The acumen of a head coach often determines the success of a team. A head coach is to a team what a doctor is to hospital patients. That is, a football coach is a physician on the field. A basketball coach operates as a cardiologist on the court. A baseball coach functions as a doctor on the diamond. A head coach must have an innate ability to detect the health and vitality of a team. If a head coach senses any potential problems, he or she will remind athletes on that team to “get back to the basics.”
The idiom “get back to the basics” conveys the idea that athletes should return to the fundamentals of a sport. A basketball player will often revisit his or her shooting mechanics. A football player will reevaluate his throwing motion, his tackling technique, and his footwork. A baseball player will return to the batting cage to reassess his swing. The thought is that athletes must relearn the fundamentals of a sport to ensure success on the field.
Just as athletes “return to the basics” for success on the field, so preachers must return to the basics for success in the pulpit. A cursory look at Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 offers six “back to the basic” principles for preaching today.
- Preaching is powered by prayer; therefore, preaching is petitionary (Acts 2:1). The power of preaching stems not from eloquent expositions but effectual prayer. Many preachers show flash in the pulpit. Few preachers demonstrate fervency in the prayer closet. It is in the prayer closet, however, that preaching finds its power. Acts 2:1 informs us that, “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.” The pronoun “they” points us back to Acts 1:12-26, where a group of early believers returned to Jerusalem for a continual prayer meeting. In fact, prayer laid the preparatory groundwork for Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. Prayer was the linchpin for powerful preaching then, and it remains the linchpin for powerful preaching today. So, preacher: re-shift your priorities and redirect your focus. Move from the “me” time in the pulpit to the “knee” time in the prayer closet.
- Preaching proceeds from the mouth; therefore, preaching is verbal (Acts 2:14). “Witness at all times, and when absolutely necessary, use words.” This well-known adage, commonly attributed to Francis of Assisi, flows from the lips of many well-meaning but ill-informed preachers. The adage conveys the idea that the Gospel is preached more effectively through an exemplary lifestyle than a faithful lip. The underlying implication is that effective behavior is a prerequisite for Christian proclamation. While preachers cannot deny the corollary relationship between life and lip; belief and behavior; doctrine and duty; to assume that a preacher can proclaim a sermon without verbally articulating the content of the Gospel is downright absurd. We, as preachers, must remember that people are not saved by our life; rather, redemption comes through Christ’s vicarious death and resurrection. The only way in which unbelievers will hear about Christ’s death and resurrection is through the verbal proclamation of the Gospel. So, preacher: don’t reject the power of the spoken Gospel. Preaching is verbal; therefore, use your mouth as an instrument for transformation.
- Preaching proceeds from Scripture; therefore, preaching is biblical (Acts 2:17-21; 2:25-28; 2:34-35). Much of what is called preaching today simply isn’t. An untold quantity of preachers espouse funny stories, comical jokes, salacious soliloquies, and illuminating illustrations. These entertaining elements of a sermon, however, come at the expense of a sound exposition of Scripture. No matter how entertaining or engaging a sermon, preaching that does not proceed from Scripture, by definition, is not Christian preaching. What makes a Christian sermon unique is that the content of the sermon is breathed out of the Bible. At Pentecost, Peter demonstrated that preaching has two necessary components. First, preaching exegetes Scripture, evidenced by his exegetical treatment of Joel 2, Psalm 16, and Psalm 110. Second, preaching applies Scripture to the listener’s heart and mind. That is, preaching not only disseminates information; it also leads to life transformation. Thus, the foundation for all preaching finds root in Scripture. The text, not the preacher’s opinions or thoughts, is the crown jewel of the sermon.
- Preaching points to Christ; therefore, preaching is Christocentric (Acts 2:22-36). All of Scripture points to or stands in relation to Christ. The Old Testament anticipates Christ. The New Testament explains Him. All of Scripture operates with a longitudinal purpose to unveil God’s unfolding plan of redemption. Since the aim of Scripture is to reveal Christ, so too all Christian sermons should aim to make Christ known from Scripture. Unfortunately, many contemporary sermons lack a clear connection to Christ; the bridge between the world of the text and the world of today lacks the linkage of Christ’s person and work. Just a quick glance at the ever-so-popular contemporary topical sermons evidence the overemphasis of felt needs at the expense of clear, biblical Christology. The moral therapeutic sermons offered in many pulpits elevate the needs of humanity while subtly denigrating the greater need a listener has of Christ and His atoning work. Preachers who simply articulate a “be good, do good” sermon may produce a large following, but they leave listeners spiritually wanting. Thus, a Christocentric corrective is needed today. So, preacher: look no further than Acts 2 for your Christocentric corrective. Just as Peter showed that Scripture points to the redemptive work of Christ, so too take your text and point listeners to Christ’s redemption.
- Preaching presents doctrine; therefore, preaching is theological (Acts 2:36). Preaching and theology are congenial friends, not distant cousins. Preaching without theology lacks substance. Theology not preached lacks purpose. In Acts 2, Peter connects theology and preaching by showing how Jesus was both Lord and Christ from the Scriptures (Acts 2:36). Like Peter, skilled preachers extract the theological truths of a text and apply them in a tight and scintillating manner. General application does not assist the hearer. Specific application, however, cuts the hearer to the core. Therefore, we, as preachers, must take the time and energy to mine the gems of theology and apply them specifically in our sermons. We are to make tight theological connections for our listeners. Or to use another metaphor, we must show how the theological truths of the Bible speak to the issues of our day by painting masterful Mona Lisas. Many preachers paint their sermons with a broad brush and blur the theology of a text. Skilled preachers, however, paint careful strokes with fine brushes. These fine strokes of exegesis, theology and application can turn a sermon from a pompous pretender to a Picasso-like piece of art. So, preacher: paint a sermonic portrait, but do it carefully, colorfully, and, above all, theologically.
- Preaching positions hearers for a response; therefore, preaching is invitational (Acts 2:37-41). When Scripture is opened, God speaks and we respond. In short, preaching requires a response. It demands an invitation. God has communicated to us in His Word, and we reciprocate communication to Him by our response to His Word. This cyclical pattern is never-ending. God speaks in His Word by His Spirit. We respond to His Word with a right spirit. This is a theology of obedience in a nutshell. The irrevocable unity between the Word and the Spirit in preaching underscores the necessity for the preacher to give an invitation. The hearer must make a choice. He either rejects the message or accepts it. He either receives the message or denies it. The preached Word does not allow the hearer to straddle the fence. Neutrality is not an option. So, preacher: give an invitation so that hearers can publically respond to the Spirit and the Word.
Let’s get back to the basics of preaching. It’s time to reassess our homiletical swings. It’s time to revisit the sidelines of sermon preparation. It’s not always the best team that wins, but rather the team that is most fundamentally sound. Let’s commit to the fundamentals of preaching by offering up sermons that are petitionary, verbal, biblical, Christocentric, theological and invitational.