I recently had the opportunity to hear a pastor who was relatively new to the ministry. I could tell that he was gifted because he actually preached with zeal for the truth. You would think that zeal for the truth would be considered a requirement for pastors today, but given the shape of the American church, and the number of pastors who sound more like counselors than those called to proclaim God’s truth, preaching the truth with zeal has fallen on hard times. When you are more likely to hear what the Bible actually says from an enemy of the gospel, rather than from a preacher of the gospel, then you know we are indeed in the last days.
This post is more about what I would say to the young pastor if given the chance. Not that I would presume to be the expert on preaching. I’m still learning as one who proclaims the truth. But these were some things that I thought would be important for the new preacher to hear. Here they are:
- We don’t deserve to be in the pulpit. I know, this seems truly harsh in one respect because we have worked hard to be there. Most of us have gone to seminary, through committees and presbyteries, through the search process and somehow managed to find a church that would hire us. But we are there, in the pulpit, standing before the people of God, by God’s grace and grace alone. Nothing we have done gives us the right to think we deserve to be in the pulpit. So as we enter the pulpit, remember this truth, and beg for the power of the Holy Spirit so that we are faithful to your calling. (Check out the video of this angry pastor who has forgotten this truth).
- Slow down and don’t be afraid to pause. Use the pause as our friend. It gives our congregation time to think about what we have said, and about what we are about to say. I point this out because new pastors seem to be afraid that if they quit speaking and don’t fill up the preaching time with many words, something bad will happen. We need to trust in the Spirit to work with the truth we have proclaimed, therefore, be patient in preaching and use the pause to allow people time to think about what we have said.
- Please, punt the outlines. We can put it in the bulletin if we like, but we should not refer to it during our sermon. Remember, our sermons are more like a meal than a lecture. We are going to be serving a little green beans along with some good roast beef throughout the meal, not in order. In other words, what is important is the truth we proclaim, not the order we proclaim it, and certainly not a proclaimed order of proclamation, which is what an outline is. Remember, Peter did not preach a three-point sermon with all the appropriate alliterations on the day of Pentecost. He preached the truth, and the Spirit did the rest.
- Pray for the Holy Spirit. Yes, we work hard on our manuscripts and in our study. Hopefully, we have even prayed that the Spirit was with us during our studying time. But once we get into the pulpit, it is time to depend upon God to lead us. Yes, He may take us down the occasional rabbit trail, let Him. It’s not about us, but about being used by God and getting out of the way so the Holy Spirit uses us.
- Preach with passion. If we are not passionate about the truth, then we need to go and sell insurance. I confess, I grow tired of pastors who give lectures and lack passion. Yes, what they say is very true, but they say it as if it is the dullest information on the planet.
- Expect to be humbled. If we want to be great at our craft, we can expect God to humble us in many ways. This means we will face many of the trials we tell our congregations about. In other words, if we are going to proclaim a truth to our congregation about the Christian life, then we should expect to experience that truth as well. If we are ignoring the fact that we will all be facing trials, then we need to get out of the pulpit and not come back.
- Beware of the danger of vivid illustrations. I knew a pastor who used the most vivid illustration of a skydiver filming all his buddies as they opened their parachutes one by one. After the last one opened his parachute, the video camera began to spin radically. The man doing the filming forgot to put his parachute on and fell to his death. I have no clue what the sermon was about because the illustration still shocks me to this day. I didn’t hear another word the man preached that morning. His illustration was too vivid. I’m not saying don’t use illustrations, but if we do, we need to be careful that they are not so shocking or so funny that we lose the congregation for the rest of the sermon.
I hope these tips will encourage pastors. No matter how blessed we are in our calling, we can always strive to improve.