Preaching Articles

A preacher friend whom I know only from Facebook sent out a panicky plea. He’s been invited to preach in a church known to be rather loose regarding some basic Christian doctrines.  The friend is a Bible-preaching conservative.

Uh oh.

He is anxious and eager at the same time.

He asked a number of us:  “What should I preach? What text should I use?  Suggest some good ones! Some of the people in that church are probably unsaved.”

The answers piled in. One minister urged him to preach the entire story of redemption beginning with Creation and the fall and going forward.

That advice strikes me as highly questionable, although I’m confident it was well-intended.

I said: “My brother, do not try to reverse the history of this church in one 25-minute sermon. Just preach a text the Holy Spirit gives you and leave the results to Him.”

Then, I sent this personal, private note.  “This is no time to reinvent the wheel and attempt something you’ve never preached before. Take a lesson from grandma in the kitchen. When guests are coming, you do not test new recipes. Serve something you’ve prepared before and know your way around.  Ask the Lord to lay on your heart one of the time-tested messages He has taught you in the crucible of life.”

Preach what you know.


Sooner or later, every minister faces this kind of fearsome opportunity.  (Wonderful nightmare? Scary blessing?)

You may be invited to preach to prisoners in the state penitentiary.  (I was 29 years old. The prisoners were the incorrigibles at Parchman, the Mississippi State Penitentiary.  They were, in short, hostile. It was not a fun experience.)

You receive an invitation to travel to Europe and address a meeting of international pastors, most of whom speak English.  You are cautioned to be sparing of idioms and slang from your part of the world, and to make sure your stories work for an audience this multicultural.

You may be invited to address a denominational gathering with whom you disagree on some basic doctrines.  You might be asked to speak at a political rally or a community event attended by people of every religion imaginable, and a few unimaginable.  I was invited to speak at a local public high school’s commencement exercise.

What will you do then?  Or to be more precise, What in the world will you do now???

I was invited to speak at a luncheon attended by legislators, the governor and his staff, members of the State Supreme Court, and leading pastors from around the state.  You may believe I eagerly seized on the invitation. There was no question; I most definitely wanted to do this.

For those called to preach for Jesus Christ, this is as good as it gets!

An hour later, reality set in. What in the world was I thinking?  What do I know that these people either haven’t heard or need to hear again?  Who am I? Or, more precisely, Who do I think I am that I would deign to speak to such a group? (For that matter, who do they think I am, to have invited me!)

Fortunately, the event was scheduled six months ahead.  That gave me ample time to worry and fret.

Eventually, sanity returned and I was able to think about this event more coolly.  Surely, the best thing to do here would be to share a favorite text the Lord has laid on my heart, to tell my strongest story or two, and do so in the sharpest way possible.

That’s what I did and it went over as well as anything I’ve ever done.  (It became one of the few such experiences about which I did not look back and second-guess myself. “What if I’d said this? Preached that?  Used that text? Told that story?”)

All right, then.

Here are seven words to the minister or speaker invited to address a group of prisoners on death row in the state pen, an annual assembly of another denomination, or the leading politicians of your state.

1. Do not panic.  The Lord’s got this.

2. Stay with what you know.

3. Do not try to reinvent the wheel. Do not preach something you’ve never tried.

4.. Rehearse it repeatedly.  .

5. Pray in advance for those who will be in attendance, that the Father will prepare them for this, and use your preparation to accomplish His will.

6. Pray the Lord will guard you against the temptation to be silly.  Or to chase a rabbit or to try to teach “that bunch a thing or two.”  Pray Psalm 141:3 and Psalm 19:14 daily.

7. Trust the Lord to know what He is doing. He called you into this work, and presumably gave someone your name as a likely speaker for that event.  Remember His exchange with Moses in Exodus 3-4 and keep saying to yourself, “This is not about me.”

Relax and enjoy it.  You’re about to meet some new friends and build some permanent memories.  You’re about to sow some seed on a field where you’ve never set foot and might never again.  Trust the Lord.

After all, if you blow this and do a terrible job, it’s not like they were going to invite you back again anyway.  You’re still saved and your wife and kids still love you and life goes on.  And for that matter, you’ll learn more from failing than from knocking it out of the park.  (Sorry I said that. Now, someone reading this will want to go out and fail.  Don’t do that!!)

I’m through here.

Dr. Joe McKeever is a preacher, cartoonist and the retired Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Currently he loves to serve as a speaker/pulpit fill for revivals, prayer conferences, deacon trainings, leadership banquets and other church events. Visit him and enjoy his insights on nearly 50 years of ministry at

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Mark Reavis

commented on Jul 22, 2015

Great advice Joe. I always enjoy your articles. I've only been preaching a few years, but I've already been invited to speak at places I would have never imagined. School events, other denominations, Holiday services to the general public, Jails, and even at a Walmart Grand Opening. My advice is to stay with basic truth, stay on point and keep it relatively brief. It's not a good time for deep theology , or long winded sermons. The worse thing a preacher can do is to turn off people to the Gospel, by boring or confusing them. Good advice Joe.

Lawrence Webb

commented on Jul 22, 2015

Someone said every sermon is three sermons: (1) the one you wanted to preach, (2) the one you preached, and (3) the one you wished you had preached. Some of those big occasions before large audiences or different audiences or special audiences overwhelm us, and our presentation underwhelms our listeners. Your observations and suggestions are on target. In summary, I guess you were saying, Trust the Lord, and be yourself.

Alexander Shaw

commented on Jul 22, 2015

Having had the privilege and honour to preach on Death Row in Prisons in Kenya I have normally taken a passage as I would elsewhere - something like Zacchaeus or the Rich Young Ruler - and let the Word of God do its sovereign work. I will be taking these passages in Prison in Scotland - let the Word do its work!

Al Schaap

commented on Jul 22, 2015

I started reading this without looking at who the author a few sentences in and asked myself if this was Joe McKeever. :-) I so appreciate your practical, down to earth, positive, helpful wisdom! Thanks for continuing to contribute even after some get a bit rude from time to time. I find your articles very helpful and encouraging, so thanks for sharing what God has been teaching you over the years!

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