Tim Brister


Tim Brister

Tim Brister has served as a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church since June 2008. Tim's passion is to demonstrate a life that trusts God, treasures Christ, and triumphs the gospel. Tim is the Director of PLNTD, a church planting network in association with Founders Ministries. He's also the director of The Haiti Collective, organizer for Band of Bloggers, and creator of P2R (Partnering to Remember) and the Memory Moleskine.

You can read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.

Why Preach from a Manuscript?

...As one of those young and inexperienced preachers, one of the best gifts God has given me is men who are committed to making me a better preacher of the gospel. Every sermon I preach is evaluated. Everything is considered: thesis, exegesis, illustrations, application, eye contact, speech, grammar, length, etc. In the beginning, I dreaded that one hour in our weekly elder meetings; however, as I sought to apply the fraternal criticism to my preaching, I began to anticipate those meetings, knowing I was benefiting from an experience in true pastoral training that many, if not most, in my generation are not afforded. The opportunity to receive real, significant preaching instruction and help is a stewardship I hope not only benefits my hearers but also those I may have opportunity to help in the future.

One of the most significant helps I received at the beginning was writing out a full manuscript of my message. I have taken some time in recent days in light of some Twitter conversations to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned and benefits I’ve received from using a full manuscript in my preaching, and I thought I share them here for what it’s worth.

10 Benefits I’ve Received from Using a Full Manuscript (MSS)

1.  Clarity – The exercise of writing out what you are going to say before you say it provides you the opportunity of being clear in your communication. Cluttered, confusing statements do not serve preaching well. The discipline of writing a full MSS helps you address not only what you say but how you say it in ways that are clearly understandable to the hearer.

2.  Brevity – When my first sermon was transcribed, it was over 7,000 words(!). Since writing a full MSS (and I mean full), I have whittled down my word count to roughly 4,000-4,500 words. The most effective preachers I know have an amazing ability to say a lot in a short amount of time. Length of preaching does not necessarily mean you cover the text well. It could be you are just rambling.

3.  Precision – I was taught in seminary by professors that every paragraph in a research paper should contribute to your thesis. The same is true in preaching. If I have 45 minutes to preach, I cannot afford to waste 5 minutes on something that does not illuminate the text or apply it to my people. Make every paragraph count by making every sentence count. Don’t waste people’s attention by wasting your words.

Additionally, using a MSS has forced me to be more precise in my grammar. Things like subject-verb agreement, using the active voice, pronouns and antecedents may sound technical and geared toward an academic audience, but they are important to your delivery. You are a public speaker, but more than that, you are a herald of God’s Gospel, and we should of all people be careful not to unnecessarily provide a stumbling block to receiving the message through being imprecise.

4.  Simplicity – One of things most impressed upon me by Tom Ascol has been simplicity in preaching. Coming from an academic environment, I tended to use long, complex sentences and theological terms I took for granted, assuming my hearers fully understood them as well. And writing a MSS allows me to evaluate areas where my thoughts are too complex or my word choice could better serve my audience. The simpler, the better, and a MSS is a great tool to help make that happen.

5.  Coherence – Do the points of my MSS argue and explain my thesis? Is my thesis the point of the text? Like precision, coherence makes the flow of your message easy for your listeners to follow. A choppy, disconnected message makes listeners struggle to follow what you are saying. Writing a full MSS helps you detect disjunctions and evaluate points or sub-points in your message that either don’t fit or need to be communicated differently.

6.  Macro – A full MSS allows you to see the big picture to your sermon. Is there a way you could illustrate a point better. Are you missing application at key points? Are your transitions helpful in reviewing? A full MSS is like an executed storyboard. Is your story compelling? Are you engaging the mind, the heart, and the will? What do you want to accomplish at the conclusion of your message? A full MSS can help answer those questions, as you have time to consider all these matters from a macro viewpoint.

7.  Retrieval/Preservation - You may preach a passage/message in the past that you may want to preach again in a different context. I recently did this while in Haiti. If all you have is a few bullet points or annotations, you may struggle in retrieval. But a full MSS has everything you said, including illustrations, transitions, applications, etc.

8. Discipleship – I have made the habit of making my MSS available on Sundays, and here recently I have had non-Christians and newly converted Christians asking for my MSS to take home with them. When the MSS is available to them, they are less worried about taking notes feverishly and can be more engaged then and there for the Spirit to apply the Word to them, knowing they could get my full MSS later. The MSS also becomes a tool I could use with guys I’m mentoring and training as future pastors or church planters in helping them in their craft.

9.  Personal Application/Enjoyment - Exegetical/expository preaching is hard work. Writing a full MSS can make it even harder. But I can say that after doing it a while, God has used that exercise to convict me in areas where I’m not living where I’m preaching. Not only that, but God has also encouraged me in the process by the leadership and assistance of the Holy Spirit. For those who preach more extemporaneously and prepare little, God bless them. I’m not that guy. But here’s another thing to consider. God is with you in your preparation as much as He is with you in your presentation. Writing the full MSS and praying over it is an opportunity to experience the blessing of God’s Spirit owning His Word in my life. Those hours of preparation are when heaven enters your soul. Savor it.

10.  Preparation – Even though I write a full MSS, that does not mean I preach from it or force myself to stick to it exactly. Some argue that it makes you more wooden or boring. I can certainly see that happening. But what about reading and praying over your MSS several times in the day or hours before you preach so that you are not only going to the pulpit with a hot heart but with a lot of light as well?

I hope that something here might encourage young preachers to cultivate their craft. I am one who is far from where I want to be as a preacher, but thanks to God’s kindness in the gifts of godly examples and their constructive help, I don’t think I’m where I used to be.

If there are any questions about preaching, fraternal critique, or developing a sermon MSS, let me know.  If it would be any help to you, I am providing you four sermon MSSs from last month where I preached a mini-series on God’s grace.

Grasping the Grandeur of God’s Grace (Sermon Series)


Philemon, the Refresher

For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother,
because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
Philemon 1:7

He’s got one of the shortest books of the Bible named after him, but even Paul’s letter has more to do with Onesimus than him. I’m talking about Philemon, someone heaven knows, and we should know as well. The substance of the letter is basically a plea to embrace someone (Onesimus) formerly useless and unprofitable in gospel ministry and receive him on account of Paul’s personal investment. Paul knew a thing or two about learning to embrace folks formerly useless. Traveling with him at the time was John Mark, the central fella in the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. At the time of the Jerusalem Council, Paul say John Mark as useless to the gospel mission, but some time between then and this letter to Philemon, he had learned to receive him as a co-laborer and partner. Now, Paul is encouraging Philemon to do the same with Onesimus.

We don’t know too much about Philemon, but we learn about him from Paul is striking. Paul says “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Later in the letter, Paul himself requests that Philemon would “refresh my heart in Christ” (20). Sometimes you encounter a Christian, and they can feel like they dumped a wagon of anxiety, stress, worry, fear, and sadness. It is not that they are experiencing the worst possible life, but they want you to feel like they are. Then you can encounter Christians who are facing incredible trials, difficulties, and adversities, and they have the glow of heaven about them. It is not superficial giddiness but a profound confidence, abiding contentment, and enduring peace flowing from the realized promises of God.

You know what I’m talking about. The Philemons’ are those who, after spending five minutes with them, make you want to love Jesus more, know God better, and live for the glory of God with greater passion. They not only bring a word in season, but they bring comfort to the afflicted, hope to the discouraged, and joy to the downcast. They are the cup of cold water that refreshes the barren soul, a refuge for the weary where words are not necessary. They are the ones you turn to when you need a hand, a prayer, a promise from Scripture as a means of perseverance in the journey gets hard, the valley gets low, and the light grows dim.

The hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. If there was only one person and one comment that could be made about you and me, could it be any more significant? The saints knew of Philemon’s refreshment, and heaven knows as well. May God raise up an army of Philemons in the church today who, filled with the Spirit of God, serve as agents of refreshment to the body of Christ!


From Strangers to Missionaries: Dealing with My Hate

Last Fall, I began a series on missional living entitled “From Strangers to Missionaries” where I share about a personal strategy to win my neighborhood and city for Christ. After several recent interactions and encouragements, I felt I needed to provide an update and write more about my journey. For a review of what I’ve written thus far, click here.

Why I Hated My City

During the first four years of living in my city, I went from confusion to frustration to hate. I was confused because I was told that I live “in paradise” (sunny Southwest Florida) in what was one of the fastest growing cities in the country. But when my family and I established our roots, the boom town had become the epicenter of the bursting of the housing bubble. During those four years, 14 out of the 17 houses on my street went into foreclosure or short-sale with another one never making it past the cinder block facade.

My confusion led to frustration because, not only did my city suffer the hardest in the foreclosure crisis, but news came out that we also had the worst job performance market in the top 100 metro areas in the country. The frustration stemmed from the economic incompetency of my city to do anything but increase taxes on its citizens. Those years were full of “foreclosure tours” around the city, planned city protests my citizens against its officials, and alarming reports of increasing numbers of people attempting (and committing) suicide.

Over time, my confusion and frustration spiraled into hate. I hated the fact that I live in a city that has no roots. Very few have lived here longer than one generation. I would say that 8 out of 10 have transplanted within the last 10–15 years. They have come from all over the north (Snowbirds becoming permanent residents), from the south (Hispanics and Haitians from the Caribbean), and from the East (Europeans). So many cultures and backgrounds and traditions, there is no one cultural narrative and therefore no real city identity. Everyone is fearful and skeptical of one another, and I live in a city where every neighbor may not only be from a different state but from a different country in the world.

My city is unique in that it is 90% first place (homes). We do not have a business district. We really don’t even have a downtown. We are one big grid on a map of homes and small businesses littered throughout. When the boom hit, dozens and dozens of home builders bought up vacant lots across the city to build houses. They built houses, not neighborhoods. Therefore a house could be built by one builder and have 15 vacant lots surrounding it with no neighbors close by (as is my case). The other unique factor is the canal system. We have over 400 miles of canals in our city, which causes some to call us the “Waterfront Wonderland.” But those very canals which cause so much appeal are one of the greatest dividing lines of separation to people who live in the city. It was hard for me to see them as beautiful when I knew they had become such a barrier.

So for the first four years, I came to hate my city. I hated it economically (no jobs, no business, no plans to change things). I hated it geographically (worst use of best land ever). I hated it relationally (no neighborhoods, highly transient community/no roots, socio-cultural barriers). I hated it because it created just about every possible barrier known to man to keep a city from flourishing. Our city was engineered to be a “bedroom community” so that 90% of the land is housing, but oddly enough this neighborhood had become littered with empty lots and vacant houses.

Dealing with My Hate

The feelings I had toward my city were never high-pitched. They were like a low-grade fever that persisted over a period of time but never left. The feelings just lingered, and I had resigned to thinking things would never change. I found myself investing more and more of my energy to ministry opportunities outside my city, including (ironically) conferences on mission and church planting. Perhaps it was a pacifier to my pain or a substitute for my neglect. Nevertheless, God was breaking me down and helping me realize that the problem inside my heart was far greater than any problem that existed in my city.

In November 2012, God awakened me to His promises and showed me my unbelief. He opened my eyes to see how little fruit existed in my life and how little love dwelt in my heart. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I did not want to come to terms with how I had lived, but God did. Over the next couple of months, God brought waves of brokenness and “truth to my inward parts” (Psalm 51). It was a turning point for my life in my city. Before there was to be movement “out there”, there had to be movement happening “in here” (my life). Everything outside may not change, but by God’s grace, I was going to change by walking in repentance in the city God was teaching me to love.

Things have not been entirely different since that time. Four months after this turning point, I went through a period of wanting to give up, to move on to somewhere else, and get a fresh start on mission. But again, God would not let me get away with that. It has been and continues to be a battle, but I would not want to live any other way than to see strangers come to live as missionaries in the city I now love, with neighbors I now live so that the name of Jesus would be hallowed here as it is in heaven.


Read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.


I Am a Great Witness… of Lesser Things

We are hardwired to talk to other people about what impresses us the most. Unfortunately, too often our conversation indicates we are far too easily impressed by trivial things.

I have two toddler boys (aged 3 and 5) who love to share with me exciting happenings in their little world. My three-year old, for instance will come running into my office out of breath, telling me of his first successful attempt of buttoning up his own pants. My five-year old is learning to read and cannot wait to share with me the new words he has learned to spell. Those regular occurrences remind me that from our earliest years of talking, we were made to bear witness to others about what makes the biggest impression on us.

I must confess that I am a great witness of lesser things. I find it rather natural for me to talk with others about things like college football dynasty like Alabama football, or the latest political controversy, or the most interesting moment that recently occurred in my life. We want to have something to say, something to contribute to the lives of others around us, and in the end, the offerings of our daily witness have less weight and significance than we bill them to be in our conversation.

God has made me to be a witness of the biggest drama in all of history. The event that interprets history and delineates time is meant to explode off my lips. Nothing is to be more profoundly impacting for the purpose of natural overflowing than a bloody cross, empty tomb, and occupied throne. The scandal of the cross, the innocent for the guilty, the righteous for the unrighteous, the perfect Son for the rebellious traitor, the sacrifice for the scoffer–this scandal should sober my senses, awaken my affections, and transfix my thoughts that I am stunned by the greatness of such grace. Nothing in the world should get me sweetly talking like Him who remained silent and drank the bitter cup of God’s wrath for me.

Tragically, I find myself far too easily impressed with lesser things. I bear witness of things that cannot satisfy, of idols that cannot save, of moments that are quickly forgotten. I want my words and witness to count for the biggest event in all of history performed by the greatest person who ever lived. I am not as impressed in the law-fulfilling life of Jesus as I should be. I am far more gospel inoculated than I admit. I am not as awakened to the majesty of sovereign mercy in the sacrificial death fo Jesus. I suffer more from gospel amnesia than I realize. And I am not conscious of the fact that Jesus right now has all authority over all things in heaven and earth, including every person I will ever encounter and every heart He has yet to conquer through the gospel. And yet I am succeeding in bearing witness in matters that do not matter in the scales of eternity.

When I behold the majestic mountaintops, the expanse of the wide oceans, the enormity of the universe, I am daily reminded I was made to speak of awesome realities. But nothing is more awesome than sins forgiven, washed in blood, nailed to the cross, taking away all condemnation and curse! Nothing is more awesome than divine favor and acceptance that comes from being dressed in the righteousness of Jesus, hidden in His embrace, and loved because of His merits. Nothing is more awesome than fellowship with the Father who is for me, the Son who is with me, and Holy Spirit who is in me. I was made to tell the world of this. To bear witness of His majesty and mercy, of His greatness and grace, of His unapproachable light and never-ending love.

I am a witness. You are witness. The question is what are we witnesses of? What is making the biggest impression and evoking the great commentary and reaction? I am, you are, made to bear witness of glory. Not just any glory. The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Let’s behold Him with fresh eyes of faith, and then respond with Spirit-led, grace-laced, jaw-dropping, life-transforming testimony of the beauty and power of King Jesus.


Someone Will Sin Against You Today, Are You Ready?

Growing up in North Alabama, I remember going through specific routines in the event of an emergency. I doubt there was a kid who did not know why or when you need to stop, drop, and roll. We were trained in protocols in the event of a tornado, calmly lining up in the hallway and securing our heads from potential debris. We knew how to exit the buildings in case of a fire in a single-file line to safe zones outside. All of these procedures were responses to various kinds of potential disasters we could encounter while in school.

Now what, do you think, are the possibilities that I as a kid in elementary school would actually need to follow through on those drills? How often would a tornado tear through our building? How often would a fire consume the classrooms? Hardly ever, if at all, right? But we were still trained in how to respond in the very unlikely event that they might occur.

What if I told you that on a daily basis you are going to be faced with potential crises or disasters that required a response from you? What if it was not a distant potentiality but an eminent reality? How would you prepare yourself for such situations? Would you be trained to know how to respond?

Let me break this down and make the case why every follower of Jesus must have a gospel response plan (GRP).

  • Have you ever been hurt by someone else?
  • Have you ever been criticized?
  • Have you ever been offended?
  • Has someone ever sinned against you?
  • Have you sinned against someone else?
  • Has your day ever taken one unexpected turn after another?
  • Have other people let you down or betrayed your trust?
  • Have you faced days of disappointment and despair?
  • Have you experienced frustration and anger at the failure of others or yourself?

These are just a few questions addressing realities you and I face on a daily basis, and with every question/situation, a response will manifest from your life. But what kind of response will it be? We have a choice to respond out of our sinful nature (Gen. 3) or out of our new identity in Christ. Will our response be driven by guilt and shame, hiding and pretending, blaming and fearing like Adam and Eve in Genesis 3? Or will our response arise from repentance and faith out of a heart resting in God’s acceptance of you in Christ?

You are a sinner living among sinners. You are a desperately needy person rubbing shoulders with desperately needy people. What weak, needy sinners need in every moment is to look to a strong, sufficient Savior. That’s what we do when we respond to the gospel–we turn from looking to ourselves (whether out of self-pity or self-righteousness) in repentance and we look to Christ in renewed faith and trust.

The problem we have today, I fear, is that most Christians do not have a developed gospel response plan and, therefore, there is no functional repentance and faith response when things happen (internally or externally) in their lives. The default, then, is to look somewhere other than Jesus in our response. And this, I find, is a massive discipleship breakdown for believers.

Someone is going to sin against you. Will you handle that situation with a response that honors the gospel? Will you pursue reconciliation through forgiveness and view that person through the lens of grace? Or will you come across self-righteous and force that person to make atonement for their sin by working their way back into a right relationship with you based on their efforts?

You are going to sin against someone else. Will you handle that situation with a response that honors the gospel? Will you make excuses for your sin? Rationalize it? Blame others for it? Or will you own it, humbly confessing it to God and those whom you sinned against, seeking forgiveness? Will you hide away playing the victim card in self-pity, sulking in your failure, or will you take your sin to the throne of grace to your merciful High Priest?

Paul said, “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in him…” (Col. 2:6). You receive Jesus by repentance and faith, and you walk in that same repentance and faith. That is to say, this is how we “learn Christ” (Eph. 5:20) and “put on our new self” (i.e., our new identity in Christ). I think the most practically and helpful tool that Christians have today is to be trained to know how to respond to various situations they will encounter in a way that commends the gospel and flows out of a heart fully resting and secure in Jesus. We are not talking about potential dangers here. We’re talking about actual, real-life situations happening every day where Christians will either act out the old man of Genesis 3 or the new man being renewed by the Holy Spirit.

Think back in your life where sin has impacted your relationship with God and others. Are there people that are no longer in your life because of the functional absence of a gospel-driven response? Sadly, I can say that is true for me, and I suspect that if we are cognizant enough, nearly everyone would consent to that reality. But we don’t have to continue that way!

So what is your Gospel Response Plan?

You are sinner living in a fallen world. You are going to be hurt, betrayed, frustrated, prideful, annoyed, judgmental, pitiful, and so much more. It’s going to happen. But are you going to be trained as a follower of Jesus Christ to know, almost instinctively, how to respond with the gospel through premeditated prescriptions of specific ways to walk in repentance and faith?

Perhaps what we need to do each morning is prepare ourselves with some “gospel drills.” Think about one possible situation a gospel response will be required of you. For example, you are at a restaurant and your server is extremely slow and the food is cold. The server asks you if there is anything else you need, and you are tempted to treat her like her actions deserve. But instead, you respond by saying, “Thank you for serving me today, and by the way, as I pray over my food I would like to know if there is anything I can pray for you about?” Who knows? The server may already be feeling guilty and embarrassed by their service and surprised by your gracious response. They could be going through a terrible crisis in their lives, and they open up to you and provide an opportunity for you to minister to them (and perhaps introduce them to Jesus).

Why that gospel drill? Because you will get bad service and cold food. You will be tempted to act out of the old Adam and not out of the risen Christ. And this is one of countless other ways we need to “learn Christ” and “put on the new self” with a strategy to approach whatever comes our way to walk in repentance and faith and show the transforming power of Christ’s abundant grace actively working in our lives.


Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.


Me and My Ninety-Nine

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
(Luke 15:1–7 ESV)

One of the challenges I face when it comes to maturing as a disciple of Jesus is working through passages familiar to my head (knowledge) but unengaged in my heart (life change). The parable in Luke 15:1–7 is a classic example, and one where I am learning to grow in joy-inspired repentance.

We know how the story goes. A man loses one of his sheep and does whatever it takes to find that sheep. But when I dwell on this passage a little more and the unaddressed realities in my heart, a couple of things come to my mind. First, am I the kind of person who is not even aware of when a sheep is lost? Do I pay enough attention to the “sheep who are not of this fold” (John 10:16) to acknowledge when one is lost? Second, am I the kind of person who secretly tells myself, “Well, I only lost one. At least I still have the other ninety-nine. Why make the effort to go after the one who is lost anyway? Is that not a bad stewardship of my time and energy?”

In the past, I made it easy to identify with the man in this story who acts heroically to find the lost sheep. A big reason for that has to do with the superficial allowance I give myself in engaging the text merely in an intellectual manner. I agree to the truths that are communicated in the text, but I fail to discover whether my life is in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14). To my own embarrassment, I am far more competent in exegeting a text of Scripture than exegeting the subtext of my own heart.

Let’s face it. Me and my ninety-nine is not bad after all, if we are playing the numbers game. From a pragmatic standpoint, I am efficient with my time and energy. I am leveraging my limited resources and stewarding them for the maximum outcome possible. The only problem with this thinking is the point Jesus makes in this story (and with His life). There is joy to be had for finding the lost. There is joy to be shared in inviting others to enter into that celebration. There is repentance to be remembered when the story of the good news of the sheep being found becomes greater than the sheep being lost. And all of this because in the one, the man found a mission to embrace that caused him to leave everything behind until the rescue was made. Too often, I am comfortable with the ritual of remaining with the righteous ninety-nine than the risk of rescuing the one needing repentance and the reward of joy that comes as the fruit of that risk.

Would you join me in learning to be faithful to the one by taking ownership of the rescue mission therein? I long to be able to say, “Rejoice with me.” But before that, I need to believe the joy in finding the one that was lost is of far greater value than the comforting of remaining with me and my ninety-nine.


Read more about Tim on his blog, Provocations and Pantings.


Disciple-Making and Sentence Diagramming, Part 6

[Part 1] Overview
[Part 2] Set Up
[Part 3] Marking Propositions
[Part 4] Labeling
[Part 5] Connections

The past five posts in this mini-series is intended to give very simple, practical steps to diagramming a text to gain a deeper understanding of the Bible. A disciple needs to be skilled in all three aspects of Bible study: observation, interpretation, and application. This mini-series focuses on the first aspect of observation, with the intention of equipping disciples of becoming better “seers” of the text.

The question I want to answer in this post is how to implement this kind of studied approach to Scripture in the disciple-making process. Can any Christian do this? Does this require too much time to feasibly incorporate this in the life of a disciple of Jesus? This looks important for pastors or teachers, but is it really important for every disciple of Jesus to put into practice?

A disciple is a follower or learner. It is true that our learning incorporates all of life (behavior, attitude, practices, relationships, worldview, etc.), but it is certainly not less than learning Scripture. In fact, I don’t believe the other aspects of learning are capable of becoming normative apart from learning Scripture well. The reason for this is because Scripture, rightly understood, will apply to all of the other areas of learning how to be a Christian. In other words, Scripture is not just a manual of Christian truth, but it is also a means of life transformation.

My recommendation for incorporating this method as a regular rhythm of Bible intake is to begin with a small book of the Bible. If your Bible breaks down passages in paragraphs, use those paragraphs as the building blocks of your sentence diagramming. In order to not overwhelm your study, simply take one paragraph at a time, meaning you will likely only do 1-2 paragraphs each week. That may not sound like much, but when you incorporate biblical mediation, prayer, and even memorization, you will have a saturation of Scripture over a sustained period of time that will be with you for good.

Here is how I recommend employing sentence diagramming over the course of a week and in context of disciple-making:

Day 1: Determine the text you plan on studying, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in your study
Day 2: Set up your document for diagramming (or journal if you don’t use a computer) (see part 2)
Day 3: Determine propositions, coordinate and subordinate clauses (see part 3)
Day 4: Label/classify the clauses and propositions (see part 4)
Day 5: Make connections and mark observations (see part 5)
Day 6: Meditate on the text, assimilating observations
Day 7: Meet with discipler to share insights of what you learned with one another

Each day, you should expect to spend roughly 20-30 minutes doing the work. As with anything, the more you do it, the more natural it will come and the more quickly you will make observations/connections. Remember, the end goal is not to have a well-marked up text properly diagrammed. The goal is to transition to interpreting what you have seen and drive the meaning of the text to shape the meaning of our lives (application). Could it be that our lives are not being shaped by God’s Word to the degree they ought? Could it be our lack of life transformation is due to lack of truly understanding Scripture? Could our lack of understanding Scripture be due to a lack of properly handling and seeing what God has made known to us in His Word?

If I can be of any more practical help to any of you in this process, let me know. I am a learner, too. We’re in this together. :) And what I desire, as explained in my original tweet, is that disciples of Jesus would be better equipped to handle God’s Word. Those who know God best (through His Word) are most adequately equipped to speak well of Him to others. The more you see and hear, the more you will have to speak to others. May God open our eyes and ears, and loose our tongues to speak much of Him!


Disciple-Making and Sentence Diagramming, Part 5

As for sentence diagramming, we have come to what I would consider the final part as “seers” (observation) of the text. After the relationship of propositions have been made (Part 4), I follow up with marking connections, emphasis, and key words in a text. There are several things specifically I’m looking for here:

  • Things emphasized in the text
  • Things repeated in the text
  • Things related in the text (connections)
  • Things set in comparison or contrast in the text (like/unlike)
  • Things connected sequentially or in the flow of logic
Going back to our sample text in 1 John 1, here is how I marked up the text (note: I used an iPad app to do this digitally for blogging purposes, but I normally print out the sheet at step 4 and do step 5 with pen and highlighters).

As you can see, I tried to put some of the observations together below the line. As for the markings and the aforementioned bullet points….

  • Things emphasized – fellowship with God, Jesus as “life,” God as “light,” sin as darkness/deception
  • Things repeated – what was seen, heard, touched; light/darkness, sin/lying
  • Things related – the word of life-eternal life-that which was from the beginning; what was manifested to us-we proclaimed to you; light-truth; darkness-deception; confession-cleaning-communion
  • Things set in comparison/contrast – light v. darkness; truth v. deception; saying v. doing; cleansed from all sin v. saying have no sin; two ways to live (deception or repentance)
  • Things in sequence/logical flow – ears, ears, and hands leads to mouth (experience leads to proclamation); vertical fellowship with God is grounds of horizontal fellowship with others; fellowship with God is conditioned upon a life a repentance and faith, rather than performance-based self-righteousness; God is the standard, the means, and the goal of our fellowship with one another (triperspectivally speaking); his word in us will reveal our real self-knowledge as sinners which leads to a life of confession and repentance which leads to walking in the light which leads to blood-bought fellowship of redeemed sinners called to be saints

There’s more that I point out in my markings than what I just bulleted, and if you have some time, take a look at them. Perhaps you see some things I did not see in the text. I tried to use different colors and markings in order to separate the things I saw, along with lines to help show the connections in the thought flow.

Now that this has been done, where do we go from here? I’d like to do a few things: (1) I’d like to show how this can be worked out as a regularly rhythm of disciple-making by taking normal Bible intake disciplines and incorporating them here; (2) I’d like to show how helpful this level of engaging the text is for understanding the meaning of the text (biblical interpretation). As I said earlier, the better “seer” you are of the text, the better interpreter you will be. The goal is not to have a well-marked up text; the goal is to have a thoroughly transformed life by applying the truth of God’s Word to every facet of our existence. I don’t think that goal is possible with a superficial reading of Scripture. Sentence diagramming and thought flow examination gives us training wheels for better study of Scripture, employing other disciplines of Bible intake (meditation) and other means of grace (prayer, community, etc.) in the process.

In my next post, I will try to show how this process can become a normal pattern of Bible intake and can be done with others so that those you disciple can have a stronger grasp of Scripture.


Disciple-Making and Sentence Diagramming, Part 4

So far, we have set up the diagramming template (part 2) and marked propositions along with coordinate and subordinate clauses. In this post, I simply want to explain the relationship between the clauses with regard to the propositions. Again, we are not diagramming grammar (words); rather, we are diagramming concepts/idea (propositions), so the key is not so much how words relate to one another as how propositions relate to one another.

Let me say from the outset that beginners in sentence diagramming may find this step of labeling propositions over their head. Let me encourage you to not give up or bypass this step entirely. You may need to work yourself into learning these labels and how to classify clauses, and no one becomes experienced in doing this overnight. So as a word of caution and exhortation, let me say I recognize this may be a sticking point for some. My hope is that you would press on and benefit from the massaging these labels in your thinking because, over time, they will become natural in your thinking whether you are diagramming a text or simply reading it devotionally.

There are basically ten different types of propositions. I first learned of these propositions from Dr. Jonathan Pennington while in seminary, who also employed Richard Young’s Intermediate New Testament Greek book. Here are the ten labels/classifications for clauses/propositions.

10 Classifications for Clauses/Propositions

1. Temporal – Describes the time or occasion when the proposition will occur. A temporal clause answers the question “when?” || Key Words: when, while

2. Manner/Means – Describes the means or the manner in which the proposition is carried out. || Key Words: by, through

3. Grounds – Describes the cause, reason, or grounds for the proposition or action.|| Key Words: because, since, for

4. Inference –  Describes the logical conclusion or result that comes from a previous proposition. || Key Words: therefore, thus, consequently

5. Purpose – Describes the purpose for a proposition or action. They answer the question “why?” || Key Words: to, in order that, so that

6. Result – Describes result/outcome of the proposition. || Key Words: so that, with the result that

7. Condition & Corollary – This is a paired set of labels that should be used together. Together a pair of condition-corollary phrases describes a potential condition for the proposition or action to occur. These will very often appear in the form of an “if . . . then” clause, though not always. || Key Words: “If…then”

8. Concessive – Describes a circumstance in spite of the proposition or action. || Key Words: though, although, yet, but

9. Content – A content clause gives another proposition that describes or qualifies a preceding one. || Key Words: that, lest

10. Description/Explanation – A classification for clauses not easily definable with other categories but modifies a proposition with additional information (either by describing or explaining the proposition).

Now let’s go back to 1 John 1 again. In the first image, I showed the text simply copy, pasted, and formatted in a word document. The section image shows how I broke down the text in propositions, Now in the image below, I show the relationship between the propositions with the above classifications. Note: P=proposition | C=coordinate clause | S=subordinate clause.

In this passage, there’s a lot of similarity between propositions. In other words, there’s a rhythm of sorts in the thought flow of the text. As I mentioned in my original post, the goal is to make disciples greater “seers” of God’s Word. The better you “observe” the text, the better you should be able to interpret the meaning of the text. Ultimately, faithfulness in understanding God’s Word becomes fertile ground for life transformation and provides multiple action points for applying truth to others based on what has been revealed in Scripture.

The next step I take in sentence diagramming is marking up the document in order to illuminate observations. Once those observations are visibly marked, I conclude my observations by summarizing what I have seen from the text and move to interpretation (determining the meaning of the text). This step will come in my next post.


Disciple-Making and Sentence Diagramming, Part 3

Continuing in this mini-series on sentence diagramming, I want to keep the focus on two things: (a) make it as simple and understandable as possible and (b) explain why this is important to the disciple-making process. There are more technical ways for breaking down texts of Scripture, but I will leave that for your Greek syntax and exegesis class in seminary. :) The goal behind this mini-series is to help disciple makers employ a very practical method for training believers to handle Scripture, consequently bringing greater confidence and consistency in applying it to their lives.

In the previous post, I explained the basic set up for sentence diagramming. In this post, I want to explain propositions and their relationship to one another. Remember, a proposition is simply a phrase that makes an assertion or point, and a verse may have several propositions therein. Coordinate clauses are propositions of equal importance. Subordinate clauses are propositions that modify or explain the lead proposition. Knowing the difference between the two will determine how you diagram a sentence and learn the thought flow of the text. To be clear, we are not seeking to diagram the grammar of the text (relationship between words); rather, we are diagramming the concepts/ideas in the text (relationship between propositions).

Once the document is set up (see part 2), the fun begins.

  1. Start with putting the main clause/proposition in the upper left hand corner of your document/paper.
  2. Indent all subordinate clauses.
  3. Line up all coordinate clauses.
  4. Connect related main clauses.
  5. Finally, explain the relation between clauses/propositions.

One point should be made here. You are going to have to make subjective calls on whether propositions or subordinate or coordinate clauses. The important thing is that you are consistent throughout your diagramming and focus on the flow of the text (there is no inerrant or perfect sentence diagramming!). The benefit of using a word processor is that you can make changes rather easy in the diagramming process. Once the propositions are diagrammed by coordinate and subordinate clauses, the next step is to determine the relationship between them.

Before we jump to learning the various types of coordinate and subordinate clauses, let’s revisit 1 John 1 from my last post and update the sentence diagramming. What you will see is how I determined coordinate and subordinate clauses.

So that I don’t unload everything all at once, part 4 will focus on explaining the relationship between clauses now that we have the idea/thought flow diagrammed.


Disciple-Making and Sentence Diagramming, Part 2

In his “high priestly prayer,” Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). A disciple of Jesus simply cannot function apart from the Spirit and the Word. And I would argue that the Spirit is not impressed by mystical attempts of understanding the Bible. We are to love God with all our minds. That means we should expect to exercise our minds in focused engagement of the Scripture the Holy Spirit inspired to put in words, sentences, paragraphs, and books. A mystical approach to Scripture, in my opinion, undermines the Spirit’s intention of communication of God’s thoughts through words and ultimately divorces the instrumentality of the Word from the agency of the Holy Spirit.

Disciples of Jesus are not intellectual elites nor are they anti-intellectual. The Bible is not gnostic. There are no codes to decipher. I believe in the perspicuity and clarity of Scripture, but that does not mean the meaning of the text is always on the surface. God expects us to do work. The work of the disciple is to rightly handle the Word of God in order to share it and explain it to others that they may know and understand God. We should discourage shortcuts to Scripture, like study Bibles which make it hard to know the difference between the inspired, infallible text above the line and uninspired, fallible text of a favorite teacher below the line. We should strive against anti-intellectualism by challenging disciples of Jesus to use the mind God has given them to think God’s thoughts after Him.

The Bible is a compilation of books, which are a compilation of paragraphs, which are a compilation of sentences, which are a compilation of words. The basic building block for understanding a text is a proposition, which is simply a phrase making an assertion or point. One verse may have several propositions. The key to becoming a good “seer” of Scripture (observation) is by discovering the various propositions in a text and their relation to one another. In doing so, a disciple learns how to see what the author is saying and how he is seeking to make his point. The practice of sentence diagramming, then, is to simply delineate the propositions in a text, understand their relationship to one another, and from there discover the meaning in the text.

Where to Begin

So you’re new to this, and you want to learn how to dig into texts and see more of God’s Word through sentence diagramming. Where should you start? Here’s how I encourage you to begin.

1. Take a small book of the Bible like 1 John 1 or Philippians 1 or Galatians 1 as the focus of your study. Eventually, you want to work through the entire book paragraph by paragraph, having diagrammed the thought flow of the text.

2. I recommend that you use a computer and word processor for the first half of sentence diagramming. Here’s how I set up sentence diagramming through MS Word.

  1. Open a new document. Set margins at 0.6 on all sides for maximum space allowed in document.
  2. Copy and paste from online Bible the text you are studying (I use ESV Bible online). Clean up the formatting by making all the font the same  (I use Helvetica) as well as size (I use 11 or 12 point size should work).
  3. For marking purposes, make line spacing either 1.5 or 2.0 (double space). To do this simply select all the text, go to format » paragraph » line spacing » 1.5 and you should be good.
  4. Start by separating each verse on separate lines (each verse should begin on far left of the page).

Once you are finished, the document should look like this…

The set up part at first may seem to take a little bit of time, but after doing it a couple of times, you can do it rather quickly. Next comes the part of breaking down the verses in propositions and seeing the relationship between them.


Disciple-Making and Sentence Diagramming, Part 1

Since May, I have been leading a disciple-making training at Grace, and for the past six weeks the focus has been on the various ways to take in God’s Word (hearing, reading, memorizing, meditating, and studying). When it comes to the study of Scripture, the most popular approach is the “inductive” method, which focuses on (1) observation, (2) interpretation, and (3) application. The goal of Bible intake should be life transformation, which is the goal of disciple-making. So, it makes sense then, that disciples should have a solid grasp of studying Scripture on their own.

In simple terms, better observations of the text lead to more faithful interpretation of the text, which should lead to greater application of God’s Word for the transformation of our lives. If I want disciples to be transformed by the Word, then it stands to reason that I must begin with observation – showing them how to be good “seers” of the text. Disciples should learn, for instance, to look for things emphasized, things related, things repeated, things alike or unlike, etc. They should  see logical and grammatical connections in the flow of an argument, including main verbs, conjunctions, prepositions, etc. Could stuff so rudimentary be really essential to the disciple’s goal of becoming more like Jesus? I believe so.

One of the most practical ways of deepening my study of Scripture in the area of observation has been sentence diagramming for the purpose of observing the thought flow of the text. It is “rightly dividing the word of truth” with training wheels. In fact, I never preach or teach a passage without the first step of diagramming a text. What that said, I know the temptation is to think such a method is reserved for pastors or those responsible for leading the church in pastoral ministry. I would like to challenge that line of thinking and encourage all believers, especially those intentionally seeking to be reproducing disciples of Jesus to seriously consider employing sentence diagramming for greater Bible intake, ultimately leading to greater life transformation through the Spirit’s work through His Word.

In the follow-up blogposts, I will give the basics for doing this and how to do it with others, providing some examples I’m currently working through with others in my disciple-making class. I had several folks on Twitter and Facebook ask specifically for resources and tips on how to do this, and my hope is these articles will serve your purposes of knowing God’s Word and applying it to your life.