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Mark Labberton, director of the Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching, Kate Bruce, chaplain and research fellow in preaching at Durham University, and Keith Drury who teaches ministry courses at Indiana Wesleyan, suggest the best ways to improve preaching.

Give Pastors Time Alone

Mark Labberton

Sermons stumble when preachers do not know the God they are proclaiming, the text they are preaching, or the audience they are addressing.

But here's a less obvious reason that sermons falter: when preachers don't know themselves. If John Calvin was right, that we cannot know ourselves for who we really are without knowing God, and that we cannot know God without reconsidering ourselves, then the preacher and the sermon inevitably reflect the presence or absence of this self-knowledge.

Let's consider, for example, how a preacher knows himself in relation to the basic affirmation that Jesus Christ is our Savior. Does the pastor live and preach as one who knows he needs the Savior? If the preacher loses track of the inescapable fact of his own real need to admit sin, mistakes, inadequacies, and inner and outer battles, then his preaching suffers.

The pastor needs to be gripped by the fact that he stands on the same ground as anyone and everyone to whom he preaches. If he doesn't know this to his very core, sermons can easily carry a tone of superiority, distance, and pretense, or simply fail to identify with those they are addressed to. If the fundamental honesty, not perfection, of the preacher is in question, his sermons will fail. After all, if the preacher seems dishonest about his own need, it's hard to trust him to offer us grace for ours.

Likewise, does the pastor live and preach as one who knows he has the Savior? The self-knowledge ...

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April 2010

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