Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Wittenburg Door Day!

On this date, (Oct. 31, 1517) 490 years ago, Martin Luther (1483-1546) traditionally posted his 95 theses which he desired to debate about practices in the Catholic church. That is one of the forces that precipitated the Protestant Reformation. Luther held strongly to the authority of the Scriptures and emphasized justification by faith.

Luther s gave what I consider to be an excellent list of qualifications for a preacher:
  • Should be able to teach plainly and in order
  • Have a good head
  • Good power of language
  • Good voice
  • Good memory
  • Know when to stop
  • Be sure of what he means to say
  • Stake body and soul, goods and reputation on the Word
  • Study Diligently
  • Suffer Himself to be vexed and Criticized by everyone.
I appreciate this list. I think that it is a good balance of intellectual, spiritual and physical /practical requirements for preaching.

How are you doing? What would you add or subtract?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On smiling

I am not naturally a smiley person. I don't know why. I just am not. It doesn't even reflect how I feel. I may feel really good and upbeat, but I still don't smile. It has been a constant battle for me when I preach. I remember in my first preaching ministry (outside of Wichita, KS), it was such an issue for my wife that I would put smiley faces on every page of my notes. I envisioned me preaching along and then suddenly seeing that and flashing a big toothy smile at some inopportune time and then going back to my serious face.

Yesterday we were at my home church, Lifebridge (formerly First) Christian Church in Longmont, CO. Good service. We attended the traditional service with my parents and then hung around for the music in the contemporary service. Rick Rusaw, the regular preacher, was not there, but Paul Williams (pictured below) was there. I have heard him numerous times before and he is always excellent. He is preaching from Rick's new book on grace at the crossroads of life. And several times Loretta leaned over to me to comment on how much he smiles. And he does. He almost always had a smile on his face. It was appealing. I don't know if he has to work at it or is just a "smiley" person. It did make him look friendly and approachable.

I am aware that smiling affects the way people perceive you. Smiling engenders good feelings toward you. Smiling causes other people to smile. Smiling helps people feel a connection with you. These things are true even if the smile is fake and forced. In her article on public speaking, Penelope Trunk encourages us to smile, "even if the smile is forced, because we are pretty bad at recognizing a fake smile. (This is because when we are forcing a smile, we are still genuinely trying to make a positive connection, so most people will read the nonverbal cue as positive.)

This link leads to a BBC test on whether you can tell where someone's smile is genuine or fake. I took the test and got less than half right (9 ot of 20)

But it is still VERY hard for me. Part of me thinks that it is because I value genuineness incredibly highly. (I didn't say I always live our genuineness, but I do value it highly. It could be because of the difficult life-stage I am in right now. But that may be a cop-out as well.

Any thoughts or suggestions on how to smile more in my/our preaching?

Monday, October 29, 2007


Below is a sermon reaction questionnaire which I have used for several years. In my last church I used it for a number of years. I used it for a couple of year here in Portland, but for reasons I won't enumerate here, I chose to stop using it. I do think it was/is a helpful tool, however. This is just the text. There were lines to fill in and blank spaces in which people could write their answers. We typically got maybe a 20% return rate. Not great, but better than nothing. Are there forms/ways of getting feedback that you have found useful?

Please do not sign your name, but I would ask that you supply the following information:

GENDER: ___ Male ___Female

AGE ___Up to 19 years old ___20-35 ____35-50 ___50-65 ___above 65

In one sentence what did the sermon say to you?

Please indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following reactions to the sermon you heard this Sunday. This includes both the content & the delivery of the sermon. Indicate your reactions on the scale as follows:

Circle “1” for Strongly Disagree

“2” for Disagree

“3” for Uncertain

“4” for Agree

“5” for Strongly Agree

Your honesty & frankness will be most helpful to me.

1 2 3 4 5 The sermon kept my interest

1 2 3 4 5 Cal integrated the sermon into the total service of worship

1 2 3 4 5 The sermon did not inspire me

1 2 3 4 5 The sermon did not deal with and illumine the scripture chosen as the text

1 2 3 4 5 The sermon lasted too long

1 2 3 4 5 Cal used words and thought patterns in present day language

1 2 3 4 5 The sermon was not very well understood by me

1 2 3 4 5 Cal looked at or read his notes too often

1 2 3 4 5 Cal projected an attitude of love for us

1 2 3 4 5 The sermon spoke to some of my personal needs

1 2 3 4 5 Cal seemed to speak down to us

1 2 3 4 5 The sermon did not have a sufficiently forceful conclusion

1 2 3 4 5 The sermon did not initiate an encounter between God and me

1 2 3 4 5 The sermon contained points that were easy to remember

1 2 3 4 5 The sermon did not make me eager to serve God any more than I have served him up until now.

1 2 3 4 5 The sermon showed Cal had done his “homework”

1 2 3 4 5 The sermon was positive (“Good News”)

1 2 3 4 5 Cal had energy

1 2 3 4 5 Cal’s voice was clear and I could hear the words he spoke.

What was the weakest thing about the sermon?

What was the strongest thing about the sermon?

Is there a sermon topic you would like to see addressed sometime in the future?

Any other comments?

Thank you for completing this and helping Cal maintain excellence in his preaching.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sermon Response

Judging how to react to responses one gets to sermons is incredibly hard. From the hate mail (like the one I got earlier in my years at TCC: "That was the sorriest excuse for a sermon and you are the sorriest excuse for a preacher I have ever seen!" to "I like your preaching SOOOOO much better than...[Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, John Macarthur, the apostle Paul, you fill in the blank]. the reality is usually somewhere in the middle.

But how do you judge? I used to distribute a sermon evaluation form. And I may do it again. It might even be helpful to put that form here on the blog. We'll see. (Later edit--I have decided to do so. Look for it.

But HOW DO YOU JUDGE? It would be nice to say..."It's not our job. That is the job of the Holy Spirit." Yes...but. It IS the job of the HS. But we have some responsibility as well. Another complicating factor is people's response. One dare not judge the effectiveness of a sermon by the people's response. They killed the prophets, Noah was totally rejected, they beheaded John the Baptist and Jesus ended up on a cross. And yet people flocked and even stayed up all night to hear the apostle Paul.

Do we judge by the number of people coming to Christ? Nice, but that is not the point of every sermon. Do we judge by whether or not our elders or staff think we are doing a good job? That borders on man-pleasing. Do I judge by what my spouse thinks? That is sometimes a better criterion than others, but not every sermon hits every person.

An evaluation form is helpful...maybe better than any of the above. But you have to be careful not to let one bad apple ruin how you look at the entirety. I used to look through each of the evaluation sheets individually. But I get my feelings hurt too easily. (Ryan--my son--says I have a bit of a persecution complex. Probably some truth in that). And so what I eventually went to doing was asking my secretarial staff to summarize a group of evaluation forms. That provides some balance. The highs are not so high and the lows are not as low, but it does still enable me to get solid feedback.

I don't know that I can envision the prophet Elijah asking Ahab & Jezebel to fill out sermon evaluation forms. But that is not the context in which I serve and I am not Elijah.

What tools or techniques have you found helpful?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Doctrinal Preaching, Part 2

Previously, I quoted from an interview with Dr. Wayne Shaw. Dr. Shaw has been associated with Lincoln Christian Seminary in Lincoln, IL for over fifty years. He served as academic dean there for 25 years. Are there any other challenges we have to overcome as we're dealing with doctrinal preaching?

Wayne Shaw: Probably the ones we have to overcome the most are the sermons we have heard that purport to be doctrinal and the way doctrines have been handled in the past.

The preachers who have tried doctrinal preaching in the past often preach sermons as though they're doctrinal lectures stood up on their hind legs. They're taken from a book or from college notes, with the smell of the lamp on them. They're not related to life.

It's what someone called "a two-pocket universe"—carrying our doctrines around in one pocket and then living out of the other one. That has to be corrected if doctrinal preaching is to be helpful at all.

I particularly highlighed that last paragraph. Early on in ministry, I can specifically remember taking Dr. James VanBuren's Christian Doctrine class notes from Manhattan Christian College and making them the outline for numerous sermons. And as I listened to other student (or early graduate) preachers, i recognized the sermons as basically class notes from "Dr. Van." The same could be said of my notes from Dr. Beuford Bryant's New Testament Introduction classes from Emmanuel School of Religion. In looking back on them 30 years later (wow...30 years) they are basically good outline notes, but they are definitely not sermons nor really in any shape to be sermon outlines. I may want to glean a point or a scripture from the notes, but they seem as lifelike as a skeleton hanging in a doctors office--the outline is there, but it is lifeless and has no meat. It is even a little gruesome. It is useful in studying how the skeletal system works, but there is much much more to how the body works and even more to understanding how to make it live.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The 10/20/30 Rule of Powerpoint

Guy Kawasaki is considered a communication guru. He is a managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm and a columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine. Previously, he was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer, Inc. Guy is the author of eight books including The Art of the Start, Rules for Revolutionaries, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, Selling the Dream, and The Macintosh Way. He has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

Guy listens to hundreds of people make pitches to him regarding major investments. In an article entitled, The 10/20/30 Rule of Powerpoint, he gives what are three basic rules for preparing PPT presentations for business presentations.

I think that they are mostly applicable to Powerpoint used in sermons as well.
Never use more than 10 slides ("the average human being cannot comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting")
Never speak for more than 20 minutes (the time limit allows for glitches and "in a perfect world you give your pitch in twenty minutes, and you have forty minutes left for discussion")

Never use a font on PPT smaller than 30 pt.
(people think that more text is more convincing. WRONG. It shows you don't know your material well).

If you want all the "whys" of the 10/20/30 rule, you can read his article at:

My reaction to the rule is:
30 pt. My associate in a former church (Jeremy Snoberger) keyed me in very early in my PPT presentations that 30 pt was the absolute smallest you should go. I try to go no smaller than 32. My problem is not simply that too much text is cluttery & confuse people. I want to make sure they can clearly see what I DO put up there.

10 slides. I am working to get my number of slides down closer to this number. I used to have sermons that had 50, 60 even 70 slides. Now one excuse is that I would make multiple slides instead of multi-part slides (like when a new point came in). But I admit to being tech happy. So, while I am not down to 10 slides yet, I am consciously working at getting closer to that number. (More and more my slide count is in the teens).

20 minutes. Oh boy...not even close. I know all the old adages: the brain can not take more than the seat can bear...if you can't say it in 20 minutes, you don't know what you are getting at...modern American's attention span is much less than even 20 minutes. But I still preach a minimum of 30 min, usually 35. I am still struggling with the validity of this in sermons. (Loretta--my wife--thinks it is VERY valid). Still working on it.

Your thoughts on the 10-20-30-Rule?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Doctrinal Preaching and Baptism

Wayne Shaw commented on doctrinal preaching in an article on PreachingToday.

PT: Tell us why you feel the preacher should preach doctrine.

For me, the deepest questions of life are theological, and the answers are theological. Philosophy can raise the basic questions, but only a word from the outside00theology--can adequately answer them. As preachers, we need a theology of preaching to sustain ourselves, and we need a theology to preach to sustain our hearers. That is why doctrine is so important.

PT: Should they work a little bit of doctrinal teaching into every sermon? Should they preach one doctrine-heavy sermon a month? One series a year?

Preach doctrine all the time, preach it well, and preach it with variety.

This past Sunday I preached a straight doctrinal sermon on baptism. One comment that has been made is that I don't preach baptism strong enough. (And among Christian Churches you can get fired for that charge). And mostly I am OK with that. I would rather be known for preaching Christ strongly. Preaching the Bible strongly. And while I include baptism in many sermons, I seldom make it the focus of one entire sermon (I can only point to one other time I have done that in my 8 years at TCC).

I had an interesting response. (I am also preparing a post on how I judge sermon response). But the immediate response was fairly quiet. No one came forward to be baptized (or to receive Christ). I find that in my preaching, those decisions come in the weeks to come. There was very little comment on the sermon at the end of the worship service. But through the week (especially in our small groups that are using my sermons as the basis for their weekly studies), there has been solid discussion and questions. Hopefully, the Holy Spirit is able to continue working on people's hearts and minds over the days and weeks to come.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Overwhelmed with stuff...WILL get back to blogging

My computer sent me a message today...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Good quote

A pure sermon isn’t just absolutely true. It must be that, of course, as true as Scripture itself and the mind of Christ. But a pure sermon must be spoken from a “trued” heart and mind.--Lee Eclov (Village Church of Lincolnshire, Lake Forest, IL)

Visits Since Dec. 11, 2007