Podcast Episode 14 | 13 min
Preaching in the Power of the Holy Spirit
Entering into a conversation with the Triune God during your sermon prep process.
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Matt Woodley: This is Matt Woodley, editor of PreachingToday.com on Monday Morning Preacher. Today’s guest host is Kent Edwards. Kent is the author of Deep Preaching. He’s also a contributor at PreachingToday.com. Kent, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about your love, passion, and experience in preaching.
KE: Well, really it’s come out of a lifetime of pastoral ministry. So I’ve pastored churches across North America for the past 35 years, and during that time I discovered it’s not easy. I had gone to education to try and find answers, and that’s led me to pursue various degrees and to teach at Gordon Conwell Seminary as well as Talbot School of Theology, part of Biola University. But it’s also led me to found an organization a couple of years ago called Cross Talk Global.
God is growing his church all around the world. And did you know that 85 percent of all pastors in the world have no formal training? Seminaries, the traditional organizations for training, can’t meet that need so what we’re doing is we’re working right now in eight different countries on four different continents, and we’re taking gifted godly people who God has placed strategically in his church to help it grow and give them the basic training they need in order to effectively fulfill the ministry God has given them. That means preaching God’s Word, and that means reliance on the Holy Spirit.
MW: So Kent, we wanted to talk to you about a topic. I don’t know if you pitched this to us or we pitched it to you. But you had a lot of interest in this preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit, so we want to unpack that a bit. But I want to start with a story, a backwards story, a negative story. Can you think of a time when you’ve preached or maybe a season in your life when you preached where you’re not really preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit?
KE: Yeah, well, as I said, I came out of pastoral ministry. So when I was an associate pastor—you preach every 6 weeks—things were a lot easier. Suddenly I’m preaching every week as a full-time senior pastor, and why am I hit-and-miss? What’s missing? I’m doing my work in the commentaries, I’m studying, I’m doing everything my teachers told me. Why are there some weeks I am preaching and people are engaged by God’s Word, and other weeks they’re bored? And that carried over to the classroom. I was listening to a student who was preaching a sermon, it was trite, it was irrelevant, it was terrible—and I gave him an A.
MW: I’d like to be in your class.
KE: I gave him an A because he’d done everything I’d asked him to do. He had fulfilled the requirements of the course, he just hadn’t preached a good sermon. So what was missing? The problem was not him, the problem was me. I hadn’t raised to the level of consciousness something that sometimes I was doing and others did, but they weren’t doing it deliberately, they weren’t doing it consciously. What was that that I was missing?
So what I did was look at the book of Acts, and what I found is that the apostles turned the world upside down with their preaching. And I’m thinking, Why? We have more sermons than ever before and we’re boring people to death, and they’re turning the world upside down. When is the last time the city council said stop preaching, you’re being too disruptive. I looked and I saw that the people were amazed that unschooled, ordinary men were preaching this powerfully. Then in Acts 6 I see the apostles said, “No, we’re not going to spend our time delivering bread to widows. We want to give ourselves full time to prayer and ministry of the word.” And I’m thinking again, What is that? I’m convinced that they knew that they were not smart enough to preach in their own wisdom, that they needed the help of the Holy Spirit and they gave themselves full time to prayer and ministry of the Word. Quite frankly, we don’t do that. That’s the difference.
MW: So how do we get there, what does it mean to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit?
KE: Of course, every born again preacher has access to the power of the Holy Spirit. Every room has a light switch but do you turn it on? Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you’re accessing it. So when I looked at the New Testament I saw Jesus was frustrated with his disciples because, if you read them they’re pretty slow and they don’t get it. Jesus says, “Look, I’ve got to leave you guys, I’ve had it. I’m going to leave you guys so that you can have the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, and he will lead you into all truth.” Well, the Counselor isn’t a therapist, the counselor he is talking about is a tutor. A tutor that will give them insight into the word that they could never have on their own. So preaching with the Holy Spirit means allowing the Holy Spirit to illuminate the biblical text so that we see what the author intended to communicate. We need spiritual eyes to perceive spiritual truths so that we can communicate in a way that transforms lives, and only the Holy Spirit can give us that.
MW: So walk us through what differences this made in the way you do your sermon prep, your sermon delivery, and your post sermon analysis.
KE: Well, prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit should be throughout the whole process, so I don’t want to of course eliminate the Spirit from any part of it. But the fact is God gave us a book, so I’ve got to read it, I’ve got to understand it. He gave it in historical context, I need to know that. This is not a shortcut way from good work in the text. That’s critical. But once I get that idea then I start asking questions of the Holy Spirit.
I think we need to give ourselves full time to prayer and ministry of the Word. So I think there’s twin disciplines here—prayer and biblical meditation. In meditation I chew on the Word, I wrestle with the text, and I’m asking questions: Why does the text say this, how come it says this, what are the implications, what does it say about God, what does he want me to learn in this today? When I get stuck then I pray, and I pray and I listen and he whispers and I ask another question. It’s a divine dialogue.
So sermon preparation does not take place Friday morning from 9am till 10:30am, it’s a lifestyle. We practice the presence of Christ. We give ourselves full time. When am I not doing sermon preparation? That’s the question. I’ve learned that I have to leave more time for this divine dialogue. I want God to speak to me through the text and I want to speak to him about the text. When I’m finished I don’t want to tell people how easy it is to put a sermon together. Because if they knew how quickly it came, it just kind of gushes out. I mean, it’s like you’ve drilled down and you’ve hit a pocket of oil and it gushes out like in Texas. I don’t want to tell you about delivery because that’s too easy, because I’m so overwhelmed with the excitement of this text.
MW: I love the words conversation and dialogue. That you are really entering into a conversation with the triune God in the sermon prep process. It’s not about some riddle to solve. It’s a dialogue with a living person.
KE: Yeah, almost like he’s waiting to talk to us. When I look at the Apostle Paul, how he was able to do exegesis prior to receiving the Holy Spirit. He knew all the Greek, he knew all the Hebrew, he knew all the culture, and he knew all the history. He is a better scholar than anyone I’ll ever be and anyone I’ve ever met, but without the help of the Holy Spirit he was dead wrong. He thought that Jesus was the enemy and he could serve God best by killing Christians. Not too close. Without the Holy Spirit we cannot be led into all truth.
MW: Kent, let’s talk about when you’re preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit. What would be the indicators that the Holy Spirit is really at work?
KE: Oh, well, your church will obviously grow to over a thousand.
MW: Excellent. And you promise that, or your money back?
KE: Absolutely. The question is a good one but it presumes that the preaching is a one-way process. So the Holy Spirit needs to be present in the preacher but the Holy Spirit needs to be active in the listener.
KE: In the parable of the soils in Luke we read that the ladies who were sponsoring Jesus’ ministry came to check up on his ministry, I presume because they wanted better results. He’s honest and he says, “You know, there’s nothing wrong with my preaching. The seed is good, I’m throwing it out there but three of every four people are not ready to hear it. And if they’re not ready and the Spirit’s not working, it doesn’t work. But in those on the fourth, when the Spirit has prepared the heart and the person wants to receive it, there’s a hundredfold return.” So that’s those seed. We will see in people who were ready, who the Holy Spirit is working in their life, we will see transformation that is deep, that is profound, that is immensely gratifying, but don’t count noses. If you count noses Jesus wasn’t much of a success.
MW: That is absolutely true. You know, Kent, I know you have a ministry that works with training and equipping pastors overseas in developing countries, and in some hard places. What are some of these preachers teaching you, and what can they teach us about preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit?
KE: They teach me a great deal. I look at the preaching process as basically being in three stages. The first is in the text. We have to understand the biblical idea that God inspired. Secondly, I take that into what I call the closet and allow the Holy Spirit to talk with me. That’s where I have that engaging dialogue. Then we come to delivery.
So when I go overseas, most of these people have no skills in understanding the Bible and they know that. But what I am amazed at is that in those places the Holy Spirit has used their preaching enormously. That’s where the church is taking off, it’s almost an inverse relationship between education and church growth in the world. And I think, How are they able to do that? The reason is that they’re aware of their deficiency in understanding the text. But because of that they’re kind of like a blind person who when they can’t see their other senses become more acute. So they’re tuned into the Holy Spirit. I was in Southern India once and I had a group of 300 preachers and we were dialoguing. The first question they asked me was how often do preachers in North America fast? Well, I didn’t want to answer that question, that’s embarrassing. They fasted every single week because they knew they could not combat Hinduism in their own strength. They needed God, or the church would never grow. So while they’re weak in exegesis and they need to improve and they know that, they’re strong in their relationship and reliance on the Holy Spirit and they know their culture well. So when they communicate they communicate in a way that resonates with their culture.
MW: So we can often be strong in exegesis but weak in utter dependence upon the Lord?
KE: Yeah, we sound just like the Pharisees. We know all the details but we just don’t have the Holy Spirit. And if we don’t then it’s irrelevant. Knowledge and degrees alone are not enough. In fact, often I find they lead me away from the plain, obvious meaning of the text. They make it more difficult.
MW: I’ve started to practice recently over the last couple years actually where I will just print out the text I’m preaching on without any verse divisions or any notes, and just with wide margins and just I will sit with the text for as long as possible. And sometimes I’ve found I don’t even really need to go to the commentary.
KE: Honestly, we are sold a bill of goods. If we get the latest book, if we take another course, if we can unlock the next level in our software, that’s the secret to effective ministry, and I’m telling you that God intends his book to be read and understood by ordinary people all around the world.
MW: That’s awesome. The one exception to that would be a subscription to PreachingToday.com.
KE: Well, that goes without saying.
MW: Thanks, Kent. So do you have any final words of wisdom for preachers around the world about preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit?
KE: We need to repent of our intellectual arrogance. Paul says that knowledge puffs up, and I think a lot of us are preaching with puffed heads. We are not smarter than the apostles. They could not do their ministry without direct reliance on the Holy Spirit. They had to give themselves full time to prayer and ministry of the word and so do we.
MW: That is really powerful. Kent, thanks for being with us today on Monday Morning Preacher. God bless your work and ministry.
KE: Thanks so much, Matt. It’s been a pleasure.
Editor’s Note: Biola University's Talbot School of Theology is a theologically conservative, evangelical seminary in Southern California near Los Angeles. With over a 60-year heritage of biblical fidelity, the seminary couples solid evangelical scholarship with intentional character development to prepare students for a lifetime of relevant, effective ministry. The seminary's six master's degree programs and three doctoral degree programs are led by a faculty of nationally renowned, widely-published, and actively engaged ministry leaders.
For more information about Talbot School of Theology visit, www.talbot.edu
Kent Edwards is professor of preaching and leadership, and director of the doctor of ministry program at Biola University in La Mirada, California, and author of Deep Preaching (B&H).