Each Sermon Better Than The One Before?

preacher“Pastor, your sermon today was the best I think I’ve ever heard you preach.” I receive such a compliment with mixed feelings. Yes, I’m glad the person got so much out of the message. On the other hand, I don’t want to be preaching to impress people. I’m also immediately prompted to think, “So does that mean I have to top this week’s message next week?” That’s pressure I don’t want to have to live with.

True, I want to continue to grow as a proclaimer of God’s Word. I hope I’m better at the task this year than I was last year, and that I’ll be better at it next year compared to this year. However, I’ve had to guard myself from the trap of trying to make each sermon better than the last one – it’s unsustainable.

The reality is that a great sermon to one parishioner is just an average sermon to another parishioner. Everyone is different, at a different place in their spiritual walk, and God speaks to everyone differently.

I want every message I deliver to be good, but I’m not necessarily aiming at it being better than last week’s (unless I feel I really bombed). We try to prepare tasty and nutritious meals in our home, but I don’t remember what we had for dinner a week ago Tuesday, though the food was nourishment for our bodies. I don’t expect my parishioners to remember every sermon I preach (I sure don’t), but my prayer is that I’m providing consistent spiritual nourishment.

I want to take the apostle Paul’s admonition to the young pastor Timothy to heart. “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2) Faithful, not flashy, preaching is what I want to aim for.

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Preach What You Know

soapbox_preacher_originalI’ve been to several writer’s conferences and have read a number of books on writing. One suggestion that’s frequently given is to write about what you know. That’s why my novel Kathryn’s Fountain needed little research and why I was able to get into my characters’ heads.

Kathryn, the novel’s main character, is an elderly woman who lives in an assisted living facility that’s an old Victorian-styled house. As a pastor I’ve visited countless elderly people like Kathryn. The facility in which I had Kathryn live was inspired by a real house of an historic nature transformed into an assisted living facility in which one of my elderly parishoners lived. I wrote about what I knew.

I’ve discovered the value of adopting the writer’s adage to preaching: to preach about what I know. By this I mean I must have experienced the sermon impacting my own life before I can expect it to impact the lives of those to whom I’m called to deliver it. I must be my own congregation of one to whom the message is first delivered.

Every so often someone tells me that they have a sermon they’d like to preach. Usually they’re not serious. What they mean is that they have something to say that they think others should hear. They don’t really want to speak from behind a pulpit but on a soapbox.

I have come to understand after 38 years of preaching that if I’m picturing a certain person in the congregation who needs to hear the message, I’m preaching with the wrong motive, attempting to straighten someone out. I’m preaching from a bully pulpit, trying to deliver a message to a person in a public setting instead of talking to them privately. It’s the coward’s way, because I find it easier to confront a crowd than to confront one person. And more often than not, that person isn’t in the congregation that day!

I have also come to realize that my best sermons are those with which I have grappled most on a personal and often painful level during the preparation. No one should get more out of the sermon than me! As the Lord’s under-shepherd I must first let Him lead me on the path of righteousness for His name’s sake before I can lead His people to green pastures and still waters.

“I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.” (Revelation 10:10)

Preaching from The Soul

I came across this verse in my morning reading.  I thought it very appropriate for those of us who pastor a church.

“Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.” (Psalm 66:16)

Our preaching, at least to some measure, needs to be autobiographical.  We can’t take God’s Word and run it only through our mind before we deliver it to those we serve.  We also must let the scripture flow through our heart and soul.