1. God has a plan
JOSEPH "RICK" REINCKENS
I DEFINITELY WANT TO THANK MY CO-AUTHOR !!!
STORY OF THREE MINISTRIES
(1) 20-25 minutes maximum
Following is a fairly detailed analysis of why the Three Ministries sermon is good (even though it breaks a few of the 'black' preaching style rules). This is the first sermon I ever wrote. Although, obviously, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is necessary for any sermon to be good, this sermon -- and my lack of experience -- shows that technique and style -- mechanical aspects that can be learned -- also play a vital role. I would estimate that about thirty to forty percent of what makes the sermon good is technique.
I like to tell jokes, but I definitely am not a story-teller. I got the techniques of narrative story, movements/flow, suspense/confusion, and celebration from the preaching class, and the Principle of the Norm from a book on theology. Other than that, all the techniques described are from non-religious sources, mainly from books and articles on how to present a legal case to a jury. (Both preachers and trial lawyers are advocates.)
This sermon barely avoids 'by the skin of its teeth' a major error in preaching. Obviously, the passage is not about ministry. Obviously, the passage is about repentance and the difference between water baptism and baptism with the Holy Spirit. The problem is that that really isn't 'preaching material'. There's no story. We were assigned this text. I included enough about baptism of repentance to avoid totally misrepresenting the text, but I spoke about the patterns illustrated because it made a good sermon.
Good preaching should usually be a narrative, based around a story.
That is why we see a lot of preaching from the Gospels and the Old Testament but very little from the Prophets and the Epistles of Paul. Paul was not a good preacher. On one occasion, he was so boring that someone literally fell asleep, fell out a third-story window and died. Taking it in stride, however, Paul simply went over to the corpse, prayed, and brought him back from the dead! ("And these signs shall follow those who believe . . .")
Note that the narrative basis of the sermon requires a fairly short passage. The listener can't relate to a three-page story.
This is not a fun text to preach from! I only used it because it was assigned. There really isn't a story -- it's more like a report. This is not the story of John the Baptist. Luke has that story. To a certain extent, I cheated -- a lot of what is discussed in the sermon is really based on Luke. All the material on 'church-folk' is based on Luke.
Use of analogy
I have repeatedly heard Bible-study teachers say "Jesus taught in parables because it was prophesied that the Messiah would do that." Baloney! Jesus taught in parables because it is a very effective teaching method. Aesop's 'parables' are called 'fables'. Lawyers use the same technique and call it 'analogies' or 'hypotheticals'.
A lawyer talking to a jury and a preacher preaching a sermon have the exact same task: How do I take this information, that my listeners don't understand and don't relate to and put it in terms they can understand and can relate to? Your success as a preacher (or trial lawyer!) will be directly proportional to how well you do that! It can take months to come up with a single good analogy.
Several good analogies in this sermon are:
"spiritual root canal"
"biting into something you shouldn't oughtta bit into"
You wanna be God's roadie!
The 'Principle of the Norm'
Each major principle in Scripture has one section that has the most complete exposition. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is the 'home' of the Rapture; not 1 Corinthians 15:51 et seq. Very few Biblical concepts are only discussed once. Examining related passages helps add 'color' and 'depth' to the story. In this case, a relatively bland report in Mark takes on 'texture' by including details from a parallel passage in Luke.
A good sermon should cover several related thoughts. There should be obvious movement from one section to the next. To keep interest there should be at least two movements (3 sections). To avoid confusion, there should be no more than five movements (6 sections). Generally, there should be 3-4 movements.
"Rick, how the heck do you see three ministries in that passage ???" There's 1) John the Baptist, and 2) Jesus, and . . . that's it! How do you see three ministries? What the heck are you talking about ???"
This is thrown in to create a little suspense. Note that this is a fairly advanced technique that can easily bomb!
The professor mentioned that in one of his sermons he suddenly stopped and said "Did anyone hear that flute?" Then he continued. A few minutes later he said "I know you must have heard the flute that time!" When he mentioned it a third time, people were looking at him like he was crazy. Then he explained: "In old times when there was a plague [I don't recall exactly where he said this was done], when somebody died they used to play a flute to notify people to pick up the body. Listen. Somebody's kid just got killed in a drive-by. There it is again. Somebody just died of an overdose. There it is again. Somebody's marriage just died." etc., etc.
Avoid a 'String of Pearls'
Avoid a 'string of pearls': four or five great unrelated topics. This confuses listeners and they can't remember the point of the sermon.
It is unrealistic to expect people to remember a concept after hearing it only once or twice. Repetition helps learning. However, to keep the listener interested the same material must be re-presented in different ways. In the celebration part this is especially common. Use a thesaurus to find other words with the same meaning. This sermon repeats the steps in ministry three times, to help the listener remember.
The single-most thing that makes this a good sermon is word-pictures.In this sermon, everyone can see themself biting into an apple or a steak and suddenly feeling a horrible shooting pain. Everyone can see themself shouting 'Oh, my God ...'. Everyone can see themself hearing the dentist say "I'm going to have to do a root canal." Everyone can see themself saying "Can't we put it off a little longer?"
(Yes, when I wrote this I had a broken tooth and had been told that I need root canal.)
Toward the end is one of my favorite word-pictures, Jude 14-15. ("See, the Lord is coming ...") This is combined with a reference to Revelation, with Jesus leading the saints at the Second Coming. For some strange reason, I just have this mental picture from the perspective of someone on Earth: Suddenly there is a huge thunderclap and the sky splits open from East to West! Thousands upon thousands of people on flying horses are coming out of the split. I can just picture the person looking up and thinking "Oh, *%@$# !!!"
People remember the unusual, the oddball. That is the reason for using phrases like "you couldn't keep him killed!" The subconscious response is "Wait a minute . . ."
Like it or not, we need to face the fact that most people don't remember much of what they see or hear. In most cases, the most we can hope for is that the person will remember one or two particularly memorable concepts or a particularly catchy phrase. This sermon is deliberately filled with sound bites:
"If he trusted in God, you could kill him, but you couldn't keep him killed."
"Telling them 'You need to repent' is like recommending root canal for their soul."
Bite into it and "Oh my God, oh my God, oh God, oh God, oh God! Oh, Jesus! God, that hurts! Oh God, oh God, oh God!"
Dentistry on your spirit
Spiritual novocain (a particular favorite!)
Sin epidural (another favorite)
"If you got a rotten tooth, puttin' junk in it ain't gonna fix it! If you got a rotten life, ..."
"Use a 'junk Jesus' for quick fix"
"Just give me a big shot o' Jesus and I'll be on my way!"
"Put it on my tab."
Jesus ain't a flu shot! (another particular favorite!)
The Jews were churchfolk!
He didn't say 'God, let's make a deal'.
You wanna be God's roadie!
Yeah, me and God ... yeah, we're real tight. Hey, the Big Guy don't make a move without talking to me first!" (This is particularly aimed at the people who go around claiming everything they say is rubber-stamped by the Holy Spirit.)
God saying "Good job, I'll take it from here!"
I'm a lawyer and I frequently get comments from non-lawyers about how easy it is to understand my writings! Years ago I learned a great technique for effective writing and speaking: Write for an intelligent adult with a ninth-grade education. You may be thinking, "Yes, . . . but a lot of my listeners or readers are college graduates." Look over this paragraph. It's clear, concise, and easy to understand, isn't it? Does it sound like I'm 'talking down' to you? Do you think an intelligent adult with a ninth-grade education would understand it? To someone with more education it doesn't come across as 'simplistic', it comes across as clear and easy to understand.
According to the translators, the NIV Bible is written for a seventh-grade reading level.
A sermon should 'flow' 'upwards'. The various movements should build to a . . .
The Gospel is the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ! It is hope for the downtrodden, a light to those in darkness, salvation for the damned. A sermon should build to a climactic celebration.
PERSONAL STYLE CHARACTERISTICS
Following are some attributes of this sermon that are based on my personal style:
Lots of theology
I personally think there is not enough emphasis on doctrine, theology, and apologetics at the general congregation level in CME churches (and many other denominations). This sermon has lots of theology squeezed in, without getting obnoxious or confusing.
Important note: Although I intentionally added a number of theology points (Jesus was fully human, the Resurrection was prophesied), even I was amazed at how theology-packed this sermon is. I didn't realize it until I started putting together this list. If I had intentionally tried to put that much in, it would have come off like a rambling, boring 'string of pearls' lecture on theology.
Generally, a sermon should build on a steady incline from the start to the celebration. Instead, this sermon has a 'check-mark' flow. The sermon is fairly flat, some humor, some interesting word-pictures, etc., then it nose-dives, crashes and burns: John gets his head cut off and his ministry dies out.
God, Rick! That's depressing!
BUT . . .
This sermon follows the comedy format called a 'saver': the comedian does the joke 'setup' and tells the punch line . . . and the joke bombs! But, then he pulls out the saver! The real punch line was the second one!
This flow was intentional; I debated quite awhile about whether to omit the 'crash and burn' section. I left it in because the move to the celebration is that much more uplifting.
Here, God shows up and saves what seems like a hopeless waste and turns it into something worth celebrating.
Most Bible preachers and teachers are so hung up on the words of the Bible that they never talk about patterns in the Bible. This sermon is a perfect example of an important teaching in a pattern. This passage and the related passages don't talk about how God prepares ministries but they illustrate it.
Of course, no style is perfect. Here are some problems with the 'black' preaching style, in no particular order. (Keep in mind that the "Three Ministries" sermon breaks the style rules a bit here and there.)
Many topics don't lend themselves to a story format. Prophecy is almost never mentioned in black churches (and many mainstream churches, where this preaching style is not used). Twenty-eight percent of the Bible is prophecy, including eighteen books that are almost totally prophecy. Apologetics, theology, and doctrine generally don't lend themselves to a story format. This means that most of Paul's writings are rarely used for preaching in black churches.
The remaining material gets repetitious. If you don't preach on the 28 percent of the Bible that is prophecy, don't preach from the roughly one-half of the New Testament that explains theology, doctrine, etc., and leave out roughly 20 percent of history that has little value for preaching, it leaves a much smaller set of source material.
Anyone who has regularly attended services at black churches for more than two years has heard at least two or three sermons on "the woman with the issue of blood", at least ten sermons on gossiping and "church folk", etc. Those same people have probably never heard the details about "After You Die", for instance, which deals with prophecy.
Story sermons aren't analytical. The 'celebration' approach primarily appeals to emotions rather than logic, reasoning, etc. However, people also need to hear the logical, intellectual basis and aspects of Christianity, not just the emotional appeal. Church members routinely are encouraged to talk to others about Jesus, etc., but when people ask common questions such as "Yes, but how do we know the Bible is true?" or "Is the Book of Mormon also true?", the member hasn't been given the answer. This style of preaching generally just declares "I know that I know that I know!", which leaves the listener unprepared for real-life evangelism situations.
On the one hand, constant 'inspirational' sermons can lead to a 'feel-good' approach to church participation. On the other hand, people need to understand that Christianity is not about in-depth understanding of complex principles and details -- it's about a relationship between the worshiper and God.
Another point to consider is that the church emphasizes self-study and group study, not just preaching. Every Christian preacher, regardless of color, heritage or denomination, encourages the listeners to study for themselves. Topics that don't lend themselves to a story format are taught in classes.
As in most things, when it comes to preaching, the best approach for the long term is to change styles, depending on the particular message God has given the preacher for that audience.
(c) 1999 Joseph "Rick" Reinckens
Used by permission