Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Word to Preachers and Those Who Listen to Them Each Week

JR Vassar:

I don't know who has it harder, preachers or those who have to listen to them every week. But, I have been thinking about some things that I wanted to share with both.

Preaching is hard. Those of us who teach every week put tons of pressure on ourselves and are often our worst critics. Sometimes we feel only as good as our last sermon. So to those of you with this joyful burden, I have two quick things to say:

Trust that there is a cumulative effect to your preaching. Not every sermon needs to be a home run. Just be consistent and over time you will see a lot of fruit from your preaching. You don't have to "kill it" every Sunday; in fact you can't. Very few people have the ability to preach a lights out sermon week to week. Just preach the Gospel, relax and trust that God will bring about fruit.

Define the win. If you have not defined what makes a sermon good, then you have no objective criteria by which to judge your sermons. Here is how I define the win: Was it text sourced, Christ exalting, gospel centered, and audience focused? Text Sourced - did the sermon come from a text in the bible and was it taught in context? This requires a lot of study. Christ Exalting - was Jesus the hero of the sermon? Did I preach in such a way as to move people's minds and hearts toward him? Was he shown to be the One we need? Was he exalted as more than just an example or a model, but as a Savior? This is key. If we only present Jesus as a model for how we live, we condemn people. Jesus died the death he died because we cannot live the life he lived. So our preaching must put Jesus forth as Savior. That is what I mean when I say Gospel-Centered. Was the Gospel presented not merely as the starting point for the Christian life, but the very track on which the Christian life is ran? As Dr. Tim Keller puts it, the Gospel is not the ABC's of the Christian faith, but the A-Z of the Christian faith. We do not grow by getting beyond the Gospel, but by going deeper into it. Show in your sermon how the Gospel is the answer. If you are teaching on generosity, show your people how the Gospel liberates us from greed by revealing a trustworthy, generous God who sacrifices greatly to meet our needs. In fact, if your sermon is just as true had Christ not died and risen from the dead, you did not preach the Gospel, you gave advice. Lastly, was it Audience Focused. You are not preaching to podcast land; you are preaching to a group of people who live in a certain place at a certain time who have certain idols. Study your audience and preach to them. This is the hardest part of preaching for me and an area where I need greater focus and growth. So, define the win or you will measure your sermon by the wrong things. You will be asking, "did the people like it and respond," or "was it entertaining or engaging." A wrong definition of the win brings about some critical losses.
For those that have to listen to preachers every week, I have two quick things to say:
Trust that there is a cumulative effect to your pastor's preaching. Don't expect him to hit a home run every week. It is impossible. Receive the sermon trusting that God will add it to the work that He is currently doing in your life and bring forth fruit. Your pastor's sermons should be supplemental to the work God is doing in you through your own times in the word.

Define the win. Don't judge your pastor on whether he is funny or dynamic or captivating. If your pastor is preaching the bible, exalting Christ, keeping the Gospel central and applying it to your context, then you have a great pastor and you should thank God for him. Stop complaining about your pastor's delivery; pray for your receptivity. I hear people criticize their pastor's preaching but never scrutinize their own listening. Maybe the problem is not what you think it is.

There is more that could be said, but I will stop there. I love preaching to the people of Apostles Church. They are a huge joy to me. Praying that we would have a deeper hunger for the things of God and greater receptivity to his truth.

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About Me

I am a husband to Eva, father of 4, pastor, and most of all passionate follower of Jesus Christ. The focus of my life is to make the most of every opportunity God gives me to bring glory to Him. Outside of the time spent in my role as a pastor, I spend most of my time with my family -- a good deal of that coaching various sports teams that my children are involved with. Every fall and winter you will find me rushing to the woods of Indiana and West Virginia in search of a monster whitetail buck.