My filing system shows that I recently preached my 2000th sermon. This year I will complete 25 years of pastoral ministry. Praise God for His grace. I want to write down some of the things I have learned along the way. I think I’ll do it in 3-4 separate posts, including what I have learned about preaching, about ministry and churches, about people, and about God.
Here are some things I have learned about preaching, in no particular order.
Preparing and preaching a sermon is like having a baby. You labor over it for many hours, sometimes right up until the minute you start speaking, and then it is born. If you’ve prepared diligently, something good will come out. It isn’t always pretty, but it has potential :).
Trust the text. You don’t have to make up stuff to say. Let the text speak for itself. Explain what it means and apply it to life. If you are struggling with what to say in a sermon, keep digging in the text. Good stuff will come out of the text. Say it.
Don’t just repeat what you learned in seminary or have heard others say. Study out difficult passages, complicated theological points, and biblical positions on current issues.
The commentaries aren’t always right. Use them, but study for yourself and reach your own conclusions.
Most people need help applying truth to their lives. Include enough application to help people grow, not only in knowledge, but also in practice.
Don’t rush through important topics and difficult, profound truths. Give thorough attention to a text or topic. If necessary, turn one sermon into three, or extend a series. The truth deserves full treatment, and people need to understand it.
Shepherd the flock with the Word. Teach truth from Scripture in order to bring the immature to maturity, the weak to a place of strength. If a tragedy impacts the whole church, don’t ignore it in preaching. Take a Sunday and address it lovingly and compassionately with comfort and encouragement from God’s Word. If changes in church culture are needed, teach on the issues from the Word, then lead in a biblically-based direction.
Have an organized filing system for sermons. As years pass, you will benefit from being able to find previously preached material and from knowing what you preached at certain times.
Be as simple, clear, and practical as possible. Make the complex simple. Make the eternal understandable.
Preaching is communicating. Develop and grow in communication skills.
Be yourself. Don’t use other preachers’ material, other than brief summaries or quotes. Don’t mimic the manner or channel the personality of other preachers. Develop your own characteristic style, rhythm, and sense of humor. Be who God made you to be.
Use canned illustrations (the ones you find in a sermon illustration book or on a preaching website) sparingly. Look around you and use illustrations from your own life, the news, nature, and people you meet. Make up analogies that give insight to complicated truths. Jesus illustrated His teaching and preaching using the circumstances around Him and stories He made up. It’s fresh, engaging, and it works.
Don’t let your preaching be colored by frustration or anger at someone who has hurt you.
Be humble and transparent without telling all of your sins.
When you think your sermon was good, well, it might not have been that good. When you think your sermon was horrible, you will often hear from people how it was just what they needed.
“Keep your b*** in the chair until the hard work is done” (John MacArthur). In other words, study until you understand the text and have something to say about it. Put in the time. Don’t give up. Don’t get lazy. Don’t “wing it.” Fight off distractions. Do the hard work of preparation, for as many hours as it takes to be ready to explain and apply the text. (I can’t write that word out, my Mom might read this.)
Make your exegesis precise.
Make your exposition clear.
Make your delivery conversational yet passionate.
God uses the preaching of His Word to grow people. This growth happens over years of time. It is one of my greatest rewards to see years of expositional ministry bear fruit in peoples’ lives.
Pray. Pray for understanding. Pray for power. Pray for conversion. Pray for growth. Pray for fruit.
Preach Christ. Preach the Gospel. Preach truth. Preach grace.
Preach the Word.