- Seek to give a consistent diet – it is not good to vary meals between a few scraps one time and gorging on overly rich fare another. Seek to preach so that listeners have a consistency in their diet.
- Seek to give a cumulative diet – it is not possible to give everything that is needed in every meal, or in every message. Seek to preach so that listeners experience a cumulative growth in their biblical awareness and their relational knowledge of God.
- Seek to give a healthy diet – no normal parent balances vegetables with poison. Do not accept heretical content, even if it is wrapped up in the salad leaves of Gospel truth. Don’t blend curving your listeners inward with drawing them out to Christ. Preach Christ and him crucified. Don’t preach Christ and effort intensified.
- Seek to give a timely diet – some fare fits in certain seasons and when it is missing something does not seem right. In my culture we tend to expect Turkey and mince pies in December, and more salads in the summer. Whether or not your church follows the church calendar, at least in some basic points, your listeners do. Christmas and Easter at least deserve some appropriate messages, perhaps harvest or mother’s day is a must too? Don’t disappoint, there’s nothing to be gained.
Some preachers see themselves essentially as life trainers. They know Christianity brings transformation, they long for their listeners to be changed and they know they have a key role to play. Consequently it is always tempting to take on the responsibility for life change through direct and clear instruction, moral pressure and vocal encouragement, along with the necessary warnings about the dangers of living in other ways. Is this your model of preaching? Are you conformity coaching? If this paragraph describes your ministry then it is time to prayerfully take stock and investigate more intently how Christ changes lives.
Some preachers see themselves essentially as teachers. They believe in a God who has spoken and whose Word is the treasure they share from the pulpit. They know that a life is transformed as the truths of Scripture take root and weed out the rubbish of life lived according to the many words of the world, the flesh and the devil. Are we information investing? We should be, but it should be more than that.
Some preachers know their role is primarily introductory. That is, they know that what brings change is not merely Christianity, nor even Christian teaching, but rather Christ Himself. It is as we look on His glory that we are being transformed. Thus the preacher’s role is more humble than conformity coaching since what is needed is transformation at a far deeper level – something we know we cannot achieve by our instruction, pressure and exhortation. The preacher’s role goes beyond information investing to something much more personal. The preacher’s role is primarily that of match-making . . . let me point you to Jesus and how wonderful He is.
Whatever label you want to use, make sure you understand the difference between conformity coaching, information investing and match-making. The difference can make all the difference in the world.
To be an effective preacher you need to love your local church. It is not enough to love the church in general. Even if your ministry takes you to other places, still it is healthy to love your local church. (I know that it is not our church or my church, it is Christ’s, but let’s go with this terminology for the sake of this post.)
It is the people in your own local church who know you, who pray for you, who know your family and care for them. It is the people in your own local church who will sense when something is not right in your life. It is these people who will speak the truth to you, even when you don’t want to hear it.
Of course, there are complexities. The local church can become an antagonistic environment. It can become both a source and a threat to your livelihood. Receiving a salary from your local church means that you can be fired, or opposed, or any number of other challenges. Nevertheless, it is important to love your local church.
It is not enough to love the church in general. It is unwise and ungodly to love the income, the respect you get, or the power you develop. It is possible to use your local church position to get power or respect both within that church, and more widely. We have to be wary of using the church instead of loving it.
So we need to love our local church. Why? Because God loves it. This is the local expression of the Bride of Christ and God is at work there. This is the local gathering of believers that need not only your gifting, your time, your contibutions and your energy, they also and preeminently need your love. You can work fifty or sixty hours per week, preach and lead multiple meetings, visit people in their homes or in the hospital, give of your time, gifting and energy, but if you do not have love you have nothing.
Maybe it is really obvious. Or maybe this has become your greatest challenge in ministry. Maybe you are feeling loved and encouraged, or maybe you are feeling beaten up and ready to quit. Whatever the circumstance, it is vital to look to Christ and to love your local church.
Sometimes it feels like we are living in an age of prayerless and therefore relatively powerless ministry. We live in an age of increasing noise and preachers crave efficient preparation. In this post I would like to narrate the journey from passage to pulpit in terms of prayer. Maybe this can help nudge us toward the kind of preaching we all want to experience.
“What Shall I Preach?” – before the process of preparing a message can really begin, we have to select the passage or passages that we will study and preach. New preachers tend to get stuck at this stage. “Lord, give me a good sense of what they need to hear,” combined with “Father, stir my heart for Christ so I can preach out of the overflow of my own heart,” should help with picking a text or texts. If necessary add this, “Ok Lord, I’m struggling to pick, so on Tuesday evening I am going to make a choice – would you please be in that decision!”
In the study – Now it is time to turn off all distractions and get alone with God and the Bible. Your goal is to understand the text, and to meet with God personally. “My Father, please give me eyes to see the meaning of this text as you intended when you inspired it. And please give me eyes to see your heart revealed in this text. And please change my heart in the process. Give me determination to do the work necessary with the passage, and may the fruit of this study so stir and lift my heart that I am deeply changed…”
Before you move into message mode – You have the fruit of your study, and now you consciously reintroduce the listeners to your prayers again. “O Lord, I am thankful for what this text has already done in my heart, but now I pray for my listeners. I don’t love them as you do, please give me your heart for them. How can the main idea of this text be a gift from you to them this Sunday?”
Shaping the message – It is time to form and shape the message – it’s purpose, main idea, structure and detail. “Our Father, I so want this message to communicate with the hearts of my listeners. Please give me wisdom to know how I can shape this message as an act of love for them.” And as you go, detail by detail, “Lord, will Steve understand it if I put it that way?” and “Father, you know how Sarah is hurting at the moment, how can I say that sensitively for her sake?”
Delivery time – Both before and during delivery we can be praying continually, even if only in arrow prayers…“May we see you!” and “Protect us from distractions,” and “Help the guys on sound to sort that annoying hum,” and “Guard my heart heart from pride in this,” and “I feel like I’m rushing, help me pace this better,” and “Lord, John seems troubled,” and “Protect us from the evil one,” and “Lord only you can give them eyes to see the glory of your grace in this,” and “Change lives, Lord!” and so on.
Preaching is about exegesis and communication and pastoral care and evangelism and leadership and discipleship . . . but it should be preeminently about prayer.
Last week I listed 7 preacher landmines – hidden explosives that can do untold damage to your ministry. Being aware of the dangers is a very significant first step. But what else can we do once we identify the dangers in our path? Here are seven quick suggestions to help clear the way in our ministry:
1. Prayerfully ask God to highlight your personal dangers – While any of us can struggle in any area, we tend to have personal weak spots that we should be especially aware of. Rather than prodding around in your own heart, invite God into the conversation since He is the expert in you.
2. Accept that your path will never be fully cleared in this life – Hopefully this post will be a small help in clearing some of the dangers ahead of us, but know that you will never have a fully clear path. You will need to be prayerful every step of the way in your ministry.
3. Do not travel alone – Too many preachers get into a lonely cycle of doing ministry without the travel companions that they need. We are not designed to be lone rangers. Invite your spouse, and some ministry colleagues, and some personal friends, to get in close and be real with you. Ask them what they think your risk factors are. Ask them to pray with you, and give them the freedom to be honest with you at any point. Don’t just be accountable, be stimulated through real connection.
4. Fan the flames of your spiritual life – Never settle for a Martha mentality when the Mary option is always there. That is, don’t settle for saying, “I am loving Christ by serving others,” when you should be saying, “I must love Christ and sit at His feet in order to be able to serve others.” When our gaze drops from Christ to ministry then our feet start to step close to pride, to prayerlessness, to fatigue, to lust, etc.
5. Stay fit for service – Without becoming distractedly obsessive, take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Get enough quality sleep, get out and exercise regularly, eat as if you want your body to be able to function both today and in years to come. Be sure to take your day off. Relax with family and friends. Laugh. Open up. Replenish.
6. Pray and plan to grow as a preacher – There is nothing worse than listening to a preacher who thinks they learned enough years ago. Feeling plateaued is a warning that you are close to pride, laziness, etc. How does God want you to grow as a preacher in the next few years? Is it preaching skill that you should pursue? Is it a greater vision of Him that you need for this season of life? Is it investing in some younger preachers that will give you the edge?
7. Orient your heart for life without preaching – I don’t mean plan to step on a landmine. I mean take the time to contemplate life without preaching, because your identity is not ultimately in your preaching ministry. It is in your union with Christ. Throat cancer could stop your ministry this week. Your spouse might need your full-time care without warning. Any number of legitimate things could stop your preaching ministry. Ask God to get your heart to a place where such a change wouldn’t wipe out all sense of identity for you. Ultimately you are not a preacher, you are His.
What would you add? Maybe you have specific ideas for specific landmines? Please share with the rest of us.
On Saturday the 18th of June I will be involved in a preacher training day in Chippenham, UK. There are still spaces available. We will take the day to think together about preaching and how to prepare biblical messages. There will also be a voluntary follow-up day on the 9th of July where you can come back and preach a short message for feedback from those present (this is a very valuable learning experience, but entirely optional).
If you are coming a distance and need accommodation for the night before and/or after, please let us know and we can provide low-cost options for this.
Timing – 9:30-5pm, Saturday 18th of June.
Location – Cor Deo, in Chippenham.
Cost – Cor Deo offer ministry without charge, but all donations are dearly appreciated. The one-day course has a suggested donation of £30 (this includes lunch and snacks).
Contact – please email email@example.com to find out more and to reserve your place.
What did the Apostle Paul mean when he spoke of preaching Christ and him crucified? Here is a brief video response to this question.