Monday, September 10, 2007


I'm now reposting this final statement on "The Foolishness of Preaching"

Our modern day concept of sermons comes from the Latin word "sermo" which meant "conversations" and originally indicated a question and answer time. There has been a later metamorphic process resulting in a monologue style. In modern times it is certainly more the monologue, often harranging in style, rather than the conversation of early on.

I suspect that early use of the word would come nearer capturing what happened when believers gathered and worshipped as described in 1 Corinthians 14:26 where they all came together and all participated. [I'm assuming women participated as well since it could be, as Ray Steadman said, "Too many people, especially women, were praising God in tongues and it became overloaded on emotion and the women were told to be silent for a while.".] One man's view of it.

However, I'm not going to fight against what we are doing in our modern churches on Sunday mornings for reasons that will be seen in a moment. I've participated. I still do. What I am going to do is assist us in our modern times in the delivery of our message. This will be done by helping the messenger see what is needed in order to not personally get in the way of communicating that message. Before I do this I do want to offer a couple of slight caveats on the way we__ do church__ on Sunday mornings. [Or any other time when there is a Body assemblage.]

When referring to the Old and New Covenants, Jesus spoke of a need for new wineskins. What was needed was simply to move from one Covenant to the other. New wineskins were definitely needed for that transition. I think it wise for us to be reminded of our need to rethink carefully the way we worship and new wineskins that will help from time to time also.

I read one fellow who said the characteristics of wineskins are important to know. So he listed them. His list included....

They__ [the wineskins]__ are constantly changing shapes and forms.

They age and must eventually be replaced.

They are to be filled...then emptied...then filled...then...[you get the picture]

Their value is ONLY in reference to their content. Wineskins were not valuable alone.

Their shape is changed by the amount of wine they contain and they are seamless.

"As God pours Himself into a gathered Body in new and fresh ways...some changes had better take place and those changes are to reflect better ways of getting our message across." I don't think it can be said better than that.

A second caveat is that the text of the scripture DOES NOT reveal the form that a gathered Body is to take. What is revealed is that all are to be benefited by everyone's spiritual gift when excercised therein. So there is a real need to be careful of saying someone CANNOT minister when the Body gathers. That's a serious restriction. It better be one based on what the text says/means for a person to be told they can't excercise their giftedness in the Body.

Now if we say the restrictions given to the Corinthian Church [1 Corinthians 14] and the Ephesian Church [1 timothy 2] are literal in meaning and are eternal principles for church-life for all time, we better make sure we stay with the whole of the passage. This means everyone is to come with a psalm or speaking in tongues or teaching a doctrine or interpreting tongues. The guys had better raise holy hands and the gals had better not braid their hair or wear gold or pearls, and, at every gathering, the Body had better pray for all the leaders in power. [1Timothy 2:1-2] Wow.

But if we believe those verses are correcting problems in those places and would be good/right/biblical for us to practice were those same or similar problems to ever arise in our congregations, then we really can create new wineskins. No forms are explicitlity commanded for the gathered Body times in this view. You can choose which view you accept. I've chosen my view.

Now to my point. When I speak/preach, as I will be doing at a church in Little Rock this next Sunday, I always pray over my part of the work to be done. That's probably a good thing to do, don't you think? My prayer for myself, has a two-fold emphasis. One is that I, the messenger, will deliver the message I'm preaching, [which I've sometimes preached before as a traveling speaker] with the Holy Spirit making it so fresh to me that it will be as if it's the first time I've ever shared it. I want this for any message at any time__ as do you I'm sure. What isn't fresh and real to me will not speak life/freshness to the listener. But that freshness, I've found, is in direct proportion to how that message is being built into my own life. In other words, the messenger is NEVER off the hook of practicing what is being preached.

The other part of my prayer for myself is that I will be committed to bringing the message as one of hope and not one of judgment and criticism. Even as Jeremiah had to deliver a tough message of rebuke, my prayer is that I, like him, will deliver my message, whatever its' content, weeping the whole time, pointing people to the finished work of Christ on our behalf. [If not literally weeping, at least metaphorically in my heart.] My identification is to be clearly with the people as a hearer from God NOT as the Lord of the message. The people are not stupid. They know if a message is real to the speaker and whether or not that speaker is longing to build it into the fiber of his/her own life or is just delighting in telling others what to do.

People will join you on a journey of life, but if you're not a sojourner with them, the authority of the message is lost. I personally believe this is why the early church was told to not suffer a novice to teach. [And neither should we.] In the heat of a brand new conversion experience, the new believer often thinks, "Sins forgiven, heaven is my home, Jesus is coming__man...this is easy." Later they discover "Jesus is delaying his coming, I'm to pray, study scripture, witness, pay tithes and offerings__boy...this is hard." Later they find out "Jesus said love as you are loved, even love your enemies, do good to those who despitefully use you and forgive as you've been forgiven__ oh my...this is impossible."

Now they have it right and are ready for the message of Christ BEING [not just IS] their salvation, forgiveness, sanctification, righteousness. There is now hope that their life can really change. That Christ is our hope. But that message being real to the messenger doesn't come without failure, trials, pain and struggle and folks, that takes time. See why ultimately the Truth of__" With God__All things are possible"__brings such confidence? [It would need to bring confidence because there is none in oneself, for good reason.]

Finally, after I have delivered any message, I like to ask myself "was I conversational?" [By this I mean did I talk TO people and not AT people.] If that little boy had been there, would he be able to ask a different question at the back door? Better yet, would adults have heard a message from God not having to wade through a personality gone wild?

I think a simple summary would perhaps help us remember any salient thoughts that might be in this rather long post.. These are things I've picked up along the way from others and bottomline what preaching is to me.

#1--The emphasis on real preaching is on the message. He IS the message as revealed in the text. The text carries the authoritative message for us and can be life changing for all__ speaker included.

#2--The messenger does not proclaim his/her own grievances, applications, opinions, or interpretations of private issues where the text is silent but faithfully delivers a message from the text as he/she sees it. It isn't the time to ride my favorite hobby horse application and ways to do something in the Christian life. If I DO talk about a way of doing something__I carefully show__that's just my way and not a divine way.

#3--The messenger confines himself/herself to the message and does not unduly influence the listeners to accept or agree with the message by loudness, anger, emotional appeals, personality dynamics or bullying techniques, but leaves the hearer in the capable hands of the Holy Spirit and the hearer is then free to wrestle with the acceptance or rejection or even understanding of the message as shown from the text. Manley Beasley used to say, "Good preaching raises as many questions as it answers." I think he was correct.

And last but really foremost...

#4--There is only One Lord__and He isn't Paul Burleson. [Or any other messenger.] So I will misunderstand what the text means on occasion. I will not hear Him correctly on occasion. I will present my bias and see through my filters on occasion. But that isn't devastating since He's the perfect Lord, not me. I'm a fallible messenger who is still growing, learning, and ever increasing in my ability to hear from Him and presenting to others what I'm hearing.

Paul Burleson


Bob Cleveland said...

Good, good, good. And, if we're going to be sticklers about worship and psalms and hymns and braided hair, we need to check in with that pesky women-keeping-silent thing, too.

I like what Joseph Garlington said many years ago. He said Covenant Church of Pittsburgh was a bunch believers who were so happy about their faith that they got together once a week and had a party to celebrate it.

Paul Burleson said...


Excellent quote from Garlington.

I've heard a worship service described as a family reunion celebration__every Lord's day. I like that too.

I know that there are times of brokenness and quiet in worship, but I believe there is cause for celebration as well.

GuyMuse said...

I personally was refreshed by the portion of your post dealing with wineskins. That was good stuff that I am marking on my blog reader as a "keeper."

I also found powerful your words of admonition, "What is revealed is that all are to be benefited by everyone's spiritual gift when excercised therein. So there is a real need to be careful of saying someone CANNOT minister when the Body gathers."

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks for commenting. I'm really concerned with a mentality that controls the worship and expression of giftedness of another and am fearful we may be regulating ourselves out of the hands of the Holy Spirit where worship is concerned.

No one is more cautious than am I at wildfire possibilities and the need to be careful of violating scriptural boundaries or admonitions. That said__and that's most important for me__I really long for authentic biblical Body life as I know you do.

Jeff Thomas said...


Excellent articles that have encouraged my soul, and challenge my preaching. When were you at in Fort Worth? I am still trying to get down to Little Rock to worship with you. I think we are going to Arkadelphia for a football game Saturday. My own thinking on preaching is on helping people taking it to the streets, homes, schools, and work. I am considering writing a little devo for the week so that they can work thru some of the points raise. I like the Q and A concept of the message, and will be using that tonight as we work thru I Corinthians 14:6-13.

Jeff Thomas

Paul Burleson said...


I have to admit the Q and A times were few and too far between when I pastored churches like Southcliff in Fort Worth in the late seventies and eary eighties. I've come to see the error of my ways in a lot of things and sometimes wish I could call all those people back and say. "hey, here's whar I should have said/done." :) I guess that's age.

Wade is a master at this and does it almose every Lord's day in some fashion.

It isn't easy. You would sure have to be confident in the Lord and know you don't have all the answers.

God's grace on your time in 1 Corinthians. It'll be a fun study for all I'm sure..

Paul Burleson said...


Forgive the horrible spelling on that last cmment of mine.

Paul Burleson said...


Alycelee said...

First, you will be preaching in North Little Rock/Sherwood area. Little Rock is like calling you a Bama fan :)
In all seriousness, I appreciate your call to worship as a body, (what is it when you come together, one has, one has, one has)
I always celebrate and encourage when I see people functioning this way-but I long to see this as a reality in the body of Christ.
I pray God's hand on you as you travel to us here in Arkansas.

Paul Burleson said...


My SINCERE apology. You have genuinely revealed to me the gravity of my mistake. :)

Looking forward to our time together and some time with you and your husband.

Alycelee said...

I appreciate your quickness to repent :)
Mackey and I hope to take you to lunch Sunday.

bryan riley said...

I wish I were able to come hear you, Paul. Alyce told me you were coming down and invited us. Great post.

We are really good at picking and choosing which verses we want to be eternal principles, aren't we?

Paul Burleson said...


Good to hear from you and hope your trip home was safe. Looking forward to seeing you again whenever we can get together.

Steve Miller said...

Brother Paul,

AMEN! AMEN! AMEN! Thanks for taking seriously the accountability placed on you as the messenger. I was there in the Southcliff days and restatements are not required. You have always stated you were a preacher that was perfecting and not perfect. I've had the privilege of benefitting from the perfecting process. I came to an understanding of spiritual gifts under your ministry and nothing is more sweeter than to see the body of Christ exercising their God given spiritual gift to His glory. These have been great articles. Can't wait to see what God is going to do next.

Steve in San Antonio

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks for reminding me again, what special days we had at Southcliff. I'm in a meeting this week in Little Rock and have had two Pastors of churches close by come to several of our meeting times who were at Southcliff in the late seventies and early eighties. We visited at length and they, like you and I, look back at what God did at Southcliff during those years as foundational to the past twenty-five yeas of ministry.

All of us, I, you, AND they are aware that it was just a very special God-thing that happened in those days. None of us could explain what happened but we all knew it was His work and often in spite of our attempts at helping Him do His work. I learned as much as you guys did and maybe even more. I had further to go than any of you realized. You Seminarians were known to be in training and we Senior Pastors were thought to have it all together. I've discovered we ALL had better be in training for our lifetime or we'll miss out on those kinds of special occasions.

Anyway, thanks for the good memories AND THANKS for the great CD's of Kenny Rogers music. My wife and I absolutely love his singing. It's the greatest slow dancing misic we have. [And we do enjoy slow dancing together.]

Lee said...

#3 is not easy. I find myself constantly guarding against my own emotions, my own preferences and my own biases related to the topic, and the temptation to respond emotionally when you hear or see agreement in the congregation is tough to resist.

One thing I know for certain, every time I preach there is at least one person who comes away with a sense of having been immersed in the word, me.

Paul Burleson said...


I have to agree. I think #3 is the difficult one for me too. I believe so strongly about some things and have suffered so much unnecessary stuff because of confusion at some theological points that I almost what to press those points UNTIL people hear/understand them. It is much like raising your kids__if you could just get them to understand some things you, as a parent, know to be true__what sorrow it would save them.

I guess it boils down, for me, to whether or not I REALLY can trust the Spirit to do what only He can do. Often I don't. But I'm learning.

It's good to hear from you as always.