Douglas Jacobs is a professor of Preaching and Church Ministry at Southern Adventist University, in Collegedale, Tennessee. The son of missionary parents, he grew up in Pakistan, attended High School in India, served as a student missionary in Bangladesh, and has conducted evangelistic meetings in the Philippines, Pakistan, and Honduras. Before joining SAU’s School of Religion in 2002, he served for 26 years as a pastor in the Florida Conference. His Doctor of Ministries studies at Andrews University explored the theological foundations of the Adventist doctrine of health. He is currently completing his Thesis-Report for a second D. Min. in Homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on the subject of preaching to older church members. Dr. Jacobs is married to Lanell and they have two daughters, Janell and Katie. He is passionate about helping pastors and lay members develop their preaching skills. He has conducted preaching seminars for pastors and elders in the United States and Canada.
WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF PREACHING THE WORD OF GOD?
When you preach, you are sharing God’s Word with God’s people. As Paul told the Thessalonians: “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:1).
Remember that it was through words that God created our world. What a privilege preachers have to share God’s creative, life-transforming Word!
SHARE A DEFINITION OF BIBLICAL PREACHING.
Adventists see a definition of Biblical preaching in Revelation 14:6: “Then I saw another angel flying in midair and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth.” When we preach, we are really communicating to others the eternal Gospel, the Good News about Salvation.
WHERE DO YOU START WHEN PREPARING A SERMON?
The foundation for any sermon must be a passage or passages from the Bible. The Word of God gives us authority to stand up and speak. We have the promise of the Holy Spirit to help us interpret the Word of God. So I can confidently preach, even if I haven’t taken a class in preaching, if I simply share a message based on a Bible passage which I’ve studied under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
BUT HOW DOES ONE DECIDE WHICH BIBLE PASSAGE TO USE?
Recently I had the opportunity to talk with United States Senate Chaplain and Adventist preacher Dr. Barry Black. He told me, “The starting point of a sermon doesn’t have to be the Bible, but every sermon needs God’s Word as an anchor. Sometimes the precipitating spark of the sermon may be a need discovered in your pastoral outreach. Then you should find a Bible verse or passage that addresses that need.”
As Chaplain Black suggested, listen to your audience by asking them about their needs. Ask what issues the youth are facing, what challenges young families are having, or what fears the older members of your church are experiencing. Then find biblical passages which answer their questions or concerns. You must also listen to God’s voice when selecting a passage for your sermon. One way I listen to God is by journaling. You don’t have to be a theological professor to do this; just read the Bible and write down your thoughts. As you read and journal, the Holy Spirit will point out preaching passages.
AFTER SELECTING A PASSAGE, HOW DO YOU PREPARE THE SERMON? WHAT STEPS SHOULD YOU FOLLOW?
First, read the passage several times, writing down your questions and comments. Ask others for their insights and consult available commentaries. Use a free computer Bible program like E-sword (www.e-sword. net) and see what Ellen White has said about your passage (www.whiteestate.org).
Next, look for the passage’s central truth. What is the passage teaching? Why was it included in the Bible? Now comes the hard part; write out the central truth in a single sentence. This will focus your preaching and give it power.
Haddon Robinson, my homiletics professor, suggests using three questions to develop a passage’s one-sentence central truth into the two hundred sentences found in a half-hour sermon. Ask: 1) what in the passage will need to be explained to your listeners, 2) what will need to be proved to them, and 3) what in the passage can be applied to their lives.
When you’ve studied a passage, determined its central truth, and decided what will need explaining, proving, or applying, you are ready to make an outline, find illustrations, and write a sermon manuscript.
YOU MENTIONED SERMON ILLUSTRATIONS. HOW DO YOU ILLUSTRATE YOUR SERMONS?
Avoid illustrations from distant history or from a sermon illustration web site. These seldom work because neither you nor the audience has any connection to the illustration. The most effective illustrations picture someone or something which both the preacher and the audience have experienced. The next best illustrations come from what your listeners have experienced.
Good illustrations apply the truth of the sermon to the lives of your listeners. In 2 Kings 6:15, when Elisha’s servant discovers they are surrounded by Syrian soldiers, he cries out: “O my Lord, what shall we do?” To illustrate his fear I recently asked a congregation, “Have you felt surrounded with no way of escape? Perhaps you’ve lost your job and your debts threaten to bankrupt you . . . Or you’ve been diagnosed with an illness that endangers your health . . . Or Satan is attacking your marriage, your children, or you personally.”
After connecting my listeners’ fears with the fears of Elisha’s servant, they were ready to hear Elisha’s response as though he were speaking to them: “Don’t be afraid, those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16).
WHAT TYPE OF SERMON SUBJECTS SHOULD ONE USE?
I believe that the goal of preaching is to heal people from the disease of sin. The Greek word sozo, “to save,” also means, “to heal.” So share messages that offer healing for the sicknesses of your listeners. Such sermons will keep their interest because you are talking about their felt needs.
However, you should also speak to needs not yet felt by your congregation. My wife once took care of a patient who didn’t discover he had cancer until a week before his death. He died because he didn’t know he was sick until it was too late. The preacher has a God-given responsibility to diagnose needs his or her listeners haven’t yet discovered or problems they are purposely ignoring.
WHAT ARE DIFFERENT STYLES OF PREACHING? WHAT MAKES ONE STYLE EFFECTIVE OR INEFFECTIVE?
Topical sermons start with a topic, a doctrine or theme such as Creation, prayer, tithing, or child-rearing, and show what the Bible says about that topic. Evangelistic sermons are usually topical because each sermon covers one Bible teaching. Topical sermons work well for sermons on Bible doctrines and themes. But topical sermons can be shallow if the preacher doesn’t have time to explain each Bible text. Also, it’s easy to select texts which support your pre-conceived ideas.
Expository sermons start with a Bible text and show how the central truth of the passage can be applied to the listener. I like expository preaching because it helps me preach God’s message instead of my own. It goes deeper into the word because the sermon is based on only one or two passages, and it is more easily remembered by the audience.
WHAT DOES PREACHING MEAN TO YOU?
When God called me to preach He gave me the privilege of sharing His truth with others. What I get to share is summed up in the Hebrew word Shalom which means not only peace but wholeness and completeness. This is God’s goal for everyone. When I preach, I am sharing God’s Shalom with His people. What a wonderful privilege and an awesome responsibility!
WHAT ARE SOME MISTAKES TO AVOID?
Some sermons are merely springboards to launch the preacher’s own ideas. The point of the sermon is often not the point of the biblical passage. Or the sermon may not be based on the Bible.
Too many preachers leave out important parts of the passage because they assume the audience is familiar with the Bible. If you preach as if your audience is reading the Bible passage for the first time, your visitors and members will thank you.
Remember that each sermon should communicate one main idea. You can have a variety of ideas in the sermon but each one should be related to your sermon’s central truth.
WHICH BOOKS HAVE BEEN INFLUENTIAL FOR YOU?
If you can only buy one book, buy Haddon Robinson’s, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. 2nd. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.) Robinson’s ten-step model for sermon preparation and delivery is what I use in my preaching classes at Southern Adventist University
Preaching the stories of the Bible is a great way to reach today’s audiences.
Stephen D. Mathewson’s The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002) transformed the way I preach Bible stories. Mathewson based his book on Robinson’s ten-step model so these two books complement each other.
If you want to splurge, get The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching: A Comprehensive Resource for Today’s Communicators. (Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson, gen. eds., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005). It is a comprehensive one-voume collection of more than two hundred articles by one hundred plus writers on all areas of preaching, and it includes a CD with audio examples.
WHAT PARTING WORD OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ELDERS WHO ARE INVITED/ CALLED TO PREACH?
Share what the Holy Spirit has given you. You may not have the experience of another speaker, but you can share what your text means to you, and you will help people where the more experienced preacher cannot touch. Preaching is like cooking. While we all love an occasional meal prepared by a master chef, most of us thrive best on home cooking.
I want to thank each Elder who preaches the Word of God. Wherever I go, I meet dedicated men and women who are passionate about preaching God’s Word. May God bless you as you develop your skills in sharing His Word with others.
THE 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF ELDER’S DIGEST
To commemorate and celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of Elder’s Digest is to recognize the value and virtue that this spiritual resource has brought to the ministry of the elders in our church. It is an excellent tool that has strengthened lay leadership in the churches of the Inter-American Division and is a great supplement to the resources of our ministers. Our church is better today because of the influence of this invaluable resource over the past 15 years. Inspired vision and leadership gave birth to Elder’s Digest.
In our territory, where the multi-church pastorate is a reality, what could speak more powerfully to the needs of a pastor with 23 churches than Elder’s Digest with its many features that are spot-on for the moment? Congratulations to the founders and to the present leadership of the Ministerial Association of the General Conference for energizing and sustaining this great resource. From the Ministerial Association of the IAD, we say, “Live on, Elder’s Digest; we appreciate your value and prowess. Live on, Elder’s Digest; you’re a resource of great import. Live on, Elder’s Digest; we need you. Live on!”—Balvin B. Braham, Associate Ministerial Secretary, Inter-American Division.