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A lesser-known Aesop fable tells the story of a crow who tried to drink water from a pitcher. Because the pitcher had a 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 us 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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Keith B

commented on Mar 8, 2014

I remember reading awhile back an article that talked about this. Maybe it was this writer...but the point of it was that one sermon isn't always going to change people. But 1000 of them might---and that's what you're going to give over the course of 10 years. I honestly can't recall many of the sermons I heard from my pastor the first 10 years of my Christian life...but I did watch and observe him--and my view of God was formed in large part by what he said week after week.

Kenneth Mandley

commented on Mar 8, 2014

I'm approaching ten years as the Pastor of the church my wife and I planted. After the first couple of years, I began to look at my sermon mix pretty critically and then intenionally began moving from OT to NT, chapter bu chapter exposition to topical series, series that came from my assessment of congregational need to series that were doctrinal in nature. Recently I have been reflecting on this exact question. Has my preaching brought a significant change in the spiritual lives of the congregation? Frankly, it seems hard to measure that but that is the most important measure of pastoral success I can think of. Great article

Bill Krulish

commented on Mar 8, 2014

Good reminder. I have often thought of good preaching as being like good cooking. I might not remember every meal my wife cooks, but it is good for me and it adds to my overall health. Every once in a while she prepares a meal that I remember for a long time, but normally it is just good, healthy sustenance.

Mitchell Leonard

commented on Mar 8, 2014

In January I became a full time pastor after working almost 20 years on commercial jetliners full time and being an associate pastor for ten. Wow, it's been both overwhelming and rewarding. Your article really made me think about the different topics I preach on. I've found preaching three different sermons a week the most difficult part of the job. If anyone has any advice, let me know.

John Hamby

commented on Mar 12, 2014

I highly recommend expositional preaching. It freed me more that any other thing. And I have been preaching at the same church for thirty years.

Greg Hammer

commented on Mar 9, 2014

I like the concept that?s presented in how we as pastors can have an accumulative impact on our congregation. However, measuring ourselves based upon the spiritual maturity of our congregation could give misleading results. I don't think Moses congregation was a good indicator of his effectiveness as a spiritual leader.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Mar 10, 2014

While we might see some results of the effect our preaching has had in the lives of those we feed, I believe we will not know the real impact until eternity.

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