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Retired prof urges blend in modern preaching styles

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–While there is value in diverse sermon styles, pastors should keep expository preaching the primary force of their ministry, a retired seminary professor said.

“You can do a lot of fancy things in the introduction and other facets of your sermon, but if you want to teach the Bible then it needs primarily to have an expositional shape,” said Craig Skinner, former professor of preaching at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Skinner was guest lecturer at the Mill Valley, Calif., seminary’s annual H.I. Hester Lectures on Preaching May 2-4.

“Expository shape ought to be 85 percent of your (preaching) ministry if you want to build your church on biblical truth,” Skinner told students attending the event. Even using an expositional approach, though, Skinner said preachers must increasingly seek ways in today’s society to communicate the “timeless truth” of the Bible.

“Creativity is very much needed today,” he said. “Every preacher ought to deliver a timely truth that changes the lives of people. We’re not seeking creativity for novelty, but for a fresh way of communicating with attention power.”

Such a process, he cautioned, will require personal courage: “You have to be prepared to make some mistakes in order to take some risks.”

Important in any kind of sermon preparation, Skinner said, is adequate time for full preparation.

“I don’t think people preach poor sermons. I think people preach immature sermons and undeveloped sermons,” he said. “Give the Lord time to speak to you and work through you. There are creative elements within your own person that you can employ as you develop sermons.”

Too many pastors, he quipped, “spend Saturday night rapidly mounting a horse riding off in all directions.”

Offering a variety of suggestions to sermon development, Skinner also outlined a 5-step process for sermon reflection and development:

— Informing. “Make sure you have all the necessary material and allow room for the Holy Spirit to speak to you before you set the framework of what others say.”

— Exploring. “Sermon seeds have to be cultivated. You have to list all the possible ideas as you prepare the soil for the seed to grow. Creative thoughts are the children of mixing all the thoughts you have and the facts you’ve written down. You’re exploring all sorts of things. The deeper the frustration, the greater the chance for success.”

— Withdrawing. “We let the material incubate and let the creative inner self deal with it. The human personality is essentially created in the image of God and if you let it rest, you’ll see the partnership of the Holy Spirit.”

— Discovery. “Don’t look for it to be right until it’s due. If you start pulling out a sermon too early it won’t bear the fruit that is due. The creative self will do the work.”

— Verifying. “You actually reap more than you sow. In the last stage of verifying you can work through your ‘sermon garden’ and see what’s ready for harvest.

Citing Jesus’ parable in Mark 4, the former professor likened sermon development to the work of the seed sower who “cooperated with God” to bring understanding of His truth to people.

Skinner urged preachers to study the critical materials such as commentaries at the end of the process, in order for the Holy Spirit to set the framework of the sermon rather than the writings of others.

“Reposition critical study by spending more reflective time living with the text,” he said. “Work with what you know in scripture, with what the spirit teaches your subconscious self. Work with the process of creativity.”

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  • Cameron Crabtree