Finding Your Voice

Last week I started a sequence of posts that include observations at this point in my life and ministry. In talking about preaching, I said, “Be yourself . . . Don’t mimic the manner or channel the personality of other preachers. Develop your own characteristic style, rhythm, and sense of humor. Be who God made you to be.”

I didn’t use this terminology, but I was describing what is known as “finding your voice.” I’m not referring to your physical, audible voice. This use of the word “voice” refers to your unique manner of expression. Many dictionaries (online, at least) don’t include this definition, but I found one that does, albeit the 8th and last entry:

  1. The distinctive style or manner of expression of an author or of a character in a book.(

I’m applying this idea, not to communicating through written words, but through speaking, especially preaching.

I think when you’re younger as a preacher you feel like you have to fit a certain mold. Your idea of how to communicate may come from your training in a homiletics class, from observing certain preachers you respect or who seem to be effective, or from other sources. As you mature, you should develop your own speaking style, manner of expression, sense of humor, and way of connecting with the audience.

Philips Brooks defined preaching as “Truth through personality.” Of course, preaching should give voice primarily to the text of Scripture you are preaching. But because of the nature of preaching, that truth is voiced through the preacher’s personality.

In my next post I’ll share some more observations at this milestone in life and ministry, on Ministry and Churches.

2000 Sermons, 25 years, Some Observations (Part 1)

My filing system shows that I recently preached my 2000th sermon. This year I will complete 25 years of pastoral ministry. Praise God for His grace. I want to write down some of the things I have learned along the way. I think I’ll do it in 3-4 separate posts, including what I have learned about preaching, about ministry and churches, about people, and about God.

Here are some things I have learned about preaching, in no particular order.

Preparing and preaching a sermon is like having a baby. You labor over it for many hours, sometimes right up until the minute you start speaking, and then it is born. If you’ve prepared diligently, something good will come out. It isn’t always pretty, but it has potential :).

Trust the text. You don’t have to make up stuff to say. Let the text speak for itself. Explain what it means and apply it to life. If you are struggling with what to say in a sermon, keep digging in the text. Good stuff will come out of the text. Say it.

Don’t just repeat what you learned in seminary or have heard others say. Study out difficult passages, complicated theological points, and biblical positions on current issues.

The commentaries aren’t always right. Use them, but study for yourself and reach your own conclusions.

Most people need help applying truth to their lives. Include enough application to help people grow, not only in knowledge, but also in practice.

Don’t rush through important topics and difficult, profound truths. Give thorough attention to a text or topic. If necessary, turn one sermon into three, or extend a series. The truth deserves full treatment, and people need to understand it.

Shepherd the flock with the Word. Teach truth from Scripture in order to bring the immature to maturity, the weak to a place of strength. If a tragedy impacts the whole church, don’t ignore it in preaching. Take a Sunday and address it lovingly and compassionately with comfort and encouragement from God’s Word. If changes in church culture are needed, teach on the issues from the Word, then lead in a biblically-based direction.

Have an organized filing system for sermons. As years pass, you will benefit from being able to find previously preached material and from knowing what you preached at certain times.

Be as simple, clear, and practical as possible. Make the complex simple. Make the eternal understandable.

Preaching is communicating. Develop and grow in communication skills.

Be yourself. Don’t use other preachers’ material, other than brief summaries or quotes. Don’t mimic the manner or channel the personality of other preachers. Develop your own characteristic style, rhythm, and sense of humor. Be who God made you to be.

Use canned illustrations (the ones you find in a sermon illustration book or on a preaching website) sparingly. Look around you and use illustrations from your own life, the news, nature, and people you meet. Make up analogies that give insight to complicated truths. Jesus illustrated His teaching and preaching using the circumstances around Him and stories He made up. It’s fresh, engaging, and it works.

Don’t let your preaching be colored by frustration or anger at someone who has hurt you.

Be humble and transparent without telling all of your sins.

When you think your sermon was good, well, it might not have been that good. When you think your sermon was horrible, you will often hear from people how it was just what they needed.

“Keep your b*** in the chair until the hard work is done” (John MacArthur). In other words, study until you understand the text and have something to say about it. Put in the time. Don’t give up. Don’t get lazy. Don’t “wing it.” Fight off distractions. Do the hard work of preparation, for as many hours as it takes to be ready to explain and apply the text. (I can’t write that word out, my Mom might read this.)

Make your exegesis precise.

Make your exposition clear.

Make your delivery conversational yet passionate.

God uses the preaching of His Word to grow people. This growth happens over years of time. It is one of my greatest rewards to see years of expositional ministry bear fruit in peoples’ lives.

Pray. Pray for understanding. Pray for power. Pray for conversion. Pray for growth. Pray for fruit.

Preach Christ. Preach the Gospel. Preach truth. Preach grace.

Preach the Word.

My Hope

Some people have internal struggles that others don’t know about. They sometimes share their inner turmoil with the people closest to them. This mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish may be related to doubt, worry, lust, anger, guilt, inadequacy, overcoming a particular sin, carrying heavy responsibility, grief, depression, loneliness, or other issues that, through repeated cycles, can lead to despair.

I have had some of these internal struggles at times in my life, and have found various sources of help and encouragement. Learning how other people have persevered is one such source of help. One of these people is William Cowper.

William Cowper (1731-1800) was an English poet and hymn writer best known for his friendship with John Newton (author of Amazing Grace) and for his hymn, There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood. He wrote many other hymns as well. Cowper (pronounced “Cooper” – say it right in your head as you read this 🙂 ) was plagued with internal struggles for much of his life. He was even institutionalized for a few years for insanity. Through the years when experiencing waves of internal turmoil, Cowper found hope in Jesus.

One of his hymns has especially encouraged me and may help you. It expresses his longing to be free from the chains of earthly life and to be in the presence of His Savior. I have written it inside the cover of my Bible as a reminder of my hope. The waves of doubt, burden, and inadequacy that threaten to overwhelm only intensify my longing to be with Him.

To Jesus, the crown of my hope,
my soul is in haste to be gone;
oh, bear me, ye cherubim, up,
and waft me away to His throne.

My Saviour, whom absent I love;
whom not having seen, I adore;
whose name is exalted above
all glory, dominion, and power–

Dissolve Thou these bands that detain
my soul from her portion in Thee,
ah! strike off this adamant chain,
and make me eternally free.

When that happy era begins,
when arrayed in Thy glories I shine,
nor grieve any more, by my sins,
the bosom on which I recline–

Oh, then shall the veil be removed!
and round me Thy brightness be poured;
I shall meet Him whom absent I loved,
I shall see whom unseen I adored.

And then, never more shall the fears,
the trials, temptations, and woes,
which darken this valley of tears,
intrude on my blissful repose.

William Cowper