ICYMI: Why 'The Craft'?

How did your sermon go this past Sunday? Were you clear? Were you compelling? Did your introductory story hit hard like you wanted it to? Do you wish you could take back that 5 minute rabbit trail you went on? These questions and a hundred like them run through the minds of preachers each time they step out of the pulpit. It seems preachers never stop asking these questions. At some point preachers realize they can't answer these questions in a satisfying way. 

Sure, it feels good when someone points out something in your sermon that really helped them. It feels terrible when someone points out that you bored them. It feels weird when someone got something from your sermon you didn't intend to give. But all of this feedback generally fades away. It fades away because it does not substantially impact your craft of preaching. You still may not know why one sermon connected with listeners so well and another one did not.

Preachers do not generally know how clear and compelling they are in the pulpit. It takes an outside voice to let you know what you're preaching is like. This preacher may have never known how much needed to be cut from his sermon without objective feedback:

They remember (some of) the preaching principles they learned in their homiletics classes, have read a few books on preaching, listened to some lectures, and used online tools, but they simply do not know what a given sermon is like for listeners. Until now, preaching resources have focused on the front end of preaching, preparing a sermon. The Craft is focusing on the back end, looking at what you actually said, because we all know there can be a huge difference between what you intended to say and what you actually said.  

The Craft offers objective feedback according to widely-accepted preaching principles. We exist to meet the need all preachers face, the need for substantial, helpful feedback based on proven communication principles. Tim Keller has said, "If you were able to get...quite a bit of feedback about your preaching, it would change your life." We are out to help change the lives of those who want change.  

Some preachers try to analyze their own sermons. They listen to a little bit of the audio/video of their sermons, wince when they hear their voice, wonder when they gained weight and then move on to prepare a new sermon. Some have sought the help of their spouse, only to realize she is exhausted by the process and is not like the average listener. Others have quickly learned that some church-members either have nothing but positive things to say, nothing but negative things to say, or nothing to say at all. 

The Craft is here to change all of that. We use a blueprint of well-worn preaching and communication principles to objectively and respectfully analyze your sermons to help you hone your craft of preaching. We show you what you said, how you said it, if you were clear and compelling, and a lot more. Our analyses leave you in control of how to prepare future sermons in your own unique style and voice. Your craft is preaching. We're here to help.

Learn more about what we do here.  

Sermon Weaving

Ever so often in a movie when the bad guy is chasing a good guy, the good guy confuses the bad guy or creates a diversion by doing something like throwing sand at the bad guy; or maybe the good guy uses a fire extinguisher on the bad guy. You may not have realized it at the time, but those scenes were trying to teach you something about preaching: if you want to confuse listeners, toss sand at them. If you want to make your sermon clear and compelling, giving them a single object to catch.   

Multiple tools must be employed to create unified sermons that are delivered to listeners in a clear, laser-focused way. Here we'd like to offer one simple, but not always so easy way to unify your sermons from beginning to end. We call it sermon weaving. Sermon weaving is the art of weaving throughout your sermon, from the introduction to the close, similar terminology. Sermon weaving is about using key words and/or phrases throughout your sermon for two reasons. First, it will keep you focused. Secondly, it will make your sermon a single object for listeners to grasp.

Sermon weaving is one of those final touches on a sermon. When you have done your exegetical work in your text and structured the delivery of your sermon, it is time to get into the nuts and bolts of the language you use. It is time to sermon weave, if it has not already naturally happened. Here is what sermon weaving can look like. 

Let's say your sermon can be summarized as, "Jesus lived a perfect life to give us His perfect record." That is a concise, simple summary statement that an entire sermon can revolve around. Key terminology would be "perfect life," "give us," and "perfect record". The preacher has two options: intentionally uses words/phrases that make up that sentence throughout his sermon or uses whatever words/phrases come to mind to explain that big idea. 

Let's say no intentional sermon weaving occurred in preparation. So, throughout the sermon the preacher used "righteous living," "sinless lifestyle," "life without rebellion," and "obeyed completely" to describe "perfect life." He used "gift us with," "bless us with," and "hand over to us" for "give us". And so on and so forth. Get the idea? Different terms and phrases are used throughout the sermon to describe a single idea. These different phrases are used at different times when explaining the biblical texts or using illustration.

Now imagine a preacher realized his summary statement for his sermon. Then he realized he could use the key terminology multiple times so that listeners could easily see that the entire sermon was preaching a single, main idea from the main text. Instead of describing "perfect life" in multiple ways he intentionally used the phrase "perfect life". This does not mean at some point he can't use multiple words and phrases to initially define "perfect life". It means that he does not continually describe that truth in multiple, random ways. Once a definition is given, a single phrase is used to unify the sermon.

Practically, this can mean that when a story is used as an illustration, the preacher intentionally uses key terminology, to keep building the single, main idea. Continuing with the sermon-in-a-sentence we used above, let's say the preacher tells a story of a U.S. marine who jumped on a live grenade to save the other marines around him. The preacher could say:

"The marine sacrificed himself for his brothers around him."

But to weave key terminology he could say: 

"The marine gave his life for his brothers around him."   

The first sentence leaves it up to the listeners to make the connections, which sometimes may be really easy and other times difficult. The second sentence, which intentionally weaves key terminology from the sermon, ensures every single listener is shown the point of the illustration. They hear it explicitly. It is clear. No extra work on the part of a listener is needed.  

Sermon weaving is about seeing your craft of preaching, down to the details, as invaluable. It is about taking the time, even if it takes only 15 minutes, to make sure everything in your sermon is unified and clear for listeners. Sermon weaving can make the difference in most people understanding the point of the sermon and most people having to figure it out on their own.

Here is a practical tip: when you have your final sermon notes, whether that is a transcript or outline or something in between, color-code your summary sentence's key terminology. Then, go through your notes and highlight in the appropriate color each time key terminology pops up. You will be able to see, literally, if key terminology weaves throughout your sermon. If they don't, you may want to go back through and change how you say things for the purpose of clarity and unity .

Happy sermon weaving!  


When Preaching Feels Like Running in Sand

Those of you with kids already understand what this blog post is about. Have you ever been to dinner with your kids and one of them wanders away from the table? It happens all of the time. Your child (or children) wander off from the table and make their way to the busiest part of the restaurant where waiters/waitresses are buzzing around to serve guests. You see this and begin to call them, "Johnny! Come back here!" 

Little Johnny turns around and you can see his mind-wheels turning. "I'm free," he thinks. "Do I want to go back to the table? Of course not. But Dad has commanded me to." While Johnny is in deep thought Dad makes another command, "Johnny, come back here right now." Johnny slowly turns away from his Dad. That second command confirmed one thing in Johnny's mind: "I'm doing the opposite of whatever Dad tells me to do. I'm free!" If Johnny was your kid, you know what happens next. He either stands still, not returning but afraid to go further. Or he just keeps going further!

In this scenario, Dad is right in calling his son to come back. We all know what happens next. Dad gets up and goes and picks Johnny up, forcing him to come back to the table. There is no other option. He needs to protect Johnny and Johnny doesn't know what is best for him.

If Dad is really in tune with what just happened, he realizes that his commands to return actually provoked Johnny to not return. Parents experience this all the time. It does not mean they should not command their kids to do certain things. It just means commands often accomplish the opposite of what we want. That is why when our kids are little we sometimes have to forcibly pick them up and carry them back to safety.

You may not realize it yet, but your preaching may be a lot like this all-too-real illustration. Could it be that your preaching is accomplishing the opposite of what you want? You want your church to be holy as God is holy, to love each other, to be on mission, and to worship God with all their hearts. In order to see that dream become a reality, you call them to those things. "Church, be holy. Love each other. Worship God with all you are." These calls characterize your whole preaching ministry. The goal is holy living and the tool is commands to live holy.

But you notice your church is not progressing quite like you think they should. If you're honest, you are not progressing like you think you should. Why is that? Why are the calls to holy living and neighbor loving not bringing forth holy living and neighbor loving? Well, think about your parenting. Why is it that commanding your kids to do something sometimes results in the opposite? Why is it that the famous Dad-lecture does not carry the power you wish it did? Why is it that sometimes commands to do something sometimes even provoke the opposite lifestyle of the command?

The short and sweet answer: commands do not have the power to change us. If they did, marriages would never fail. When a husband seems to be letting go of his love for his wife, all she would have to do is look at him in the face and say, "Love me!" and, magically, his heart would be filled with love for her. When a child is doing something she shouldn't do, all her mother or father would have to do is say, "Obey me," and at once the child would obey her parents perfectly.

But that is not how commands work, even God's commands in the Bible. The Bible contains many commands from God that we are accountable to live by. Yet, not only do we often disobey God, His commands even provoke us to want to disobey just for the sake of disobedience. We think obedience is slavery and thus we must disobey, no matter what, to be free! We are all little-Johnny's. We are the problem.

This is why the effect of a preaching ministry that solely challenges, commands, and calls listeners to action by way of God's Law or even a preaching ministry that majors on God's Law above all else actually produces the opposite of the desired effect. This is why preachers who major on the Law, rather than the Gospel, feel like preaching is running in sand.

God's Law does not bring about heart-change, making listeners love God and neighbor. "The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives me to despair" (Martin Luther). A weekly majoring on the Law or exclusive law-preaching will exhaust and provoke listeners (including the preacher). Reflecting on his earlier preaching, which he felt accomplished the exact opposite of what he wanted, Bryan Chapell says, "Week after week, I told imperfect people in my church to 'do better.' But this drumbeat for improvement, devoid of the encouragements and empowerments of grace, actually undermined the holiness that I was seeking to exhort. When God's people hear only the imperatives of the Word, they are forced to conclude that their righteousness is a product of their efforts" (XI).

Your law-heavy sermons, devoid of majoring on the gospel or preaching the gospel at all, are not accomplishing what you want. A law-centered preaching ministry does one of two things: it provokes listeners further into disobedience or it produces self-righteous listeners who think they have no need for a Savior.

If the Bible only contained the Law, we would all be doomed. We would continue to do what we have done ever since the Law was given: rebel. Adam and Eve rebelled, Israel rebelled, and you and I rebel. But the Bible contains a better word. A word that saves us and sanctifies us. The Law shows us our need, the Gospel provides our necessary Savior. The Law shows us how to live, the Gospel changes our hearts to want to live according to the Law (though still significantly short of the glory of God until glory). 

Your listeners need a preacher who majors on the Gospel. Your listeners need a preacher who gives them Good News continually. They need to hear that they are not saved by their strict obedience. They need to hear that God loves them on the basis of Christ, not their holy living. They need to hear how to live godly lives but they need to hear that God loves and has mercy on the ungodly.

Beat the drum of the gospel over and over and you might just find that your listeners will want to live according to the Law.