My one wish for every pastor in the new year

“Brethren, do not be children in your thinking…..but in your thinking be mature” (I Corinthians 14:20).

I could wish that every pastor would use discernment. That he would “be smart.”

Or, phrased another way, I wish each preacher would determine that in the new year, he is going to work at using discernment and to do nothing impulsively, out of fear, or motivated by false guilt.

The “un-smart” pastor–to coin a term–does things that are unwise and unhealthy and in the long run, not beneficial to the Kingdom nor to his people.  Take what an unsmart pastor does about his preaching, for instance…..

1) The unsmart pastor skips the hard work of sermon preparation. He is lazy.

The smart pastor knows this is his most important work and is always thinking about the next sermons, even to the point of rising from the bed and looking up something that occurred to him.

I would encourage pastors to use the quiet days of this time–just after Christmas and early in January when nothing much is going on–to make longrange plans for preaching. Make a page for each Sunday, at the top write down whatever is going on (calendar events, denominational emphases, holidays, etc), and prayerfully jot down scriptures, themes, insights that the Lord brings to mind for that day.  Start with that.

2) The unsmart pastor refuses to do long-range planning for sermons, but decides this week what he’ll preach next Sunday.  He is shallow–and will work himself into an early grave.

The best sermons are not microwaved but marinated.

Following up on the first point, once the preacher decides on a subject and text for a given Sunday, he returns to it from time to time to add insights and questions to the materials.  Where does the gospel come in this message? What is the “one big point” you want to get across? Have you learned this lesson the hard way (meaning, is there a great story that fits here?)? Then, go on to the other future sermons and do the same thing.

3) The unsmart pastor who does not do long-range planning will end up grabbing a catchy story he heard somewhere and shaping it into a sermon or adapting a message he picked up from somewhere else.  He gets panicky.

The result of feeding fast food to church members is they grow soft and obese, not healthy and strong.

Repeating myself here: What I’m suggesting is mapping out sermons months in advance, then returning to each one regularly with additional study and analysis and prayer, and then, a week or ten days before the scheduled Sunday, pulling out the message and pulling it together.

4) The unsmart pastor will go for quick results and immediate responses, and not place enough value on the quiet, inner work of the Spirit which may take a long time to bear fruit. He is impatient.

I was telling a pastor friend at breakfast earlier this week that the best sermons I’m preaching in the retirement-mode these days are not “sugar sticks,” as some call them. “These few messages are the distillation of a lifetime of study and preaching and serving.  This is what the Lord has taught me, the conclusions of a half-century of pastoring.”

There are pastors who still believe that the Holy Spirit will inspire them when they enter the pulpit even if they have not done the quiet work of study and prayer during the week.  Now, we’ve all been in situations where we were giving ourselves in ministry in a hundred directions all week and our sermon-study suffered, and on Saturday night or Sunday morning, we sent up those panicky prayers that said, “Lord, if anything happens today, you’re going to have to do it because I don’t have anything!”  And invariably, He comes through.

However, to depend on that is not faith but presumption.  And we are taught to pray, “Keep thy servant from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13).

5) The unsmart pastor who does not do longrange sermon planning will misuse great stories he came across or something memorable that just happened.  Later, he realizes that story would have been perfect for a sermon he preached a few weeks later. Had he been planning ahead, he’d have known that and used it more profitably.

6) The unsmart pastor who does not do in-depth and longrange planning will repeat himself in sermons.  As with Point 5, he will realize the story he used a few weeks back works here, so may use it again.

7) The unsmart pastor who does not give a sermon the adequate preparation and study it requires will find himself returning to a text and preaching it several times for no other reason than that he has not adequately opened it up the previous times but still feels an attraction to that text.  (I speak from experience here.  A church member who puts the dates by each text in her Bible will call to your attention that “You’ve preached that sermon before.” You will answer, “Same text, but different sermon.” In truth, what’s going on is that you are still trying to get your mind around that great truth, and it refuses to yield its riches to quick shallow readings but is asking for more of your attention.)

8) The unsmart pastor without a long-range plan of sermons will be too impressionable.  He hears a moving sermon by a brother at a conference and can’t get it out of his mind in order to study his own message, so decides the Lord wants him to preach that for his people. That may or may not be the case, but often it’s the result of his having nothing in mind for next Sunday and since nature abhors a vacuum, the friend’s message moves in and takes over.

Or, just as likely, some influential church member asks the pastor to bring a sermon on some subject dear to the heart of that one.  “We need a sermon on sin” is one we’ve all heard. Or prophecy. Or this text or that subject.

The best answer to one who asks you to preach on a pet topic is, “I promise I’ll pray and ask the Lord about it,” and say nothing more.  If the person asks a second time  why you haven’t done what they asked, say sweetly, “I know you want your pastor to get the sermons God wants him to have. As soon as He leads me to preach on that subject, I’ll be delighted to do so.”

9) The unsmart pastor may be driven by self-centered motives to preach wrong-headed sermons.

Years ago, our seminary had billionaire Texas oilman H. L. Hunt to speak to the student body in chapel one day. I still recall the thrust of his message. “The pastors of the largest churches in our land,” he said, “preach against Communism regularly.”  He did not imply but stated as clearly as it’s possible to do that if these young preachers wanted to attract crowds, they should take as their subjects anti-Communism.

I don’t recall changing my preaching as a result, but I’ll never forget his saying it.  One wonders if any of the students went out of chapel that day determining to work up sermons on Lenin and Stalin.

10) The unsmart pastor will some day look back over his preaching and realize he has skipped large sections of the Word and neglected to declare the whole counsel of the Lord.

The Holy Spirit who inspires pastors in the pulpit is just as much available and on the job the rest of the week for the pastor who will take the time to seek His presence and His guidance.

Smart people seek the Lord.

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