For preachers on preaching...
This is an easier question to ask than answer. It’s tempting to reply with the time-honored standard of “15 hours” and move merrily on our way. But sermon preparation, expository or otherwise, defies simple calculations. It blends both science and art, and is ignited by the exhilaratingly unpredictable combustion of God’s active presence.
Three blogs on the common mistakes of young preachers may seem excessive to you, like I’m the brute kicking the new pup as he stands on wobbly legs to take his first steps. But to the sensitive soul who may be struggling, remember, most of this material comes from raiding the overstocked storehouse of my own preaching mistakes. It’s not pretty, but I pray it will convince you that I know what it’s like to stumble forward as a new pup.
But there’s something else. Over the last 3 decades, I’ve heard a ton of preaching and evaluated a lot of preachers. I’ve logged a lot of hours evaluating the preaching of church planters and rookie preachers. It’s actually been unexpectedly encouraging to discover that my early mistakes were common to other preachers too. The ground upon which the pulpit rests is pretty level.
Our first post started with the story of my right-handed brother who grew up batting left handed. When I was old enough to ponder this anomaly, I asked him about it. “I just started wrong “, my brother replied, “and stuck with it.” It’s a little peek into the dysfunctional world of ‘Harvey’. We remain dutiful and determined, even when we’re doing it wrong.
Which leads me to preaching.
These blogs are written to help emerging preachers identify and arrest bad habits. Sadly, they are neither clinical nor academic, but drawn from a catalog of memories where I carelessly stumbled into the briar patch of these blunders. But God grants a long leash to young preachers, partly because humbling us through mistakes forces us to apply the gospel and become better preachers. So let’s continue our study of common mistakes knowing God will work graciously in any areas where we see ourselves.
My brother bats left-handed. For those uninitiated to baseball, a left-handed batter is one who swings from the left side of home plate. If that still means nothing to you, just skip down two paragraphs. As for my brother, it’s the strangest thing, since he does everything else – writes, throws, waves, swipes his credit card – with his right hand.
Once I asked him to explain the whole anomaly of his left-handed batting habit. “It’s simple”, he began. “I just started wrong and stuck with it.”
That got me thinking about preachers and preaching. Specifically, new preachers — the rookies forging early pulpit habits. I’m thinking about the seminary-minted dudes filling new pulpits, or the guys sharpening their tools on the steel of church planting. Maybe that was once you. The undaunted preparers; the aspiring expositors; the legion of ‘I-must-say-everything-I-know-about-this-passage!’.
Maybe that’s you right now.
It is easy to miss people’s hearts when we don't know what time it is. Time is an essential element to self-awareness and maturity. Saying the right thing at the wrong time can ruin a friendship. Trying to be romantic when your spouse is finishing a work project on a deadline is annoying. A preacher who doesn’t know the times of his people, or himself, comes across as lacking self-awareness at best and missing the heart of his people at worst.
In this episode of the Am I Called podcast, Dave talks about how his preaching has changed over 30 years of preaching. He touches upon:
- Thinking that preaching longer meant being more effective.
- Becoming gospel-centered and then actually becoming gospel-centered.
- Bringing his weaknesses into the pulpit.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones helps to frame one of the most difficult questions facing the soul-stirred potential pastor. Inevitably a call to ministry is a call to preach, so one must settle the question of preaching. This excerpt from MLJ’s landmark work Preaching and Preachers helps to get at the question.
We exist to help pastors plant, grow, and multiply healthy churches. Because healthy churches don't just happen, they are nurtured by healthy pastors who are devoted to God's word and deliver it with conviction. This is why we need to know how to practically obey our God by preaching the whole counsel of Scripture (Acts 20:27, Matt. 28:20). We must preach from the scriptures with a coherent theological vision in order to form our people as the church and fuel them into the world.
The conclusion of a sermon is a dangerous moment for the preacher. He has just spent 30-45 minutes in an expository deluge, dumping his study and zeal upon his congregation. The 10-20 hours of sermon preparation are now ancient history and he’s climbed in his car for the drive home. Most likely, he is exhausted – emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
I’ve been there. And over the last 30 years, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about what I should do and what I shouldn’t do following a sermon. Here are three key lessons: