7 Things I Wish People Knew About Preaching
1. I wish preachers recognized that by preaching you shape the culture of the church. I’ve just seen it happen, for good or ill. When you preach week-by-week, certain themes recur. Over time, almost imperceptibly, you begin to mould the way the people think, how they understand the gospel, and then how they live. If our preaching is full of grace it will be a grace –filled church. If we continue to point people to Christ, they’ll think of Christ. If our applications are always telling people the two, three or four things that they must do this week, then they’ll become burdened and lose their joy.
2. Speaking of application, I wish preachers remembered how important good application is. The first task of the preacher is to faithfully explain the text, ensuring the main idea of the passage shapes the main idea of the sermon. But the first task is neither the only task nor the final task. If I can generalize, I’d say that the greatest weakness of contemporary expository preaching is poor application. Either we don’t do it (or do it in a perfunctory way), or we misapply. Appropriate application is usually the hardest part of sermon preparation, because your reference books won’t help you. Only you know your congregation. So, appropriate application takes a lot of thought, prayer and time. But when the text is applied well it takes the sermon to the next level.
3. Continuing the application theme, I wish preachers knew you can draw moral application from the Old Testament. In our appropriate desire to right some of the wrongs of Christ-less preaching, too many of us have allowed the pendulum to swing so much in the other direction (why must so many of our reactions be over-reactions?) that now our applications are only Christ-filled.
But the New Testament draws both moral and Christological application from the Old Testament and so should we. As well as revealing Christ as the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the Old Testament provides us with wisdom for godly living. Remember what Paul tells us: all God-breathed Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training us in righteousness, thoroughly equipping us for every good work (2 Tim 3:16). That’s godly living.
4. I wish preachers knew that the goal of a sermon is not exegetical accuracy. It seems that we confuse the goal with the means. As people who desire to be faithful preachers, we need to work hard on our exegesis. We want to ensure that we’ve rightly understood the passage. Certainly, as I prepare my sermon I pray for understanding. Before I preach I pray for clarity of speech. But, above, all I pray that God’s Spirit will take God’s word, delivered through the mouth of God’s servant, to achieve His purpose in the lives of the hearers. We pray for life change: that the unconverted or willfully sinning might repent, and the saints might continue to walk in obedience and grow in Christ-likeness. The goal is transformed lives to the glory of God. The means to this end is faithful exposition.
5. I wish preachers knew that it’s sometimes good to commend and encourage the congregation. It seems that our default position at the end of every sermon is to bring either a word of challenge or a mild rebuke. So, after a talk on the second coming or the hope of heaven, rather than saying, “What a wonderful future we have to look forward to!” our final words are more often an accusatory “Are you looking forward to heaven?” or, “Are you too tied to the things of this age?” When preaching on Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving, rather than thanking God for the love, faith and hope of the saints in our churches, we easily turn words of encouragement into words of rebuke: “Are you loving each other? Do you have faith in Jesus? How firm is your hope.” It seems that the apostle Paul was often more ready to encourage his churches than many contemporary preachers. What’s more, I suspect that an appropriate word of encouragement may achieve more in their lives than the frequent word of reproach.
6. I wish preachers knew that preaching is a work that we can always improve on. I’ve been preaching for four decades and I know that I can still grow in wisdom and ability. My understanding of the Bible should keep getting deeper and broader. With age comes wisdom and experience, and so my understanding of the world and people should mature. The older I get, the wiser I become in knowing what to say in a sermon and what to leave out. Along with that, I know I can keep improving in the structure and presentation of a sermon. It must be discouraging for a golfer to reach a handicap of 90, and realize he’ll never make 89! As preachers, I’m convinced that as long as the Lord grants us physical and mental strength, we can keep on improving. So, keep working on your preaching!
7. I wish that preachers would never forget the grace. Preaching week in and week out can, literally, be a thankless task. Few things kill our passion for preaching more than the silence of an ungrateful congregation. It’s easy to become discouraged and to forget the amazing grace given to us to bring to people the oracles of God. It should never cease to leave us speechless that God will move people from the road to hell onto the road to heaven, and bring about significant life changes in his people through the imperfect words of jars of clay like you and me. After the amazing grace of salvation, God’s greatest kindness to me is to appoint me a preacher of his Word. I never want to forget the wonder of that.