Let’s be honest. There are many styles and opinions on preaching, and the vast majority of the world’s preachers will not be a Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham, or my favorite, Alistair Begg. But the vast majority of us should consider several things when it comes to rethinking (or refocusing) our preaching.
Here are a few:
Prayer and Confession
Stay with me! Praying and confessing might seem obvious. But how many times have you and I jumped headfirst into our weekly sermon prep without first doing the most important thing? You should take an inventory of your recent sermon prep. What do your prayers before sermon prep sound like? Are you merely running through the motions, quickly, to get to the work before you?
Consider this quote from E.M Bounds:
“The preacher has been taught to lay out all his strength on the form, taste, and beauty of his sermon as a mechanical and intellectual product. We have thereby cultivated a vicious taste among the people and raised the clamor for talent instead of grace, eloquence instead of piety, rhetoric instead of revelation, reputation and brilliancy instead of holiness.”
I think it’s safe to say, Bounds was getting to the heart of the matter when it comes to sermon prep—and that is ultimately found in our prayer time before sermon prep.
What about confession, and what does that have to do with preaching? It’s possible that confession is not done in our circles. For some, confession is a one-time thing. One does not need to spend too much time in the Psalms not only to see but also to feel the sincere confessions from the psalmists. You and I would be just fine with Scripture alone, but In addition to Holy Scripture, I regularly draw from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers. Here’s a link to an online version of The Valley of Vision, or you can order an actual copy for your library.
Here’s an excerpt prayer/confession for A Minister’s Preaching:
My Master God,
I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer, with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Let us not forget the simple yet often overlooked elements of prayer and confession in our sermon prep and delivery.
Bendable but not Breakable
It was a long time ago, but I remember like it was yesterday. My high school football defensive coach would drill it in our heads: “Bend, but do not break!” In essence the old coach was saying it’s okay to give up smaller plays here and there, but never the big play. Let me put it into our context. Especially in this day and age with the COVID-19 pandemic and tremendous tension across our nation and the world, it’s essential to bend, but not break.
You know this already, but as a pastor/preacher, you will have competing voices, including your own, speaking into your mind and ministry. Discerning which one to listen to is crucial and often painful. Most ministers I know are naturally people pleasers. Do you listen to that sweet elderly widow or that young married couple in your church? What about to what some of your friends or mentors in ministry are saying to you? And to top it all off, what about your convictions?
The short answer: Yes! This is where the “bending” comes into play. A good pastor/preacher will bend a bit. Maybe I should say it like this: contextualization. Some areas in everyone’s ministry could stand for some evaluation and tweaking.
Maybe it’s the method of prep for your sermons.
– Are you stuck in a rut? Try a shorter prep time. Maybe 8-12 hours a week instead of 15-25 hours a week. Shorter prep time does not negate the responsibly for exegeting the text. Once we have the central idea of the text or the authorial intent, proper exegeting will help us in this three-fold step in the delivery of our sermons: 1) Explain the text; 2) Illustrate the text; 3) Apply the text.
Maybe it’s the tone of your sermon.
– The tone of the text should be the tone of the sermon. Once again, if we were honest, there are many of us who let the outside noise influence our preaching. Years ago I had an older, dear brother come up to me after a sermon and gently rebuke me. He encouraged me to stop listening to the talking heads on political television and radio because it was coming through in my preaching. The funny thing is he had no real evidence that I was listing to political television or radio, but I was. That helped me and my ministry big time.
Maybe it’s the length of your sermon.
– Carey Nieuwhof says it best: “Five minutes of boring is 5 minutes too long and 60 minutes of fascinating isn’t nearly enough.” You’ve heard the old saying, “You want your audience to leave wanting more, not wishing you had landed the plane much sooner.” I get it—none of us like to think of our communication, especially a sermon, like this. It cheapens it, or so it feels. The attention span of your average churchgoer seems to be shrinking. So, maybe a 25-30 minute sermon is the way to go. Perhaps it’s not, but at least you’re thinking about it.
Everything mentioned above is the bendable element. Where does the do-not-break come into play? It’s simple. Though your mind adjusts your methods—especially if you’re in a rut—you never modify the primary tool or source of your preaching, the Bible. While books and the sermons of other pastors are tremendously helpful, none of that is to replace the Bible. Again, that may seem obvious, but believe it or not, there are plenty who are abandoning the Bible for their sermon prep and sermon delivery. May it not be so for us.