When it comes to preaching I feel like I’m definitely still wet behind the ears. So it alarms me a little when even younger preachers than myself (and sometimes even much more experienced preachers) ask me for advice on preaching or to describe how I go about preparing a sermon. This morning when I saw a week old blog post by Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent By Two Guys Who Should Be, containing some advice for preachers like me, I thought it would be a good idea to share it with the one or two readers of this blog. The original post is found here.
This has helped me. I pass it along to any young preachers out there looking for free advice.
When you come to a passage there are four things you can do: illustrate, defend, explain, apply. I rearranged the order from seminary class so the four points make a convenient acronym: IDEA. Most young preachers, and probably most preachers in general, gravitate toward "explain." We do best at studying the text and communicating what we learned to others. If the passage is especially obscure or controversial, it makes sense to land heavy on the E. But sometimes the passage is relatively simple. In this case, don’t spin your wheels on endless word studies that basically repeat with synonyms what everyone can see immediately in the text.
Most preachers, myself included, need to incorporate the I, D, and A more often. One note on the D while I’m at it: it is rarely wise to spend a lot of time defending what your people don’t need defended. For example, in most churches you can probably skip the 15 minute intro on the Pauline authorship of Ephesians. Likewise, don’t waste time defending your interpretation against esoteric objections in the commentaries that no one in your church would ever think of.
"Illustrate" and "apply" are the hardest to do well. It requires a different part of your brain. You need to think creatively. You need to imagine what your people are or might be going through. You need to avoid the temptation to offer quick sermony points of application like "Don’t let money be your idol" or "Some of you need to trust God with your time." Probe deeper. Use one good, personal illustration or one concrete point of application rather than firing application-buckshot with little imagination.
So remember, for every text and every point you can illustrate, defend, explain, or apply. It’s an IDEA whose time has come.