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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Leave a Trail for People to Follow

When Hansel and Gretel were led off into the woods to be abandoned, Hansel left a trail of breadcrumbs to follow home. Do the same thing when you preach. Leave a trail that the audience can easily follow.

If they don't know where you came from, how you got there or where you're going, then why should they believe what you have to say? The only reason they would have to trust you is because of your position as a preacher. Unfortunately, the role of preacher is far less revered today than it was in the past.

It used to be that preachers could rely on positional authority. This is the authority that accrues to a role or position, and doesn't rely on the person in the role. A sergeant in the army has positional authority, even if the troops don't like him, they still have to do what he says.

This used to be true of preachers too. The appointed position of preacher gave them license to speak into the lives of people. This still exists in some sub-cultures within the church, but most preachers don't have any positional authority anymore.

If you know everyone in the congregation, you can use relational authority to get your message across. This authority comes from knowing and being known by the people. They trust you because they've met you, been with you and found you trustworthy. Ultimately, this is the best kind of authority and leadership, because it has the most long-lasting effects and the deepest application.

But when new people come into the church, you don't have any relational authority to use. Nor do you have positional authority to assert. So, how is it possible to preach a sermon that will apply to the lives of your audience?

Give them a way to make the decision on their own. Leave a trail they can follow. Let them decide whether or not to trust you and what you have to say.

In preaching, this means you need to take some time to explain where you're starting from. You need to give an idea of how you got there and then spell out where you're going. I find this works best in a sermon series that's based on a book in the bible. That way I can point people to the text as the starting point. It's not my ideas, but me trying to shed light on what the bible has to say.

Start with the text and stay with the text. If you jump all over the place, you're falling back onto your positional and relational authority to get people to come with you. Instead, dwell in one text, one place in scripture and let the point come from there. It should be fairly obvious, when you're done, how you got to the point from the text.

To think of it another way, you should create a repeatable experiment. In science, an experiment is only useful if it can be replicated by others. The same is true of bible study. If you, as the preacher, come up with a biblical application from your study, then the audience should be able to repeat the experiment. They need to be able to see the text, put the pieces together and come to the same place you did.

If they can't, there's no reason for them to care about what you have to say.

How do you lead people through scripture? What authority do you use when you preach?

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