Preaching To Make A Difference
There is no more influential place in the church than the pulpit. While we can convey a message individually and in small groups, the pulpit still stands as the center point from which that message comes. While our post-modern, post-Christian culture has relegated preaching to “instruction” and “pep talks,” the fact still remains that the people of God need and desire powerful preaching of the word of God. Here are some things to consider as preachers in a world that needs to hear the Gospel.
Stay with the Word. The apostle Paul admonished young Timothy to “…preach the word…” I know that may sound elementary, but I am astonished at how many no longer use the Bible as a text. I know pastors who preach about the Bible and even use a popular author’s latest book as their text. We certainly must use commentaries and be familiar with the original languages for study and the formulation of good sermon material. The internet is a wonderful source of this information and should be used in this most important work. But simply downloading the work of another person and preaching it as if it is yours is stealing and will leave your preaching powerless. Consequently, if there is no authority in the pulpit, there will be no power in the church.
There are many reasons not to do the hard work of analyzing and studying texts and words and listening to the Holy Spirit to give you a word for His church. None of those reasons are as important as the work itself and the need for the people of God to be fed. It will mean that the preacher must be consumed with preaching the word of God. Nothing can be substituted for it.
When I was in seminary, a visiting professor joked about a conversation he had with a pastor from another denomination. His friend said that he desperately needed some new preaching material. The professor suggested the Bible. The pastor replied, “Oh, I’ve already preached through all that!” The point the professor impressed on my life as a young pastor was you never run out of material if you stay with the word.
Make the 2000 year leap. Application is very important. Now I’m not suggesting that you should skip the contextual meaning of the scripture, but I am strongly suggesting that you not spend all your allotted time on only context. People need biblical knowledge and the pulpit is an excellent place to impart that knowledge. However, people also need to know what difference the word of God makes in their lives. I always approach preaching as if the people of the congregation are asking, “So what?” Making the 2000-year leap means that we should do an excellent job of explaining what the biblical writers were saying to the people of God then and now.
The bible was written to and about a people, the people of God. These people are those born of the lineage of Abraham and those adopted as children into the kingdom of heaven. That kingdom exists today. It was and is and is to come. We must apply the bible to the kingdom as it exists in the present age. Because it is the word of God, it is an eternal word. It doesn’t change in its context or meaning. The truth of the gospel is the same today as it was in ancient times. We can and must apply it to our present culture and setting so that people understand how to live the abundant life.
Don’t commit the sin of being boring. Most preachers don’t really know they are boring, so here’s a good rule of thumb. If the stuff you are preaching is boring to you, there’s a 100% chance that it is boring to your listeners. We cannot all be great communicators. Even those who are cannot always be on their game. But if you make a commitment to avoid being boring and will continue to avoid it at all costs, preaching for a change will likely happen.
Use illustrative material that you can personally identify with. By that I mean illustrate your sermons in a way that makes what you’re saying both interesting and identifiable for your congregation. Short stories — both funny and serious — can make an otherwise boring sermon into something that speaks into the life of someone, and has the potential to bring about significant change.
One caution: avoid using your family as sermon illustrations. Too many pastor’s children have been hurt by the practice of revealing something they have or haven’t done as an illustration of what to do or not to do. Do not use your marital relationship as a sermon illustration. The very fact that you set your family as models of righteousness is boring to most people, and is tough to live up to.
Lead toward a decision. Most of the time the preached word will lead its listeners toward a decision. When Peter went from being a fisherman to an evangelist through the power of the Holy Spirit, many decided to follow after Christ. When Paul went on his missionary journeys and preached in the synagogues and the house of the Roman cities, people made a decision either for or against the gospel. If your preaching is effective it will lead people toward a decision. The manner through which that decision is expressed really is not important. Some insist that it must be done through a formal invitation. That is a very viable method, but the preacher should think in larger terms. When you lead toward a decision it may happen during the invitation at the end of the service or it may take place over a period of time.
Preaching for a change means that you are constantly leading people toward a decision. When a believer makes a decision and the Spirit begins the process of transformation that is just the beginning of a series of decisions.
Know your congregation. Preaching must be a conversation. If it’s just a monologue, no one will be changed. When you know your congregation and where they are in the transformation process, you know what you need to preach about and when. When you are preaching through a book of the bible, it will amaze you how the Holy Spirit leads you to passages that speak into the lives of your listeners. Pray that the Lord will make you have a holy sensitivity and give you mental insights that will help the people of your church to benefit from your messages.
Accordingly, please remember that generally your ministry doesn’t rise or fall on one sermon. It’s more about being a faithful steward of the delivery of messages that speaks to the needs of your listeners. When you do the hard work of preparation and delivery of messages that are from your heart and lead by the Holy Spirit, people will know that you really care. By the way people will listen to you when they know you really have a heart for ministering to their needs.
We are in dire need of powerful pulpits today. Hopefully this article has helped you in developing some habits and skill that will enable you to convey the message with boldness.