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If I preach a good sermon on a Sunday service:

I didn’t do it right.

Yes, I want to research hard. To study up, do the exegesis, dig up the Greek and Hebrew, get into my historical-grammatical exposition, find the redemptive purpose. I want to speak in a dynamic tone, find the best stories, sharpen my metaphors, keep it relevant, be self-aware and self-deprecating, know my people and give them permission to laugh.

All this is good.

But if people are saying, “You’re good” or “Great sermon!”—then I totally messed it up.

You know why, pastors. Because our job is to point to Him. To step out of the way so that instead of the hearers saying, “Isn’t our pastor great?”—they say, “Isn’t Jesus great?”

I understand though. Many churchgoers hear a sermon like they’re watching a movie, reviewing its contents and checking for internal consistency and mentally debating whether they like it or not. For many, it’s entertainment. Just a guy with a mic to inspire everyone.

And it’s very difficult to turn the tide on consumer consumption. Especially when most of our churches are set up like disposable theaters.

It’s also tough to get rid of that manic, desperate, sweaty demeanor that is begging for validation from the whole room. It’s not easy to stop saying with your body, “Do you like me? Am I cool? Is this working?”

With all this mixed in, it’s not easy to preach a good sermon. And certainly you don’t want to preach a bad one.

I’ve found that only one thing works.

And it’s exactly because you can’t “make it work.” It’s completely beyond formula, fashion, crafting and content.

My first pastor preached these extremely emotional sermons that left him sweaty and breathless by the closing prayer. I was an atheist then, and I didn’t know what to think except “He really believes this stuff.” But I still graded him on a performance scale, by how much he told good stories and whether he was saying helpful things.

My pastor continually reached out to me. I saw in his own life that he was living what he was preaching. I began to see the work of Christ in his life. I saw a love that compelled him that was greater than any love I had ever known.

The more I knew my pastor, the more I knew he meant it on Sundays. He was in tune with God. Not perfectly, but passionately. And against my objections,God drew me in to Himself through the work of my pastor.

No single sermon can do this. You can only wow people so long with skill and argumentation. Soon they will look for sincerity. This takes much longer than just hitting a home run in your pulpit, because it means you need to be at the hospital after a widow’s diagnosis and you’ll stay up until 3:00 a.m. crying with the family who just lost their baby and you’ll need to visit that prodigal in jail and you’ll have to comfort the high schooler who wants to kill himself.

This will cut into your sermon-writing, and thank God for it.

It’s right to craft good content. But the power is in Christ pouring through your rolled up sleeves, hands in the mess of beautifully broken people, restoring one fragile heart at a time. It’s in the pulpit just as much as on the ground in the trenches, creating lasting memories and loud laughter, swords drawn against the devil, tears and hugs and prayers our shield.

It’s where Jesus is, and where I want to be.

J.S. Park is a former atheist/agnostic, fifth degree black belt, recovered porn addict, and youth pastor in Tampa, FL. He has a B.A. in Psychology from USF and a MDiv from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also has a German shepherd named Rosco, can eat five pounds of steak in one sitting and gave away half his salary this year to fight human trafficking. He blogs regularly on his main site and his Tumblr for struggling Christians.

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John Kendrick

commented on Jan 8, 2014

Thanks

Mark Nielson

commented on Jan 8, 2014

some really valid points! It is very hard for modern Americans to detach themselves from the entertainment mode. Lifting up Jesus in our preaching is the obvious goal. But earning the right and credibility to be heard involves building trusting relationships over time! thanks for sharing these thoughts!

Delwyn X. Campbell

commented on Jan 8, 2014

This is why I find the Pastoral Care ministry to be vital. I am committed to it, because it blesses both the congregation, and, as I learned to my surprised delight, me. When they have seen the pastor care, they are better able to hear the pastor preach.

Jeff Glenn

commented on Jan 8, 2014

Years ago a friend of mine came to hear me preach. When she left she said, "Wow, that was a good sermon." I said, "Oh no, you'll come back expecting another one! LOL!

Theresa Scott

commented on Jan 8, 2014

I loved the article. I would love to have you on my Blogtalkradio program as a guest to talk about how you went from Atheist to following Christ. mrstjscott@gmail.com

Theresa Scott

commented on Jan 8, 2014

I loved the article. I would love to have you on my Blogtalkradio program as a guest to talk about how you went from Atheist to following Christ. mrstjscott@gmail.com

Charles Waters

commented on Jan 8, 2014

I agree. I'd rather hear my people say, "What a Savior" than "What a sermon". However on the occasion that someone says "good message" it could be possible that they are saying, "It helped me" or "God spoke to me through the message". I try to remind them frequently that worship is about the Lord and not entertainment. I couldn't help thinking about this passage. Eze 33:32 "And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice , and can play well on an instrument : for they hear thy words , but they do them not."

Lawrence Rae

commented on Jan 8, 2014

The problem with today's expository model is that we almost have to change the qualification of a pastor/elder to "apt to lecture." I don't believe that we need to be forced into an either/or situation with pastoral care and preaching, but that we must do our best at loving and personal relationships. There is also the fallacy involved that one person is supposed to do both tasks completely. Whatever happened to a multitude of leaders who share the preaching and pastoral load? Thanks for the reminder to care.

Sylvester Warsaw, Jr.

commented on Jan 8, 2014

A helpful reminder because if the cross isn't being preached and people aren't having an encounter with Jesus then what's the point of preaching. Thank you for this posting this wonderful reminder of why God has called us, equipped us and trust us to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, raised from the dead and lives that we may live in and through Him.

Jb Bryant

commented on Jan 8, 2014

Excellent message in this article. But then I guess I shouldn't say that :-). When I'm told "Good sermon!" I do my best to remember to ask "Thanks. Why do you say that?" It give the other person a chance to think through what they appreciated about it. It could be, as another commenter said, that they said it was good for the right reasons - that it was convicting, that it was in some way life changing, that it addressed important issues in the church in a direct and effective way, that it increased their love and devotion to God or presented the gospel in a way that connected to unbelieving guests, etc. Those are "good sermons," too. And in the rush after a sermon when a crowd of people is trying to get the pastor's attention, someone may feel pressured to say something quickly and move on rather than breaking it out longhand.

Daniel J Hesse

commented on Jan 8, 2014

Mr. Park speaks with genuine sense of pastoral ministry. The consensus that existed 30 years ago, stated that a pastor could either be a pastor or a preacher, never both. In his above mentioned example, I concur we have a lot of people who have great passion both inside and outside of the pulpit. Several years ago, I heard a group of people speaking regarding their pastor on an Appreciation Day and none of the 20 testimonies mentioned a sermon that touched them. Mostly, the people spoke of the acts of kindness, simple visits, and the fact that the pastor became "one of them and one with them." This experience represents the fullness of incarnational preaching.

Atama Hakafa

commented on Jan 9, 2014

Someone said "People don't care what you know until they know that you care". Thank you for the article. However, I think that it may be true up to a certain point. What would happen when the church grows to about 500 members and beyond? Then the pastor cannot possibly visit every one who needs it. Of course the leaders or the visiting pastors may take that up.

Ricardo Lopez

commented on Jan 16, 2014

Exactly, the pastor must rely on others, like the Apostols did.

Fidel Torres

commented on Jan 9, 2014

Muchas gracias a Dios por lo que nos dice a traves de tu carta. Dios te bendiga mi hermano!

Pastor Jeff Hughes

commented on Jan 10, 2014

Thank you for your great article. Once a woman told me "you're not much of a preacher, but you're a really good teacher!". I took that comment as a compliment, and she didn't know what to say. Since then, about 13 years ago, my preaching style has improved but I'd still rather be known as a good teacher.

Ricardo Lopez

commented on Jan 16, 2014

What a beautiful message, and so true. Lord guide us always into praising your name, and not ours. Amen.

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