Preaching Articles

A generation has passed since Stephen Covey wrote his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” It hit the shelves when I was in college, and because I was a business minor it was assigned reading for most classes and suggested reading for every class. I read it, benefited greatly from it, and have occasionally returned to it for guidance when challenged by leadership struggles or personal challenges. It is insightful material that relates to most, if not all, people that find success in their life and leadership. Dr. Covey passed away in 2012, but his work through writing still has relevance and is applicable to leaders, families, friendships, parenting, and many other areas where thoughtful action is needed.

I have found that most of those 7 habits have great merit when thinking about preaching and communication in general. However, it is habit #2 - Begin with the End in Mind - that is most helpful in preaching. I have to admit that I don’t always follow it and, on occasion, my sermons are living proof! Those are the days when a lot of words are spoken but few hearts are touched. Sometimes, a really good sermon has gone poorly because I failed to begin with the end in mind.

Good preaching begins by trusting that God has something to say to the people that He has led you to lead and love.

Good preaching begins by believing that people will need an invitation to pray and receive Christ.

Good preaching begins by giving an opportunity for people to be reconciled with friends and family by offering forgiveness to each other as God forgives us.

Good preaching begins by expecting people to come to the table to share in the broken body and spilled blood of the Lord for spiritual nourishment and unity.

Good preaching begins by setting aside time and space for people to pray together for their lost friends, their divided church, and their broken community.

Good preaching begins when, by faith, the preacher imagines a response of people giving generously to the Lord’s work locally and globally.

Good preaching begins by anticipating silence for people to be quiet before the Lord and hear all that He has to say to our spirit.

Beginning with the end in mind does not mean that a preacher should plan for an altar call, communion, prayer huddles, a second offering, or any other kind of response before working with the text. Don’t plan a response and then force the text into it. Be free and open to where the text leads, but be certain that it is leading you somewhere. When we speak God’s words into the hearts of God’s people, we should expect there to be a response of some kind. Everything that we share in the sermon should be pointing men and women to act on what has been presented by faith and with great hope for Christian conversion and discipleship. Preaching is a transformational act not just an exchange of information and ideology. Make no mistake that it is God speaking and stirring hearts to be moved. “In the beginning” God spoke and great things happened. Therefore, in the beginning of our sermon we should plan for the end to be a great encounter between God and man.

Beginning with the end in mind will make preaching sharper and crisper. It will let the preacher know from the beginning that the sermon is going somewhere. If God has given the sermon to the preacher, then it has come quite a distance to get there. It has traveled through the ages, picking up the sacred texts and images, slowing to take notice of the current context, and now focusing on the target of a particular people. The sermon that God called you to preach and put on your lips this day is doing more than earning your paycheck or proving your pastoral leadership. It is taking your congregation on a journey from heaven to earth, and then to heaven on earth. The sermon is definitely going somewhere. If you prayerfully pause, it is possible to see where that is. Begin with that end in mind, and let the Spirit of God do the rest.

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

Don Ballard is a pastor at Newark Church of the Nazarene in Central Ohio. He has served in the church since 1996 as pastor, teacher, and nonprofit leader. He is married to Jamie and they have three almost grown children - Davis, Drew, and Julia Grace - who love the band, the baseball diamond, and the big stage. He also has a new Great Dane puppy – Rev. John “Jasper” Wesley – who gives him a daily opportunity to practice grace. You may follow him on Twitter @gdonballard or his blog

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