Ok, let’s talk about style and form in preaching.
There are a number of different types of preaching, allow me to briefly define them and tell you where I land. I am grateful for Mark Driscoll’s book: “Vintage Church” (a worthwhile read by the way) for his summaries on the types. What appears here are my summaries with some insight from Driscoll.
Expository Sermons – these are sermons that go verse by verse through a book of the Bible. While the Bible doesn’t command or even really illustrate this style it is a great style for the following reasons: it ensures that the preacher doesn’t just preach his “pets”. Meaning, by going through a book of the Bible we cover the whole counsel of God, even the challenging parts of Scripture. It also makes it easier to follow and prepare since we’re not going all over the Bible the participant knows what we’re doing next week and can read ahead.
Topical Sermons – these are sermons where you take Scripture from throughout the Bible that speak on a particular issue and bring to light God’s view on that issue. Doctrinal studies are an example of this since to form a “doctrine” and way of thinking we need to see what the Bible says about it, not just one verse or even one book of the Bible. To me, this is one of the most difficult kinds of preaching because in order to do justice, you really need to study and know what each verse is saying in it’s context. For example, if I wanted to preach a sermon on “pain” and I was going to use 5 different verses on the topic, I would need to study each verse where it appears in the Bible and make sure that that verse is speaking to the issue at hand. Too often people take a verse and don’t do the study and they end up using a verse out of context. So in order to do topical preaching well, instead of studying one section of the BIble (as in expository) it actually requires studying 5 different passages (albeit on a smaller scale).
Textual Sermons – This type actually is inbetween expository and topical. It’s preaching on one section of Scripture within a book of the Bible without preaching the whole book. For example it’s taking 12 verses from Ephesians 4 and exegeting the Scripture without taking 8 weeks to teach the whole book of Ephesians. It allows the speaker to link Scriptures together and show themes from the Bible in a way that is easier to follow along (since we’re not jumping throughout the Bible). It also allows for 4-8 week blocks of sermons as opposed to a much longer series.
Narrative Sermons – these are sermons that are true to the “story” of the Bible. Much of the Bible is written in narrative form (book of Ruth, much of the Gospels, Genesis etc) In order to be true to the literature type it’s not wise to try to break apart one verse in the narrative without telling the story. Often in Biblical stories the point isn’t found in one verse but in understanding the story as a whole and how it fits into the larger story of God.
OK, so where do I land?
Well, this may sound like a cop-out but I actually use all 4 forms/ styles. I see enough strengths with each and enough weaknesses with each that rotating through the styles actually keeps me fresh and I think serves our church well. I’m a pretty eclectic guy anyway so using more than one style fits who I am. I also think our church needs a “balanced diet” biblically speaking. There are topics we need to address, texts (but not entire books) we need to examine, books of the Bible we need to work through and narrative stories that speak into our worlds. Last fall we did an expository study through Colossians and we’ve been working through Acts every January for the past 3 years in an expository/ narrative style. Typically each Easter we’ve kicked of a topical series, although this past Easter we did “Help Wanted”, which actually included topical and narrative style preaching since we did stories from the Bible (Ruth, David, Job etc). We are currently in a textual series examining the elements of a church. Each week has included a primary text that we’ve worked through while supplementing it with a verse here or there that fit with the theme.
Presentation style is a different issue. Every preacher (hopefully) has developed a unique style that fits who they are and the people they are called to communicate to. I’ve been wrestling with the development of my presentation style to be honest. For the first 2 years plus, I’ve primarily shared from a pulpit while coming from behind it to connect with people. I’ve experimented with preaching from a stool, using a table etc. Lately, I’ve been using a more “extemporaneous/ conversational” style which seems to be more closely fitting with who I am. When I started out with this style (in April 2009) I started using some notes projected on the back wall but I found that distracting and difficult to use, so lately I’ve just been trying to memorize an outline, study like crazy and then share as God leads on Sunday with a few limited notes on my table for reference sake.
I really enjoy both the art and science of preaching. It’s one of the “loves” of my role here. I always wish I had more time to study and develop messages (I typically get about 20 hours or so), but I also need time to do another one of my “loves” in this role (leading and coaching).
More on preaching at Grace Church coming up in part 3 – check back!