This book gives workable ideas that will help preachers grab and hold the interest of their listeners without sacrificing the spiritual content of their message.
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About the Author
RALPH L. LEWISis professor of preaching at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, a post he has held since 1961. Dr. Lewis holds a PhD in speech from the University of Michigan and was a pastor for 12 years.
GREGG LEWISis editor of Campus Lifemagazine. A coauthor of The Hurting Parent, he holds an MA in communications from Wheaton College.
Read an Excerpt
When Sam Smith drives into the church parking lot with his three-year-old Ford he sees all the new Chevies, Buicks and Toyotas. He remembers his thirty-sixth payment is due tomorrow and the car will be his — just in time to buy another one — a smaller one.
On the way to church, Susan, his wife, has said she needs more money for four-year-old Suzette's day care, for rising grocery costs and the new spring wardrobe she needs for the New York convention her boss wants her to attend. She must have new clothes so she can earn more money to buy clothes so she can work in order to have money to get some dresses so she can ... Sam bites his tongue and swallows his kidding comment about women's lib.
He watches wistfully as Susan joins a small group entering the side door where the Young Business Women's Class meets. He remembers the Reader's Digest daffynition of compatibility as "the couple who both have headaches at the same time."
Proudly he watches sixteen-year-old Steve join the teenage gang rehashing Friday night's game. He wants his oldest son to go to college so he can have a better chance in life. Maybe cashing in on insurance policies will cover some of the rising costs at the university, but Steve seems to be more interested in a used car than college at the moment.
Sally, his fourteen-year-old, walks self-consciously past the knot of high school boys to mix with the girls a minute before Sunday school begins. She must have her teeth straightened and some dental surgery during Christmas break.
Sam wonders whether he should talk with somebody about the pressures — he would if anyone seemed to understand or care. His manager has threatened to let him go if the company doesn't come up with "another million-dollar year." Sales have fallen off and the moguls are head-hunting. Sam's five-year success plan doesn't seem too realistic to him now.
A few minutes later Sam sits in the corner of the Men's Sunday School Class, his mind tuning in and out of the discussion. Mostly out. He reviews the options for the added money his family needs. He could borrow on the insurance, but then he couldn't use that to help pay for Steve's college. He could sell the travel trailer, but he couldn't hope to get anywhere near its value. The idea of a second mortgage brings his thoughts reeling back into the Sunday school room.
He feels a pang of guilt for not paying more attention to the teacher. But he reminds himself that he doesn't really want to be at church anyway. Susan pressures him into it. And she ought to be happy that I even come, he tells himself. The guilt passes, and his thoughts again begin to drift.
The final bell eventually signals the end of class. Sam files out of the room, through the educational wing and into the narthex to wait for Susan. When she finds him, they enter the sanctuary together and take their usual place, halfway up, on the right side of the aisle.
The singing of familiar hymns occupies Sam's mind. And for a time at least the raucous sounds of Sam's marketplace fade away in mindless memory. The soft sanctuary music seems more soothing, yet oddly different from the bold beat of the blaring radio speakers he's heard throughout the week. Sam slowly absorbs a subtle sacred spirit; osmosis moistens memories into a mood of solitude, meditation and worship. Limbo seeps up the stalk as the ushers pass the hypnotic offering plates back and forth, back and forth, back and ...
However, Secular Sam brings all his cultural baggage with him on his trip from his weekday continent called Life to the Sunday island called Church. And his mind refuses to be marooned. His questions, his conflicts, his consternation climb gradually back into his consciousness. Sam is soon back battling his inner wars of family finance and career survival.
When the pastor stands to read the morning Scripture, Sam checks the bulletin for the sermon topic, "The Total Truth for Today's Total World" — a special missions emphasis, according to the order of worship.
While the pastor reads, Sam shifts to his own agenda. He's heard so many sermons in the past decade, he makes it a weekly challenge to construct his own outline. Today he decides to go for seven points — alliterative, of course.
He titles it, "Roaming the Seven C's." Sam suppresses a smile. Cash has to be his point number one. Then Car. Clothes. Compatibility. Career. College. And Current Crisis. Sam is tracing his route through the seven C's a second time when the children's sermon interrupts his journey.
"When I was a boy," the pastor begins and Sam leans forward to watch those children on the front pews and to hear the pastor as he speaks briefly to them.
When the "regular sermon" starts, Sam watches as the restless people squirm in their seats. They shift their weight to find the least painful posture and settle down to think about something or nothing.
After a feeble effort to remarshall his thoughts around his own outline, Sam slowly releases them to wander at random. Memory, imagination and reverie touch base only occasionally with the happenings in the sanctuary. He completely abandons the minister, and his thoughts sail away to mainland Life. He ponders his return to the mad world of Monday morning. What will I say to the boss? What are my options? Is it worth the hassle?
Susan leans toward him a little and snuggles under his protecting arm. He remembers: It's been a good life. We've had our ups and downs. But we get along pretty well — usually. We've had some great times, and then there are the kids. Some things have slowed down a little, but life's pretty good. Sure need more money. Let's see — that's cash — number one in my outline.
Sam begins to plan his exit about fifteen minutes before the sermon ends. What's for Sunday dinner? he asks himself. Did Susan say chicken? Or was it Spanish rice? Something quick I hope! The game comes on the tube at 12:30!
Sam eyes the exit and plots his escape during the final hymn. At the last note of the "Amen" chord he makes his move. The direct route takes him uncomfortably close to the pastor at the rear door. Sometimes he can slip out without interruption, but today Pastor Jones eyes him and winks.
Sam is caught. What can he say? "I enjoyed your talk," he blurts out as his mind gropes for a more honest word. He awkwardly shakes the hand the pastor holds out to him. Then Sam hurries through the crowd and out to the parking lot where he slouches down in his car and turns on the radio to hear the noon news — a voice from the real world.
Susan and the kids soon filter out to the car. "The chicken should be done," Susan says as they all head for home.
Secular Sam and his fellow pewmates aren't the only dissatisfied players in the Sunday morning drama. But they'd probably never guess Pastor Jones' squelched feelings of frustration. Here's how the morning went for him:
Pastor Jones' discouragement builds as he guides his congregation like sheep through the passageways of the printed order of worship. Nearly everyone joins in the hymns. They attend to the announcements. But when he stands to read the Scripture aloud, he senses a change. It's as if an invisible wall rises between us. Why don't they listen? Am I too loud? Too slow? Too fast? He concludes the reading and sits down again.
During the offertory he thinks ahead. Maybe I can ring the bell in the children's sermon. Sometimes that seems to rouse them. I wonder why that is? Maybe my sermons are a bit too strong for them. But they should learn to listen.
After the ushers present the offering to the strains of the Doxology, Pastor Jones calls the children and relates a tale from his childhood, a simple incident when he learned the danger of lying and the value of truth. He wraps it up with a summary of God's attitude toward truth and sends the little ones toward the sanctuary side door and the waiting leaders of the junior church program.
Now the sermon time arrives. As he steps back up to the pulpit, he straightens his tie, clears his throat and waits for silence.
Then he reads the text: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true ... whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Philippians 4:8).
Why do the people seem to be staring beyond me? I'm the pastor; they should pay attention to me. Why don't they listen?
He breathes deeply and projects his rehearsed tones: "Truth is lovely, dear friends. Truth has a good report. Truth is worthy of our meditation — think on these things."
He defines the truth. He declares the truth. He defends the truth.
His orthodox, well-rounded words ascend to the ceiling, extend to the foyer, and bounce softly off the back wall. He wonders if anyone is really listening.
Some members of the congregation nod in full agreement. But he knows that's a poor gauge because some of those smiling heads slow their metronome nods and let chins rest a moment before they rise again. His discouragement deepens.
Then all eyes open, all heads rise at the midpoint of the sermon when a bit of narration brightens an example. But the encouragement is only momentary as attention lags again and an epidemic of fidgeting spreads through the sanctuary.
By the time he approaches the end of his sermon, he has little enthusiasm left for the emphatic conclusion he'd hoped would inspire his people to respond to the overwhelming needs of the church's mission program. What's the use? he asks himself. Half a dozen people steal quick glances at their wrists as he launches into his final example. What do they care about third-world hunger and medical needs? Any concern for the problems of planet earth fades at five minutes till noon.
He finally directs the congregation to stand for the benediction. He's halfway tempted to pray an honest prayer from a despairing or perhaps even an imprecatory Psalm. But he resists the temptation to vent his feelings and intones the standard formula of dismissal. Then he retreats down the aisle as the choir offers the choral benediction.
As the last strains of the Amen die away, the sanctuary buzzes with renewed energy. The instantaneous transformation prompts a silent, cynical thought in the pastor's mind. I wonder if I'll ever awaken the kind of response from a sermon that I always get from the benediction.
He tries to shake off the feelings of frustration and doubt as the aisles fill and the people crowd toward him. He screws on a smile, shakes as many hands as he can reach, and tries to endure the comments.
"Glad to see you again." "Enjoyed the sermon, pastor." "Have a good week." "Nice talk today." "I always enjoy your little time with the children at the start of the service." The innocuous comments always seem to skirt reality and straightforward sincerity. But at least on this Sunday Pastor Jones hears no bragging about "that good sermon I heard on TV."
By the time Secular Sam and the rest of the congregation finish their chicken dinners and plant themselves in front of the afternoon football telecast, the pastor has concluded his meal and sought out the silence of the manse study. There he replays his frustrations and the morning performance.
What are the people looking for anyway? I preach God's Word — I quote Scripture on almost every point. Why don't they respond? I don't understand, Lord, he says, directing his questions heavenward. You say your Word won't return unto you void. But every Sunday it seems to. Where's the response?
It's not as if I don't care or don't try, he tells himself. And he recalls how he has spent his vacations for the past five years visiting some of the country's most dynamic churches, hoping to learn some secrets from successful preachers. He attends all the minister's conferences he can fit into his schedule and has collected enough books and articles on preaching to fill a small library.
Pastor Jones has turned the energies of his youth and the fires of his imagination on the task of melding and molding messages to change the world or at least some part of it. Dedication to the task of ministry has never been his problem. But his high resolve melts into mediocrity every Sunday morning. The people never seem to change. His sermons don't count for much. He wonders if his ministry really matters.
Maybe all the successful preachers are just born speakers, born charismatic leaders, he concludes. But what about God's promises to multiply human efforts?
The needs of his congregation are so obvious — personal needs, family needs, human needs. Faith holds the answers. Pastor Jones knows that. He's learned from personal experience. He's read history. He believes the Bible accounts. The needs tower to the skies above him, but sometimes the theological ladders seem too short.
A year ago he seriously considered giving up the ministry. He could serve as a social worker with his undergraduate training. He could spend more time with his family if he had a limited case load and 9 to 5 working hours.
Some of his former university friends kid him about the pastorate. "How does it seem to spend your life telling people what they already know?" They tell him his sermons are good advice. "But advice is the one commodity in the world where the supply exceeds the demand," they say.
Despite the doubts, Pastor Jones has resolved in his mind to stay in the ministry. He's convinced God has called him to the task. And he knows that when Secular Sam and the rest of the congregation head back to their jobs on Monday morning, he will go to his office to begin preparing a sermon for next Sunday. And he will pray that somehow God will bless and use his efforts, his preaching. But the discouragement remains.
The Secular Sam-Pastor Jones scenario is played out every Sunday in thousands of churches across the land. Secular Sam and his counterparts come out of their workaday world burdened and consumed by seemingly insurmountable problems. They come out of a world where they are assaulted by an estimated 600 mass media sales pitches every week — messages they learn to consciously tune out. They come with senses hooked on mass media's electronic input and minds overloaded with very personal troubles. Self-worth, life's meaning and purpose, priorities, security, success and survival all clamor for top billing in their thoughts.
Pastor Jones and a legion of fellow pastors preach more than 350,000 sermons every Sunday morning. They watch and agonize over the struggles of contemporary society. They see the wounds of a family suffering divorce. They see the fear of dying cancer patients. They see the anxiety of middle-aged men thrown out of work. They see the overwhelming uncertainty of youth in a fearful age. And they long to share God's answers — answers they believe in.
But something is wrong. For some reason the answer isn't reaching the needs. Secular Sam and Pastor Jones both come away frustrated.
Perhaps this frustration explains the disturbing trend cited in a June 1978 Gallup Poll. Pollsters asked Americans, "How important is religion in your life?" In 1978 only 53 percent of the people replied "very important to me." In 1952, twenty-six years earlier, 75 percent had said religion was "very important to me." Midway through that time period, in 1965, 70 percent had replied that religion was "very important to me." The series of polls shows a slide of 5 percent over the first half of the period but an alarmingly accelerating decline of 17 percent in recent years.
What are the implications for preaching today? Can preaching help make religion "very important" again?
Few today would question the need for more effective preaching. Just observe the signs. See the symptoms of indifference, aloofness, apathy. Check the deadwood on church membership rolls. Talk to any Secular Sam or Pastor Jones. Consider your own experience.
What's the solution? Is there some unattained goal that could alleviate the frustration surrounding preaching today?
Involvement. That common word is the most promising answer. Involvement has been a major goal throughout twentieth-century preaching. It's what Secular Sam is seeking on Sunday morning. It's what Pastor Jones would like to get.
But how can a minister involve hearers in his preaching? Is there a simple, surefire way?
In recent decades some have tried to capture attention and encourage involvement by using dialogue and discussion. The church has experimented with drama and dance. Sermon content has changed; style and delivery have become more folksy, conversational and direct. But innovation, change and creativity have released little vitality or impact in today's sermon. Despite the creative quest, the dream of getting the people involved seems to be a distant mirage.
Crowds have flocked to hear a few preachers who seem to have found a way to attain the involvement of their hearers. Are there secrets to be learned from these crowd-catchers? They vary so greatly that there seems to be no traceable pattern in their preaching. Close scrutiny of the few giants who have accomplished consistent listener involvement shows no shared format. They evidently navigate by instinct and experience more often than by precept or plan.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Inductive Preaching"
Copyright © 1983 Ralph L. Lewis and Gregg Lewis.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Two: A Promising Solution,
Three: Old Parts and New Hope,
Four: The Story of Induction,
Five: God's Way?,
Six: Master Model,
Seven: Web and Flow,
Eight: More Web and Flow,
Nine: Unbeatable Combination,
Ten: In the Study,
Eleven: Behind the Pulpit,
Twelve: End to Our Means,
Appendix One: Inductive Preaching — Two,
Appendix Two: Checklist of Inductive,
Appendix Three: 96 Inductive Preachers from 20,
Appendix Four: A Strategy for Making,
Traditional Sermon Structures Inductive,
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