Preaching can be hard. It’s a challenge to interpret an ancient text faithfully, apply it practically, contextualize it culturally, and most important of all, preach and savor Christ. And after you do it once, you have to turn around and do it again in six days.
Preaching is Hard
Let me revise. Preaching is hard. In addition to all the work that goes into preaching a biblically faithful and culturally relevant sermon, there’s the challenge of crafting your message. How should you arrange the material? Where should you illustrate? What material should you leave out? What kind of blend of history, theology, practice, and culture should you go for? Then there’s the rhetorical challenge. Pitch, pace, pause, gesture. I’ll never forget the first preaching class I took that talked about delivery. It’s scary how much people think about that stuff, but it is a legitimate part of preaching the gospel.
Ever hit the wall the night before your sermon? I did last night. I’d experimented with preaching a different type of sermon. I was trying to “improve.” I typically work through three documents. One on notes, one full length outline, and one manuscript, and then one rehearsal in my office. The final manuscript was almost finished as I hit the wall. I came to my poor wife to share my frustration. She came back with some rich counsel: “Maybe you need to listen to your sermon first.” The message was on Gospel Identity, not confusing your various life roles with your identity in Christ. And there I was, finicky over whether or not people would like it. If the new format would “come off.” My wife basically told me to be myself. She was right in more ways than one.
Identity Confusion in the Pulpit
All too often young preachers imitate or innovate to an extreme. They try to preach beyond their gifting and personality. The best thing we can do is be ourselves, in two ways. First, don’t try to be a John Piper, Tim Keller, or Matt Chandler because you’re not. Be yourself for Jesus. Don’t over analyze your sermons or style; it’s narcissistic. Instead, analyze the text. Soak in the Gospel. Pray for your people. I think it was Moltmann who said, “We prepare a preacher, not a sermon.” Prepare your heart as well as your head. Preach for Christ. Make it your aim to clarify and delight in Him. Be yourself and preach Christ.
Second, be yourself in Jesus. Remember, your worth is not in your sermon. Your worth is in Christ. Your value isn’t determined by your delivery. Your identity is disciple, your role is pastor. Your identity is shepherd, your role is a sheep. Your identity is a sinner redeemed by grace, your role is to pastor and preach by grace. All too often we swap our roles for our identity. We find our worth in what we do, instead of who we are.
Wisdom from Spurgeon
When you hit the preaching wall, it’s always good to pick up a gospel-saturated preacher. Before going to bed, I picked up Spurgeon’s, Lectures for my Students. A Spirit-led decision. Chapter five is called “Sermons–their Matter”, a must read for every preacher. This chapter addresses the matter, or material, of our sermons from a variety of angles. Spurgeon opens up with this:
Sermons should have real teaching in them, and their doctrine should be solid, substantial, and abundant.
Notice he does not say enter the pulpit with a finely-crafted piece of rhetoric. He does not exhort us to master our delivery. Instead, he tells us they should be doctrinally rich. He goes on to explain. “The entire gospel must be presented from the pulpit; the whole faith once delivered to the saints must be proclaimed by us. The truth as it is in Jesus must be instructively declared, so that the people may not merely hear, but know, the joyful sound.” The entire gospel? That’s what he said. Spurgeon implores us for gospel clarity, not compelling delivery, that we would deliver “the truth as it is in Jesus.” What a privilege!
Preach the Gospel
but the true minister of Christ knows that the true value of a sermon must lie, not in its fashion and manner, but in the truth which it contains. Nothing can compensate for the absence of teaching; all the rhetoric in the world is but as chaff to the wheat in contrast to the gospel of our salvation. However beautiful the sower’s basket it is a miserable mocker if it be without seed.
We need, our churches need, not more finely dressed baskets but baskets full of gospel seed. And if we fear the judgment of others, disapproval of our delivery, hope in Christ. Repent from placing your identity in your role, your worth in your preaching.
Weigh your Sermons
Now, it is one thing to turn a deaf ear to the complaining spirit, but it is quite another to refuse to listen to your own sermon. Is it littered with gospel seed or cultural references. Is it soaked in Christ or technique? Weight your sermons, but weigh them well. Be sure to use the right scales:
Horses are not to be judged by their bells or their trappings, but by limb and bone and blood; ans sermons, when criticised by judicious hearers, are largely measured by the amount of gospel truth and force of gospel spirit which they contain.
Weigh your sermons, but weigh them wisely. Be not dampened by stylistic criticisms. Don’t fear the complaining hearers. Instead, weigh your sermon not by delivery but by depth. Measure according to ‘the amount of gospel truth” and the “force of gospel spirit.” Many a sermon has been preached and forgotten. The sermon that remains is the sermon that proclaims Christ, full of earnest and full of Jesus. Gospel-saturated sermons that have been heard by their preachers first will inevitably leave a lasting mark our their hearers second. Weigh your sermons, but weigh them well. Use Gospel scales and cast yourself upon that grace.