“Dominate the Subject”

Tuesday Teaching Tips, Episode 177

This Friday I’m starting a new class series for younger speakers in the Thames Valley churches of Christ.

Recently I posted asking questions about what younger speakers would like to learn about and what more experienced speakers would like to have known when they started out. I’m very grateful for everybody who provided feedback.

Today’s teaching tip is inspired by a response from Alberto Rioja who posted the following on my YouTube channel:

“One tip I would give: Prepare yourself as much as possible, dominate the subject and let God use you. The preparation is not something for us to perform as robots or memorising the lines, but for us to dominate the subject and be sharp tools for God to use us. Use bullet points, and let God do His work with you :)” (I have done little editing since English is not his first language)

I like the phrase, “dominate the subject”. What does he mean?  Is he advocating jettisoning your notes?

Someone once did suggest to me that the ultimate goal in preaching is to not use notes. Let’s think about this.

Did Jesus use notes? Did Paul and Barnabas? Is it the goal to not use notes?  Paul and others wrote letters which were read out in churches as, effectively, lessons. 

“After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.” (Colossians 4:16 NIV11)

“I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.” (1 Thessalonians 5:27 NIV11)

The point is not to have notes or not, but to be in a position to not need them. After a while. After much experience. 

What I believe Alberto is pointing out, quite correctly, assuming I have his intention properly understood, is that preaching and teaching is not about information transfer. In other words it’s not from my head to your head. Perhaps it’s not even from my heart to your heart. But, instead, it’s from my life to your life. The Bible is not a book, it is life.

“Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Philippians 2:15–16 NIV11)

As I have mentioned elsewhere, those of us getting ready to preach a lesson in not so much preparing a sermon, as allowing the sermon to prepare us.

A speaker prepared by their message is prepared to deliver their message.

How do we get there? Well, here are a few ideas…

Tips for dominating your subject/text:

  1. Decide in advance
  2. Start preparation as early as possible
  3. Read in several translations
  4. Read more than one commentary
  5. Talk about it with other people
  6. Pray through the text
  7. Live the text/topic

As an example, let me comment on my next sermon which is coming up this Sunday. I’m speaking on Acts 16.1-5. Part of Monday’s prayer time was spent praying through how I might live it. Below is the text,

“Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.” (Acts 16:1–5 NIV11)

Here are my living-the-sermon plans for the week ahead:

  1. Do some ‘walking’ with a disciple younger than I. Do some ‘ministry’ together and inspire vision in them.
  2. Consider how I can become more “all things to all men” for the specific people God has placed around me.
  3. Actively promote unity between congregations such that it will build stronger faith.

Those are my plans. What are yours for your next lesson?

Question for today: “What helps you to dominate your subject/text?”

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community. 

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

If you’d like a copy of my free eBook on spiritual disciplines, “How God grows His people”, sign up at my website: http://www.malcolmcox.org.

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“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John