Sermon Delivery

In this episode of Proclaiming Christ the panel considers sermon delivery. We discuss things like: whether to use a manuscript or not, sermon application, resources, and things not to do while preaching. Please join us by listening along. We invite you to share your thoughts, questions, and comments.

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Proclaiming Christ is an audio program focused upon biblical preaching. In each episode we will discuss the process, method, and goals of preaching biblical texts from a uniquely Reformed perspective. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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Mark G

7 years ago

I am not a preacher but I have given hundreds of lectures to college students, scientific presentations and taught Sunday School classes. You made many good practical points. One difficulty I find for myself is that it is easy to get excited about your material and let that zeal cause you to shoot way over your listener’s heads.

One of the most useful experiences I’ve had was to present science classes to grade school children. That really forced me to evaluate my audience and focus on communication rather than merely on my delivery.

This gave me a perhaps crazy idea. I wonder if it could be useful to occassionaly set up a special time to preach just to the children in your congregations. Since I think we all believe children should be participants in the formal worship, it seems to me this could be a very interesting and useful excercise, not only for the preacher, but also for the children. …just a thought that popped into my head.

Mark Winder

7 years ago

Hello Mark,

Thanks for your comments. A great topic. One of the continual challenges for many ministers is the fact that you are preaching to feed a flock that includes every age group from those just learning to form words to those with postgraduate degrees in theology. How do you feed both intellectual giant and the infant at the same time?

There are several approaches. The one that you outlined in your final paragraph isn’t such a crazy idea. I have seen several churches who have a “children’s moment” or something equivalent. Some object to that in worship, but for others it presents a viable option. Another approach is for the minister to devote a few minutes of his sermon – whether it is a separate segment or not – to addressing the children particularly. Perhaps taking the overall theme of his sermon and repeating it in non-technical language with some helpful illustrations. My own preference (and I do not preach to many very young people) is to make sure that a more difficult word is immediately defined – so that the child hears both the technical term, and also an explanation of it. Another thing that I have found helpful is something I mentioned in one of the broadcasts. I finish my sermon by Thursday evening, don’t look at it Friday or Saturday, and on Sunday morning I break it out again and go over it. After not having seen it for two days I view the material from a fresh perspective – perhaps a little more like the congregation will see it. I am able to identify areas where I have not been clear – because I have been so immersed in the subject I have assumed connections which the congregation will never make. By looking at it afresh early Sunday morning I view the sermon material from the outside looking in. Quite often I find myself rearranging things and filling in gaps – barriers to comprehension. I know this doesn’t work for everyone.

There are many other things which can be done as well. Like you mentioned, it is a great idea for a minister to teach children’s Sunday School. If you can’t communicate the biblical truth of a sermon in basic language, then you probably can’t communicated it adequately at all. It is a great way not only to get to know your congregation, but to understand how children think and how to incorporate that into your sermon delivery. One other important element of children’s comprehension – and in my opinion the most important element – is that of the parents. Impressing upon parents the importance of discussing the sermon with their children. Children will learn much more from their parents talking over the material with them then they will in a 30 minute sermon, where they are squirming about and the victim of every imaginable distraction. Parents should explain technical terms. Perhaps even use the sermon as their material for their family Bible study. They should also encourage children to ask questions of the pastor.

I do take comfort in the fact that God’s word will do what God intends. One does not need to eat everything on his plate to be nourished by the meal. Perhaps a young child may comprehend only 20% of what you give him – but that 20% will lay the foundation for further understanding in the years to come.

Mark G

7 years ago

Thank you, Mark.

Very good. I remember once our pastor asked the children if anyone could tell him what “imputation” meant. One of the children said “That is like in the civil war when they cut off people’s arms and legs.” I can’t help but think that would even make God smile … or perhaps a hearty laughter.

Frank Aderholdt

7 years ago

I am listening regularly to this series, even though I am a Ruling Elder (PCA) and not a preacher. I am an RTS graduate (’73) and have followed Reformed and Calvinistic preaching carefully for over forty years. Besides the sermons at my local church, I usually listen to or read several other sermons a week.

I hate to sound negative, but some of what I heard in this episode reveals what’s wrong with current Reformed preaching. I’m thinking particularly of application, which today is in a lamentable state. I’ll go out on a limb and lay this problem at the feet of the infatuation with Biblical Theology. I found it very telling that shortly after the discussion turned to application, the group veered off into waxing eloquent about Biblical Theology In my opinion, BT is highly overrated and often deals a deadly blow to close, heartfelt, searching, personal application. Compared to the preaching of the Puritans and certain preachers of the past fifty years, there is practically NO application in many Reformed sermons.

Of course I’m speaking in generalities here, and I haven’t heard any of the hosts’ sermons. I have heard much preaching, however, that sought to present Christ from the text but which came across as forced, formulaic, and what’s worse, cold, distant, and impersonal.

On a much more positive note, I greatly appreciated the advice on introductions ,stories and illustrations. This was right on target. Personally, I prefer the “plunge right in” approach of John Calvin. Why prepare the table when they’re already seated for the meal? (I realize that may be idiosyncratic with me and might not be best for everyone.)

Thank you for the new series and for allowoing me to vent. Please realize that there’s much, more more to application than is dreamt of in many a Reformed preacher’s philosophy.

Adam York

7 years ago

Hi Frank. Glad to hear you are following our discussion. I don’t think any one on our panel would disagree with you that application is absolutely necessary to faithfully preach the text. Actually, I think that at one point in the discussion I acknowledged that a common criticism against preaching which attempts to be Biblically Theologically minded is that it is not appropriately applicatory, and I agreed that sometimes this criticism is deserved. If there are failings with such preachers, I don’t think that it’s because they are too Biblically Theologically oriented, but rather they have an incorrect view of what Biblical Theology is and it’s implications for preaching. As an analogy, I have met some really harsh and ungracious Calvinists, but I don’t think the answer is for them to give up Calvinism. Rather, they should give up the belief that their understanding of the doctrine of grace entitles them to be harsh and ungracious to those who have not yet come to fully understand the Bible’s teaching on these matters.

Also, as a follow up, please know that for our panel the question is never whether to apply or not to apply. As previously stated, faithful biblical preaching must have an applicatory element to it. I think our only concern about application was to make sure that the preacher should make every effort to make sure that his application is warranted by the text he is preaching. This should not only be a concern for those with an appreciation of Biblical Theology, but for everyone who who wants to preach in a way consistent with the Reformed understanding of sola scriptura.

Frank Aderholdt

7 years ago

Thank you, Adam, for your gracious reply.

One of the problems with blogs is that usually we must speak in general terms. I’ve complained about the lack of specifics in blog posts before, and now I find myself guilty of the same thing! It’s the nature of the beast, I guess.

In my opinion, contemporary confessional Reformed preaching is good to very good at: Basic exegesis; expounding the redemptive-historical context; preaching Christ legitimately from the text; appropriate use of illustration; clarity of organization. One might be tempted to say, Isn’t that enough? Well, it’s a great blessing, and certainly Christ is exalted and the saints edified. But the final step – deep and broad application – is generally lacking. Most of the application I hear today strikes me as merely surface, rather obvious and often just a restatement of the text rather than an application of it.

But that’s too vague! Guilty as charged. Here’s a stab at a couple of examples. Hebrews 11:3 – How can a preacher fail to make reference to godless evolutionary theory, which directly contradicts Biblical truth and makes impossible the faith of verse 1? This can be done in less than sixty seconds, and will show the congregation (as all good application does) how Scripture relates to the world around them and to their own lives. Hebrews 12:3-4 – A bit more of a stretch, but you can see what I’m trying to do. These verses, and the entire first part of the chapter, give the lie to the “health and wealth Gospel.” Prosperity preachers inhabit a world contradictory to that of Hebrews 12. They promise what God has not promised, and deny what God has revealed. And here’s how their teaching destroys the true Christian life . . .

A good rule of thumb to remember when considering application is, “Examples, please!” Don’t just state the principle; flesh it out with a specific example. If there was ever a hanging curve begging to be hit out of the park in this regard, it’s Romans 12:1-2. Yet I’ve heard sermons that exegeted these verses beautifully but failed to give even one concrete example of what it means to obey this exhortation.

I often give younger preachers this counsel: “When you’ve finished your sermon preparation, including the application, then you’re ready to begin the application.”(I turned 65 last month, so I have a vast potential audience of younger preachers!) I expect and often receive blank stares. I’m just trying to plant little seeds here and there.

The time is right, I believe, for a major work on application in preaching from a top-flight scholar who is also an excellent preacher (and even better, a seasoned pastor, too). I know of no such work in our generation. I long for the day when this book, and others like it, will sit on the preacher’s shelf beside the great exegetical commentaries, the works of Vos, Clowney, et al, and the fine volumes on Christ-centered and Gospel-centered preaching.

Thank you again, guys, for your new podcast. May it go from strength to strength! God bless.

Mark Winder

7 years ago

Hello Frank,

Thank you very much for listening, and I do hope you find the program to be beneficial. I appreciate your comments, and your encouragement regarding application. I regret that your experience in many reformed churches has found application to be wanting. This may be because of an emphasis on biblical theology, but I am not sure what distinctive of biblical theology would exclude application. Perhaps it may be attributed simply to lack of ability or conviction of its necessity.

There is no doubt that there are some BT preachers who have little regard for application. It is also true that some less BT preachers have been given to personal application without textual exploration. But I don’t attribute overzealous application to a love for the Puritans. That’s a brush too broad. It seems to me that certain BT preachers have become banners for a stereotype – a broad brush which paints all who see Scripture from a BT perspective. This is one of the reasons why it is nice to try to avoid labels, as you get all the sticky stuff that comes with them. But it is not always, or even often, warranted. I remember a fairly well-known author of a book critiquing redemptive historical preaching admitting to one of his literary victims that he had never actually listened to a redemptive historical sermon. For my part, I once had a visitor comment that he had expected my sermon to be devoid of application. But he was pleasantly surprised and told me that another redemptive historical preacher and I formed exceptions to the rule that BT guys don’t do application. When I asked him how many redemptive historical preachers he had heard, it turned out just to be the two of us.

Perhaps – at least in this broadcast – we are victims of this stereotype. Each of us affirmed the necessity of application. It is in both Scripture and our standards. In the interest of brevity of the broadcast we gave it only about 15% of our broadcast time. But there are other topics perhaps just as crucial which were necessary to leave out altogether. For my part, I do not claim to be an evangelist for BT preaching, or any other label. In fact, there is quite a diversity among us, as will surely come out pretty early on in our study of Genesis. It is true that there is some unity as we are, as Adam mentioned in the first broadcast, “tracking” in a BT direction, but we do not intend this to be a broadcast extolling the virtues of a redemptive historical perspective that militates against any other view. My hope is that what you will find is a desire to be faithful to the “only infallible rule” of the interpretation of Scripture – Scripture itself. I hope you will continue to listen, and after we dig into the text perhaps some of the application may come to the fore. In our upcoming episodes in Genesis it could very well be that there will be a bit of a shortage of application. But for my part, let me assure you that this shortage does not come from an aversion to it, but from the fact that specific application is best employed in a specific congregation. As the program focuses on exegesis and Proclaiming Christ, this is where we will probably spend most of our time. But your continued feedback is appreciated. Perhaps there will be obvious examples of application that we may miss, and which would be helpful to us, and to the listeners.

I suppose the real matter is what one would consider to be “application.” There are enough resources in print and online that we don’t need to go into all the details of the “application debate,” but the examples you provide from Hebrews 11:3 and Hebrews 12 seem to me to be valid and warranted. In my own sermons on Genesis – though I am far from being a model of application in preaching – there were several places in the first three chapters which directly address myths contemporary to the Israelites. One would have to be almost blind not to make the connection to the myths of our own day (i.e. Darwinism, various other worldviews). When preaching about the story of Lot, I can’t imagine how one would get through the text – and there’s plenty of goodies for the BT folks there – without making application out of the consequences of sin in Lot’s life. The common grace situation of Abraham makes application abound. But again, the rub may come in what one considers to be “application.” I do not believe that application means inventing a multiplicity of practical situations which are not addressed in the text. Or laying out a fresh duty each week. Or constructing pseudo-scenarios for the congregation to role play in their minds. I strongly believe both in the indicative and the imperative. But I am also convinced that I have no authority to create imperatives where Scripture is silent. Sometimes the imperative is “simply” to wait patiently for Christ’s coming. In my opinion, many a well-meaning preacher has laid out a series of mandates intended to stab the conscience of the listener – but not with the sword of the Word. I find this to be more problematic than those who say that it is the minister’s job to give a general application and the Holy Spirit’s job to give specific applications.

Let me also say that I appreciate your passion for application. It is indeed something at which I wish I was better – along with illustrations. It is something that I hope will be a continual project in my own preaching. I especially appreciate your second to last paragraph: “the time is right, I believe, for a major work on application in preaching from a top – flight scholar (who is also an excellent preacher).” It would be on my shelf right next to Vos, as you suggest.

Adam York

7 years ago

Thanks for chiming in Mark! Frank, I had a nasty fall off my bike after posting my previous comment and I can’t type very well right now, so I asked Mark to chime in and try and provide some feedback. Thanks to both of you all.

Dave Moser

7 years ago

So much great info. I’d love to see show notes on some of the resources mentioned (especially the online ones)!

Mark Winder

7 years ago

Hello Dave,

Thanks for listening. I’m having fun doing this broadcast, and if listeners have half as much fun, it will be a success.

Here are some of the resources mentioned. You couldn’t actually hear me say this first one, it was squelched by internet squawk:

Print – Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath

Print – Preaching and Biblical Theology by Edmund Clowney

Print – Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures by Dennis Johnson

Online – Building the Biblical Theological Sermon by James Dennison

Print – Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament by Greg Beale

Print – A New Testament Biblical Theology by Greg Beale

Print – The Temple and the Church’s Mission by Greg Beale

Print – Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored by Michael Brown and Zach Keele

Online – The Theological Journal Library – available as a CD or an online subscription:

Online – http://www.jstore.com – I’m not familiar with this one. Adam mentioned it – not absolutely sure this is the right site.

Print – Sola Scriptura: Problems and Principles in Preaching Historical Texts by Sidney Greidanus

Print – Preaching Christ: the Heart of Gospel Ministry by Charles McIlvaine

Print – Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon

Online – The Ordained Servant, Greg Reynolds (ed.)

Print – Why Johnny Can’t Preach by T. David Gordon

Hope you might find some of these helpful!


Adam York

7 years ago

Thanks for the resource list Mark! One correction. The reference I made was to jstor.org.

The free JSTOR article program I mentioned on the podcast was only something that I had read about and not used. After looking into it a little more, it looks a little restrictive, and so I’m not sure how much use it will be. People can find out more about this free option here: http://about.jstor.org/rr If you have access to a library (usually a university or seminary) which has a JSTOR subscription, you can get access to many more articles.

Mark Winder

7 years ago

Also mentioned:

Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages by Haddon Robinson

Dave Moser

7 years ago

Wow Mark you went above and beyond on this one. Thanks!

Mark G

7 years ago

There are lots of good thoughts here and in the program. However, I think one of the most daunting prospects that the preacher/pastor must face is that we live in a culture which trains us to think individualistically, pragmatically, and materialistically (in the sense of what can be acquired by the natural senses alone). Unfortunately, this adversely affects (or perhaps infects would be a better word) the life of the church and preaching. Whereas Scripture calls us to be counter-cultural all to often the church is much more like the world & flesh than it is heavenly minded & Spiritual. I think the preacher who really strives preach biblically is going to be swimming against these currents and that may sometimes be underappreciated and unappreciated even by church folk. For example, in the context of application, many times what I hear when people say they want something “practical” what they’re really saying is they want something pragmatic, i.e., something that truly works, produces results. They really want something that brings success, removes suffering, and makes life more comfortable in “this present evil age.” They do not want to hear that Jesus is seated in the heavenly holy of holies interceding for them. That just does not work.

Philip Walker

7 years ago

“Sometimes the imperative is “simply” to wait patiently for Christ’s coming.”

I think is quite right. I find a lot of people who complain about a lack of application (not meaning Frank A) are often expecting application to look a particular way, and haven’t thought through whether, for example, “rejoice in your justification in Christ” or “wait patiently for he is yet coming” is a valid application. If someone’s view of applications is a “to do list”, then it’s no surprise that they think many BT sermons lack application. But the fault is in the expectation and not the sermon.

On JSTOR (and academic articles from elsewhere) — since these are almost invariably downloadable .pdfs, you can also use your network of contacts. Not that I’m suggesting people breach copyright terms, you understand, nothing of that sort whatsoever. 😉

Jeff Downs

7 years ago

I would highly recommend John Carrick’s Imperative of Preaching.


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