PREACHING & 5 Science-Based Sermon Hacks to Captivate Any Audience

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Actually the title of this article by Carmine Gallo is “5 Science-Based Presentation Hacks to Captivate Any Audience.”  But most of his ideas are applicable to sermons too. Read more to discover how to keep communication going after the first 10 minutes.

“5 Science-Based Presentation Hacks to Captivate Any Audience” by Carmine Gallo, Inc. Magazine, 4/18/18.

Molecular biologist John Medina once told me, “The brain does not pay attention to boring things.” The statement profoundly shaped my approach to communication skills. My mission is to give readers the tools they need to keep their audience from getting bored.

How to prevent boredom? Simply remember that we interpret the world through our five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Study after study has found that people will remember information and recall it more accurately when more than one sense is stimulated.

Read more at …

PREACHING & Neuroscience research confirms: change your presentation every 10 minutes or lose your audience.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I have coached hundreds of pastors to increase preaching impact (and sat through thousands of their sermons). One thing I found is that sermons should end about 10 minutes before they actually end.

In my observations from 25+ years of coaching, the average sermon I’ve heard is approximately 30 minutes. And my observation is that 20 minutes would be the optimum time for most pastors. (But let me say that each person has their optimum time and it may be longer.) But my observation has been that their optimum length is about 10 minutes less than the speaker realizes.

But now there is neuroscience research that shows that people tune out a presentation when it goes over 10 minutes.

It seems our brains are wired to have a 10 minute attention span unless something changes.

The following article is a case study of the recent Apple product debut in which in the first 60 minutes was comprised of six speakers of 10 minutes each: Apple Follows This 10-minute-rule to Keep You Glued to Product Presentations

What neuroscience research is telling us is that 10 minutes into a sermon the speaker should introduce a new story, video, demonstration or what in communication theory we call a different “voice.” This can be a different speaker, a different medium (e.g. video, charts, pictures, demonstration, etc.) or in other words someway to reengage the audience almost as if another person walked on stage.

Here is an insightful quote from the above article:

“Neuroscientists say our brains have a built-in stopwatch that ends around 10 minutes. In my conversations with University of Washington Medical School molecular biologist, John Medina, he cites peer-reviewed studies that show people tune out of a presentation in the first ten minutes. ‘The brain seems to be making choices according to some stubborn timing pattern, undoubtedly influenced by both culture and gene,’ he says. ‘This fact suggests a teaching and business imperative: Find a way to arouse and then hold somebody’s attention for a specific period of time.’ Medina and other neuroscientists say that speakers can re-engage an audience every ten minutes if they introduce a change. A change can include a video, a story, a demonstration, etc.”

PREACHING & 5 Key Steps to Rehearsing a Presentation Like the Best TED Speakers

by Carmine Gallo, Inc. Magazine, 7/30/18.

Every year I teach a class of elite business professionals who are enrolled in an executive education program at Harvard University. They are required to participate in group and individual presentations to graduate. After their presentations are complete, I recommended that each student practice their final presentations a minimum of ten times from start to finish. The ones who do stand out.

I learned this technique from studying and interviewing the TED speakers whose talks went viral…

Here are five steps to rehearse effectively.

1. Start with presentation notes.

Start writing notes for each slide in full sentences. Read the transcript out loud as you review each slide. Next, cut down the full sentences into bullet points and rehearse out loud again–relying on notes even less…

2. Practice under ‘mild stress.’

…The famous entrepreneur and author, Tim Ferriss, applied this concept to his TED talk. “Mimic game-day conditions as much as possible,” he said after his presentation. Ferriss gave the presentation in front of friends and strangers at various startups to groups of about 20 people. “I don’t want my first rehearsal in front of a large group of strangers to be when I stand up in front of 3,000 people,” he said…

3. Ask for specific feedback.

Once you’ve practiced your presentation in front of a small audience, most people will say “good job.” They don’t want to hurt your feelings and they’ll have limited feedback. While “good job” might help you feel good, it won’t help you get better. Ask them to be specific: Is there something you didn’t understand? Do I use jargon that you’re not familiar with? Did I make strong eye contact? What did you like–or not like–about my delivery? What can I do to make it stronger?

4. Record it.

Set up a smartphone or a video camera on a tripod and record your presentation. You’ll be surprised at what you see. You’ll

5. Practice until it’s effortless.

Read more at …

PREACHING & Baylor Univ. releases list of “12 most effective preachers” & my exercise for preachers.

Baylor University conducted a survey to identify the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. Now, two decades after the original survey, the Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary has identified the 12 most effective preachers of 2018.

The 12 individuals named as the most effective preachers in the English-speaking world, according to George W. Truett Theological Seminary’s national survey are … 

12 Most Effective PreachersRead more at …

A Leadership Exercise by Dr. Whitesel:

Listen to a sermon from 3 to 5 of these preachers. Then write out the similarities you hear. This exercise can help you identify recurring aspects of preachers known for preaching effectiveness.



PREACHING & The Surprising Power of Asking Questions #OrganicChurchBook #HarvardBusinessReview

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: When researching my Abingdon Press book, “Inside the organic church,” I found growing young churches often have sermons in which the audience is asked to respond to the preacher with live questions. Traditionalists usually found this worrisome, because they feared losing control of the learning experience. But research cited in this Harvard Business Review article demonstrates that asking questions deepens learning.  Not surprisingly, I practice questioning of my listeners in my courses, seminars and even sermons.

by Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John, Harvard Business Review, May-June 2018.

“Be a good listener,” Dale Carnegie advised in his 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. “Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.” More than 80 years later, most people still fail to heed Carnegie’s sage advice. When one of us (Alison) began studying conversations at Harvard Business School several years ago, she quickly arrived at a foundational insight: People don’t ask enough questions. In fact, among the most common complaints people make after having a conversation, such as an interview, a first date, or a work meeting, is “I wish [s/he] had asked me more questions” and “I can’t believe [s/he] didn’t ask me any questions.”

…Dating back to the 1970s, research suggests that people have conversations to accomplish some combination of two major goals: information exchange (learning) and impression management (liking). Recent research shows that asking questions achieves both.

… Not all questions are created equal. Alison’s research, using human coding and machine learning, revealed four types of questions: introductory questions (“How are you?”), mirror questions (“I’m fine. How are you?”), full-switch questions (ones that change the topic entirely), and follow-up questions (ones that solicit more information). Although each type is abundant in natural conversation, follow-up questions seem to have special power. They signal to your conversation partner that you are listening, care, and want to know more. People interacting with a partner who asks lots of follow-up questions tend to feel respected and heard.

An unexpected benefit of follow-up questions is that they don’t require much thought or preparation—indeed, they seem to come naturally to interlocutors. In Alison’s studies, the people who were told to ask more questions used more follow-up questions than any other type without being instructed to do so.

Read more at …

PREACHING & Why a story well-told should elicit in a listener the response, “Oh, tell it again!” #ChristinePartonBurkett

“Some stories need to be told again and again. So it is with the story of Easter, a story that reminds us that we belong to God and that Jesus is out ahead of us, calling us to God’s future…” by Nathan Kirkpatrick, Faith & Leadership, Duke Divinity School, 3/26/18.

My colleague Christine Parton Burkett reminds preachers that children, after hearing a well-told story, never respond, “What does it mean?” Instead, with glee and abandon, they exclaim, “Oh, tell it again!” She reminds preachers that, as human beings, we never really outgrow our love of a story well-told; there is a part of each of us that wants to cheer, “Oh, tell it again!”

Read more at …


WOMEN PREACHERS & A description of Susanna Wesley’s innovations

A crowd gathered outside the kitchen window. They had come to hear the pastor’s wife explain Scripture. Tradition forbade women from preaching as a pastor might, but the crowd knew Susanna Wesley as the theological and homiletical equal to her husband, their pastor. On occasions when Samuel traveled to London on religious business, attendance at the Epworth church dropped. But because Susanna believed so strongly people needed a regular feeding of God’s Word, she threw open her kitchen window as an invitation for others to hear the Word. The pretext was that she was teaching her children, gathered around the kitchen table. But the open window allowed her message to touch the hungry hearts of the townspeople. Never before had such delicious provision come out of this kitchen.

Excerpted from Enthusiast! Finding a Faith that Fills (Bob Whitesel, The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2017), p. 135.

PREACHING & Great Presenters Do One Thing That Most of You Don’t, Science Says

by James Sudakow, Inc. Magazine, 1/18/16.

…What if I told you that the thing you spend the most time on when preparing for your big presentation might actually be the thing that influences your audience the least? That’s exactly what a landmark study by Albert Mehrabian, UCLA Professor Emeritus of Psychology, found.

Mehrabian found that there are three elements of communication that influence an audience:


This is not how cool your power point slides are (although that matters, too). What Mehrabian was referring to here were key things like eye contact, body movement, and gestures. In other words, these are the things that the audience sees you do with your eyes, your hands, your arms, and your entire body…


This is all about your voice. The three key areas that are most important are your rate, volume, and inflection. A rate that is too fast makes you seem “junior”, lack of inflection makes you look dispassionate, and lack of volume leaves you sounding less confident.


This is simply about content. In this study, Verbal refers to the actual words you are saying. In preparing a presentation, most of us spend a significant amount of time, if not the majority, on Verbal. It makes sense, right? You can’t make a good presentation without good content.

Here is where the research gets really interesting in a way that just might change your approach:

From the study, Verbal accounted for only 7% of what influenced the audience. That left a whopping 93% of audience influence based on Visual and Vocal. Specifically, the study showed that 55% of audience influence was based on Visual and 38% was based on Vocal…

Read more at …

PREACHING & Relevant Topics in an Irreverent World

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California continually has some of the most relevant sermons I’ve come across. Here is a link to their latest. If you want to preach in a way that answers people’s questions, you should subscribed to their newsletter (below).

Who is going to win? Who is the greatest? Which one is the best? We are surrounded by people, organizations and cultures who desire influence & power, and it’s easy to get completely swept up in all of that. But what if we have been striving for the wrong thing this whole time?

Join us this Sunday 11/20 to explore what it looks like when we give up power instead of demanding allegiance, when we care for others instead of oppressing them, when we live into the way of Jesus’ upside down kingdom.

**We are excited to be back in our “Gospel According to Luke” series and invite everyone to join us as we continue reading through Luke on a weekly basis.


WOMEN LEADERS & When She Preaches #MissioAlliance #TaraBethLeach

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Tara Beth Leach’s article ( below) is important. Having consulted for many churches with female pastors over the years, I have found one of the strongest bastions of male dominance is often the pulpit.  Once that ceiling is broken with her anointing, other walls may fall.  This is what Susanna counseled John Wesley (1791), and it seemed to work. John had originally asked a female preacher in the Wesleyan Connexion to refrain from calling her sermonizing: preaching.  Instead, he suggested, it could be called a “testimony.”  Susanna, John’s mother and by all accounts a better preacher than John’s father Samuel, told John to go, hear her and see for himself if the anointing rested on her.  Soon thereafter, John agreed that women could preach within the Methodist movement.

When She Preaches

Growing up, I sat at the feet of countless remarkable male preachers. Besides Beth Moore, I don’t recall ever hearing a woman preach until my sophomore or junior year of college. I witnessed countless men stand behind pulpits, open their Bibles, and preach the Word of God in awe-inspiring ways. I am thankful for these men, because at the feet of them, my faith was formed and challenged. But I often wonder what it would have been like for me to listen to a woman preacher before I myself preached for the first time. I imagine I would have been deeply encouraged and wildly inspired.

When women don’t preach, the church suffers. It is as Carolyn Custis James says in her book, Half the Church,

When half the church holds back – whether by choice or because we have no choice – everybody loses and our mission suffers setbacks. Tragically, we are squandering the opportunity to display to an embattled world a gospel that causes both men and women to flourish and unites us in a Blessed Alliance that only the presence of Jesus can explain.[1]

Because, when a woman preaches, something profound begins to happen in the pews, the ground begins to shift, barriers are torn down, and the once silenced mouths are opened.[2]

When She Preaches, Women in the Congregation Begin to Imagine Gifts Outside of the Traditional/Patriarchal Roles

When she preaches, the women in the pews can begin to undo the narrative that tells them they are inferior to men. Many women sitting in the pews on Sunday morning aren’t sure what to do with scriptures that tell them to “keep quiet in the church” and are even told that scriptures like this should be applied to all women in every context. However, when she preaches, other women in the pews are pushed to think critically about those tough passages; they are pushed to consider their own gifts; they are forced to ponder a false narrative that they have embraced for far too long – that they are somehow less capable or less gifted in the Kingdom of God. When she preaches, women see a super-natural talent embodied in another woman, empowered by the Spirit, and propelled to edify all of the people of God. And it is then that women in the congregation begin to ask: can I preach, too? Maybe they will unearth the talents that have been buried for far too long; maybe they will spread their wings and fly; maybe they, too, will use their gifts in new and inspiring ways.

[1] Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 19.

[2] See a powerful post on Sarah Bessey’s blog, Why Not Have a Woman Preach” right here.

Read more here …

PREACHING & A Pastor Talks about the Pressures to Plagiarize

by John Frye, Pathos, 9/23/16.

Recently Scot McKnight had an excellent post about pastors plagiarizing. I read the post and followed the comment thread. Many good (and bad) things were pointed out about pastors preaching sermons of other pastors. Almost all thought it was deceptive to preach another pastor’s anecdote or experience or sermon as if it were their own. That is outright lying.

What in the US American evangelical culture would tempt pastors to plagiarize?

The unwise set-up of many pastors’ conferences. I have been a pastor for 40 years now. I’ve attended countless pastors conferences. When well-known, celebrity-status pastors are trotted out to be the main speakers, the message to the home-town pastor in middle Iowa gets the message: I am nothing compared to this guy (or lady)…

The book market for super pastors. Many Christian books by well-known pastors are marketed with built-in sermons that the pastor can preach to get his/her congregation interested in the book. Small group discussions can be spawned around the topics of the books. Yes, this is a way to market books through the local church…

The ubiquitous presence of Christian radio (and TV and podcasts). So many church attenders are able to hear very capable and charismatic preachers on their favorite Christian radio stations. By contrast, their pastor seems so bland compared to the dynamic, nationally known preachers. Yet, who buried Grandma Smith? Who prayed over the cancer survivor? Who was there at the birth of little Susie? Who did the wedding of Bill and Marta?..

Isolating the sermon as a thing unto itself. This really bugs me. I do not call communicators of the Bible in megachurches “pastors.” They are not. “My sheep hear my voice. I call them by name. They follow Me.” The sermon in US American mega-churchism has been horribly divorced from relationships. This is not a good thing. Some mega-church pastors are even protected from the riff-raff of the church. They let the lower rungs of church staff deal with the real pastoral issues. There is a spiritual elitism at work here. Sad. Sermons are made not just from Bible texts but from lived and known local stories. We have dis-incarnated the sermon.

Plagiarism is a collapse of faith. This collapse of faith knocks down three dominoes. First, a belief in the Creator God’s ability to grant creative, original thought to the local church pastor (stuck in the cornfields of Iowa)… The sin of comparison has sent too many pastors into depression. It has to stop. Stop now. Let the small town pastor meditate through the Book of Ruth. No kings. No priests. No mighty warriors. No prophets. What? An alien, a bitter widow, and a farmer. Second, a collapse in the dignity of the local, local, local church! A collapse in the dignity of the very local church is a collapse of a biblically-informed vision of the church… Third, a collapse of wisdom and discernment. Media-driven comparisons, ability to be known through marketed books or TV exposure, ability to coin a catchy phrase or two are drivel in comparison to that one old widow pouring her life into young mothers in the “hollers” of West Virginia…

Read more at …


PREACHING & 11 Tips From the Best TED Talks Speakers

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In the communication portions of my courses (as a missiologist, they all have a communication segment) I often play TED Talks that serve as examples of reliable/valid communication theory practiced well. Here is an Inc. Magazine article that similarly highlights communication tips from some of the most popular TED talks.

11 Public Speaking Tips From the Best TED Talks Speakers

by Jeffrey James, Inc. Magazine, 7/26/16.

There’s no question about it: TED Talks have raised the bar sky-high for what’s considered a memorable and compelling business presentation.

That being said, there are a handful of TED Talks speakers so talented that they almost make the rest seem dull and uninspired.

What makes them so special and popular? It’s not just their subject matter, although that obviously plays a role.

Here’s the secret: what the truly great TED speakers do differently from the rest can be found in the first few minutes of their presentation.

And that makes sense if you think about it. It’s during the opening remarks that the audience sits up and pays attention… or reaches for their iPhones.

With that in mind, here are five of the most popular TED Talks speakers (as measured by page views), with the techniques they use to enthrall their audiences.

To see the techniques in action you need only watch the first two minutes of the TED Talks embedded below. (Although they’re definitely worth watching in their entirety!)

1. Sir Ken Robinson

TIP No. 1. Use self-deprecating humor to lower barriers.

Unlike many other TED Talks speakers, Robinson doesn’t have a dynamic physical presence. Furthermore, because he’s an academic, he must overcome the perception that he’s likely to deliver a boring lecture.

He therefore opens by poking a little fun at himself and at educators in general. By puncturing his own balloon, he makes everyone feel more comfortable and more likely to listen to what he has to say.

TIP No. 2. Tie your experience to the shared experience.

In the midst of his humor, Robinson relates his personal experience at the conference to that of the attendees. This further humanizes him and brings him into the community of the audience.

Robinson establishes such a strong rapport with the audience that he doesn’t need visuals or graphics to make his points. This is a testament to how well he manages to capture and then hold the audience’s attention.

2. Amy Cuddy

TIP No. 3. Get the audience to take an immediate action.

The point of all public speaking is to convince the audience to make a decision, which means convincing them to move (conceptually) from wherever they are now to wherever you’d like them to be.

Cuddy starts by getting the audience to move physically, thereby creating the momentum for the conceptual move she intends them to make. This is a more creative take on the “show of hands” opening that less-talented speakers use.

TIP No. 4. Create a sense of suspense.

In her first few sentences, Cuddy also promises the audience they’ll be learning something important later in the presentation. This causes the audience to pay attention lest they miss the promised nugget of wisdom.

Note how cleverly Cuddy intermingles Tips 4 and 5! The suspenseful promise lends additional meaning to the movement, while the movement helps “lock in” the importance of the promise…

5. Dan Gilbert

Tip No. 9: Start with a startling fact or statistic.

Gilbert introduces his TED Talk with an unexpected fact that’s immediately relevant to his overall message, and uses contrast (20 minutes versus two million years) to frame that fact, thereby making it seem more vital.

Startling facts grab the attention of both sides of the brain. The neurons in your left brain signal “Yay, here’s a fact to remember!” while the neurons in your right brain signal “wow, that’s really weird!”

TIP No. 10. Use visually arresting graphics.

Gilbert immediately reinforces the startling fact with a graphic of two skulls that reinforces and strengthens both the informational content (for the left brain) and the emotional content (for the right brain).

By simultaneously hitting both sides of the brain, Gilbert completely captures the imagination and interest of the audience, even though he’s only 30 seconds into the presentation.

TIP No. 11. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

This is true of all great TED Talks speakers but particularly true of Gilbert, who is a master at reducing complex ideas into easily understood chunks of content.

Indeed, if you watch any great TED Talk, you’ll notice at once that speakers neither “drill down” into details nor take the proverbial “50,000-foot view.” Instead, they simplify without ever becoming simplistic.

Read (and watch) more at …

STORYTELLING & Inspirational Leaders Use Stories to Inspire According to Research

Charismatic People Do These 7 Things, According to Science

Recent scientific studies reveal the ‘secret sauce’ that helps great leaders influence and inspire us all.

by Jeffrey James, Inc. Magazine, 8/15/16.

1. (Inspirational leaders) tell stories rather than relate facts…

Humans use stories to put facts into context and give meaning to random events of the world. Stories create rapport between the storyteller and individuals in the audience and “move” them emotionally to take action. That’s why every great TED Talk contains a story or series of stories…

(Charisma is the ability to influence and inspire others merely by your presence. According to a recent article in The Atlantic,several new scientific studies reveal that charismatic people habitually use the following key behaviors)…

3. They avoid speaking to fatigued audiences.

Charismatic people instinctively sense when it’s the right time to inspire others. The study about sleep-deprived speakers also revealed that sleep-deprived audiences are less swayed by charisma than well-rested ones. That’s why charismatic speakers seldom schedule talks before breakfast or late at night.

4. They express deep moral conviction.

The great religious leaders of history were so charismatic that their followers believed they were touched by God. The same is true, in a more limited sense, of charismatic business people. They’re neither wishy-washy nor namby-pamby. They show by word and deed that they aspire to something greater than their own self-interest…

6. They have broad interests and are deeply curious.

Charismatic people connect more easily because they’ve acquired general knowledge on a broad range of subjects, thereby creating more opportunity to find points of common interest. A charismatic leader responds quickly when other people bring up subjects that interest them. By contrast, specialists are seldom charismatic.

7. They let people hug them.

While charismatic leaders never force themselves physically on other people (which would be creepy), they are open to being hugged and touched. Apparently, many people unconsciously believe that some of the person’s charisma will “rub off” onto them, much like touching a lucky charm.

Read more at …

PREACHING & 5 Steps to Make You a Great Preacher

by Eddie Park, teaching pastor of Fullerton Ev. Free Church, social entrepreneur, grad of Biola and Stanford, Oct 2, 2015.

Here’s my five point strategy on how to move towards great preaching…

1) Evaluate Strategically

What Most Churches Do…

  • positive/negative criticism (i.e. strengths and weaknesses; pros vs cons)
  • evaluate introduction, middle, and ending

The problem with this is: It’s too general and too subjective.

A Guide to Evaluating Sermons

In the appendix of his book, Andy gives 3 questions to strategically evaluate the sermon:

a) Was the message memorable? Did you clearly communicate the one big idea? Did you reiterate and repeat this idea throughout the message?

b) Was it engaging? Did you raise the tension of the audience? Did you hit the felt need of your people? Did you make them feel like you were unpacking one of the great mysteries of life?

c) Was it helpful? Did you tell the people what to actually do? Was it applicable to their contexts? Will it transform their marriages, parenting, relationships, and vocations?

2) Establish a Teaching Team

At EvFree, we have a team of five people that make up the teaching team. This team is made up of the following roles:

  • Two other leaders. These are key leaders in the church who have immense social capital who are also strong communicators. After our teaching pastor, our secondary teachers are made up by our Missions Pastor, New Community Pastor, and myself (Executive Pastor).
  • Research Assistant or Director. Sermon prep takes roughly 20 to 30 hours for expository preachers. Roughly half (or more) goes into purely exegetical work. Have one member on the team conduct the background and word studies, thematic outlines, and illustrations and distribute high level notes to the team.
  • Teaching Interns. Your younger staff possess an invaluable perspective on how to engage millennials and post-GenY listeners. Ask them. Listen to them. They are the experts.

Read more at …

SERMONS & An Organic “Structure” for Effective Sermons

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 11/15/15

I coach clients on sermon structure, which is just as important as preparation.  Here is an “Organic Sermon Structure” that I developed while I was pastoring:



ASK your hearers a question that shows them how a “problem” you have chosen relates to them, i.e. “Have you ever had to deal with a person who lied to you, and you know they did?”

> The Serendipity Bible by Lyman Coleman is a great source of these questions.  It has questions for every passage in the Bible.  See the “screen shot” below.
> Wesley’s questions are also great (see The Healthy Church and Cure for the Common Church for Wesley’s questions adapted for today).


STATE the problem (the more people who can relate to this problem the better).


TRAVEL through a biblical story that gives the answer to the problem.  Use the following resources for background info on story:

> (start with) Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible or the more recent Eerdmans Companion to the Bible (see screen shot below). These are the basic books that give a clear, concise background for each passage in the Bible.  If you want to know the context and background to any passage, you will find it here (with charts, maps, etc.)  Other good ones are: The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament [Hardcover] and the NT version.

> Then look at a “Commentaries” for the story you are sharing to get more in-depth info.  Don’t get bogged down sharing everything in a commentary.  Use them to help you fully grasp the background and message of each passage.

There are good commentaries for each book.  Eventually you want to have one (or more) commentary for each book of the Bible.  Here are some examples of good ones:

The Book of the Acts (New International Commentary on the New Testament) by F. F. Bruce

Luke (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) by Leon L. Morris (Apr 18, 2008)

The Epistle to the Ephesians: A Verse by Verse Exposition by One of the Great Bible Scholars of Our Age by F.F. Bruce (Apr 12, 2012)

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (New International Commentary on the New Testament) by Gordon D. Fee (Jul 14, 1995)

The IVP (InterVarsity Press) New Testament Commentary Series is often very good.

Also, the Tyndale New Testament Commentary Series is very good.

You want to amass a commentary (or two) for each book in the Bible, so you can look more detail about each passage you are sharing.


FILL your mind up with this background information (above) until you think you can learn no more – the add a little bit more. Then see what the HS brings up from your consciousness during the sermon.


SHOW the congregation that though the story the Bible gives the ANSWER to the problem.


APPLY – show them two (2) ways to apply the answer to the problem in the next 24 hours (e.g. before noon on Monday).

Serediptiy Bible copy Serendipity Bible SCREEN SHOT for Genesis 1 (Click to enlarge):

  • Note the “Questions” next to the “Coffee cup” (to get them thinking).
  • The “Book Icon” represents background info.  Use this like you would a commentary.
  • The “Heart Icon” tells them how to apply the lessons of the passage to their heart.

Eerdmans Companion to the Bible SCREEN SHOT of background info (click to enlarge)
Eerdmans Companion to the Bible copy
Eerdmans Companion to the Bible.tiff

METAPHOR: Is Popular Media Promoting an Orphaned Hero Metaphor In Lieu of … the Grandparent Metaphor? (A Leadership Exercise)

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 10/25/15.

To help pastors hone their teaching/preaching skills I use the following “preaching exercise.”

Margaret Mead discovered that grandparents better translate spiritual values down to grandkids that parents do (A House Divided, 2001, p. 51). And, most church leaders recognize the important influence that grandparents have upon the spiritual values of grandchildren.

Is the popular media creating a new and incomplete metaphor: the orphaned (super) hero?

Here is a question about “orphaned heroes,” spurred by a previous student. The student noted that in some “classic TV shows” there was a strong grandparent-grandchild story line. The student mentioned “Little House on the Prairie” as an example with the grandparents living with the grandkids.

For your leadership exercise, answer and then discuss the following questions.

  • So, today what kind of metaphor is the modern media creating (e.g. by stories in movies, books, TV, online, etc.)?
  • How does the media portray the “hero” and “super-hero” today?
  • Do they have strong grandparental ties or weak ones?

You will want to look up the popularity of the “orphan” metaphor in popular culture.  In other words, who are some of the famous “orphans” in popular culture (again, e.g. movies, TV, shows, etc.) that are serving as models for young people.  And, how prevalent are these models of “orphaned heroes?”

SERMONS & Research confirms: Reading a sermon is not a good idea.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In this research, cited in the Harvard Business Review, listeners gave markedly higher ratings to presentations that were given extemporaneously or by memorization than when they were read. Though reading sermons is (in my observation) a dying practice, it is still important to realize that we best communicate when we internalize the message.

Read more at …

PREACHING & Why/How Paul’s Letters Were Performed by a Reader in Public #ScotMcKnight

by: Scot McKnight, 6/11/15.

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 5.37.27 AMIn a previous post I observed that Paul’s letters were not read by individuals but performed by a reader (or lector). The lector didn’t read a letter of Paul cold on the spot but instead would have been given instructions (by Paul and his co-workers). In fact, it would not have been unusual for the lectors to have prepared and performed the letter in advance — or a number of times, perhaps rehearsing the letter’s performance a few times. None of this, of course, is discussed by Paul in his letters but he does mention couriers and reading (e.g., Rom 16; Col 4).

Though this helps explain Lucy Peppiatt’s theory about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, the post today is about performance in the world of Paul and is based on the excellent sketch of memorized speech-making by William D. Shiell, in a book called Delivering from Memory: The Effect of Performance on the Early Christian Audience (Eugene: Pickwick, 2011). Shiell is the senior pastor at First Baptist Church Tallahassee. His work is rooted in the excellent work on rhetoric by George A. Kennedy.

Some are calling this “performance criticism,” and perhaps America’s best-known expert is David Rhoads. The facts/details about performance are based on ancient rhetorical handbooks. I don’t know anyone who thinks Paul was trained as a rhetor or a lector, but the reality is that most in the Roman and Jewish worlds would have experienced trained rhetors on a common basis — the public square. Thus, those who “read” Paul’s letters aloud would have “performed” them on the basis of experiencing other lectors/rhetors. None of this stretches evidence and is therefore valuable for learning to “hear” Paul’s letters as they were meant to be heard for he wrote them to be read in the congregation’s public gatherings (Col 4:16).

To quote Shiell, “In Hellenistic Jewish and Greco-Roman audiences, the performer and the audience were shaped together by the recitation [or reading], retention, and response to the performance” (7). Furthermore, “Prior to performance, the reader practices, remembers, retains, and paraphrases the reading” (8). [Is it possible that what we now know as text-critical variants began at the original performance?]

Here are some clear texts about public reading of letters: Acts 15:31; 1 Thess 5:27; Col 4:16; Luke 4:17-20; 1 Tim 4:13-16.

On performance, notice these texts: Acts 12:17; 13:16; 19:33; 21:40; 23:1, 6; 24:10; 26:1.

On audiences, here: Acts 2:37; 19:28; 26:24; 2 Tim 3:16…

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PREACHING & Passing on Sound Doctrine to the Next Gen #OutreachMagazine #DanKimball

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Dan Kimball is not only a friend, but I believe the leading organic voice for making systematic theology relevant to average congregants. Read this excellent article by Dan in Outreach Magazine where he explains how he created a 14-week sermon series that covered classical systematic theology.”


By Dan Kimball • June 3, 2015, Outreach Magazine.


When it comes to the emerging generations, we may need to teach doctrines no one is asking about.

More than 35 percent of our church is college students, so a recent message series felt a little risky.

At a time when you often hear that emerging generations don’t want to hear about doctrine and theology, we designed a 14-week classical systematic theology series to teach to the entire church. Our topics included Christology, the study of God the Son; bibliology, the study of the Bible; eschatology, the study of the end times; and angelology, the study of angels, demons and Satan.

Our Sunday attendance has grown, and lives are being affected. A college student emailed me that her four non-Christian friends have been coming and are fascinated. One Sunday, we taught the doctrine of salvation, defined words like “justification” and invited people to “pray a prayer” of salvation. Many responded and told me afterward that they put faith in Jesus.

Sometimes we can put so much emphasis on doctrine that emerging generations lose interest, but at the same time, I sense a desire among them to learn truth and doctrine. Here are some lessons we’ve learned about teaching it …

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