We continue a series of posts called Preaching Proverbs for Planters. I’ve tapped several church planters to give one piece of advice to those of us who are, or will be, preaching in church planting contexts. This one is my own.
I know pastors of small and medium-sized churches who essentially lock themselves in their offices for 30 hours per week. One such pastor told me that he felt his church was best served not by his leadership, but by his “faithfulness” to prepare good sermons. I’ve listened to some of these 30-hour sermons, and found them to be incredibly dull.
Is this just an isolated anecdote? I don’t think so.
Pastors and seminaries seem to be in collusion to preserve the idea that a pastor goes into hiding in order to be faithful. During a long week of solitude, the pastor does the following magic tricks:
- Begin with a 2,000+ year-old text in its original language
- Carefully weigh the textual evidence for alternate Greek/Hebrew readings in the various divergent manuscript traditions
- Establish an original language reading from these independent, informed judgements
- Make an original English translation from this reconstructed approximation of the autographa
- Make a logical diagram of the text
- Interrogate the text, posing dozens of questions about its meaning, logical flow, and word usage.
- Look up most of the words in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament or other mammoth Biblical vocabulary resources written by Germans.
- Read the top 5 commentaries on the passage.
- Establish an original, in-your-own-words exegetical outline.
- Determine the Big Idea of the passage.
- Establish the Proposition and the Call to Action.
- Compose a homiletical outline, preferably with 3 points in ascending intensity.
- Create a body manuscript in which each point is explained, illustrated, and applied.
- Compose a compelling introduction and a dramatic conclusion.
- Revise and edit the manuscript.
- Rehearse the delivery 2-3 times.
- Pray for the preaching for at least as much time as you’ve spent preparing to preach.
I’ve been preaching for 5 years solid, and have preached about 80 times in the last year.
I have never once done all, or even half, of this list.
And I can guarantee that those “faithful” preachers who hole up in their studies for 30 hours are not doing half of the list either. But somehow our training has convinced us that there’s always more that can be done to make the sermon better.
That helps many, many preachers justify spending ungodly amounts of time generating very little spiritual value. Even if many of these “faithful” preachers make no pretense of being as scholarly as seminaries train them to be, they’ll still read tons of books, articles, blogs, and tweets, and listen to other people’s sermons, to “improve their preaching” in a way that makes alchemy look scientific. All in the isolation of their study.
If you are a church planter, you have not been called to be a scholar.
What do you do instead? I’ll save that for future posts. In the mean time, try something radical. Just once.
THE ONE-HOUR SERMON PREP CHALLENGE
Ask your wife on Saturday night for a passage in the New Testament that has struck her recently. Ask what grabbed her. Ask what challenged her. Ask what was heroic about Jesus in the passage. Then set your timer for 30 minutes. Spend the first 10 minutes reading the passage over and over. Spend the second 10 minutes noting a couple of things under each point in the following outline:
- The challenge of Jesus
- The grace of Jesus
Spend the final 10 minutes praying.
Sleep good. Read through your passage and your outline again for 20 minutes on Sunday morning, and pray for 10 more minutes.
Preach your sermon.
The point is not to eliminate study from your life or to slough off preaching from your calling as a church planter. The point is to rid yourself of the notion that more is always more. Your one-hour sermon is going to be better than 75% of the “faithful” 30 hour sermons.
What do you think? Leave us a comment below. Especially if you give the experiment a try.
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