Preaching Articles

A lesser-known Aesop fable tells the story of a crow who tried to drink water from a pitcher. Because the pitcher had long, narrow opening, the crow could not get to the water. Tipping the pitcher would spill the water. The crow flew away and returned with a pebble in her beak. She dropped the pebble into the pitcher and the water level rose the slightest bit. After many trips back and forth, and many pebbles later, she had raised the water level high enough to drink. All the animals of the field came and drank, as well.

Sometimes preaching means raising the water level high enough for others to be able to drink the living water. We cannot create more water, but we must find a way serve it to others. One pebble at a time, one sermon at a time, we bring the life-giving water to others. Some conversations take time—years, maybe, and in some cases decades.

Some sermons call our listeners to action: “Today is the day of salvation!” “Repent, and believe the good news!” These sermons have the power to change lives (and destinies) in an instant. I’m in favor of such preaching, but the local preacher is also a pastor, and the very word pastor means to feed, and a steady diet of salvation-only preaching will leave the people of your church malnourished if they cannot also eat from the rest of the word of God.

When we remain in one church for more than a few months, we discover that the pulpit is not a one-way street. It is the place of conversation with the people we shepherd. The power of the pulpit goes beyond proclamation. The pulpit allows use to choose the topic, to set the tone, and to draw others into the discussion.

And a conversation it is, because after we step down from the pulpit, we are still involved in the lives of our people. In fact, their lives become an indicator of how effective our preaching really is. Do the people who listen to our preaching week after week, year after year, grow in their Christian maturity? Does our preaching go beyond proclaiming the new birth and also provide spiritual food and drink capable of growing the new babes in Christ? It's a critical question: Do you preach from Sunday to Sunday, or generation to generation?

In fact, the spiritual lives of the people in your church provide excellent feedback regarding the substance and effectiveness of your preaching. The conduct of their lives is better feedback than a simple pat on the back and the weekly phrase, “Good word, Preacher.” The spiritual lives of your people might help you decide what you should preach on next week, or next month, or even for the coming year.

If you choose to stay at one church, you may just find yourself in a ten-year conversation.



Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

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Gene Cobb

commented on Jul 20, 2012

Thank you! You have put in writing exactly how I feel. We have been at our church for 19 years now and we love our church family. (I co-pastor with my husband) We live in a small town (9000) and have a small congregation (110 active members). Every week we earnestly pray and seek to minister to the needs of our flock. What they are facing day to day. And in turn they have helped us through the years. We hope to have many more years of "conversation" with our church family. And we pray everyday we are serving God, helping people to walk closer to Jesus and reaching out to our community one pebble at a time! God bless, LaFern

David Buffaloe

commented on Jul 20, 2012

Great post!

Charles Ingwe

commented on Jul 20, 2012

Thanks Ray for this word and I trust Gene will try get in touch with me for we seem to have a very simalar experience as I pastor a church of a 100 members. Indeed the word preached must produce fruit in the ones we preach to. However, need it be noted that at many times we see members not responding positively despite the many " amens". At one time I tended to get frustrated as I had to back to the same teachings time and again until I realised that as much as I wish to see fruit it is not in my power to transform but to give out sound doctrine as led by the spirit and remain faithful that he who has inspired the word is faithful to accomplishing the started work- Phil 1:6. The most troubling member of our church became the greatest blessing of our church family after about 3 years and he stands in tears many times as he explains how he troubled the church with rebellious acts. He is so sweet by his grace. I have learn't the importance of not just ending at preaching sound doctrine but by going further to always present the ones hearing before the Lord so that the word be watched over by the Lord himself in the lives of the members. The sower planted but when he went to sleep the enemy pushed in strange seed- Math 13:24-25. Preach and stay on guard in praying for the preached word.

Chris Surber

commented on Jul 20, 2012

Preaching grows out of relationship. Absolutley.

Joshua Welch

commented on Jul 20, 2012

I, generally, agree with the tenor of this article. Preachers can be guilty of focusing on evangelizing the lost and fail to edify the saved (as per Ephesians 4:11-16). However, I do disagree with one particular statement. You mentioned that "preachers are also pastors." That's not technically true. The term "pastor" is never a word used in the Scriptures to define an evangelist. Paul addressed the "elders" of the church at Ephesus who also were the ""shepherds" or ""pastors" (see Acts 20:17, 28). They are also called "overseers" in verse 28. Paul was an evangelist addressing the "shepherds" before he left. Clearly, this was not a one man position in a church (cp. Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). There was always a plurality of "pastors/overseers/elders" appointed in local congregations. While our roles may overlap in the area of "feeding" and "teaching" we need to be careful of claiming they are exactly the same position as we aim to "speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). You will note this same comparison of terms in 1 Peter 5:1-3. Again, thanks for many good points concerning our teaching and the long-term growth pursued in preaching! Josh

Pastor Sandy .

commented on Jul 20, 2012

Great article, Ray! And Charles, the post from "Gene Cobb" is from his wife, Pastor LaFern. And as far as preacher vs pastor, etc., we are all in the position of being shepherds of our "flocks" - so it is in the realm of our responsibilities to minister to our members, to shepherd them, so to speak, ergo, Pastor!

Doug Conley

commented on Jul 21, 2012

"Herald of the Word" and "Shepherd of the Flock" are two different gifts from Christ(Eph. 4:11). I am a preacher, not an elder. So, I will not take the scriptural name that applies to elders and make it unscriptural by applying it to myself. The article makes many good points. But, before we teach others, perhaps we should learn for ourselves.

Jimmie Tempano

commented on Jul 23, 2012

Doug, thank you for having and stating the discernment and actualizing the understanding that preacher and pastor are not synonymous. I am in ministry but mine is more of a counseling/pastoring, one-on-one ministry and I don't preach weekly, just occassionally. I have been in different churches where the man up front was a wonderful preacher. He gave the word, touched people, both believers and not-yet-believers. However, when he stepped from the pulpit, it was obvious he didn't have a shepherding bone in his body. I don't know why most of us have made pastor and preacher be the same person. They are different gifts. Sometimes the Lord gives the same gift to one person but I believe that is the exception rather than the rule. The sad part is when the preacher is called on to shepherd and that is not his gift. It can become very frustrating for a person trying to work outside of his gifting, and it can seem uncaring to the person wanting and needing to receive that pastoring care. As a person who does a lot of pastoring and little preaching, I can attest that many people have told me how they appreciate the care the Lord gives through me. People don't tell me, but I can see by their pained expressions, that my preaching/teaching may not be so effective.

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