Preaching—An Awesome Responsibility

Preach for an Audience of One

As preachers, our primary responsibility is to herald forth and publish God’s truth. One preacher put it this way, “The business of the prophet is to fill the pulpit, not the pews.” The Bible says it this way in Acts 5:42, “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” The Greek word that references the role of the preacher is keruk, and it literally means “to herald or to publish.”

Every pastor is called to speak God’s truth with courage and passion. It is not a call to performance or showmanship. It is not a call to self-glorification or authoritarianism. It is a sacred mission to speak truth.

Every pastor is also called to teach. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient” (2 Timothy 2:24). Teaching is a call to instruct God’s people from His Word. Never be ashamed to be a preacher and a teacher of God’s precious truths. His Word must be declared with passion, and it must be taught with clarity.

In Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Sermons should have real teaching in them, and their doctrine should be solid, substantial, and abundant. We do not enter the pulpit to talk for talk’s sake; we have instructions to convey important to the last degree, and we cannot afford to utter pretty nothings.”

Spurgeon went on to write, “Whatever else may be present, the absence of edifying, instructive truth, like the absence of flour from bread, will be fatal.” Many churches and many malnourished Christians are suffering today from a great hunger for solid, biblical preaching filled with practical truth and the power of God. We live in a day when many pastors are more concerned with cultural preference than with preaching the truth. Messages are reduced to little more than a few anecdotes, some jokes, a few movie clips, and some pop-psychology. This does not fulfill Jesus’ command to “feed my sheep” (John 21:16), nor the Apostle Paul’s charge to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Many pastors have mastered homiletical technique, but their messages lack power. Pastor, the Word of God is alive—it is “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword”—and it must be delivered to your church family. It has the power to discern “the thoughts and intents of the heart “(Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word alone has the power to change hearts and effectually work in lives; so embrace your biblical call to preach and to teach God’s Word.

Embrace the Power of Biblical Preaching

The centerpiece of preaching must be the Bible, and yet how often it is not! I recall attending a preaching conference years ago during which one of the speakers stood to preach. A room full of preachers with hungry hearts were waiting for a feast on the Word of God.

As he started his message he held up the Bible and shouted in a long drawn tone, “Preachin’!” With a pause he did it again, and again, and again. For the entire message, this supposed preacher stood behind a pulpit and shouted one single word—“preachin’!” over and over again. He never opened the Bible; he never talked about God’s truth. He talked a lot about preaching, but he surely didn’t do any! I left that service hungry and sorrowful that a man of God had wasted a precious opportunity to preach God’s Word to hungry hearts.

Preaching isn’t preaching until the Bible is opened, God’s Word is read, and His truth is expounded within its appropriate context. Preaching is not biblical unless it flows directly from a text. Preaching is not powerful or lifechanging unless it is thoroughly filled with the Word of God.

In his book, Homiletics from the Heart, Dr. John Goetsch wrote, “Expository preaching is more a philosophy than a method. A man who rightly divides the Word of truth has a biblical philosophy of preaching.” Expository preaching is biblical preaching, and God blesses it. It declares God’s Word the way God intended. It declares the whole counsel of God. It builds lives, precept upon precept, chapter by chapter.

Pastors have often asked me about the blessings of God at Lancaster Baptist Church. With all of my heart, I believe that expository preaching is one of the foundational pillars of the strength and spiritual maturity of our church. For nearly three decades I have labored to preach through entire books of the Bible—line by line, verse by verse. We have studied many books, some of them twice. It is my life’s goal to preach through the entire Bible in this fashion.

At times the text wasn’t what I would have chosen, but it was always what we needed. At times the text required great labor and study, but God always revealed Himself and blessed His Word.

Preaching verse by verse has kept me from choosing my favorite themes or passages. It has prevented me from being issue-oriented or from avoiding difficult topics or tough passages. It has placed the reigns of the spiritual development of God’s people in God’s hands.

Through this verse-by-verse approach to preaching, I have been astounded more than a few times at how the Scripture text fell directly in line with the obvious season or needs of the church. It’s a wonderful experience to choose a book of the Bible to preach through, not knowing exactly where it will lead, only to discover that God foreordained a great season of specific application and spiritual growth for His people.

Expository preaching not only helps you to know what your next week’s text is, it also helps you to preach the whole counsel of God. (I cannot emphasize enough the power of the pure Word of God.) How often pastors take verses out of context, manipulate Scripture to fit pet ideas, or simply use a text to introduce a thought, never to return to it for the rest of the message! These things ought not to occur in Bible-believing churches.

Paul talked about this kind of deceitfulness in 2 Corinthians 4:2, “But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”

I challenge you, even when you are preaching a topical series of messages, to handle God’s Word very carefully, going verse by verse through a passage which is carefully cross-referenced and true to the context. If you desire God to bless your preaching—to change hearts through your pulpit ministry—do not look for new truth or new application. Don’t try to be a pulpit sensationalist. Just stick with God’s truth as He gave it to us. Preach the pure Word of God and let Him have the glory!

Prepare the Preacher before the Message

It has been said, “The preacher is the sermon. You cannot separate the character and conduct of the preacher from the message.” The preparation of the preacher himself is the most important work a preacher can do. We are not great men, but we preach great matters; and before we begin, we must humbly beg God that all He wants done in the hearers’ lives will first be done in our lives.

Charles Spurgeon said, “The preacher is always on the brink of abyss. Preaching sways the preacher’s emotions, making great demands upon his nerves, and often producing physical and emotional exhaustion.” Entering into the spiritual battle of preaching makes pastors susceptible to a variety of temptations from the enemy. The right preparation will protect you from spiritual vulnerability.

Before you step into your pulpit each week, I urge you to take these biblical precautions to prepare your own heart for your task:

Prepare through prayer. Pray over your message and strengthen your private walk with Christ. Pray for spiritual anointing and protection. Pray over your text and let it sink deeply into your heart. Pray that you might empty yourself to be an honorable vessel, fit for the Master’s use.

Seek the fullness of the Spirit. Earnest preaching comes from a heart moved by the Holy Spirit. Keith Knauss said, “The preacher has more to do with the Spirit of the ages than with the spirit of the age.” Before you arrive at church on Sunday morning, be sure that your heart is thoroughly right with God and yielded to His Holy Spirit. Without Him we can do nothing!

Be willing to bear a burden. Paul wrote, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Be willing to bear the burden of preparation, the burden of watching for the souls of men, and the burden of standing between the spiritually living and the spiritually dead.

Prepare the Message Biblically and Methodically

Prayerfully select your text. Dr. John Goetsch wrote, “God may bless our homiletical outline, our illustrations, and stories but He does not promise to do so. He only promises to bless His Word.” Your text is what God blesses; see it as central to your message, not peripheral.

Build your message upon your text. The best sermons allow the text to supply its own structure. Spurgeon taught his preacher boys, “Some brethren are done with their text as soon as they have read it. Having paid all due honor to that particular passage by announcing it, they feel no necessity further to refer to it.” May we sense a sacred duty and a holy obligation both to God and to His people to stay true to the text of the Word of God.

Consider again what Spurgeon wrote about his text, “I always find I can preach best when I manage to lie and soak in my text, and after I have bathed in it, I delight to lie down in it and let it soak into me.”

Study the background of the text. As you begin to think through your text, research the history and ask questions. From what group of books does it come (poetical, prison epistles, etc.)? What is the historical context of the book? What is the theme of the book? What is the context of the passage? What is the theme of the passage (rebuke, encouragement, etc.)?

It is vital that you commit yourself to understanding the historical and doctrinal context of the passage. You must have a firm commitment to treating God’s Word with great caution. Give context a high priority and be sure to interpret and preach God’s Word accurately.

Write a declarative introduction. Your introduction must capture the attention of your listeners with a declaration or a proposition that connects with the heart. A good introduction arouses interest. If a preacher doesn’t connect with the listener within the first thirty seconds, he may never connect.

Your listeners should quickly identify with your introduction and want to hear the rest of the message because of it. Remember this simple formula: accusations harden the will, but questions stimulate the conscience. A good introduction will create intrigue and interest in God’s truth. It will raise critical questions which the rest of the message will answer. This has been called “creating thirst” in the heart of your listener.

Develop an Understandable Outline. As you are studying your text, write out every thought or application that the Holy Spirit places upon your heart. Meditate upon your text and brainstorm the direction that God might lead. From these notes you will begin to see some thoughts flow. When you are compiling your final outline, prayerfully begin to order these critical thoughts by the textual flow or by a logical flow so that the listener can easily connect and follow.

List your main points and then sub-points. Create a skeletal outline that contains all of your raw thoughts in a logical, flowing order. Cross reference your text and support each of your main points as well as your sub-points with additional Scriptures. Fill your outlines with biblical references and support your message thoroughly. The Bible is its own best commentary, and when your message is delivered, it’s the Word of God that will continue to work in hearts long after your oratorical skills and wit are forgotten.

Alliteration is helpful if it is not forced, but it is more important that you wrap profound truth in simple words. Also during the outlining process, ask the Lord to give you the illustrations and practical applications to support your message. Jesus illustrated eternal truth in very practical ways with stories, word pictures, and object lessons. Connect your truth with everyday application and memorable illustrations.

Develop a conclusion that calls for a response. God’s truth always demands a response. As you conclude your message, it must come down to this question, “What should I do with this?” Your listener must readily connect what you have taught with a heart decision. On the practical side, make your conclusion brief—review your points, apply the truth, and challenge God’s people to respond.

Purge Your Message before You Preach It

Spurgeon wrote, “Brethren, weigh your sermons. Do not retail them by the yard, but deal them out by the pound. Set no store by the quantity of words which you utter, but strive to be esteemed for the quality of your matter.”

Before you deliver your sermon, you should spend some time reviewing your message for the express purpose of purging it. A great message should be purged of the following:

Self. Relentlessly rid your message from anything that removes the spotlight from Christ and places it on you. “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans 6:11–13).

Pettiness and Anger. Never preach a message with malice in your heart. Rid your message and your heart of these distractions and let the Word of God do the convicting. Preach from a pure heart. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31).

Insecurity. How often I have heard a message that was based more upon insecurity than upon the Word. The pulpit is not yours; it is God’s, and you must steward every preaching opportunity as unto Him. The pulpit is no place for pettiness, insecurity, or manipulation.

Men who are driven to succeed will create issues with other men who threaten them, and in the case of an insecure preacher, those issues are often brought to the pulpit. Don’t use your pulpit for personal agenda, political benefit, or personal gain. Use it to preach the pure Word of God to hungry hearts.

Terms without definitions. Read your entire message and ask, “If I were a first-time visitor, what words in this message would need to be defined.” I’m not advocating changing Bible words— just be sure to define them and explain them. If you don’t, you will certainly ostracize any new Christian or unsaved person quickly. A visitor’s emotional response to being ostracized goes something like this: “Everybody here knows what that word means…I don’t fit in here…I don’t belong here…I’m uncomfortable…I won’t be back.” Your goal is to connect with the unsaved, and defining words simply helps them feel a connection to what you are teaching and lets them know that they belong in this “new place” called church!

Know Your Congregation and Your Context

Before you stand to preach, learn about those to whom you will preach and the location in which you will preach. One preacher wrote, “To love to preach is one thing. To love those to whom you preach is another.”

Every Sunday morning I preach to a crowd of Southern Californian people, many of whom are unchurched and unsaved. Every Sunday night I preach to our church family—a blended family of many mature Christians as well as new and growing Christians. The messages I prepare for these two contexts are different. The needs differ, the delivery style differs slightly, and the application differs.

Don’t misunderstand. The message is in no way compromised; it is merely made understandable to a specific crowd. As you prepare your message, it is vital that you consider to whom you are speaking. Jesus said that we are to be wise as serpents yet harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). Paul stated, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without…” (Colossians 4:5). Even Jesus and the Apostle Paul spoke differently to different types of people. They were intensely relevant and understandable to the crowd to whom they preached!

Give a Clear Invitation

God still blesses an old fashioned altar call. He is still honored when His people respond in humble obedience to His truth. I urge you not to follow the whims of culture. So many churches no longer give an invitation. Don’t be afraid to invite people to respond to Christ and to make decisions based upon the preaching they’ve heard.

Let your invitation be clearly understood, spiritual in nature, and patient. Don’t prolong it, but don’t rush it either. Give the Holy Spirit a moment to work in hearts.

Charles Spurgeon said, “The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise men would be the converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach until our tongues rotted, till we would exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless the Holy Spirit be with the Word of God to give it the power to convert the soul.”

May God bless you and use you greatly as a preacher of His Word!

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