What I’ve Learned, So Far, About Preaching

First sermons are strange creatures.

Many of those sermons, including my own, are preached at the new preacher’s home church. That was my story in October 2002. There is nothing quite as weird as extending an invitation to people who remember you as the screaming kid in the nursery.

My pastor, John Allen, gave me the opportunity to preach on a Sunday night, shortly after I surrendered to the ministry. I preached from John 16:5-15, which if the Lord allows, I will preach this Sunday morning, almost fifteen years later.

My preaching journey, so far, has taken me from doing pulpit supply in small towns in Arkansas and Mississippi, to spending the past twelve and a half years preaching as a pastor.

I’ve learned a lot. I plan to keep learning.

I’ve learned that preaching must be the priority of my ministry. God gave us His perfect Word. He uses that Word to speak to His people and to draw the lost to Himself. Without the Bible, there is no salvation or sanctification. My calling demands that I stand in the pulpit each week, report what God said, and then apply that word to the congregation.

I’ve learned that preaching is hard work. I study my sermon text to discover the authors’ intended meaning. Detailed study of context, words, backgrounds, structure, and other elements leads towards an understanding of authorial intent. I must spend the necessary time analyzing the text, consulting study aids, and praying to discover the paragraph’s meaning. To stand with confidence in the pulpit, I have to sit with focus in the study.

I’ve learned that there is no substitute for the systematic preaching of Bible books. By preaching through entire books, or extended sections, I ensure that I’m preaching the whole counsel of God in context. I can’t avoid difficult passages and I’m able to preach the great passages within their setting.

I’ve learned that preaching cannot be separated from pastoral ministry. I once read that if a sermon doesn’t offer application, then preaching hasn’t taken place. Sermon application must be personal to be effective. This truth means that hospital visits, phone calls, texts, home visits, and hallway conversations are invaluable. While I don’t address member’s specific needs (that would be a breach of trust), I do have a sense of what the congregation is going through. This knowledge allows me to put myself into their shoes when building the sermon.

I’ve learned that preaching is a marathon, not a sprint. One sermon rarely changes people or circumstances. Rather, the steady intake of the Word builds faith. When people tell me about how God used a sermon in their lives, it’s normally weeks or months after I’ve preached it. They’ve spent time thinking about what the Bible said and then have made a change.

I’ve learned that preaching has nothing to do with me. God keeps preachers humble in a specific way. There are times when I’ve preached and immediately have asked God’s forgiveness for my homiletical disaster. What seemed like the right way to preach a text, suddenly fell flat on delivery. Ironically, people often cite these sermons as those most used by God. I clearly have no idea what I’m doing, but I keep learning.

I can’t express how grateful I am to God for calling me to preach. He yanked me out of the corporate world and threw me into the local church.

I’ve preached in Backgate, Arkansas and a garage apartment in Marshall County, Mississippi.

I’ve preached while a lizard tried to walk down the sanctuary aisle and while kids shot up the church with paintball guns.

Twice, God allowed me to preach the funerals of first responders who gave their lives serving others.

I’ve preached countless sermons to God’s people as their pastor.

This calling to preach is serious and varied.

I pray that I never take it for granted.

I praise God for the privilege.

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