Pressure Relief for Ministers -- Handling Unrealistic Expectations
Pressure Relief for Ministers -- Home Run Sermons
Preparing and delivering a sermon is like writing a term paper every week, capped off with an oral exam. The exam takes place in front of your family, friends, strangers who are deciding if they will come back based on how you do and even a few folks who are rooting for you to fail.
Add to all of that the pressure to hit a home run every time you step up to the pulpit (or music stand or tall round table [what's that called?]). Given that most pastors in normative size churches have much more to do each week than prepare and deliver a sermon, this pressure is simply too much. Here's the pressure relief valve -- You should not expect every sermon to be a home run, but you can prepare yourself to get a base hit. Imagine you got a base hit every time. You'd be an MLB superstar! Not that being a superstar is the goal. The goal is to be faithful and effective unto the glory of God and for the good of His people. Now, how might you get a base hit every time?
FIRST -- Much of it is in the prepation, which pastors have much control over (accept those rare weeks with multiple funerals). It helps to know what text or topic you'll be preaching before the week of preparation begins. This allows you to maximize and not waste anytime getting started. Once you do start, having a system in which you use to prepare each week will also keep you from wasting time. I use a simple three step process.
Step 1 -- This whole process assumes you will preach a message that adheres to the Scriptures, which is required for a base hit sermon. Therefore you should begin with reading the text from which you will preach. Read it over and again and in multiple translations. As you do, open a document or get out a pad of paper and write down as many observations about the text as you can, including questions you have about the passage. Pray as you read and write.
Step 2 -- Read commentaries to help deepen your knoweledge and answer questions you have about the text. Copy and paste the most interesting and/or helpful things you learn in the same document in which you wrote your own thoughts about the text. This can be time consumer, depending on the passage and your knowledge of the Scriptures. I have found that two to three commentaries is enough. If you're bi-vocational, I highly recommend you use a good study Bible (ESV, NIV Theological Study Bible, CSB Study Bible are my go-to's). You don't have to do tons of reading as the notes are breif and you get the highlights, which is probably the stuff you wanted to know anyways.
Step 3 -- Write your sermon on a separate document that will be printed and taken into the pulpit. Either manuscript, or use headings with paragraphs or simply bullet points with your main ideas. Whatever works for you. But every sermon must have an introduction, body, and conclusion. Write your body first. Then consider the best way to begin and end the sermon. Lastly, as you look back over what you have on paper, consider where you need illustraitons and what illustrations will help the congregation better understand the passage. Look back over what you have and ask yourself -- is this a grace-based, gospel-centered sermon? Or is this a "try-harder" sermon? You may need to rewrite. I often do. It's worth it to make Jesus the center of the message!
Step 4 -- As you write, think about and pray for the people who will hear what God has put on your heart to share. What would this message sound like to a child, teenager, young adult, middle age married couple, retired folks? What might be their questions regarding the passage? What might be their objections or reservations be in regard to your message? What would it look like for them to live out what you intend to share? How might a non-Christian respond to this message? What if it was their first time, brought there by a friend or family member who had been praying and praying they might show up to service one day?
SECOND -- It is my conviction that every sermon must not only mention Jesus, but should center itself on his person, his message, his work and/or its results. If you're not of that same conviction, read the words of Spurgeon on the matter and perhaps you'll change your mind :-) Also, to see how this can be done, listen to any of Timothy Keller's sermons or read his book on preaching. What I am saying is this -- A base hit sermon includes the gospel.
THIRD -- Prepare yourself physically and spiritually. Get enough rest. Don't eat junk the night before or the day of. Drink plenty of water. Give yourself time in the morning to review your message so you are not rushed into the pulpit. Most important of all, spend time in prayer. Do this throughout the process, but make sure you sit with the Lord in prayer soon before you preach. Pray not only for you and the delivery of the message the Lord has given you, but you must also pray for those who will hear the message. Remember, in the end, the success of preaching is in pleasing the Lord and seeking to help those who listen. Being impressive is not the mark of a successful preacher. Faithfulness is.
I do belive that if you do these three things you will preach a base hit sermon. Now, notice that I said nothing of the actual preaching event. You can't always control how things go once you begin the sermon and you certainly can't control the response of the congregation. However, if you wish to improve the actual delivery of your sermon you can go back and listen to your message, and make notes for improvement. Then perhaps you can get a few doubles. If you take the time to get to know your listeners and if you will love them well as their shepherd, maybe you'll get a triple from time to time. And if the Spirit decides to move in an extraordinary way, you can enjoy a home run.
Pressure Relief for Ministers -- Ownership v. Stewardship