I take the holy privilege and responsibility of preaching God’s word very seriously. On any given week, I spend about 15 hours studying and praying before a single word is put down on paper for the sermon…well, actually before a single letter is typed on my laptop, but that doesn’t sound as nice as “a single word on paper”.
The main thing I am asking during my study and prayer is, “God what do you want to say to our congregation?”
Our sermons at the Little Church and Lakewood Grace are planned out at least 6 months to a year in advance. And our sermons are almost always based on the books of the Bible. We go through different books of the Bible. We practice expository preaching.
Both pastor Brad and I take several weeks every year to get away by ourselves to be alone with God with two simple questions:
- “What do you want proclaimed to the congregations at the Little Church and Lakewood Grace?”
- “What does our congregation needs to hear from you?”
We take this business of listening to God very seriously. It’s uncanny how in so many instances, the sermons that God has us preaching, sermons that were planned months in advance, are exactly the sermons we needed to hear for all that was happening for that particular week.
The only explanation I have for this is – God. God did it. God did it again. God knew what we would need from him.
There are well-meaning people who may say something like this about our sermons.
- It’s too long – the most common one
- It’s too Bible based. I still don’t get that one
- We want more thematic or topical sermons – I can see that
- This is supposed to be a sermon, not a Bible study
Whenever I hear comments like this, as I am working on the sermon, I find myself wanting to please the people who make such comments. (If truth be told, all pastors want to please their congregation members). But this is an impossible task. What pleases one, will not please others.
But the biggest problem is that when I start down this rabbit trail, my focus is completely off. My job as a preacher is to ask, “What does God want me to proclaim? What does God want to say to the congregation?” And my job is to pray and study until that is clear.
When I start focusing on what Mr. _____ wants and what Ms. _____, I am focused on the wrong person.
Yes, the sermon has to relate to our lives. Both Brad and I try very hard to make it so.
The reason why we preach out of the books of the Bible is because, when I am preaching topical sermons, I already have an idea of what I want to preach and then look for the texts that support that. But this is me. I start with what I want to preach and then I find the Bible verses that support what I want to preach. And I don’t trust myself with that much power. And I think this is dangerous.
But when we are going through the books of the Bible, the preacher must honestly stand under the authority of God’s word and must prayerfully study and ask what God wants preached out of God’s word.
Maybe other preachers aren’t as selfish and struggle with sin and pride as this guy. But since I am a prideful and I am a sinner, for my sake and for our sake, I would rather stick with asking “God, what do you want to preach and say to the congregation this week?”