For two and a half years, in addition to my responsibilities at LifeWay and in other fields, I served my church as the primary teaching pastor. I was responsible for preparing and delivering 40 sermons a year.
A few months ago—for reasons pertaining to my family, my work, and my writing—I sensed it was time to bring this season of weekly preaching to a close, and so I stepped aside. On my last Sunday as teaching pastor, the church gave me a leather-bound book filled with handwritten letters of appreciation from members of the congregation. The most meaningful letters mentioned specific sermons that intersected with crucial life moments. Again and again, I was amazed at the power of God’s Word to give us the medicine we need at the moment we need it!
As I reflect on the great honor I had to serve as the primary preacher in our church, I keep coming back to three main sources of joy.
1. The Joy of Encountering Scripture Afresh
One of my constant prayers during sermon prep was this: Help me, Spirit, to make what is unfamiliar understandable, and what is familiar strangely fresh.
Every week, my hope was that people might understand the voice of God speaking to them through this inspired Book. For those who were already familiar with the text that week, I wanted them to be surprised afresh by what they saw.
The gift of preaching regularly is that you get to see familiar passages with new eyes. Augustine once compared preparing to teach with showing a guest around a city. When you give someone a tour of your hometown, you see everything through their eyes. It’s like seeing it all for the first time. You appreciate the place’s beauty all over again. Encountering the Bible as you prepare to teach is also like showing a favorite movie or TV show to your kids for the first time. You get to experience the sense of freshness all over again.
The same is true for preaching. Every Sunday, when the time came for me to preach, there was always something in my sermon that I could hardly wait to share with the congregation—something familiar or fresh that had gripped my heart and seized my affections.
2. The Joy of Preparing God’s Word for God’s People
A second source of joy came from the pressure of weekly preparation. Yes, there’s something exhausting in that pressure, which presents one of the biggest challenges for pastors who stay in the same place for years and years. But there’s something joyous about that pressure, too. When you know your congregation—the particular hurts and griefs, sins and temptations, strengths and weaknesses present in those precious souls—the pressure of weekly preaching leads you to see things in the text you might otherwise miss.
As you consider how to apply the text to this person’s situation or that person’s crisis, you develop the skill of reading and studying the Bible on behalf of the church. You ask different questions of the text. You wrestle with how certain truths will “land” with people in various circumstances. Your love for the flock connects with your love for the Bible, and reading in this way leads you to a wider, more expansive vision of the treasures God has given us in his Word.
3. The Joy of Showing Christ
One more source of joy comes to mind—the joy of sustaining people with the Word of God, showing how all Scripture points to Christ, the focus of divine revelation. The great delight of preaching is when you personally encounter Christ in his Word and then present Christ to his people. Nothing is greater than knowing Jesus yourself and then lifting him up before the eyes and ears and hearts of your congregation.
A good preacher is like a chef who marinates the meat, seasons the food in a pleasing way, offers a variety of recipes, and avoids the danger of giving only dessert instead of something nutritious. The great joy of preaching is that you get to eat the Book and then feed the family. In one of his sermons, Augustine stops midway and says to his people, “I am feeding you what I am feasting on myself.” The joy of preaching is in feasting on God’s Word as we set the table for our people, and then point to Christ at the head.
I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to serve my church as teaching pastor, and I pray that the Word of God delivered through me during this season will continue to bear fruit.