What I’m about to write will probably get me into trouble: I’m deeply persuaded that there’s entirely too much mediocrity in the church of Jesus Christ when it comes to pastors preparing and delivering their sermons.
I’m tired of hearing boring, inadequately prepared theological lectures, delivered by uninspired pastors reading manuscripts, regurgitating their favorite exegetical commentaries, recasting the sermons of their favorite preachers or reshaping notes from one of their seminary classes.
There, I said it. Now I need to unpack it.
Today, I want to look at five areas of preaching—the importance, the preparation, the delivery, the uniqueness and the awe—and then give you an opportunity to interact with me. Just like with my Manhood Article, I’m opening the door to your questions.
If you have a question about preaching, send me an e-mail: email@example.com. I’ll be answering them on video sometime in June.
1. The Importance of Preaching
Every worship service is an all-out war for the hearts of the people gathered. The bottom line is this: Will the hearts of these people leave captured by the one true glory of God or distracted by the temptations, fears and difficulties of the fallen world?
The people listening to me are:
- Teenage boys who can’t wait to get home and play another level of their favorite game on Xbox
- Teenage girls tempted to use their bodies as leverage for the attention of those teenage boys
- Discouraged, frustrated or furious parents who have had it with their children’s rebellion
- Young men who have their minds set on financial success and will do anything to achieve it
- Single women who think those young men will deliver the happiness that they’ve been craving
- Couples who have realized that marriage is not the Hollywood dream they once thought and are now stuck in a seemingly loveless relationship
- Materialistic Christians who are more excited about their upcoming vacation than they are about ministry in the local church
- Suffering Christians who have recently experienced devastating grief, pain or loss
- Depressed Christians who are distracted by loneliness, despair and hopelessness
As the preacher for that service, I want to do everything I can to be used of God to capture their hearts with the rescuing glory of God’s grace, the insight-giving glory of God’s wisdom, the hope-giving glory of his love, the empowering glory of his presence, the rest-giving glory of his sovereignty and the saving glory of his Son.
Wow—what a calling.
As pastors, we have to fight for the sanctity of preaching; no one else will. We have to demand that our job descriptions allow for the time necessary to prepare well. We can’t set low standards for ourselves and those we shepherd. We can’t be self-excusing and self-accommodating. We can’t, because we’re unprepared, let his splendor appear boring and his amazing grace appear ordinary.
In other words, we can never settle for anything less than our best. There’s no room for mediocrity in the pulpit. Preaching is that important.
2. The Preparation of Preaching
Preaching is all about accurately exegeting and understanding the truths of the gospel as they unfold in a particular passage of Scripture and practically applying those truths to my life and to the lives of those whom I will speak into.
This aspect of preparation should never be rushed. It’s necessary for me to live with a passage, to carry it around with me, and to marinate my soul with its nourishing and thirst-quenching waters. I simply can’t do this in a couple of hours.
I have to write this: If you’re developing original content late on a Saturday evening, you have no business preaching it on Sunday.
Personally, I can’t have a fresh encounter with a passage of Scripture and preach the following Sunday; it doesn’t give me enough time. I need three or four weeks to allow the truths to marinate in my own heart and become more deeply and practically understood. On the week of the sermon, I preach it aloud to myself many times. In doing so, both my understanding of the passage and the creative ways I communicate are deepened and developed.
I’m not suggesting that this calendar of preparation is the only way. What I am suggesting is that each week, many Bible-believing pastors haven’t carved out enough time to study the Bible and the truths it has for the people they’re called to shepherd.
3. The Delivery of Preaching
Preaching is not just about preparation. You need to deliver it in a way that’s nutritious and digestible.
Think of your weekly sermon as a Thanksgiving dinner. Preparation is all about gathering a diverse list of ingredients; if you don’t take time to hunt for and collect the best ingredients, your meal won’t taste as good as it can. But, when you put the Thanksgiving dinner on the table for your family, you don’t put ingredients in front of them.
A hunk of butter, a mouthful of flour and a spoon of cornmeal is not very appetizing or digestible. But cornbread is a wonderful thing. So it is with preaching. You must exegetically unpack the truths of the Bible (ingredients), but do so in a manner that is practical, helpful and speaks to the struggles of your people.
Have you taken the time to pray for and study the people who will be listening to you? If you meditate on their struggle and how the Scriptures speak directly to their life, your preaching will become a meal instead of an assortment of ingredients.
4. The Uniqueness of Preaching
I said at the beginning how many sermons I’ve listened to were nothing more than regurgitated exegetical commentaries, recasted sermons of popular preachers or reshaped notes from seminary classes.
You are not John Piper. You are not Tim Keller. You are not Matt Chandler. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to their sermons if they’ve preached on the same passage before; on the contrary, I would encourage you to build that into your preparation. But God has given you a unique message to share with your unique congregation that speaks to their unique struggles.
Don’t doubt God’s calling; he’s placed you as the pastor of your church. Don’t doubt God’s gifting; he’s given you all you need to do what you’ve been called to do. And don’t doubt God’s timing; the message you will preach on Sunday has unique applications to your congregation. But you need to take the time to prepare and deliver.
5. The Awe of Preaching
Here’s the bottom line: Our mediocre preaching reveals the true condition of our hearts.
As pastors, we can’t point the finger at the unexpected things that show up on the schedule of every pastor. We can’t blame the demands of family. No, we have to humbly confess that our preaching is mediocre because we have lost our awe of God.
We’ve been called to shine the light of the glory of God into hearts that have been made dark by looking for life in all the wrong places. We’ve been called to offer the filling glories of grace to those who are empty and malnourished. We’ve been called to represent a glorious king who alone is able to rescue, heal, redeem, transform, forgive, deliver and satisfy.
But sadly, we’ve lost our awe and have become all too comfortable representing God’s excellence in a way that’s anything but excellent. If this describes you, then run in humble confession to your Savior and embrace the grace that has the power to rescue you from you, and in so doing, give you back your awe.
If you have a question about anything I’ve written in this article, or if you want to know more about how I’ve wrestled with sermon preparation and delivery, shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you, and I’ll try my best to give you a helpful answer in the coming weeks!
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By Joe Hoagland on Jul 24, 2017
The Bible is wholly relevant to the modern person’s life sometimes it just takes some work for us to figure that out. The idea of making a “timeless truth” central to your sermon is important in communicating God’s Word in a postmodern age.