HT: The Way of Improvement Leads Home
Remember that you are moral…
Here is what Puritan Richard Baxter said:
“I preached as never sure to preach again,
and as a dying man to dying men.”
First, bombard a notepad (find a good one) with my favorite black pen (links provided).
I am taking down anything I see, questions I have, possible connections, illustrations, etc.
Second, cross off those things that start to go in the first draft.
Third, tighten and edit first draft.
Fourth, make final draft.
Fifth, practice several times in bathroom with fan on so as not disturb my wife’s own studies. I asked if she could hear me downstairs and she said the neighbors could! That’s good!
The following is not an uncommon occurrence for me while preparing to preach…
Not always, but there are certainly times of struggle either to make sense of the text and/or to make sure I really believe it. As the Puritans liked to say, make sure to preach to yourself before you preach to others. Really believing the Word of God is more difficult than determining its proper meaning.
Then God brings light, many times much light, and I can’t write fast enough.
It is one reason I don’t like to preach every week. The process of preparation is best if I have months to mull and consider a text. I want to stew on it for a long time.
I take many notes and ask many questions. Commentaries come at the end to make sure I am in the ballpark of sound exegesis.
All this is one reason why I wish lead pastors preached less frequently. It would be better for them and for the congregation.
*Have you ever heard a sermon on a developing a theology of work? If you have, did Bezalel and his buddy, Oholiab, figure prominently?
*Have you ever heard an entire sermon on a theology of rest?
*How often do Christians ask what you are learning from God’s Word?
*With respect to the previous question, how often do you ask your Christian friends?
*Has anyone ever told you that a minor prophet was formative in their spiritual development?
*With respect to the major prophets, has anyone ever mentioned Ezekiel?
*Have you ever heard a sermon on the silence of God?
*Have you ever heard a sermon on biblical rewards?
*Have you ever heard a sermon on how to obey the two commandments of Jesus in Mt. 10:16: Being both shrewd as a serpent and innocent as a dove?
*Have you ever heard a sermon on not confusing the flag with the kingdom of God?
*Have you ever heard a sermon on how we ought to treat “foreigners,” especially as applied to refugees?
This is some crazy stuff!
I have read several of your books and benefited greatly from each one. I am also grateful for your willingness to do the Patheos/Jesus Creed interview with me. Hyperbole and lack of nuance (not two things many associate with you) can be taken literally when the person communicating is well regarded. I’m afraid that may be the case with the following. In several places I have seen various iterations of your remarks when it comes to young preachers. Here is one such example:
I don’t believe you should spend a lot of time preparing your sermon, when you’re a younger minister. I think because we are so desperately want our sermon to be good, that when you’re younger you spend way too much time preparing. And, you know, its scary to say this to the younger ministers… you’re not going to be much better by putting in twenty hours on that sermon–the only way you’re going to be a better preacher is if you preach often. For the first 200 sermons, no matter what you do, your first 200 sermons are going to be terrible. (laughter from the crowd). And, if you put in…fifteen or twenty hours in the sermon you probably won’t preach that many sermons because you won’t last in ministry, because your people will feel neglected.
Similar to Gladwell’s now contested “10,000 hours of practice,” many seem to take the 200 sermons in the most wooden of ways. I get the point that it may take some five years of preaching to “find one’s voice,” but surely there is a wide variation of gifts and maturity that make the number 200 arbitrary, aren’t there?
Personally, I have heard young preachers whose maturity coupled with a genuine unction of the Spirit made it evident that “they found their voice.” Conversely, I sadly report hearing some minsters who long ago crossed 200 sermons and still seem in search of their voice.
Sincerely in Christ,
Certainly we can’t take 200 in a wooden way. Of course there are variations. By the way, I doubt I’ve used the number “200″ more than once or twice in off hand remarks.
You are right in drawing out the broader principle. If you preach regularly, say 40-50 times a year, including Sunday preaching and other speaking at weddings, funerals, and conferences, then, yes, I’d say it takes at least three years of full-time preaching before you get even close to being as mature and skillful a preacher as you are capable of becoming.
There are basically three things that go into the “maturing” process: a) the actual preparation of the message, b) life experience—of your own heart, of pastoral work, of prayer, c) practice.
I’d say that younger preachers a) don’t have enough life experience, and b) don’t preach often enough to be growing in preaching as they should. They tend to put all the emphasis on long hours of academic prep. It would be better if instead of 20 hrs of prep they did 5-6 hrs of prep and spent the rest of the time out involved in people’s lives, and then simply preached and spoke more often. That is the balance that is needed. And then give it 3-5 years to come up to whatever level God has gifted you.
And, yes, I have heard some young preachers with pretty good spiritual maturity for their age and God’s anointing–be quite good. Yet compare the sermons of the young Spurgeon (who was a teenage preaching phenom) with the old Spurgeon. The older Spurgeon sermons are far richer, wiser, better.
Reading through all my sermons and landed on a rather arresting application I gave in one from July 20, 1997:
“Each night as you fall asleep imagine that your bed is your casket.” My point, of course, was not to be unduly morbid. Rather, it was to spend a few moments reminding one’s self of memento mori (“remember you are mortal”) and order your life accordingly. Ps. 90:12!