Extraordinary Communication: Sermons that Go Beyond Ordinary
- Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Jim Collins' best-selling book Good to Great has challenged countless people to take their businesses to the next level. Our challenge as pastors is to take our preaching from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Extraordinary communication has little to do with speaking skills, educational background or preparation. It has everything to do with God showing up. The words of Jesus are impossible to misinterpret: "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). What is it about the word "nothing" that we so often have trouble understanding?
Like most pastors, I have been on both ends of the spectrum many times in my three decades of preaching. I recall numerous times when my sermon had all of the earmarks of "great" preaching that you learn in seminary — a gripping introduction, a creative outline, personal illustrations and a call to respond. And yet, when I preached the sermon, it felt powerless.
In the end, my preaching did little more than consume 30 or 40 minutes of time that could have been spent watching football. No power. No lasting change in the hearts of people. No spiritual victories. Many times, I have felt as if I were trying to push a train with a piece of spaghetti - expending maximum effort but going nowhere fast.
Of course, I never could have made it through those 30 years if it were not also for those times when I felt God's unique activity, His special presence at work in the place where I was preaching. It is that distinct sense that more is happening than just my delivering of words. Rather, God is choosing to accompany the preaching with His special touch or, in the words of C.H. Spurgeon, "The sacred anointing" (C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, in three volumes, first series, Passmore and Alabaster, 1881, Zondervan, 1980).
D. Martin Lloyd-Jones used a phrase I like even better. He describes this special touch as sensing "the smile of God."(D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival, Westchester: Crossway Books, 1987, p. 295). Simply put, this occurs when you feel as if Jesus Christ himself is doing the preaching, and you just happen to be the closest mouth for him to use.
I recently felt "God's smile". It was a Sunday like any other. The worship was great, but it always is. The room was electric with excitement, but this also is normal. I was well-prepared, coming off a great week of study and prayer over my message, but these are my regular habits. In other words, as I reflect on this morning, nothing about it was extraordinary.
But when I stood to preach, I quickly realized this was to be no ordinary Sunday. God began descending on us just 15 seconds into the sermon, one of my staff pastors later remarked. I felt an immediate freedom and authority to communicate God's message that transcended my normal experience. A power welled up from inside my soul that broke through many of the usual barriers of human communication. Fearlessness, conviction and urgency were coupled with love, brokenness and humility.
I realized God owned my heart -- and the congregations heart -- that morning. It seemed that God energized every word I spoke. I could see, hear and feel the effect on the congregation. They were with me not only physically but spiritually and emotionally as well. Many were visibly broken and moved, while I was consumed with the response and testimony of God's work that morning.
That experience, which in many ways was beyond description, can be summed up in three short words: God showed up.
After you have experienced "God's smile" in preaching, you dread not sensing it.
So how do you go about regularly experiencing this power in preaching? Well, first and foremost, this is God's sovereign domain. You cannot calculate when He can or should empower your preaching.
God reserves the right to bless or not bless our preaching according to His will and purpose. Empowered preaching is not simply the result of the right use of the right means. In other words, it's not just 1 plus 1 always equaling 2. In God's math, empowered preaching is the result of being down under God; not only in our preaching but in our entire life.
When you realize God is the pastor-teacher of your church and that you are merely His instrument, it changes everything. Getting under God is simply the process by which you acknowledge, pray and model the fact that without God's special touch, your preaching is powerless. It's when you tangibly demonstrate that your talents, gifts, creativity, knowledge and even your passion are not enough to break through to people's lives.
My experience has been that the further down under God I am, the more powerful and effective my preaching becomes. It's ironic, but the more I make God central, the more profoundly He chooses to use my preaching to minister His grace. It's also been my experience that the further down under God I am, the more God rattles the gates of hell, bringing about spiritual victories through the means of preaching.
I have discovered at least five paths to getting down under God. These are not in any way formulaic but are patterns to tune your heart and life into the centrality of God in preaching. They are:
- Preach out of your core identity as shepherd
- Value dependence on God more than mechanics
- Pray for God's "sacred anointing"
- Seek to be filled with God
- Aim for God's pleasure in preaching
Again, I caution against putting God in a box and relying on a formula to tap into His power. But I firmly believe that as we understand and practice these principles, we can truly move our communication from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
E. Glenn Wagner is the founder and president of FutureLead (www.futurelead.org), an organization committed to equipping people to live and lead with purpose, passion and power. He's the author of numerous books including, God: An Honest Conversation for the Undecided (Waterbrook Press) and his latest book, Fire In Your Bones (Life Bridge). To schedule Glenn to speak or for more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original publication date: October 21, 2009
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