preaching.org began in 1997 as a place to talk about the intersection of biblical preaching and culture. Today it is primarily a place to describe and support the Integrative Preaching model as presented by Kenton C. Anderson. All materials on this website are copyrighted.
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF INTEGRATIVE PREACHING – Kenton C. Anderson
Preaching is leading in listening. We appreciate that God is speaking through his Word, to his people, by His Spirit. God is not silent. He speaks to his people today. Preachers simply have the privilege to lead others to hear what God himself is saying. As with every act of leadership, we preachers have to listen first, then we lead others to hear what we first heard. It is probably even more correct to say that God is the preacher. You and I are really just the first listeners to the message God is preaching. Once we have heard, we work to lead others to hear that same message. This understanding makes preaching an act of “humbled confidence.” We are humbled in the knowledge that our preaching is not the fruit of our own wisdom, but we are confident in the knowledge that what we offer comes from God himself. This, of course, drives us to do everything we can to make sure that our sermons derive from the Word, so that we are helping people hear from God instead of hearing just from us.
Preaching ought to be an integrative task. The process offers us a lot of choices, which can easily dis-integrate. We can speak to the heart or we can speak to the head. We can focus on the human or we can focus on the heavenly. Integration means that we bring these separated things together in such a way that we sustain the integrity or the wholeness of both – 100% of each at the same time. Our model is not the coin, which demands a choice of one over the other – heads or tails. Nor is our model the continuum, which forces a compromise somewhere in the middle between this and that. Our model is the cross, where the horizontal overlays the vertical – where one thing is added to the other without diminishment of either. Think of the cross as a plus sign which allows the integration of both.
The horizontal line in our model represents the physical challenge of integrating head and heart – the cognitive and the affective sides of our preaching. Preachers need to speak powerfully to both if the sermon is to be fully persuasive. Think back, for example, to the time you bought your latest piece of technology – your computer or your smartphone. Did you carefully read the manual before you began to use your purchase, or did you just start pressing buttons, figuring to learn intuitively? I tend to do the latter, but invariably, upon running into trouble, I have had to turn to the manual – intuition demands instruction in an integrated manner.
The vertical line represents the spiritual challenge of integrating heaven and human – the objective and subjective elements of preaching. Preaching has been commonly thought to be about bridging the gap between the world of the text and the contemporary situation as if the text was something radically different from the listener’s experience today. Theologically, we understand that we need to bring people into the presence of a Holy God, but we also appreciate our need to speak to people where they are at. An integrative approach to preaching will not merely try to bridge the two, requiring us to travel back and forth, but will work to offer both in an integrated manner – the text is today.
When we lay these features out across a cross-formed model we begin to see the functional elements of an integrated approach to preaching. These four aspects are elemental to effective preaching. All four are essential to a good sermon.
The first is that we engage. Nothing productive is going to happen through our preaching until people are invested and engaged with the message that we offer. This means that our sermons need to be grounded in life. This is the human element of preaching. Theologically, it describes the incarnational aspect of God’s work. The best way I know how to engage people is through story, which is how we put flesh to the Word we preach.
The second functional element of integrative preaching is instruction. We must speak to the head – transforming listeners by the re-ordering of their minds. People can never live well until they think well. The best way that preachers can instruct listeners is by developing a coherent theme that effectively describes the intention of the text – what God is saying to his people through this text and at this time.
The third function, elemental to our preaching is conviction. Preaching happens in the presence of God. It needs to offer more than an education about God. Preaching needs to bring us to encounter with this living God – the heaven pole in our integrative model. Having understood what God is saying, we are going to need to respond. There will be things we need to say to God – to thank him for something, to apologize for something, to repent of something, to praise him for something. This is the point of the sermon that drives us to the gospel. The truth, well heard, will always bring us to conviction – in both senses of the word. It is the gospel – God’s grace in Jesus, that makes it possible for us to stand before him, forgiven and redeemed.
The final element is inspiration. If we have truly met with God, we will be marked by the experience – marked on the level of the heart. This kind of preaching changes us. Having been transformed, we are ready now for mission. What would God have us be and do in result of what he has shown us. This is more than mere moral persuasion. This is our God-inspired missional response to the world he is engaging.
And so, the sermon comes full circle. Having engaged the people at the level of their lives, we have helped them hear the theme that God is speaking. Understanding the truth about God has lead them to a place of conviction by the gospel. Forgiven by God, we are all now inspired to embrace the mission that God has for us, altering the world and the lives we live as humans. It is conviction that keeps our inspiration from a mere moralism. It is instruction in the Word that rightly aligns our sense of conviction. It is our engagement in life that keeps our instruction relevant and compelling. Engage, instruct, convict, inspire – these are the functional elements that make our preaching effective.
But how do we build a sermon that actually achieves these elemental functions? What kinds of tools or materials do we have to use? Lying within the gaps of our integrative model are four material compounds. This is the stuff of our preaching – our ways of speaking truth into the world. We think of them as compounds, because they integrate their neighbouring elements – head and human, heaven and heart…
The first such compound is the problem. This the intersection of head and human – the place where we compound the cognitive and the subjective. Whenever we bring the Bible to bear on life, we will surface human problems. The preacher, then, acts as a pastor to bring wisdom and insight to the listener’s discord. To raise a problem in a sermon is automatically engaging for a listener. As that problem finds solution in the truth of God’s Word, the listener is instructed.
The second material compounded in our model is the point. This is the intersection of cognitive and objective – the integration of head and heaven. This is the work of the preacher as theologian. It is the place where instruction about God brings us to a place of encounter with the person of God.
A third compound in the integrative approach is prayer. I am talking about more than just the formal prayer we tack on to the end of the sermon as a transition to the next stage of worship. I am talking about the preacher adopting the role of worshipper in the space and substance of the sermon. This is where the objective meets the affective – where the heavenly meets the heart. Having met with God and received the grace of the gospel, we need to respond worshipfully, personally, and meaningfully.
Finally, a fourth material compound for the integrative sermon is the picture. Here the preacher acts as a prophet, articulating an altered vision of the world as transformed by the gospel. This is where heart and human integrate – where the affective and the subjective find mutual expression in a world-altering picture of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Problems, points, prayers, and pictures – these are the sermonic materials. We engage through a story that paints a picture of a problem. We instruct the listener in a biblical theme that puts the point to the problem. This leads naturally to conviction in the presence of a holy God as points demand response in the form of prayer. Having then met with God, we are inspired to mission as our prayers form into pictures of a new and better future. The movement is centripetal, drawing us ever closer to the centre-point of the cross. As the sermon is set into motion – engage, instruct, convict, inspire – the sermon coils, producing a creative torsion, leaving the listener elevated and transformed.
The practice of this preaching is uncomplicated. The preacher begins with a process of discovery. What is it that God wants to say through this text to these people at this time – the message that God wants heard. The second stage is assembly, as the preacher assenbles a sermon capable of communicating the message. Once the preacher has a sermon, the focus turns to mastery, ensuring that the outcome of the sermon and its message is well embodied by the preacher. Only then is the preacher free to embrace delivery, that event in God’s presence whereby people are lead to listen to God and be transformed.
There is so much more to say, and I have said it in my book Integrative Preaching. There I have offered examples of sermons I have preached. You can also find more information on my website at http://www.preaching.org.
Integrative preaching is ambitious. It wants more than mere instruction. Inspiration and application find their power in conviction. None of it can matter without engagement of the listener. It is not a matter of choice or balance, compromise or trade-offs. It is about sustaining the integrity of all that God intends for the preaching of his Word.