What to preach?

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What to preach?

March 29, 2022 - Mark Turman

© Wirestock/stock.adobe.com

© Wirestock/stock.adobe.com

For pastors, that is the question. 

When I entered ministry and pastoring, the biggest challenge I faced was learning to preach every week. My pastor and mentor told me early on that the biggest thing on his mind was deciding what to preach. 

Over time, I came to greatly admire pastors who could prayerfully plan their preaching three, six, or sometimes twelve months ahead. I had some success doing that but never as much as I wanted. 

One resource you might look at in this space is Planning Your Preaching by Stephen Nelson Rummage. 

Being aware of the seasonal rhythms of your church and community and the Christian calendar also help. 

Occasionally, I found help from lectionary preaching. I eventually got to the place where I planned three to four topical series each year on topics like Christmas, the resurrection, suffering, marriage and family, or money because those were always relevant to my people.  

I also planned three to four series based on a book, a portion of a book, or a character in the Bible. 

I believe the pastor needs to give his people the whole counsel of God from various parts of the Bible over time. A diverse diet of expository preaching serves a church well by growing disciples.

Once, I had a graphic designer tell me that you have three tools in the creative process: time, imagination, and money—but you only get to use two at a time. 

An example he gave went like this: “If you have a need and an idea to meet that need but little time, plan to spend more money than you would like to get the work done. If you have plenty of time and some idea (imagination) of what you want, it will cost you less money (and stress) to get to the finished product.” 

Think about how that might apply to preaching.

4 components of pastoring

I believe the work of pastoring involves four main components: 

  1. A personal, consistent walk with God
  2. Faithfully preaching and teaching the Bible
  3. Genuinely knowing and caring for people
  4. Leading your church passionately to accomplish its unique vision in its time and place. 

I also believe the first two of those responsibilities can’t be done by others. They must be done by the pastor. 

No one can spend time with God for you. No one can create and share the unique message that God wants to bring through you and your relationship with God this week. Others can help, but every pastor and preacher is called to be a voice and not an echo for God. 

(Side note: if you use material from others, give them credit! No one expects you to come up with every great thought.)

No one likes the panic of inadequate Saturday-night preparation. We know that God honors our personal commitment to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV). 

I believe pastors desire that with all their heart.

Start early

Preaching is a high, sacred honor. 

I find great joy and a deep sense of purpose when I prepare well and then see God help people move closer to him through my preaching. Preachers live for those sermons when God shows up and takes over the preacher’s mind and mouth and the ears and souls of the hearers.

But I’ve also learned to start as early as I can. 

When I first started preaching, I went to hear Dr. Joel Gregory talk about his process for weekly sermon development. At the time, Dr. Gregory was the pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth and was considered perhaps the best preacher in America. 

I’ve never forgotten this word of advice he shared: “Never lose Monday in your preparation time.” 

Years later, he clarified that statement a bit in a personal conversation. He told me that Monday usually won’t be the preacher’s most intense day of sermon study, but it needs to be a solid starting place. 

When I practice that, my sermon preparation, delivery, and results always seem to be better.

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