Malcolm Gladwell coined the idea of the ten-thousand-hour rule, saying that in order to be an expert in anything, you must invest ten thousand hours of time.
This goes for any skill: a golf swing, writing (I’m putting in my time!), crocheting…or preaching.
Considering preaching, this is quite a daunting task. Let’s do some quick math:
• 1 sermon/teaching opportunity per week
• 52 weeks in the year
• 1 sermon = 40 minutes
• Prep time = 10 hours
• Total time per week preparing and preaching =10.6 hours
• 10.6 hours x 52 weeks = 551.2 hours per year
At this rate, it would take someone just over 18 years to collect ten thousand hours of experience in preaching. Based on this, I am still 8 years away from becoming an “expert” in preaching. This may offer some reassurance to some who attend my church!
But as I have invested time, energy and resources into this important craft, I have acquired some valuable lessons.
After 10 years in ministry, 2 degrees and countless preaching and teaching opportunities, what top three preaching insights that I have received, would I pass on to you?
1. “Preach with snowshoes, not stilts.”
Richard Pratt, Old Testament professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, gave this sage advice during an Old Testament course I participated in at Re:Train (at the former Mars Hill Church in Seattle) in 2011.
The meaning behind is phrase is quite simple: the preacher needs to learn how to handle and expound larger chunks of scripture.
It wouldn’t take long to learn this lesson when snowshoeing on your local hill this winter. Imagine trying to maneuver through 4 feet of snow with stilts –not an easy task. The science behind snowshoes is easy to understand: displace weight across a larger surface area so that you don’t sink into the snow.
So it is with preaching. The temptation is to zoom in on one word, or one phrase in a verse and preach that phrase for the entire duration of your sermon. The danger is that we miss the nuances of the rest of the text.
This can lead to a counterfeit type of expository preaching.
Imagine if someone took one or two sentences out of an email you sent to a loved one, and simply focused on the words and phrases in those sentences, without zooming out and understanding the greater meaning to the message. Not only could the text be misconstrued, but the overall essence could be lost.
If we use a bigger chunk of scripture, we will have more ground to convince people that the sermon is the true testimony of Scripture.
2. “Find the F.C.F.”
When it comes to preaching, Bryan Chapell has probably influenced me more than any other thinker.
Author of “Christ-Centered Preaching”, Chapell is well-known as a leading voice in preaching Christ-centered, redemptive sermons. The content of my formal master’s level Homiletics course at Knox Theological Seminary was derived from this text, a must own book for every preacher.
My greatest takeaway from Chapell is his insistence on finding the “Fallen Condition Focus” or the “F.C.F.” The FCF is “the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those for or by whom the text was written.”
The F.C.F. prompts the preacher to ask a question: what is the burden in the text? What was the struggle? How does the weight, consequence, and reality of sin play out in the text to be preached?
Likewise, it forces the preacher to discern how Genesis 3 (the fall of man) has impacted the people, story, situation, and perspective of those in the Scripture passage being preached. The key then is to connect it with our struggle right now.
In order to find the F.C.F. ask and answer these three questions:
1. What does the text say?
2. What concern(s) did the text address in that original context?
3. What do we share in common with those for or by whom the text was written?
The F.C.F. takes preaching from the third person to here and now and the people sitting in the pews.
Effective preaching is about bringing truth to struggle. It is not just about telling people what to do, but knowing people’s burdens and bringing the truth of Scripture to them.
3. “Preach to the heart”
Tim Keller is an amazing expositor of Scripture and of culture. I still listen to his sermons to secular University of Oxford students as a model of evangelistic faithful Bible preaching. Keller is an amazing resource for any young preacher trying to get better as he demonstrates how to preach to the heart. Tim Keller’s “Preaching” book is a must-have for any preacher.
As I see it, preaching to the heart assumes two things: you know the text and you know the people.
Knowing the text means that you put the time in during the week through thoughtful study. Knowing the people mean you put in the time with people, learning about their dreams, hopes, struggles, and fears. The former is being a good expositor; the latter is being a present pastor.
It is vital to preach to the heart because, as Scripture states, it is the seat of what you trust and are committed to the most. The heart is the seat (not of the emotions as our culture tells us) but of what you trust and are committed to the most (see Proverbs 3:5-6). Your heart affects the mind, will, and emotions.
If we don’t preach to the heart, we end up cultivating Tyrannosaurus Rex disciples: big heads, small hands and, most tragically, a small heart.
So what now?
Perhaps the next step is to buy one of these thinker’s books or to set up a few people to evaluate your next sermon with these directives in mind (possibly remind the reader of the three directives).
Take one of these three lessons outlined above and commit yourself to getting better today.
Preaching matters. More than ever we need to be committed to effective communication of the timeless Word and to the changing culture.
And remember it may take time to improve – perhaps even up to 10,000 hours’ worth.
Want a coach to go over some of your sermons with you? I’d be glad to help. More information here.