It was one of those Sundays. I had given the message all I had. I had preached the text, I had equipped the saints, and I had exhorted the sinners. I felt that I had nailed the message that morning. The good vibes from Sunday morning continued to carry me as I headed into the office that week. I felt as if I finally had a grip on my preaching and I was excited to jump into writing the sermon for next Sunday. I just knew that I could knock it out of the park again. I was walking on cloud nine. Feeling as if God was ready to give me a fist bump at any moment.
Later that week, I headed into my men’s discipleship group at the local coffee shop with the confidence scale still raging on level 11. I opened up the group with a short prayer, as I always do and then asked the other guys about Sunday’s sermon, and . . . nothing.
Silence filled the air.
Their blank stares confused me. Their wide eyes. As the quiet continued for what felt like an eternity, I knew that they were struggling to remember and trying to avoid hurting my feelings in the process. Seeking to end their uncomfortable feelings and my misery, I asked, “do you remember the passage?” They shrugged, and we moved on.
I didn’t say anything at the time, but I was seriously bummed. I had poured several hours into preparing that sermon, the delivery was good (I’ve checked the tape and watched the recording!), but the sermon did not even last past Monday.
As a pastor, I decided that I needed to change something in my approach to preaching.
So, I began a mission to define my aim in preaching. There were a few things that I needed to get right.
1. Pastors Preach the text that God gives them.
I am an expositional or text-driven preacher by nature. I realize that God’s Word is what my people need to hear more than my voice and I fully understand that my people need to hear of God’s infinite wisdom more than my limited knowledge. I can even admit to the fact that if I were to preach out my understanding, it would be a really short sermon!
So, I see the need to preach God’s word. I begin with prayer and the text that God has directed me to. I then investigate the text to find what the text says and how it applies.
- What is the text explaining? Why is it important to know?
- What is the mood of the text? (Exhortation, warning, story, poetry, history, etc.)
- How would the original audience have understood the text? Why would they find it essential to know?
- What is going on in the book and chapter surrounding the passage?
2. Pastors Preach to apply the text to their people.
I then ask questions about my people. What issues are my congregation dealing with and how does God’s Word answer those questions or concerns? The apostle Paul demonstrated this through his preaching in the book of Acts. He did not pick a text and exposit the text without understanding where his audience was. In fact, he found where his audience was and preached a text that applied to their lives, answering their questions, and calling them to repentance and faith. Therefore, I adjusted by asking myself what does my church need to hear and learn from God’s Word instead of preaching a text and calling it good.
- What issues is my congregation working through?
- What does culture say about those issues?
- How does the text respond to those issues?
- What should Christians do after reading the text?
3. Pastors Preach messages that are easy to grasp and hold on to.
Then I asked, how could we hold onto it? This is where it became hard. I had to evaluate why my sermons were hard to hold on to. As I reviewed and studied my preaching, I noticed some things. I was explaining the text well, and I was applying the text well. But it was just too much. I was covering vast amounts of Scripture and spraying application without intentionality. In essence, was shooting with a shotgun blast of information. Some could grab a point or two of application, but there wasn’t a focused point. I needed to make it easier. Give all the people one point to grasp in the message and ask them to commit to it fully. I needed to trade in the shotgun for a bow and arrow. The message needed to move slower and hit one target. So, for me, I have adjusted my approach. Instead of explaining every application I can out of the text, I aim for one application point in each sermon.
- What is the one overall application to this text?
- How can I communicate that point in a straightforward manner?
- Why is this something my congregation needs to know?
- Why should my people care about this?
- What should my people do after hearing, and understanding this point?
4. Pastors Preach messages that exalt Christ above all else.
Finally, I thought through what I am trying to accomplish eternally. For me, I wanted to show my people that Jesus is better. He is better than all the world has to offer. He is better than what we believe to be good. He is better than anything we would imagine. So, I desired to preach how the text points to Jesus above all other things.
- What does this text tell us about God? (His nature, His character, His desire, etc.)
- What does this text tell us about a relationship with God?
- Why should my people care about a relationship with Christ being better than the world’s answers?
- What should my people do in response to who God is?
Through this process, my preaching has shifted—and I believe for the better. I have gone from preaching longer, drawn-out sermons to shorter, more concise sermons which stick with my people.
PhD Evangelism @swbts.