“Preaching to Believers”

Ortberg, John

A lecture in the Expository Preaching Series at Calvin Theological Seminary, March, 1998

(Here’s one listener’s summary of what Ortberg said) When a person is called, gifted, etc., and preaches, something happens! Main reaction the preacher has at some point; I must be crazy! Who am I? We get sick of our own sermons. We’ll be criticized. We fail. Then we have to greet people. People thank us for points opposite to the ones we wanted to make. But we are not crazy. We melt a few hearts, or lead the way to clarity, or take down a wall between husband and wife, or encourage, or focus, or head somebody home. God does these things through the foolishness of preaching and astounds even us. Preaching isn’t the only thing that’s needed for a flourishing Christian life, but it’s a main thing. Put the hay down where the goats can get it (Keillor). Need hay–i.e., substance. Be thoughtful like Lew Smedes. Bad to have no hay; worse not to know that you have no hay. Others have hay, but they can’t put it down where the goats will get it. They don’t know the goats.

Necessary disciplines: (1) Faithful exegesis. Skill, honesty. Know the word. And be able to compare. The wise and foolish builders are really like the three little pigs. Point: in a double parable, always figure out what’s common to the two parables and also what’s different. A good Word commentary on Philippians translates not “Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality as something to be grasped, but emptied himself. . ., but “Because he was in the form of God he did not count . . .!” Becoming a servant was not a disguise for God! This is GOD–who is a servant-leader.

(2) Exegete people. Every sermon needs to enlighten the intellect, touch the heart, form the will. It helps us to know, to feel, and to do. This is the basic idea of Augustine and Aquinas.

(3) Discipline of creativity. Use story, simile and metaphor not to dazzle, but to get past people’s defenses. Hence Nathan’s story to David. He was not trying to clarify a point. He was trying to confront! Jesus confronted people and brought them to a crossroads where they had to decide who they would be. Love creates value. I f you love Barbie, you will love her doll. This is love, not that we love God–seeking value–but that God loves us (love me, love my rag doll–i.e., one of our kids’ blankies or rag dolls). We’re all rag dolls, but we’re God’s rag dolls. Don’t trash any one of them. All will someday be beautiful.

(4) Discipline of reading. Read somewhat widely, but especially read deeply. Dallas Willard: If you aim at depth, you will get both depth and breadth. If you aim at breadth, you won’t really get either. (If you aim at depth, you’ll find that if your object is any good, broad issues do congregate there.)

(5) Discipline of evaluation: We need it. It’s a pain, but worth it.

(6) Discipline of spiritual intimacy: my life needs to be spiritually richer than my preaching. Am I asking people to live a better life than I’m living?