As a pastor I often get the question, “Do you have any advice for helping my kids to benefit from the sermon?”
This is a question that I really appreciate because it recognizes the importance of the preaching of the Word of God and our reception of it. It recognizes that even the children are to hear, and to best of their ability, understand what is being preached.
What follows are some things that I have done as a Dad and also as a pastor.
Pastors who wake up on Mondays face a unique reality. We are coming of a time where we have worked hard the previous week in the study. The preparation culminates on Sunday morning as the sermon is delivered. In the aftermath we are humbled and encouraged; humbled because of our preaching and encouraged because of God’s sovereignty. But overall, much of the time, we feel good because we worked hard.
Now it’s Monday. And you feel, well, helpless. What can you do? Can you call up individuals and give application questions, or have them restate your proposition, main points and fallen condition focus? Unlikely (and unrecommended.) We are in that familiar spot of weakness. We so want people to get it but feel so limited in how to make them get it.
Everyone is prone to discouragement. No matter our vocation, we all face the temptation to feel like what we are doing does not matter. I can remember working in the military and wondering how much my work really supported the mission. I recall working in Insurance Compliance and debating in my mind as to how in the world all of these reports and analysis really did anything. These are natural and common questions.
From my seat there is no other vocation that trumps pastoral ministry with the feeling of not making a difference. In addition to our knowledge of our own weakness there is the front-row view of many other people’s problems. The pastor sees people at their worst. Whether it is the horrific impact of sin on their lives or the activity of sin within the church. Furthermore, there is the overall burden to see every member presented complete or mature in Christ (Col. 1.28-29). Oh, and by the way, you, Mr Pastor, will give an account for the souls of your sheep (Heb. 13.17).
So here you stand, knee deep in the sludge of personal and corporate sin, knowing your own weakness, and watching sheep alternating between picking each other off and falling asleep, and you ask, “Am I doing anything?”
It’s Monday morning. If you are a pastor who preached yesterday it means that you probably are somewhat discouraged. Of course you try to shrug it off by thinking through it logically but even that reminds you that you left some runners on base.
So what do you do? By about noon you start to feel the blood pumping a bit as you look ahead to the week. You might even go and grab the Dr’s medicine, Preaching and Preachers by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ). He does a fair job of reminding us of the task at hand. It’s good. You start to get encouraged, but then it hits you, “I wish I could preach like MLJ.”
Prayer before preaching is essential because, without God’s help, we are useless.
In Deuteronomy 32 Moses is no doubt feeling quite a burden. You see, Moses is about to die–and he knows it. He is going to look into the eyes of the covenant community once again. He is going to preach and plead God’s character, promises, and threatenings to them. In the ensuing words of chapter 32 he uncorks one if the heaviest, pastoral, and most passionate sermons in print. Remember, it was this chapter that proved to be the sermon text for Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
How does he begin?
May my teaching drop as the rain….For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! Deu. 32.2-3
The preacher’s burden has never changed, therefore his prayer remains the same. God–may you be pleased to use my words to magnify your name!
Moses knew himself, a dying man preaching to dying men (to use Baxter’s phrase). As a result, he did not long for such temporal and base things like what the crowd would think of him, how they would remember him, or how he would feel saying what needed to be said. Instead, he pleaded the living word of the living God! And in his prayer he struck the flint for God to light up his people with an awareness of God’s awesomeness and sin’s repulsiveness. Oh, that more preachers would preach a deep awareness of their own mortality as well as God’s eternality!
Whether you are stepping …
I really appreciated this brief video from The Gospel Coalition. Bryan Chapell, Mike Bullmore, and Alistair Begg discuss some important reminders concerning the process of sermon prep. I am thankful for these guys, who, being veterans are willing to share with a younger generation.
In particular, I liked Begg’s words here:
Each week I…
Think myself empty.
Read myself full.
Write myself clear.
Pray myself hot.
Here is more from this group (RSS readers may have to click through to the site to view the video)
So often it’s the little stuff that makes the biggest impact.
This is true in my home as I am blessed to enjoy delicious meals on a regular basis. I often ask, “What is in this?” when enjoying a new dish or a new twist on an old dish. My wife will usually give one-word answers, “Lime.” “Cardamon.” ”Turmeric.” “Honey.” “Pesto.” I am always surprised. I am always delighted. We rarely eat bland, ordinary, lifeless meals—for this I am daily thankful.
Like cooking, preaching can become bland. It can fail to have that freshness worthy of the gospel table. There are many reasons why. One could identify a lack of preparation, lack of understanding, poor delivery, and shallowness. We would not disagree that under-cooking the homiletical meal is a problem. But there is something else that can make preaching bland: the deadly reality of not being personally wowed by the subject.
I have seen this in some otherwise terrific sermons. Guys can be exegetically sound, communicate with clarity, illustrate with profundity, and then at the end of the sermon it tastes like grandma’s meatloaf: somewhat filling but not so memorable.
If you get around a couple of preachers you will hear them eventually begin to discuss preaching. At some point in the discussion they will talk about how they prepare their sermons and what formate that use for their notes. It’s very interesting shop talk actually.
Myself, I have, over the last several years, significantly adjusted the way I prepare and use my notes for preaching. Much like a batter adjusting his swing to gain some advantage, a preacher is always analyzing, evaluating, and tweaking.
I have gone through several variations and now am at the place where I am comfortable (for now). Here are some of them. If you are a preacher, I’m sure you can relate to a few.
According to John MacArthur:
“Expository preaching is the most crucial thing in the life of the church.”
The most effective thing you will ever do is preach the word of God from the pulpit.”
How do you deal with difficult passages in the Bible? Thankfully the Bible is straight-forward and understandable. The most important things are the most clear. However, there are passages that are more difficult, requiring more work by the interpreter.
I remember about 12 years ago as I worked as a pastoral intern at a church. I was teaching through a passage and my pastor gave me some feedback. “You are calling out audibles like a quarterback.” I was working through a difficult passage and in order to prove my interpretation I marshaled some other (many) verses. Like Peyton Manning yelling “Omaha! Nascar! Bradshaw! Montana! Hut Hut!” I was calling out Bible verses from everywhere.