Category: Preaching

Here’s to You, Dr. Robinson

Preaching magazine is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and one of the figures who has most influenced preaching during those years has been Haddon Robinson, now retired from his teaching role at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Through his work at GCTS, Denver Seminary and Dallas Seminary, he has taught generations of pastors and teachers, who are helping to shape the evangelical pulpit of today. Every evangelical preacher owes him a debt of gratitude. One of his last major projects is Theology of Work, a treasury of resources on the topic of faith and its relationship to work. As the website explains: “The Theology of Work (TOW) Project exists to help people explore what the Bible and the Christian faith can contribute to ordinary work.” Given this is the week when we celebrate Labor Day, this is an opportune moment to take a look at the site, including articles, Bible studies and more.Haddon-Robinson

There is also a revised and updated edition of Robinson’s classic Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages now available. This is one of those essential texts that belongs on every preacher’s bookshelf, but don’t put it on the shelf until it has been read and thoroughly devoured!

Thank you, Dr. Robinson, for all that you have contributed to those of us who preach the Word. Your influence and legacy will be making a kingdom impact for generations to come.

Preaching & Plagiarism

Some sincerely wonder where the lines are drawn on the issue of plagiarism and preaching — what is “stealing” and what is honest research? Others bristle at the very concept of plagiarism, insisting that everything should be “fair game” and that there is nothing wrong with using someone else’s sermon (even preaching the whole thing verbatim) if the original author doesn’t care. Recognizing there are varying views on this issue, here’s a brief summary of my position on pulpit plagiarism — so if you write to take me to task, you’ll at least know what I actually think!

We all share ideas. I get ideas from others, and I hope they get some from me. There is no problem in using ideas and stories from one another. But if I’m drawing a significant amount of material from a book or sermon by another person, it’s appropriate to briefly mention the source. How tough is it to say that a particular story was told by Chuck Swindoll or Max Lucado? (Some of our folks have read their books; they know our sources.)

I edit a magazine about preaching, and we work hard to provide useful illustrations and ideas for preachers to use in their sermons. There’s nothing wrong with that, and we don’t expect you to “footnote” us in your sermons. (If you are then publishing the material, it is appropriate to credit any published sources you use.) Of course, if you are quoting a specific person, it’s good to mention the one you are quoting.

The problem that is increasingly developing today is when a pastor copies or downloads the sermon of another person and preaches it as his own. Why is this a problem?

  1. It is dishonest. It is presenting someone else’s work as my own. If I did that in the business world or in higher education I’d be fired. Do we think preaching has less ethical demands than the secular world? Deception is deception, whatever the context.
  2. It cheats the congregation of the anointed passion that comes from a God-called messenger working through the biblical text to uncover the truth God has for that congregation that day. Our congregations deserve better than generic, off-the-shelf sermons. If you are presenting someone else’s sermon, it is more performance than preaching.
  3. It cheats the preacher. When we simply take a shortcut and use someone else’s sermons instead of doing the prayerful study to prepare our own messages, we shortchange our own process of growing as spiritual leaders. If we fail to let God grow us in this way, then down the road we will find ourselves wondering why we are so spiritually empty.

If God called you to be an actor or performer, then people expect you to perform scripts written by others. But when a congregation hears a preacher stand before them to present a message from God, they expect that person to have prayed and studied and struggled through to find the message God has for them. And I believe that is what God calls us to do. Why would we settle for less?


Why Do We Preach?

Why did God consider preaching to be something of such urgency that He places a divine calling upon selected messengers to proclaim His Word? What is the purpose of this task we call preaching? Why do we preach?

If you were to look at the average sermon, you might easily assume that the purpose of preaching is to teach people the scriptures. Over more than a quarter century of editing a magazine for preachers, and many years of teaching future preachers in the classroom, I’ve had the pleasure – or burden, as the case may be – of hearing and reading lots and lots of sermons. It is quite clear in the majority of sermons I read that the preacher’s purpose is to help the listeners better understand some portion of scripture.

And if you look at the way we tend to write about preaching or teach ministers to preach, it would become ever clearer that our focus as preachers is on explaining the meaning of one or more biblical texts. We spend many hours teaching future pastors to select a text, study it, exegete it, identify its big idea, and then explain all this to a congregation in a way they will understand, while trying to avoid putting them into a sound sleep.

Certainly preaching requires careful study if we wish to be faithful expositors of God’s Word. If our congregations don’t gain an enhanced understanding of scripture by listening to our sermons, there is definitely something wrong with our preaching. But is that why we preach – so that our people will become more adept at understanding and interpreting the scriptures?

I think the answer is best found in scripture itself, and particularly in Paul’s second letter to his protégé Timothy. Reading from 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul writes: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (ESV).

In this famous passage, the apostle Paul offers us a critical insight into the nature and purpose of scripture. He begins with the nature of scripture – that it is “God-breathed.” It is inspired. As John Stott explains, it is “not that Scripture itself or its human authors were breathed into by God, but that Scripture was breathed or breathed out by God. . . . It originated in God’s mind and was communicated from God’s mouth by God’s breath or Spirit. It is therefore rightly termed ‘the Word of God’, for God spoke it. Indeed, as the prophets used to say, ‘the mouth of the Lord has spoken it’.”[i]

But not only is Paul suggesting the nature of scripture as a product of divine origin, he is also telling us the purpose of scripture – that it is profitable. Because it is given to us from the very breath of God, it has value and purpose for our lives. In fact, Paul points out four different categories in which scripture is profitable – it is useful “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The first category, teaching, refers to doctrine, to theological truth; the latter three categories all deal with activity, with application of that theological truth to our daily lives. In other words, Paul says that scripture is profitable for both belief and behavior.

And as we continue into verse 17, we see the culminating idea of Paul’s discussion of scripture – it is God’s gift to us and it is profitable for both belief and behavior, in order “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” In other words, our study and devotion to scripture have a purpose: they serve to equip us to accomplish God’s purposes in our lives and our ministries. The goal of our study of the scriptures to that God might make us complete, mature, and equipped to serve Him in any way He may ask.

We preach the scriptures for the same reason that God gave the scriptures: to mature and equip believers, to call them to repent, to respond, to obey. In other words, application is not a peripheral element of preaching, or one more task for the sermon among several; application is the very heart of the preaching task.

To be clear, when I speak about application, I mean a discussion of how a particular biblical text connects with real-life issues faced by our listeners. It drives biblical truth into the avenues of our lives, with a focus not on information but on transformation. Like an archer with his arrows, application in preaching faithfully takes the biblical text and shoots for a target – that target might be repentance, obedience, service, or some other biblical challenge. Anointed application has one goal: life change.

[i] John R. W. Stott, Guard the Gospel the Message of 2 Timothy (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1973), p. 100

Preaching and Pastoral Care

As a young pastor while in seminary, I served a congregation where the median age was probably 87. Yet amazingly, during my two years as their pastor, not one member of the congregation died, and only one had any kind of serious illness. I told them I was good for their health, and it appears that was the case, since two of them passed away within six months after my departure. Later, when I was an associate pastor in Tallahassee, I had an arrangement with the senior pastor. He did the hospital visits, which he enjoyed, and I did the committee meetings and other administration, which he despised. It was a win-win.

As we were developing our Master of Ministry program at Anderson University, I was sometimes asked if there would be a course on counseling. My standard response was – how long does it take to learn to refer someone to a trained counselor?

OK, so I am not Mr. Pastoral Care. Mercy and compassion are not among my primary spiritual gifts. My counseling style leans more toward grabbing someone by the scruff of the neck, shaking them, and saying, “Quit doing that!”

Though it may not be my primary ministry gift, nevertheless I do understand the vital role that pastoral care plays in ministry. In fact, before moving to South Carolina, we lived in Nashville and I was deacon training coordinator for a congregation where we had about 250 deacons, divided into 12 teams, and they handled 90% of the pastoral care needs of that church. The deacons did most of the hospital visitation – as the pastor told members, if they saw him in their hospital room it was not good news – so I helped train deacons for basic pastoral care tasks they would be performing in their ministry role. So though I’m not good at it, I do believe in it!

And I do find it interesting to think about the relationship of preaching to pastoral care. In the very first year of Preaching magazine – back in 1985 and 86 – I enlisted Wayne Oates to do a series on preaching and pastoral care. At the very start of that series, he made this observation: “For most of Christian history, preaching and pastoral care would not be spoken of with a plural verb. Preaching and pastoral care were seen and practiced as a singular experience. The earliest formulations of pastoral care in this century began in the pulpits of exceptionally persuasive and gifted preaching pastors.”

Oates cites several well-known preachers in their time as models of this synthesis of preaching and pastoral care, such as Theodore Adams, pastor of First Baptist Church of Richmond, VA for many years. “Adams’ preaching was energized by his shepherding care of individuals and small groups. In the early 1930′s he was intensely concerned with synthesizing his preaching with a genuinely scientific approach to pastoral care.

“Contemporary with Adams in the Southern Baptist ministry was a brilliant array of pastors in other communions. Ralph Sockman blended preaching and pastoral care as he preached to Methodist congregations. John Sutherland Bonnell and George Buttrick were Presbyterian preachers and authors whose sermons spoke directly to the needs of persons for ethical reinforcement of their Christian faith and personal fortification in their personal and family lives. Paul Scherer spoke as an inspired Lutheran to the need of people for pastoral care. To him preaching was an ‘event in eternity.’

“The issues of ‘being a real person’ were addressed . . . by Harry Emerson Fosdick at Riverside Church in New York. He measured the effectiveness of his sermons by the number of persons who sought his care and counsel in the following week. Norman Vincent Peale, in the Dutch Reformed Church, is well known for his books, but few beyond his parish (knew of) his remarkably pastoral preaching Sunday after Sunday at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Even fewer realize that he established what was probably the first pastoral counseling center in the context of a local church.

“These pastors, and many others of their generation, saw preaching and pastoral care as functional extensions of each other, not as separate disciplines between which a pastor chose. They taught homiletics and pastoral care in seminaries adjacent to their pastoral fields of action. In doing so they assumed that pastoral care and counseling is not a specialty apart from preaching but an organic whole with preaching.”

While these pulpit giants of the mid-twentieth century saw preaching and pastoral care as integrally related, in more recent years these two fields have been seen and taught as distinct specialties in pastoral theology. The danger of that separation is that without a lively connection to pastoral life, preaching can easily become an academic exercise disengaged from the lives of God’s people.  Likewise, pastoral care needs to be connected to the active study and proclamation of God’s Word, “because without preaching as the proclamation of the good news of the available Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, caring for people wears thin and becomes trivial.”

This is why Oates insisted on the importance of “a holistic, inseparable relationship between preaching and pastoral care. . . . The primary responsibility of a Christian pastor is to convey the good news that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. Preaching, teaching, and healing are inseparable ways of doing so.”

Easter: The Unexpected Event That Changed History

Don’t you just love a good joke?

As a culture, we sure seem to enjoy humor. Many of the top TV shows and movies are ones that make us laugh. Newspaper editors confess that they can change news coverage with barely a whimper from the public, but mess with the cartoons and there’s an outpouring of opinion!

What makes a good joke? During my doctoral studies, I had an entire seminar on humor in literature – no, it wasn’t very funny – analyzing why some things are amusing and others are not. It appears that humor typically arises from the unexpected. A story progresses normally, then suddenly takes an unexpected turn. A good joke involves a surprising twist; a great joke catches you flat-footed.

In that sense, Easter is the greatest joke in history – not because it isn’t an authentic historical event, but because it caught everyone by surprise. The resurrection of Jesus was the surprise ending of Holy Week – the unexpected twist that caught everyone off guard.

His disciples certainly didn’t see it coming. In the hours after His crucifixion, they huddled together behind locked doors, fearing they would also be arrested by the religious authorities. Three years with Him had come to this: fear, loss, despair.

Then, suddenly, He was there among them! The one who had died and been buried three days earlier now stood in their midst, and they were shocked – then, in the words of C.S. Lewis, they were “surprised by joy.” The joke was on them!

That’s the way it is when we experience Christ in our lives. Bound by sin, we are suddenly freed by God’s grace. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann calls it “the laughing of the redeemed, the dancing of the liberated.” If you have given your life to Christ, then you have also been “surprised by joy.”

Easter was also a joke on His accusers. They thought it was over, and that they had won. This would-be messiah was out of their hair, never again to question their authority or ridicule their self-righteousness. So they laid their heads on their pillows Saturday night, secure in their confidence that this Jesus movement would soon be forgotten.

Perhaps Satan himself laughed with devilish glee as he watched Jesus’ head fall onto His chest, the last breath leaving His body on that terrible Friday afternoon. “We have won!” he cried, and the demons echoed his victory shout. On the battleground of the cross, they had defeated God’s love.

But the joke was on them, for early on that first Easter morning, the forces of evil that sent Jesus to a cross now encountered a glorious, risen Christ who had conquered death. It was the great 4th century preacher John Chrysostom who, in an Easter sermon, portrayed the risen Christ laughing at the devil. On Friday, evil chuckled at its apparent triumph, but on Sunday the tables had turned. The Divine Surprise had been revealed, and history would never be the same.

            During World War II, a London church was celebrating the harvest season and a time of thanksgiving. In the center of a decorative display were some ears of corn. The services were not held, however, because before the time of the service the air raid sirens sounded, and German bombs left the church building in ruins.

Months went by, and as spring arrived onlookers noticed among the ruins a patch of green shoots. As summer approached, those shoots grew taller, and soon there was a flourishing patch of corn growing amidst the rubble. Not even bombs could destroy the life in those seeds.

The forces of sin and death and evil thought it had all ended that dark Friday at Calvary. As He was buried, they dusted their hands and said confidently, “Well, that’s that.”

Come Sunday, though, the joke was on them. God’s great surprise exploded into history as the risen Christ walked from the grave, laughing and victorious.

This Easter, He invites you to share His laughter and experience His joy.


Michael Duduit is Dean of the College of Christian Studies ( at Anderson University, and Executive Editor of Preaching magazine (


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