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when explanation becomes exasperation – jeremy selfe


I have recently been reflecting on the sermons that I have heard trying to work out the difference between the sermons that are a joy to listen to and the sermons which seem like a bit more work. For some reason, the technique I learnt in preaching class – explain (what does this text say?), illustrate (show me what this text says) and apply (what does the text mean to me?) – came to my mind and I started evaluating the sermons against this technique. I didn’t think anything would come from this exercise, I was just doing it for my own personal curiosity.

To my surprise, a pattern emerged. I soon realised that the sermons which were a joy to listen to had some form of each element (explanation, illustration and application) whereas the sermons that were a bit more work were lacking or absent in one or two of these three elements. It is such a simple technique to keep in our minds yet the results, I believe, are extremely significant to the listening congregation.

I sometimes wonder if some pastors think they have a point to prove with their sermons. In a 50ish hour week the main time they are evaluated by their congregation is in their 20-40 minute sermon on a Sunday morning. It puts a lot of pressure on the pastor as they want their congregation to know that they are being productive in their 50ish hour week. Therefore, sometimes the sermons seem to be jam packed with information. It is explain, explain and explain. This is a lot of work which can leave the listener overwhelmed and almost burdened by the information overload. Sometimes the preacher will try to bring it home with an, explain, explain and apply. However this still can be difficult because the listener still hasn’t fully grasped what the text looks like yet.

My first boss, mentor and now best mate Geoff New used to drill it into my mind EVERY week that I was preaching, “Someone needs to suffer for the sermon and it should never be the congregation.” Perhaps following the technique explain, illustrate and apply might help relieve the congregation and allow the message to sink into their hearts and minds forever.

(Editor’s note: the quote “Someone needs to suffer for the sermon” is not mine [Geoff New]. I have not been able to source the author.)

facebook – jeremy selfe


Over the years preaching has been defined in different ways from the proclamation of religious or moral truths through speech, writing or through the way we live our lives. Whether preaching takes the form of speech, word, or actions, it has been proclaimed into different social communities throughout the centuries. However, there is one community today that I don’t believe is being fully utilised in regards to preaching. That is the community of Facebook (or whichever on-line social network you are familiar with).

The reality – as my colleagues mentioned one morning tea – is that Facebook has become a social community where we connect with a wide variety of people from different contexts, cultures and beliefs. What an opportunity we have to preach a very important message.

The challenge becomes, how do we do this in a way that captures people’s attention and challenges them, rather than leading them to ignore what we preach on Facebook?

For example, I could easily think of at least five people that come up on my newsfeed who are often ‘preaching’ on Facebook by quoting Calvin, Spurgeon or Wesley with some profound thought or quote. The problem is, the quote can often be so profound and obscure that even myself as a preacher/theologian can have trouble understanding what they are saying. I often struggle to see how the quotes from these people fit into my current day-to-day situation and now I have reached the point where, when a ‘post’ comes up from one of these people, I don’t even read it anymore – I ignore them!

On the other side of the spectrum, there is one young lady who comes up on my Facebook feed who is not a theologian or pastor; she is a nurse in training, and yet every day she preaches on Facebook in a way that inspires and encourages everyone – regardless of what they believe. The only way I can describe her is that she can view her day-to-day life through the eyes of Christ and as she reflects on her ‘normal’ work experiences dealing with her patients at the hospital she has a way of bringing an inspirational revelation about life (she doesn’t always mention God in a post, but He is definitely there). This doesn’t just challenge Christians but as evidenced by reading some of the comments people leave, it challenges non-Christians as well. Isn’t this one of the goals of preaching? That we are helping those around us see the world through the eyes of Christ? And whether some of her friends care to admit it or not, that is exactly what she is doing!

My wondering today is in two parts. Firstly, are we fully utilising our Facebook community as a way of preaching Christ? Secondly, if we are using Facebook to preach, are we doing it in a way that turns people off to our message or are we doing it in a way that encourages, inspires and challenges those around us to see the world a little differently – perhaps, through the eyes of Christ!

fun – jeremy selfe

Fun 2.0


How many sermons have you listened to in your lifetime? When you actually think about this question it is quite scary how quickly the number can begin to rise. This makes the next question a bit daunting. How many of the sermons that you have listened to can you remember? Is it just me that finds the first number quite high and the second number quite low? As I look around church on a Sunday morning only one or two people are taking notes which means either the entire congregation have unbelievable memories or they might share with me in forgetting much of what they are listening to on a Sunday morning.

There are sermons that I heard two weeks ago that I have already forgotten, however, there are other sermons that I heard over 15 years ago that I still remember vividly. This led me to ask myself; what is it that lodges a sermon deep in my mind to be forever remembered?

I am going to pose something that I believe some of the preachers I listen to leave out of sermons, yet it is the difference between whether or not I forget the sermon quickly (perhaps even struggle to pay attention) or remember it for years to come.

I believe some preachers forget to include: FUN!!!

This is actually one of my pet peeves. Church, scripture, prayers and theology can become so serious that I sometimes think people forget that God is also about fun, celebration and life to the fullest!

I want to make it clear that when I say fun I don’t mean to dumb the sermon down and not to preach biblical truths or to leave out all theology whatsoever. A quick look at my bookshelves shows that I am an academic at heart who loves to understand complex truths. When I say fun, it is not so much about the content rather about how we deliver that content.

For example, what was the difference between the classes at school that I loved compared to the classes that I struggled to keep my eyes open in? The teacher had a unique way of making the class fun and come to life and this actually lead to me wanting to learn more! The content of the classes could be very similar but the method of delivery and approach of the teacher was often so very different.

Fun does not mean silliness. Fun can be engaging, meaningful, memorable, full of biblical truths and most of all full of life! Fun can be in the form of a powerful and impacting story or illustration, it can be in the tone of your voice, it can be in your passion as your preach what you believe, it can be in humour, it can be in excitement, it can be in laughter and it can be in the way you might creatively read the biblical passage. There are probably lots of other ways and methods of delivery that can help make a sermon fun and full of life.

The Angels said to the shepherds; “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10). Do our sermons each Sunday reflect this ‘joy’, ‘fun’ and ‘life’ that is found in God?

a participant reflects on the recent Kiwimade Preaching event (Dunedin) – jeremy selfe


One of the most humbling experiences I have had as a preacher is when someone will come up to me at the end of the service and say something along the lines of: “thank you for that sermon, it was like you knew exactly what was going on in my life and what words I needed to hear this morning.” Of course, the reality is I didn’t have a sneak preview into this person’s life. When preparing for the sermon I sat alone in my study, agonising over the text, praying like anything that my current 5 minute sermon would turn into 20 minutes by Sunday! Yet, when we are guided by the Spirit of God and remain true to the word of God, then God is able to speak to others through us in ways which always leaves me amazed and humbled.

I went to the Kiwi-Made preaching forum prepared to listen to four sermons on the temptations of Jesus in Luke 4 and being a ‘preaching forum’ was planning on evaluating the sermons in minute detail. I had my note pad, I had my pen, I was ready to evaluate!

What I wasn’t prepared for was the journey God had planned for me that in a metaphorical way followed a similar structure to the temptations of Christ and using the line from my opening sentences; it felt like the preachers knew every detail of my life.

It began with a clearly structured sermon which started with the biblical text and then used many personal illustrations to help make a point. I was writing furious notes. I became captivated and it was almost like the Spirit of God was catching my attention. The second sermon was rich in biblical exegesis, to the point that I felt like the word of God was leading me somewhere (perhaps metaphorically like Luke 4:1). The third sermon was an illustrative sermon that left me paralyzed to my seat. I could no longer take notes, God had my attention. I felt I was being opened up to the point where there was nothing left, it was just me and God, and it was like I had been led to the wilderness (Luke 4:1). The fourth sermon was a cross between inductive and deductive and it was the final blow, my own temptations, my own weaknesses were examined and I had a choice, I could choose to fight my way out ‘by my own hand’ (Luke 4:1-4), or, I could trust the word of God and wait on his leading.

How could each of the four preachers have known what was going on in my life? How could they have known exactly what words I needed to hear?

I went into the day expecting to evaluate for the sake of evaluating and instead I encountered God in the process who revealed many things to me – things that I needed to hear! So as I reflect about the Kiwi-Made Preaching Forum I am deeply encouraged. I am encouraged because I know there are preachers throughout New Zealand who are being led by the Spirit and are preaching the word of God, thus, are speaking into people’s lives as a result. But there is also a big challenge, the challenge is to never be too busy to be lead by the Spirit and to never lose faith and trust in the Word of God!