Preaching Articles

“Making a hospital visit to a suffering family makes more of an impact than the three points you made in your message on Sunday.”

Occasionally, I hear statements like this at pastors’ conferences and preaching seminars. The idea? Pastoral presence is more important than a pastor’s preaching. The implication? It’s better to spend less time worrying about your preaching and more time engaging people at a personal level.

Sounds good. But it’s shortsighted. And ultimately unhelpful.

Sure, there are pastors who spend all day in the study and never among the people. Those kinds of pastors need to be prodded out the door so they can better serve the flock. (Not to mention that being with the flock greatly enhances your preaching!)

It’s also true that most of your congregation already forgot the main points from your sermon last week. And yes, church members will long remember your presence during their time of crisis. But the point of your preaching isn’t that everyone will remember all the information you present anyway. Neither should preaching preparation be forgotten in the attempt to increase one’s pastoral presence.

No, instead we need to consider the relationship between preaching and presence in a way that measures impact beyond what is immediate, powerful, and memorable. That’s why I say: Do not downplay the long-term, cumulative effect of your preaching.

Preaching is formative in ways that go beyond mere information retention. Every time a pastor opens up the Word and preaches the gospel, he is showing his church how to approach the Bible. Pastors who elevate the Scriptures week after week, sermon after sermon, lead their people to approach the Bible in the same way.

A Personal Example

From the time I was nine years old until I left for Romania at the age of 19, I belonged to a church where the pastor (Ken Polk) preached expository sermons every week. I remember the first (and second) time he took us through the Gospel of John. I still remember his 1 Corinthians series, or his sermons from Judges.

Of course, this pastor was also by our side when we had our first child. He has comforted us amidst trial and loss. He is a pastor, after all, not just a preacher. But, I dare say, his Word-centeredness as a preacher is what made his pastoral presence so powerful during our time of trial. His presence was enhanced by his preaching.

I cannot calculate the formative influence that this pastor’s preaching has had on my life. For ten years, I listened to Bro. Ken preach. 10 years. 50 weeks a year. 2 times a week. That’s 1,000 sermons.

No, I don’t remember the information contained in the vast majority of those sermons. I don’t remember all the titles or the points. But I have no doubt that his preaching has greatly impacted my life.

  • I approach the text the way he does, looking to discover what’s there, not invent what’s not.
  • I see Christ in the Scriptures because he saw Christ there.
  • I respect the Bible because of the way he always made the purpose of the text more prominent than the personality of the messenger.
  • We are on the same page theologically because he consistently preached a theology that came from the page.

An Exhortation to Pastors

Pastors, don’t underestimate the cumulative effect of your preaching. You are not dumping information into brains. You are forming the habits of your people, teaching them how to read and understand and apply the Bible for themselves. How you preach week after week matters just as much as what you preach.

Weekly confrontation with the Word of God slowly changes how we look at the world. We see God more clearly, our human state, and the future of the world within the Bible’s framework, even if we don’t remember all the information in an individual message. Sermons gradually change the way we think and feel and believe and hope.

Yes, your presence at the funeral home and the hospital bed is vital. It matters greatly. But there’s a reason why your presence during suffering is so powerful: The Word. A pastor’s visit is unique because the pastor is the one who speaks authoritatively from God’s Word week in and week out. That’s why Christians want their pastor to be by their side, and not just a fellow church member.

So let’s not pit pastoral presence against sermon preparation. Your preaching influences your presence, and vice versa. May the Lord open our eyes to see the quiet, subtle influence that 1000 sermons have on the people God has entrusted to our care.

Trevin Wax is first and foremost a follower of Jesus Christ. His wife is Corina, and they have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). He is an editor at LifeWay Christian Resources of a resource titled TGM—Theology, Gospel, Mission, a gospel-centered small group curriculum focused on the grand narrative of Scripture. He has been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. He frequently contributes articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. He received his bachelor’s degree in Pastoral Theology from Emanuel University of Oradea in the country of Romania, where he was involved in mission work in several village churches from 2000–05. He received a Masters of Divinity at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. He spent several years serving the wonderful people of First Baptist Church in Shelbyville, TN as Associate Pastor. His new book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope, was released in April.

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Matt Stephens

commented on Jul 26, 2011

Awesome article! Incredibly encouraging, especially to a budding preacher. The one and only quibble I would have is that a pastor really does have to decide what proportion of his time to devote to preaching prep vs. more person-to-person pastoral duties. We need balance?few would argue with that. But only in the smallest of churches is it realistic to expect The Pastor to be present with each and every congregation member during moments of suffering.

Matt Stephens

commented on Jul 26, 2011

Oops--the comment box did not understand my dash after the phrase, "We need balance." It should read, "We need balance--few would argue..."

Joel Rutherford

commented on Jul 26, 2011

Thanks - an encouraging reminder of the way aspects of our shepherding interconnect. Plus, it's also a good way to understand the cumulative effect of healthy and balanced spiritual nutrition.

Bill Murawski

commented on Jul 26, 2011

Great reminder of the long-term impact sermons can make. One thing I remember about my youth pastor (who is still a good friend and mentor) is his excitement/passion when talking about or preaching from the Bible.

Kurt Koerth

commented on Jul 26, 2011

"But only in the smallest of churches is it realistic to expect The Pastor to be present with each and every congregation member during moments of suffering." Good point Matt! Which is why we should have a plurality of pastors in our churches just as soon as possible. Isn't this the New Testament way? Elders (plural)?

Fernando Villegas

commented on Jul 26, 2011

To expand on Kurt's comment, I agree that we need to return to a plurality of pastors/elders and a plurality of preachers. The Word of God is much too comprehensive to be limited to the voice of any one man or woman in a local congregation. And if many more "fellow church members" were to be trained to share in the preaching ministry, I think people would be more open to their visitations during times of crises, and for the same reasons Mr. Wax gives. We need to return to the principle of the priesthood of all believers.

Pastor Sung Kim

commented on Jul 26, 2011

Pastor Trevin, what a wonderful article! Keep these coming. It truly is about balance.

Saul Dela Cruz

commented on Jul 29, 2011

Excellent article pastor Trevin, yes that's true the work of the pastors is not only talking, and talking in the pulpit, you have to take care the flocks you will be there in times of needs. To God be the glory.

Mike Brenneman

commented on Mar 27, 2020

Powerful and enlightening! Well done. I appreciated all your points. Especially the long term cumulative effect and how a congregation will tend to pick up our attitudes and values. An important reason to spend time with members is to make it crystal clear we love them and value them, and we're in the same battle they are with all the challenges of life. When they know this, they are more likely to listen to our messages because they trust us. We've proven we are their friend.

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