PreacherTalk

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A PENTATHLON STRATEGY FOR PREACHERS

 A modern Olympic pentathlon combines five sports into one. An athlete completes all five sports in a single day. The first three sports are fencing, freestyle swimming, and equestrian show jumping. The final two sports combine pistol shooting and running into one event. An athlete must balance her efforts to achieve the highest total score which means that sometimes she must avoid pushing to win in one event to focus on a later event. The total score of all five events is all that matters to win Olympic gold.

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SERMON WAYPOINTS

I just returned from a ten-day boat trip down the eastern coast from Falmouth, Maine to Norfolk, Virginia in Mark Halfacre’s boat Pegasus. Mark was beginning his trip down the intra-coastal waterway to Florida, and I had the privilege of joining him on the first leg. Each night Mark would get out his navigational charts on the IPad and plot his course for the next day. He had to chart a course that avoided shoals under water and buoys above yet led us to the next marina.
 
Mark would enter the GPS markers on his chart plotter as “waypoints.” Each day we would navigate the boat from waypoint to waypoint. The chart plotter would alert us when we arrived at a waypoint. We would check it off and start for the next waypoint until we arrived at our destination for the night.
 
Sermon waypoints help us navigate our way from text to message each week. I know that I need spiritual GPS markers to plot the course for my sermon preparation. The waypoints help me avoid the shoals, so my message does not end up as a Sunday shipwreck.

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THE SAFNS FUNNEL

Preaching is disciple-making. Our purpose in preaching is to grow fully developed followers of Jesus Christ. We must not neglect the often forgotten word in the Great Commission given to us by Jesus when he called us to teach the people “to observe ALL that I commanded you” (Mt. 28:20). As Paul told the Ephesian elders, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). Expository preaching is the best way to achieve the purpose of disciple-making in corporate worship.
 
Every preacher follows a method. The SAFNS funnel is mine. It is not unique to me. Nothing we teach or write about is unique. We stand on the shoulders of others in our ministries. I have taught it at the Bible college level, in the seminary classroom and workshops both here and abroad. I have practiced and honed this method beginning with my first sermon 45 years ago. Here, in summary, is the SAFNS method.

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IS ANYBODY LISTENING?

We preach our hearts out Sunday after Sunday. Nothing much seems to change! Change comes slowly in small-town churches. The same people sit in the same seats occasionally supplemented by a new family in town. Growth is slow with frequent setbacks. Resources for ministry are limited. “Nice sermon, pastor,” people say as they leave. “Good job.” Another Sunday done. All good. Little changes. Lord, is anybody listening?

I agree with Karl Vaters that small church pastors are some of the hardest working and faithful servants of the Lord. He writes that “discouragement is unquestionably the most widespread burden faced by small church pastors.” More small church pastors leave the ministry because of discouragement than any other factor. He notes that the most common cause of discouragement comes from “feelings of failure for not hitting the goals for numerical increase that are set, either by others or by ourselves” (“The 3 Most Common Challenges Small Church Pastors Face – and How to Help,” Pivot Blog, June 1, 2018, Christianitytoday.com).


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MEASURING TO IMPROVE

Satisfaction is the enemy of improvement. We have to want to improve our preaching before we can improve our sermons. A pastor recently asked me about the purpose behind the preaching cohorts. I explained that the objective is to gather with other pastors to improve our preaching. His response was all too common. He said, “I’m pretty satisfied with my preaching. It is something I think I do well at and enjoy doing.” Here is the danger we all face. We start to settle. What we are doing works. Why fix what is working? We become satisfied, so we stop improving. 

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