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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Sermon Planning

Introductions continued.... make sure they are not pants...

Thanks Mike,Great questions.Some quick cross-cultural comments first.1) Thanks for the translation of 'skeptical' without which I would have been very confused (that's 'confuzed' to you).2) As to whether people wear pants to church I can't say that I would know, though most of the men certainly wear trousers. 3) It would be good to have intros that are not pants.Obviously you are correct that if people were TOTALLY disinterested they wouldn't be here (Even more so in the UK than the US, where we have less that 10% of the population in church on any given Sunday.)However, in most of those churches there isn't a 40 minute sermon, and there isn't an appetite for it. I do feel that it is kind to help people to see the relevance of what they are going to hear ahead of time, rather than wading into 5-10 minutes of exegesis before they begin to see the relevance of it for their lives.4 ways in which an introduction can help people all people, however interested they are to listen:

  1. An introduction gets people thinking about a topic that will be addressed in the sermon.
  2. It helps people to think application from the very beginning.
  3. In that way it helps to give shape to a sermon.
  4. It disarms the sermon-biber who loves to hear sermons without putting it into practice. I know even from my own quiet times that I must force myself before reading the text to think 'relevance' rather than merely 'comprehension' before I start to read. An intro is a kind way to help the whole congregation to think that way.

My sermon on Sunday had a brief (3-4 minute) intro. It certainly wasn't clever. But I think the sermon would have been poorer without it, as it was designed to get people thinking about how they set the whole direction of their life, and therefore people would come to the text with that question.If you are interested, you can read it here.

Presuming Interest in Introductions

Aaron and Mike G-S... thanks for your thoughts.Mike, something you said raises a question in my mind.  You say that not having an introduction presumes interest in the text on the part of the hearer.  The point of the introduction then is to drum up some interest in the crowd.I am a little skeptical (Mike, that's an American word that means "sceptical"), but I am happy to be proven wrong.Do you really have a lot of disinterested people in your gatherings on Sundays?  My thinking is this... if someone has, of their own accord: 

  1. Woken up early on a day off. 
  2. Put on pants (usually). 
  3. Found transportation to church. 
  4. Endured eight songs, three prayers, and two longish Scripture readings.   

... all while they could be out on a bike ride or playing soccer or watching the pre-game shows... well, I think they've demonstrated some interest. The only people in my church that I can think of as disinterested are teenagers being dragged their by their parents.  Christians are interested in hearing God speak through his Word.  If they are not, they probably wouldn't be coming along to the church with the hour long expositional sermons.  Non-Christians who come to church (at least, in my experience) are usually quite interested in the sermon, otherwise they'd be somewhere else. So are there some bored people there, wishing they were somewhere else?  I'm sure there are.  But the whole "sermon introductions drum up interest among the non-interested" sounds like a leftover from 1950's homiletics classes, when churches were full of bored nominal Christians.  I'm not sure I want to waste a lot of time and effort on the unlikely chance that I'm going to pry someone off their iPhone by the sheer force of my rhetorical brilliance.   Help me see the light!

More on Introductions

Introductions seem like a pretty normal way of communicating publicly. I rarely hear someone communicate to an audience without some type of introduction. Letters have introductions, speeches have introductions, and I think that sermons ought to have introductions.Surely any preacher knows the danger of trying to look smart for a congregation by citing a book he knows only he has read or relaying a historical event he feels sure nobody else is aware of. But I think that is a danger in the whole sermon, not just the introduction. Our motives are always suspect, but we should flee from the temptation to draw attention to ourselves--which is why I like Mike M.'s caution.In addition to the comments below, I would add that an introduction is helpful because it allows the preacher time to introduce concepts important to understanding a text that the text may not directly deal with. A passage may assume a familiarity with a doctrine but not really describe it. A passage may be helped by some simple context, "How have Christians understood this in the past?" or "How do non-Christians view this today?" An introduction seems like an ideal way to address those kinds of issues.One more thing. Listening can be hard, especially to preaching that really wants a text to be understood. It is easier (at least for me) to listen to illustrations. They are less demanding, easier to follow, more obvious. So, I think of an introduction like an illustration. Before we begin the hard work of understanding the text, this is an opportunity to ease into it. I don't think that's demeaning to the listener, just common sense.Now, some housekeeping:(1) I have no insight about better ways to celebrate the Lord's Supper. However, I do have a funny story about a loaf of bread, the Lord's Supper, and a toddler.(2) Yes, Mark's reading list is discouraging. You've got to be kidding me . . . one week? For those of us who are discouraged, we ought to revisit Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book. Not every book is read the same way. Non-fiction need not always be read word-for-word. Still, my guess is Mark read it word for word.(3) I'm excited about all the meetings on 9Marks and the future of the SBC in Louisville in a couple weeks. I'll be there, volunteering at the 9Marks booth (and getting a free t-shirt I might add). Cool.Now, back to my sermon . . . I've got an introduction to work on.

From the "Laugh or Cry?" File

Check out this article from yesterday's Washington Post. Above the fold there is a large picture of a man dressed in camoflague holding up a Bible. Following is a long story about Christ Mountaintop Chapel in the DC suburbs, where Pastor Rob Seagears has committed to preaching on whatever the highest grossing movie for the week happens to be.

A few choice quotes from the article:

The Summer Cinema series... seeks to attract those who don't ordinarily attend church while making the experience more fun for those who do.

Seagears bases each week's message on the highest-grossing movie the previous weekend. He sees the movie, then prays about how to extract a biblical message.

Creative services can provide an edge in a tight "religious marketplace," said David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research in Connecticut. "There's a lot of experimentation going on in worship these days," Roozen said.

He removed his cap and aviator glasses, led a prayer, then preached on the importance of relationships with God, other believers and non-Christians. (He also urged people not to see the movie.)

"It's all about engaging your audience," he said.

Are my sermons really Christian?

One only has to read book
reviews on the 9-Marks website to see that there is an epidemic among
popular ‘evangelical’ books that say some true things about Christianity but
fail to articulate the gospel clearly. They say a great deal about Jesus but
fail to say that his penal substitutionary atonement is the only hope for
sinners under God’s just and holy wrath.

Take just three quotes from the reviews in the latest 9Marks
9Marks Journal:


 Most pointedly, I do not believe Simply
tenderly and clearly warns individual
sinners of their peril or
calls upon them to flee to Christ and to his cross as the only remedy for
personal guilt and sin before a holy God. (Andy
Davis on NT Wright)

But you still haven’t told the
non-believer what exactly he’s beholding on the cross. He is, in fact,
beholding the Son of God taking upon himself the wrath of God for the
sins of
all who repent and believe. That picture is amazing. But it’s more. It’s
actually doing something, like paying for sin. (Jonathan
Leeman on Erwin McManus)

The fact is, McLaren does not
sufficiently call human beings to grapple with and exult in
what God did for us
in Christ. Put another way, he does not place concern for the here-and-now in
the context of the eternal. That is a grievous error, for it is only when we
a deep understanding of our eternal relationship with God, won by Jesus Christ,
that concern for the present world is placed in its proper perspective. The
Bible could not be clearer about this. Good works apart from Christ’s saving
work are nothing. But good works springing from a heart that has been changed
by God’s regenerating power are the sweetest of fruit. (Greg
Gilbert on Brian McLaren) 

My question is this: could the same be said about any of the
sermons that we preach from the pulpit? I fear that I have preached several
sermons which were Christian in what they said, but failed to get to the heart
of Christianity in failing to articulate the gospel. 

Preachers, remember that you have not adequately taught any
Christian truth until you have shown how that truth relates to the center of
Christian truth the gospel. Thus we cannot claim to have preached a Christian
sermon if it does not call sinners to depend entirely upon the penal
substitutionary atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Will the gospel be clear in your next sermon?