I know from my interactions with readers that most visitors to The Master’s Table are Christians. Many write blogs of their own, author or review Christian books, or are otherwise involved in church culture. Not surprising since many of my posts are devotional in nature; my writing explores what it means to serve God, worship, share the Gospel and so forth. I’ve blogged on meeting Christian writers, musicians, speakers and pastors; working at summer VBS; serving on the stateside mission field; publishing a book about who God is and how we relate to him. On occasion I have not only published sermons but written on the act of preaching.
While the vast majority of the readership here is Christian I have no way of knowing how many actually preach the Gospel. We all know a good sermon when we hear one or at least know what we like. But how familiar with the process is anyone that has never prepared a sermon? While there may be those that joke their pastor only works one hour each week surely no one that has put any thought into it actually believes that. Surely. I’m not going to write a step-by-step guide on how to DIY your own sermon. But I would like to share some insight into what goes on in the mind of the preacher before the sermon is being delivered.
Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times. We’ve all seen movies starring our favorite actor that we didn’t really care for. It is statistically and in every other way impossible that every sermon I write will be the best one ever. Sometimes during the process I worry about how one is going to turn out. Sometimes it’s not a matter of the amount of time and effort that goes into sermon prep. After days of reading, writing, proofreading, rewriting and praying it just doesn’t feel like things are coming together. Maybe it ends up too long, too short, feels slow or starts well then loses its way. If you have ever written a book, magazine article, blog post or persuasive speech you have probably experienced the same thing. Sometimes you have a good feeling about how it’s going; other times, not so much. Those of us who share the Gospel have a responsibility to do the very best we possibly can. Phoning it in for copy in the sports section of the local paper might go unnoticed. Throwing something together or putting forth a half-hearted effort in the pulpit while we should be rightly dividing the Word of Truth should be, at the very least, unacceptable to the man of God.
Sometimes I worry about the build quality of a sermon or that no matter how much attention given it’s just not going to turn out as I hoped or expected. But sermon delivery involves more than presenting the work done in the writing process. Reading the Bible, singing hymns, praying, giving, preaching sermons and the response to preaching are all acts of worship. We plan the order of service. Musicians and choir members or soloists practice. The preacher goes over his notes. But there is a dynamic that takes place when the Holy Spirit shows up that we do not schedule or practice. Jesus told his disciples they would face dark days, to expect arrest and interrogation. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues,18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:17-20) We must be prepared, ready to give a reason for our faith, but not anxious. It is not we who speak but the Spirit of our Father speaking through us. We all have different talents and abilities, strengths and weaknesses, gifts given by the Spirit according to the measure of faith and God uses them to accomplish his purposes. I must use my spiritual gift and present the Gospel message with boldness but at the same time lean not on my own understanding. What happens during the worship service – and sometimes it’s not during the sermon but during a song, testimony or something else – when the Spirit moves is a thing that God does. The best that any of us can do is not get in his way and let him do it.