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Heart preaching is the key to power in the pulpit, Vines says

of God, but also by preaching with heart, Jerry Vines told an audience of more than 200 pastors and students March 27 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“What makes a heart preacher?” asked Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla. “A genuine, personal, intimate walk with God. Love for people. … When our hearts are moved, we move people.”

Vines was the keynote speaker for the seminary’s first “Power in the Pulpit” preaching seminar. Other speakers included the seminary’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr., and faculty members Daniel Akin, vice president for academic administration and dean of the school of theology; Mark Howell, assistant professor of preaching; and Hershael York, the Victor and Louise Lester Associate Professor of Christian Preaching.

Vines urged pastors not to neglect the emotional element of preaching, which is commonly missing from today’s sermons.

“I don’t see how you can preach the great truths of the Bible and not get a little emotional about them,” Vines said.

But this passion does not entail shallow, surface emotions and “crocodile tears,” he said.

“When you get to thinking about the cross of Christ where he gave himself for our sins and when you think about the magnitude of his great love for us and his mercy … I don’t know how you can deal with these kinds of things and not be stirred in your heart and not be moved in your soul,” Vines said.

This emotion, coupled with a commitment to the exposition of Scripture, is the key to becoming “masters of assemblies” — a phrase from Ecclesiastes 12:9-11, Vines’ text for his three addresses.

“Wouldn’t you agree that all of us who preach would like to be a master of assemblies? That God would use us in a very special way under the anointing of the Holy Spirit to be masters of the art of sermon preparation and delivery?” Vines asked.

These verses in Ecclesiastes — a word which itself means “one who speaks before an assembly” — give three ways to become more proficient preachers, Vines said. These three main components of the preaching enterprise are exposition, composition and proclamation.

Exposition, or “unpacking the passage,” is crucial to the whole process of preaching, Vines said.

“This is where it all begins,” he explained. “It’s the most difficult. It’s the most demanding. Yet it is the most fascinating phase of the whole process of preaching the Word of God.”

Engaging in true and accurate exposition demands that the preacher be a devoted exegete, a consummate learner and an “early riser,” Vines said.

“If you’re going to be a serious expositor of biblical truth, you’re going to have to put a lot of time in on it,” he added.

Once the text has been analyzed, one should look for the theological significance or the timeless truths of the passage.

“You are preaching to real people who live in a real world,” Vines explained. “You are coming from a real book which was written by real people in real situations. What you have to do is translate their real world into your real world. And you do that on the basis of the truths that are transcendent.

“A sermon ought to have heaven as its father and earth as its mother. Bring your sermon to bear on daily life.”

Preachers, though, have an able ally as they apply the Word to their congregations, Vines said.

“You have something no communicator has but the Bible teacher and the Bible preacher, and that’s the Holy Spirit,” Vines said. “The Holy Spirit can take the truth and apply it to the heart in amazing, supernatural, unbelievable ways.”

Once the preacher has analyzed and explained the passage, he then moves to the process of composition and synthesis — “putting it back together and getting it in a package to deliver.”

As “a composition of words about the Word,” the sermon should not sacrifice truth to keep the congregation’s attention.

“A sermon does not have to be uninteresting to be biblically faithful,” Vines said. “The reason some people are bored with sermons is because the sermons are boring. You don’t have to be boring when you preach Bible truth.

“We’re being told today that biblical exposition is not interesting, that people don’t like it, that it turns them off. I’m here to tell you, I’ve been preaching 40-something years. It doesn’t turn them off if you do it correctly. The problem is not with the exposition. The problem is with the expositor.”

The composition of the sermon should also be simple because God’s truth is simple, Vines said.

“I’ve always felt it was a great compliment when parents said to me, ‘My children like to hear you preach because they understand what you say,'” Vines said. “If you put the food down there where the little rabbits can get it, I guarantee that the giraffes can go down and get it too.”

The final phase of the expository process is proclamation – the actual delivery of the sermon, Vines said.

“The delivery aspect is the more difficult of the tasks,” he said. “Good proclamation, good delivery either makes or breaks a sermon.”

And all good proclamation involves “preaching for decision,” he said.

“There is that stabbing, stinging, convicting element of our preaching,” Vines said. “God can anoint the preacher so that his words can be used to bring great conviction to bear.”

The preacher should use all ethical means of persuasion, not to “get another scalp,” but to allow the Holy Spirit to use words to influence people for Christ, Vines said.

“The preacher has a larger and a nobler purpose than just preaching,” Vines said. “He is not a manipulator. He is to be a Christian persuader.”

Above all, Vines said, the preacher should approach the entire process of exposition, composition and proclamation with humility.

“I think every week of my life I feel almost like a beginner,” he said. “I feel like I’m just wading out in water far over my head to try to preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.”

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  • Bryan Cribb