“Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on…” (Philippians 3:12).
No matter how accomplished you become in sermon-building and how comfortable you feel standing before crowds delivering the Lord’s message, you should never get to the point of phoning it in.
The time never comes when a preacher can switch on automatic pilot.
There are good reasons for this limitation….
1) You are not big enough for that.
This work to which the Lord has called you is always more than you can handle, demands more than you have, and will always push you to the brink. You are not intelligent enough, godly enough, or mature enough to give this calling less than every ounce of your strength and dedication and attention, and often that will still not be enough. “Without me, you can do nothing,” our Lord said in John 15:5. You will find that out a thousand times before you hang it up.
2) The job is far too big for you.
As a pastor, you live in a world of unfinished jobs. When you lie down at night, you can always think of someone else you should have called, someone who is peeved at you and needs your attention, a sermon that needs work now, an apology you need to make, an assignment you should be preparing for, a calendar date of some major event that is drawing near too quickly. This is normal.
When you stand in the pulpit, your assignment is not to deliver a neatly packaged speech you worked up from your readings, your experiences, quotes you found, and insights you thought up. Most in your congregation may not discern the difference in that and your true calling, but you were appointed by a Holy God to deliver His message, His Word, to His people whom we call “your” congregation.
You are not adequate for that, to put it plainly (2 Corinthians 3:5). The moment you think you are, you are in big trouble.
3) The goals are too massive.
You are sent to change lives. You are assigned to so preach Heaven’s Good News that people will hear and believe in Jesus Christ and begin to live forever. You were commissioned to make disciples of all the nations. If you do not come away from that feeling as Solomon did at the beginning of his reign–“Lord, who is able to (lead) this great people of yours?” (I Kings 3:9)–you’re not paying attention.
4) The scope is too far beyond you.
Your subject is God. Think of that. You are speaking of Heaven and hell, of eternity, of God and Jesus and the Spirit, of the devil and his hordes, and of judgment.
You are naturally ignorant of all of these subjects. Only one source–Holy Scriptures–enlighten mankind in these realms. That is your text. All other reading you do is secondary to that.
“You are not adequate for these things.” Second Corinthians 3:5 again. (I cannot get away from that text; it speaks so perfectly to our situation.)
5) The audience is too varied, too complex, too needy, and too skeptical.
You stand before your people on a typical Sunday morning, open the Word and read a passage, and then begin speaking. Only a few of those before you are awaiting a word from Heaven. Most are jaded by the thousands of messages they have heard before today, and their expectations are in the basement, to put it frankly.
In addressing the needs of humanity with the message God has given you on a particular Sunday, you cannot be too careful. You are dealing with the fine China of people’s lives. You will be in desperate need of the guidance, protection, and power of the Holy Spirit, otherwise you can do far more harm than good.
Pastors bring messages that must relate to the grandparents, the young adults, and the children. Good luck with that. Unless the Holy Spirit touch the preacher and do something with that sermon, a lot of people are going to be bypassed today. But when He does indeed touch the preacher and transform that message, something happens akin to the miracle of the loaves and the fishes: The Lord takes one small boy’s lunch and feeds a vast multitude.
Preacher, you are the small boy. Unless you give to the Lord what you brought to church today, you barely have enough for yourself. Give it to Him, then receive it back from Him and distribute it out to the people, and you will be amazed what He can do.
6) The preacher is too human and thus too flawed.
You are a sinner. And, to be blunt about it, you didn’t quit sinning just because the Lord saved you, either. (If you think you did, you have bigger problems than we can address here.) Moses said to the Lord something like, “I’m not eloquent. I’ve never been eloquent in the past and frankly, I’ve not suddenly become eloquent since we’ve been speaking either!” (My free paraphrase of Exodus 4:10.)
Let’s see if you are this way, pastor….
When you pray, your mind wanders. When you praise, you quickly run out of things to say. When you spend a couple of hours studying the Word, you feel proud of yourself the rest of the day. When you witness, you almost injure your arm patting yourself on the back.
And, to your utter consternation, you are completely capable of turning from a time of prayer to thinking a lustful thought in the next moment. When you finish the sermon and arrive home on Sundays, you frequently feel fairly disgusted with yourself. That sermon had much more potential than what you did with it. Instead of delighting in the truths you were sharing, the congregation sat there staring at you as though they did not “get it.” For a brief time, you wonder if the Lord made a mistake calling you into the ministry.
If that’s you, you’re normal, preacher. Hang in there. You are discovering that “you are not adequate for these things,” a wonderful discovery, if you want to know the truth.
So–and this is the point we’re making here–you must never allow yourself to drift to the other extreme of confidence where you feel you now have this ministry thing figured out and can phone it in.
You have not figured it out, you are not there, and you never will be in this life.
This is why you keep on…
–looking for ways to improve your preaching.
–going back and repreaching a text you dealt with recently because you feel there is so much more there which needs to be shared.
–praying for ways to master yourself, to bring every thought under the Lordship of Christ.
–praying for the Lord to prepare the people who will receive this sermon next Sunday.
–wanting the Lord to do far more with your preaching than ever before.
You are never satisfied and can never become complacent.
Bear in mind, your focus is on the Lord and not yourself. You are more than satisfied with Him and honored to be serving Him. Your joy is in the Lord, and you rejoice in Him, not in the numbers which we associate with ministry (heads, baptisms, dollars, acres, etc.).
A final word. If you wonder how your preaching will be when you’ve logged a full half-century in the ministry, may I tell you? You will still be struggling to get it right, still on your knees praying for the Lord to show you how to preach this message, and still feeling that you have so far to go.
You will be normal.