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Preaching Articles

“Teaching” is NOT the same as “learning.” It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into your sermon—if people aren’t listening, engaged and paying attention, they will leave the building without remembering or applying anything. They may be sitting still and trying to look attentive, but if it’s going in one ear and out the other, you’re wasting their time and your own.

Instead of blaming them for their short attention spans and lack of commitment, why don’t you try something completely “out of the box”—and let the congregation preach the sermon next Sunday? After all, they’ve set aside 30-40 minutes of their time to learn from God’s Word, and you have the skills and background knowledge to help facilitate them to be involved in the process.

What long-term good does it do them to sit passively and watch you do all the work? Why not take the risk of letting them listen to God’s Word, to the Holy Spirit and to each other, and let God speak to His gathered people?

So, how do you do it? How would you go about helping the people in the pews preach God’s Word to one another? Try these simple steps, and see how it goes…

1. Let them choose the title.

Ask them to look up the Scripture passage on their phones or in their Bibles, and come up with a good title. Let them discuss ideas with their neighbors before calling out suggestions. Give out small prizes and encourage everyone who speaks up!

2. Give them the tools.

This is your chance to give them everything they need to explore and interpret God’s Word. Take a few minutes to tell them any background information and context which will help them understand what they are reading. Use visuals and symbols if needed. Give them the clues they need to do their own detective work—give them enough, but no more.

3. Ask the right questions.

Let them discuss the passage in small groups, using open questions such as “What stands out to you?”, “What do you learn about God?”, “What do you think this meant to the original hearers?”, “Is there something here for us to apply?” etc. Let them feed back to the larger group with a roving mic. Affirm their answers, and get excited about their insights.

4. Apply it.

God’s Word is most potent when we live it, not just listen to it. Ask people to consider whether there is anything they have learned or are going to act on. Let them share their commitments with one another and pray for one another.

5. Listen well.

Pastors have been trained to talk, not to listen—so it’s very easy to fall into the trap of arguing with people or showing off your superior ideas and insights. Instead, listen to God’s people with respect and love, encourage them for their contributions, and invite the “least of these” to have a voice, a value and an impact. Let God “use the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong.” You’ll be surprised at the insights shared by the most unlikely people.

God designed us to learn best when we explore, discuss, think about and problem-solve concepts, rather than when we listen to people talking at us. If we allow God’s people to get their hands on God’s Word, they are more likely to understand it, remember it, apply it and get comfortable having spiritual conversations. It may feel like an enormous risk to move from monologue preaching to letting God’s people have a voice—but it’s a risk worth taking.

Kathleen Ward co-writes a blog with her best friend and husband, Kevin-Neil Ward. They’ve been married for 18 years and have four children, age 3–15. In her spare time, Kathleen likes to paint portraits, read books and learn to play piano—if only she could find some spare time!

Kevin-Neil Ward facilitates a Christ-centered, active learning community using principles and ideas he picked up through his studies in theology, counselling, life coaching, missions, organic church planting and business administration. Kevin-Neil is enjoying life in his forties and loves bike-riding and watching the Tour de France late into the night every July.

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Talk about it...

Jacob Brimm

commented on Jan 29, 2014

This is something for small group, not Church service with a congregation. I get it, people want something new and exciting to try. Be hip, be cool, get people. But we are called to teach the word of God, and teach it correctly. When you attempt something like this in a congregation it fails because of the inability to control the group well enough. Maybe there is one or two exceptions, but I doubt it. Small groups, sure this would be great, and it should be done. But a pastor is to preach the word of God.

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 29, 2014

This doesn't have anything to do with being "hip" or "cool." This is about being biblical. There is no reason whatsoever why this cannot be used in a congregation. Remember the words of Paul to the Corinthian congregation: "When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up." On the other hand, Paul NEVER wrote anything like the following: "When you come together, the pastor alone is to contribute."

Kenneth Ring

commented on Jan 29, 2014

I have tried this and it has great benefits. Don't get stuck in the rut that the pastor has to preach. God should be the focus, not the pastor. Maybe god can use the congregation too!

David Selleck

commented on Jan 31, 2014

Yes Kenneth, people are hungry for participation and experience. This is a great way to help folks interact with the text and begin to understand the process. I am excited about this and will offer it for a change of pace. I pray and trust the Holy Spirit in this process and I am not worried about "control" of the masses as if I had any to begin with..

Jb Bryant

commented on Jan 29, 2014

Although I can't imagine pulling this off in a congregation larger than 20-30 (minus the "small prizes" - please!), it did prompt an idea. Congregants could be invited to reflect on a passage a couple of weeks before it is to be preached and share suggested titles, themes, and perhaps even life situations that relate to its theme. That could guide the preacher in helping make the sermon life-relevant and also encourages people to reflect on the Word.

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 29, 2014

We've begun to do something similar to what you've described in our congregation. It is a blessing, and I've noticed I get a lot more out of the preaching the more I participate in that process. I think it's a great idea and would highly recommend you try something like that!

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 29, 2014

I anticipate a lot of pushback against this idea from many preachers. I'd just like to ask one question of anyone who may speak negatively against this idea: can you give a single text in the Bible that says when meeting together, either ONLY the pastor should preach, OR other members of the congregation must not preach?

Tony Bland

commented on Jan 29, 2014

I am thinking Luke 2:40, it seem to me that only Jesus was teaching in the church. I may be wrong, but let me know

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 29, 2014

Luke 2:40, "And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him." Forgive me, but I don't see anything here about Jesus teaching in the church. Could you please help me see what you are seeing. Thank you!

Chris Hearn

commented on Jan 29, 2014

"What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up...Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said." - 1 Corinthians 14:26 and 29

Pastor Sandy .

commented on Jan 29, 2014

This will fit in quite well with our Annual Women's Sunday, which this year falls on the first Sunday of March. I have already started looking at potential speakers for that day, and this article has given me lots of ideas for enhancement! Thank you, Kathleen and Kevin-Neal!

Dr. Ronald Shultz

commented on Jan 29, 2014

Sounds a lot like Sunday School , but get adults to come to that it might have to be called something sexier than that like First Day University and issue certificates of training.

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 29, 2014

Actually, it sounds more like 1 Corinthians 14. In fact, it has struck me recently that what we consider as a typical worship service is completely absent from the NT. I find neither examples nor instruction in the NT of one person dominating a gathering of believers for worship as the regular pattern.

Tony Bland

commented on Jan 29, 2014

wow...not so sure my friend Paul asked a question how shall they hear without a preacher (roman 10:14) we have at most 1 hr. per week to put life before men, just want to be a good steward of time

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 29, 2014

Yes, Paul did ask that question. And if you look at context, he is clearly talking about those who are unsaved. But when instructing the believers in Corinth, he told them, "When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up." It would seem to me that limiting the participation in a worship service primarily to one person, and the same person each time the congregation gathers for worship, would actually be a poor stewardship of time.

Tony Bland

commented on Jan 29, 2014

right... but this is about Sunday morning service where the unsaved come. If we are talking about buble study I would agree, but not Sunday morning service

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 29, 2014

Yes, but Paul addresses the issue of the unsaved in 1 Corinthians 14, as well. He says that if an unbeliever enters a gathering where "ALL prophesy" (not one person only, and certainly not the same person each time the believers gather), that unbeliever "is convicted by ALL, he is called to account by ALL, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you [plural]." So, if Paul tells us that a gathering of believers, where unbelievers are present, and where all the believers are participating, not just one person primarily, will cause unbelievers to be convicted and to fall on their faces and worship God...then on what Biblical basis do you contradict Paul and assert the idea that, no, such a gathering would not be appropriate for "Sunday morning service"?

Tony Bland

commented on Jan 29, 2014

Pastor Williams i believe Paul is addressing the issues of speaking in tongues..not the unsaved

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 29, 2014

I appreciate the compliment, as I have great respect for pastors, but I am not a pastor myself! Bill is fine. Yes, Paul discusses the issue of speaking in tongues, but that is not the primary issue of 1 Corinthians 14. If we consider chapters 12-14 as an entire unit of thought, Paul's main focus here is on the church as the Body of Christ. In chapter 12, he discusses spiritual gifts, and the importance of each member of the Body functioning properly. In chapter 13, he talks about the functioning of the gifts in the context of love. And in chapter 14 he talks about the functioning of the gifts in the context of the gathering of the believers. So, while Paul does discuss the use ( and misuse) of speaking in tongues, it is not his primary emphasis. His primary emphasis is the gathering of the believers, what you would would probably refer to as the "Sunday morning service," although no mention is given explicitly that such gatherings were to be held exclusively on Sunday mornings. The point is that in Paul's discussion of the "Sunday morning service," he clearly believed that unbelievers who were present would be convicted and worship God as they witnessed all of the members of the Body of Christ participating and functioning together. There is nothing in this passage to suggest that as a general rule, any gathering of believers was to be monopolized by one person only. Now, am I missing something here? If so, I welcome your feedback.

Tony Bland

commented on Jan 29, 2014

Brother bill i will let you have the last word on this; i have enjoyed the exchange and your point of view. Thank you and enjoy god bless...

Glen Moore

commented on Jan 29, 2014

I have done this multiple times as our new church plant was growing ( 40-80) members and had round tables set up for 6-8 people. I made sure that at least one person knew in advance what the topic was and they led discussions at each table. Then one person from each table would share insight. It was really great to see people get involved.

George Wright

commented on Jan 29, 2014

Here's a thought... One of the Sunday School classes in our church is beginning series in the same book I am teaching through during the worship service. Each week, they will use the previous week's sermon as the starting point for their class. I am giving them a printout of information about the text that is helpful background material that may or may not have ended up in the message. The above suggestions would be a great way to the the members of the class to go deeper into the text. Wouldn't it be great if members of the congregation listened to a sermon with the knowledge that, next week, they are going to come up with their own title... or ask pertinent questions... or make further personal applications? WIN/WIN!

Ellison Gordon

commented on Jan 30, 2014

I totally agree with you Bill.

Suresh Manoharan

commented on Jan 30, 2014

The concept of Pastor preaching in a Church service is consistent with our Lord alone preaching in the synagogue as we see in Luke 4:14-28. The main aim of meeting together is glorifying the Lord. If He has accepted some Churches where Pastor alone preaches or where the meeting goes in a participatory mode (1 Cor 14), should we contradict the good Lord? Remember, He looks at the motives (2 Chro 30:17-20).

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 30, 2014

I think it would be a logical stretch to conclude that because we have one record of Jesus teaching at a synagogue, that the same person should exclusively preach in a "church service." Especially considering the instructions Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 14. Notice, that the contribution from every member of the Body of Christ that Paul describes is not mentioned as one acceptable format among others. He says very clearly, "WHEN you come together..." Although the NT certainly recognizes situations where there would be exceptions (for example in Acts 20), it seems pretty clear that the worship described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 was to be normative. Now, please do not misunderstand. This is not to say that God will NOT accept churches where the Pastor alone preaches. I believe he certainly will. He accepts us unconditionally, even when we do not do as he instructs us. As a Christian, my acceptance before God is based solely on his acceptance of his son Jesus Christ, and not on anything I do or don't do. So I'm not saying that having only one person preach in a Church service is sinful. But I am coming to the conviction that to the extent that any one person monopolizes the gathering of the saints to the exclusion of the other members of the body, to that extent the presence of God will likewise be excluded. One reference from Luke is not enough to conclude that a sole "pastor preaching in a church service" is to be normative, especially when there is nothing else in the entire NT to support such an inference.

Suresh Manoharan

commented on Feb 1, 2014

Dear Brother Bill, Thanks for responding to my comment. The situation of those "gifted" to preach exercising their gift is also seen in Acts 2:42 and not only in Luke 4:14-28. Hmmm...closer to times...Metropolitan Tabernacle...one C.H. Spurgeon...did our Heavenly Father find any fault therein? Coming to more important issue of other Church members growing (for which a Pastor is accountable), during the week day activities, a topical studies involving the congregation ought to be introduced, with the Pastor encouraging the members to prepare for them and pool in their thoughts during the study. As our Lord is "balanced", so too should be the conduct of "His Body" (the Church). When the Spirit of the Lord pervades the gathering/assembly there would be a perfect balance on what the "Elders" would do and what the "members" would do in a Sunday Worship service.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 2, 2014

I would encourage you to read my comments again, because nowhere have I argued against "those 'gifted' to preach exercising their gift." On the contrary, I believe that according to 1 Corinthians 14, EVERY believer has the right to exercise their gifts and contribute when they are gathered in worship. My point is that I see absolutely nothing in the NT to suggest that ONE person preaching EVERY week to a specific congregation should be the norm, and neither Luke 4 nor Acts 2 support such an idea. Again, I'm not saying such a situation is wrong, necessarily, nor sinful. I'm not saying God found fault with Spurgeon's ministry at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Please read my comments carefully and don't put words in my mouth. My point has been two-fold: 1) The NT describes as NORMATIVE worship gatherings where every believer participates and contributes, not worship gatherings where only one person preaches to the same congregation week after week, and thus 2) there is no biblical reason why the authors' suggestion from the article would not be appropriate for a worship gathering, as some have suggested. Getting the entire congregation engaged in God's word and participating in its proclamation does NOT inhibit those who have been gifted to preach from exercising their gifts.

Suresh Manoharan

commented on Feb 2, 2014

Dear Brother Bill, Thanks for your response again.Let me put it this way, it is Pastor's responsibility to identify the the "talents" of preaching/singing in his congregation and accordingly use it for God's Glory. Care should be exercised in order a square peg is not put in the round hole. Anointing is the "X" factor that the good Lord alone bestows upon the individual, in order he/she excels in whatever they do (leading the worship service, preaching, leading in intercessory prayers etc) for His glory. Minus the anointing the ministry (be it preaching, singing or intercession) would resemble food without curry.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 3, 2014

I agree with your latest post, and I don't think it contradicts either the article nor the comments I have made. Helping the congregation to be engaged in God's word and giving them opportunities to contribute to the worship service does not inhibit people from using their God-given gifts, nor force others to use gifts that they do not have. If you agree with this point, then I believe you and I are essentially in agreement. May God continue to bless your ministry!

Brent Anderson

commented on Jan 30, 2014

And THERE IT IS: Jacob hit the nail on the head - ". . . the inability to CONTROL THE GROUP well enough." It comes down to control:)

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 30, 2014

I think you are right. Yielding control to the Holy Spirit can be a very scary thought!

Paul Evans

commented on Jan 30, 2014

If God Himself gifted you to be a pastor or a teacher, then please use your gift to preach and teach! Don't delegate that role to someone who God has not ordained to do so..... Eph 3:8-9..."To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;".... Eph 4:11-12... "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ"

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 30, 2014

I don't think anyone is suggesting that one not use their gifts. Certainly such a conclusion can't be drawn from the article. On the contrary, I think the real tragedy is that the church in general has accepted the unbiblical idea that only one person has a right to exercise their gift when the church gathers for worship. I agree, one who has been gifted to preach should not "delegate" their role. On the other hand, neither should one monopolize any gathering and inhibit the other members of the Body of Christ from exercising the gifts and roles God has given to THEM. Nothing Paul wrote to the Ephesians contradicts what he wrote to the Corinthians.

Kathleen Ward

commented on Jan 30, 2014

Amen! :)

Jerry Dodson

commented on Jan 30, 2014

Amen!

Jerry Dodson

commented on Jan 30, 2014

Try this next time you need surgery: get all your friends who have watched either "Gray's Anatomy or "House" or "E.R." to come along to the hospital with you. Flip a coin as to whom will do the honors. Let the chosen one assign duties to the rest of your friends: anesthetist, scrub nurse, float nurse, physician's assistant, and so on. Then let the fun begin. This makes about as much sense as allowing the congregation to preach the sermon. I assume this article was written by someone with no knowledge of what is involved in preparing a sermon.

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 30, 2014

The point of this article, which I believe a lot of people are missing, is not "preaching" in the traditional sense that most people think of, but rather of getting everyone engaged and participating in the communal "proclamation" of God's word. It is what Paul instructs the church to do WHEN they gather together, according to 1 Corinthians 14. What do you do with that passage? Not only that, to compare preaching with surgery in order to conclude that preaching is a "professional" activity that must be limited only to those who have the "professional training" necessary is to ignore the Biblical witness that the first Christian preachers had by-passed the formal "religious instruction" of their day, and instead had been enrolled in the school of Christ. Formal education and training are important, of course. Don't misunderstand me. Those who have the opportunity to receive it should by all means do so. But these are a help, at most. Although not everyone is gifted to preach in the traditional sense of the word, EVERY believer in whom the Holy Spirit dwells is capable of listening to and interpreting the Scriptures for themselves and speaking a word from the Scriptures in the gathering of the believers that will edify and bless the rest of the Body. And for the record, I am a layman who preaches at our church and who is very much aware of "what is involved in preparing a sermon." I am also a professional educator who can attest to the truth that "if people aren?t listening, engaged and paying attention, they will leave the building without remembering or applying anything. They may be sitting still and trying to look attentive, but if it?s going in one ear and out the other, you?re wasting their time and your own."

Tony Bland

commented on Jan 31, 2014

Brother Williams this is what Mathew Henry said regarding 1 Cor 14 In this passage the apostle reproves them for their disorder, and endeavours to correct and regulate their conduct for the future. I. He blames them for the confusion they introduced into the assembly, by ostentation of their gifts (v. 26): When you come together every one hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, etc.; that is, ?You are apt to confound the several parts of worship; and, while one has a psalm to utter by inspiration, another has a doctrine, or revelation;? or else, ?You are apt to be confused in the same branch of worship, many of you having psalms or doctrines to propose at the same time, without staying for one another. Is not this perfect uproar? Can this be edifying? And yet all religious exercises in public assemblies should have this view, Let all things be done to edifying.? II. He corrects their faults, and lays down some regulations for their future conduct. 1. As to speaking in an unknown tongue, he orders that no more than two or three should do it at one meeting, and this not altogether, but successively, one after another. And even this was not to be done unless there were some one to interpret (v. 27, 28), some other interpreter besides himself, who spoke; for to speak in an unknown tongue what he himself was afterwards to interpret could only be for ostentation. But, if another were present who could interpret, two miraculous gifts might be exercised at once, and thereby the church edified, and the faith of the hearers confirmed at the same time. He (Paul) blames them for the confusion? disorderly service V 26 you keep arguing that is what is to happen Also the title of the article is "let your ... Preach..." and lastly god called some to be preacher and if he did not call you than why do you "preach"

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 31, 2014

As much as I respect Matthew Henry and think he had many wonderful things to say, I personally would've preferred to hear YOUR own thoughts regarding 1 Corinthians 14. But, as it seems you're interested in discussing this issue, I suppose this is a good place to start. In short, I don't disagree in essence with anything Mr. Henry wrote. Nor do I believe this article is in disagreement in essence with anything Mr. Henry wrote. Read the article again. The authors are not advocating some kind of free-for-all. Mr. Henry is right that one of Paul's main concerns in 1 Corinthians 14 is for all things to be done orderly. The fact that every member had the privilege and responsibility to contribute to the gathering was not to be an excuse for confusion and disorder. Likewise, the authors propose an ORDERLY gathering, where everyone is engaged, and where the pastor-teacher uses the gifts and skills God has given them to facilitate the process. So, I don't see anything in what the authors wrote to contradict the comments from Mr. Henry...A careful reading of the article will also reveal that the authors are not advocating that the pastor-teacher abandon "preaching," in the traditional understanding of the term, completely. In fact, Kathleen Ward explicitly stated as much in the comments section underneath another article by them that was published on this site some months back. What they are doing is sharing ways in which the congregation can be MORE engaged with God's word than is possible in the traditional, lecture-sytle sermon. You know, you would think that pastors would welcome ideas on how to get people engaged in God's word, especially in the light of articles like "Why Bible Reading is Down in Your Church." As a professional educator, I can assure you that the methods they suggest are ones I myself use in the classroom and which gain results...Finally, regarding your quote, "god called some to be preacher and if he did not call you than why do you 'preach,'" are you asking that question in general, or is the question directed specifically at me, since I've mentioned that I am not a pastor but I do preach? Let me know so that I may know better how to answer. I look forward to your response! Blessings to you.

Zachary Bartels

commented on Jan 31, 2014

Um...No.

Tony Bland

commented on Jan 31, 2014

in general, you told me that you are not a pastor. Let me restate if God did not call a person to preach, why then should they do so. Again, 20 or 30 people participate, in service by song, the door keepers, the deacon and deaconess, the sound engineer, the clerk and other preachers? so let?s not say service is dominated by one person. Further in a 2 hr. service the preacher only preach 30 -45 min.

Bill Williams

commented on Jan 31, 2014

Well, let's focus on one issue at a time. I want to make sure I understood you correctly. Are you saying that since I am not a pastor, I should not preach?

Eddie Olsen

commented on Feb 15, 2014

I Like your ideas. I am always looking for fresh ways to engage the congregation on our "1st Sunday" Messy Church nights which are aimed at being interactive and hands on learning. Kepp the ideas rolling in!

Elaine R

commented on Mar 7, 2014

About a week before the original post came out I heard that *still small voice* in my quiet time say, "Let your congregation preach your sermon." I said, okay Lord, but You'll have to instruct me how to go about this as I've never seen it done or even heard about it. Imagine my surprise when God confirmed His word to me through this article! I am also happy to report that we did this two weeks ago (small church/less than 1 yr old) - and had 100 participation and the feedback was 100 positive. How it worked for us: I set up a small table with Scripture Verses printed on index cards and placed them face down. I started my message entitled "Risky Business" (I'm sure you all understand why) and about 10 minutes into it I told the congregation that they were going to finish my message - going from spectators to participants - it was voluntary, but everyone seemed excited to participate. They chose a verse from the table, read the verse, and shared what that verse meant to them. (Yes, there was a time limit.) It worked for us and we'll probably do it again some day. I certainly wouldn't do this every week but it was an outstanding experience for all of us!

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