For some reason lately, I’ve had the urge to write out a few of my thoughts as it comes to the Bible and Preaching. Now to be upfront, I’m not going to talk about the usual things that are discussed here; things like the importance of grounding our preaching on the authority of the Word of God and not our own opinion (very important), or proper exegesis and not eisegesis (also very important). These are certainly important discussions, but they’re also stuff you can get just about anywhere you begin to explore the subject of preaching. No, rather than that I’d like to share a few thoughts I have that I haven’t seen a lot of people out there saying. Let’s take some of these foundational things as a given; we want to base what we say on the true meaning of the Scriptures. What else is there to say on the subject?
Preaching as Modeling
One facet every preacher needs to keep in mind as they work to grow in their craft is that preaching is a multifaceted thing. Communication is involved, but preaching is far more than just communicating. Helping people understand how to read and learn from the Word of God is critical, but preaching includes much more than that. There are lots of components to the spiritual task of preaching, and we would do well to be working to grow in all of them. In my opinion, one of the under-recognized facets of preaching is that it is one of the few times that many Christians are receiving any modeling that helps them grow in their faith.
There is a massive difference between teaching and modeling. Teaching is conceptual; it lives in the space of ideas. Teaching involves sharing ideas with one another, and success is when you know how to think the way I think. Modeling is different; in modeling, we get a lived picture of what it looks like to walk the walk of faith. In modeling we don’t learn to think the way our teacher thinks, we learn to walk the way our modeler walks. For a long time societies around the world understood the difference and growth was expected to happen through modeling accompanied by teaching. Apprenticeships were the norm in most professions for most of history. It is only in the last few hundred years that we’ve replaced modeling with a formal educational process and traded apprenticeship for a college education. As a result, we know more than ever, but we struggle to pass along the ability to walk the walk of faith.
Societal ideologies and the 30,000-foot problem and solution aside, one of the few places where people do receive a degree of modeling is through preaching. It is one of the few times when we see someone who is on a journey of faith living out their faith in front of us in some way. Likely without realizing it, we pick up the values and methods of our preaching influences, and we begin to walk how they walk.
To anyone who is a preacher then, we need to be thinking about what we model as we preach along with the other layers of the ministry. What picture are we painting by the way we do what we do, and what is that passing along? As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words, so thinking about our actions as we preach is likely at least as important as thinking about the words we share.
What are we modeling with respect to the Bible?
Doubtless, we all have things we want to model as it comes to the Bible. I want to model a value for the Scripture, that I see it as a source of truth and life. I want to model a depth of relationship with the Bible; I don’t believe we get all we are meant to from it by casual reading. I want a relationship with the Bible modeled; one of trust, respect, depth, and more. To that end, here are some of the things I do to be intentional with what I model:
I use a physical Bible that I flip through as I preach
When I’m preaching, I want to convey the visual picture of opening up and reading the Bible itself. I want it to be clear and unambiguous. What is Putty doing when he is looking for truth? He’s digging through the Bible. He’s not looking at his phone, he’s not googling things, he’s digging into the Bible. The only thing that could be is a Bible; I can see the ribbon bookmark and the gold pages. There is a visual association I’m working to create here. I believe that the Word of God has the answers we need for the journey of our lives, and I want the way I’m sharing to visually signal that value.
I have a dedicated “preaching Bible”
Unless I am purposefully referencing another translation (which certainly has value at times), I use the same preaching Bible I use every time I speak. I use the same one at the School of Kingdom Ministry as at weekend services. I carry it with me around the world as I travel and share; always the same one. Why? Because I want people to recognize me, and recognize my Bible. I want people to see the same Bible every time and realize that it’s because the Bible is on the journey with me. It’s getting beat up and worn out – I love that; it speaks that the Bible isn’t meant to be an ornament, but it’s there to be used. Your Bible should have bent pages and a worn-out cover! If you’re not using it to the point where it’s rough around the edges, maybe you’re not getting everything out of it you could!
I hold the Bible and use it as a prop sometimes
Some of this is my own speaking style; as a communicator, I kind of can’t speak without using my hands, so when I pick up the Bible I tend to hold on to it and use it as a prop with my physical gestures. There is an element of this that is purposeful as well though; I want to convey that even when I’m not opening and reading from the Bible, it’s still with me and still a part of me. I don’t just read the Bible for the experience of reading in that moment, I read it so that it stays with me all the time – shaping my thoughts and sharpening my understanding of truth.
I avoid reading the Bible from a phone
This leads into another topic that I’ll write on another day, but I try and avoid reading the Bible through my phone. I understand that having Bible apps on our phones makes them more accessible and there are wonderful tools that are available because of our phones/devices. I use some of those myself! That being said, I would strongly suggest that if you’re working to build a relationship with the Bible, that doing it with the old-fashioned paper style is much, MUCH better over the long run. The reason why has to do with the nature of the medium of a book vs. a digital device. Our phones have a design to them – they are designed to capture and direct our attention. This is why they ding, vibrate, and notify us every chance they can. They are constantly clamoring for our attention, and in that our phones train us to a very shallow, semi-distracted state of mind. It’s virtually impossible to interact with our devices without this mindset kicking in.
To then choose that device as the medium that we use to engage with the Bible is to ask for a shallow, semi-distracted relationship with the Bible. That is the opposite of what I want for myself and the opposite of what I want for others. I want a relationship where I get lost in the Bible; where I lose track of how long I’m reading and I get caught up in what God is saying. This is how we get depth, insight, and how we build our relationship with God. I don’t come to the Bible for a “power-snack”, I come for a full meal, and that means the medium matters.
One last tip: getting your Scripture quickly
One last thing on this subject; if you use a paper Bible while you preach, it can be a bit tricky to find your Scriptures quickly. For that, I’ve got a really simple little trick that makes it super simple: use a post-it note. I put a note with an arrow to where the Scripture I want to read starts for each verse I’m reading in a message. The post-it acts like a mini-bookmark and I get there quickly every time. Simple, but works great!
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Putty Putman