to think.
What could be spiritually: You get to call God “Father”. No more spiritual vagueness – you can be filled with the Holy Spirit who enables you to grow in wisdom and understanding of the Bible. You can be sure of your eternal life.
What is socially: While you have one or two good friends, and they’re alright, you really want meaningful relationships.
What could be socially: You enter the Jesus community and become brothers and sisters with other Christians. In the church everyone is (supposed to be) trying to grow in Christ-likeness – trying to be other person centred and sacrificial. This is a community that is seeking to be loving, generous and non-judgmental. But the church is not a community of perfect people. On the contrary, churches are filled with people as flawed as you are. But God is at work amongst them.
What is psychologically: You try and be a good person to be accepted in society, but you know you can never really make it. You feel insecure in your purpose in life.
What could be psychologically: You don’t have to try and be a good person anymore because Jesus has made you righteous by taking a way your sin and providing forgiveness and a new life.
THE NEW BLISS: You could demonstrate the reality of this with a live testimony of a normal everyday person who responded to Jesus call and found new life.
The challenge would be to bounce back and forth and get excited yourself. Just as Steve Jobs did when he first launched the iPhone or when Martin Luther King Junior did when he spoke that famous day from the Lincoln Memorial, or when Jesus spoke in his sermon on the mount.
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.