Have you ever listened to a sermon and thought, “Wow, I could never get as much from that Scripture text as he did”—as if the preacher was a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat?
When the preacher is biblically faithful, this can be a beautiful demonstration of God gifting the church with shepherds and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). It may also expose a flaw: the preacher may not be training his flock how to read the Bible through his preaching.
Preachers need to see the preaching event as a key moment in church life that makes the Bible more “user friendly” for congregants. This will deepen their own time in the Word, grow them as disciples, and equip them for ministry (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Failing to do this will hinder spiritual growth by hindering Bible engagement and could also leave congregants amazed at their preacher’s vast knowledge instead of amazed at what God has done for them in Jesus Christ.
Colin Marshall and Tony Payne address the importance of this in The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple Making:
In his preaching, a pastor sounds the tuning fork so that the whole orchestra knows in what key to play. He teaches and guards the sound deposit of the gospel so that all may know it clearly and thoroughly (for how else will they speak it?). He shows them not only what the Bible says, but how they can read and speak that truth for themselves. He constantly teaches the sound doctrinal framework that shapes the Bible reading and speaking of the whole congregation. (117)
What does this equipping look like in practice?
This way of thinking doesn’t require an extra twenty minutes of specialized instruction in each sermon.
What it does require and initial understanding of the text deeply and to know how God wants to use it to shepherd hearts (often called the transformational intent of the passage). We will also want to know the challenges our congregants face approaching Scripture so we can properly address them (i.e. does biblical poetry confuse them?). Lastly, we will want to model faithful biblical interpretation by using basic hermeneutical principles to explain our thought process and conclusions. Below are several practical suggestions of how to implement this.
- Remind listeners the most important question to ask when reading the Bible: What does the text actually say?
- Walk through the historical, literary, and biblical context of the passage.
- Explain how to approach the biblical genre of your text.
- Explain how the individual parts of your text make up the big idea of the text.
- Make sure sermons are not a mere oration on the subject that doesn’t flow from the text or preach with such detail that you lose the text’s big idea.
- Regularly point to the book’s main ideas and explain how your text functions in light of the whole.
- At the start of a new sermon series through one book of Scripture, encourage your people to read through the whole book in one sitting. You could also preach an overview sermon for a book before beginning a new series on it.
- Fight the temptation to look to another text of Scripture before you stick your nose deep in the one you’re studying.
- Note connecting words and their functions. How does the use of words like “therefore”, “for”, “in order that”, “then”, “now” help the author communicate his main point?
- Lead listeners with thoughtful questions that direct them to the text’s authorial intent.
- Help the surprises of the text stand out to your listeners.
- Model asking good questions that uncover the author’s transformative intent. “You might notice in verse two, Paul says such-and-such. Now why would he say that here? Let’s look at verse three for the answer.”
- Zoom out of your text to see its place in the context of redemptive history.
- Explain biblical theological themes and how your text points to Christ.
- Encourage your congregation to underline repeated words or ideas in their Bibles.
- Have application undergird your teaching as a reminder that God means for Scripture to change our lives.
- When explaining a hard to understand text, remind listeners that Scripture is its own best interpreter, and model how you think through the text.
- Recommend and give away books that model faithful Bible interpretation.
- Offer Bible reading classes/lessons or read the Bible more one-to-one with congregants.
- Encourage mature members to minister by regularly reading the Bible with others.
In the same way that people are more likely to embrace user-friendly technology, peppering your preaching with these suggestions will help your people better engage the Bible over time. This will nourish their faith, grow them in holiness, and spur them on to bear fruit.
And as this happens, there will be fewer magic tricks and exaltation of the preacher, and more “Wow!” comments where they should be directed: God and His glory as revealed to us in Scripture.