Time flies. I am approaching the conclusion of my first 5 years as Lead Preaching Pastor in a local church. It really has been a crazy journey. Looking back, I am thankful the Lord allowed me to grow into my gifting with a growing church plant. My love for the local church and the people I pastor has truly never burned brighter. My love for preaching has waxed and waned at times. I have endured seasons where preaching was particularly painful personally. All along, God’s grace, even in those hard weeks, was sufficient. As I approach the 5-year mark, serving in my current role, I thought it may be helpful to journal my observations on the evolution of my preaching over these first 5 years as a pastor who preaches weekly.
1. I incorporate biblical theology more.
Early on I was prone to “miss the forest for the trees” in any given text that I happened to be preaching. I felt comfortable preaching doctrine from the text but it took a bit of time to learn how to keep the big picture of the biblical narrative in focus and allow that redemptive narrative to shape how I interpret, preach and apply the passage. I encourage the young preacher’s that I am discipling to read lots of good biblical theology books. I now have a pressing desire to show where the text I am preaching, any given week, fits into the grand story of redemption that unfolds progressively through Scripture.
2. I care (a little) less about sounding smart.
In my first years preaching weekly I consciously brought “shop talk” into my sermons. I mentioned Greek word-study/syntax work I had done and made sure I cited 6-7 technical commentaries in every sermon. The sermon became an academic thesis I had to defend rather than a Christ-exalting sermon I had the privilege of preaching. As a first-time, 27-year-old Lead Pastor, I felt as if I had to justify the congregations’ faith in me by impressing them with big words and lofty theology. Now, I leave most of the “shop-talk” of sermon prep in the study where it belongs.
3. I spend more time thinking and praying during sermon prep.
Spending time prayerfully considering the text I am preparing to preach has bore more fruit in my spiritual life than my preaching ministry. In the past 2-3 years, I have come to the text I am preparing to preach each week with less of an agenda. Most young preachers struggle with this. “Our church needs an evangelistic shot in the arm so I need to make sure I preach on the church’s responsibility to share the Gospel”. I now only begin to think about application after I have grasped the context and authorial intent of the passage I am about to preach. I am perfectly happy sitting at my computer and/or Bible praying about the text and thinking deeply for long periods of time about how I can thoughtfully and pastorally help my congregation apply God’s Word to their lives.
4. I am more comfortable preaching larger sections.
The first series I preached, 5 years ago, was a series going verse by verse through the Sermon on the Mount. It took me 16 months. If I hadn’t planted the church, I would have probably been fired (I’m kidding…kind of). I preached 1-5 verses per week as we painstakingly worked our way through Jesus’ sermon masterpiece. In hindsight, carefully working my way, a couple of verses at a time, through Matthew 5-7, had its advantages and the Spirit/Word did its mighty work in our church. We grew exponentially both spiritually and numerically during those first 16 months. The problem was a “tree by tree” approach had made the big picture of the Sermon on the Mount hard to see. After 16 months in the Sermon on the Mount, I’m not sure if anyone could really tell you what the Sermon on the Mount was about. Some preacher heroes of mine like Martin Lloyd Jones or John Macarthur use this approach and use it well. For me, however, I have found that preaching larger sections (10-20 verses typically) helps frame context better and provides a more complete picture of the passage being preached.
5. I care more about the people I preach to.
This one would be hard to overstate. In the past 5 years of serving the same congregation, my affection for the people I shepherd has grown deeper. This is the faith family that has wept with me in times of tremendous loss and rejoiced with me at the birth of my daughter. These are the saints I have cried in funeral homes and doctors offices. Sure, I’ve disappointed them at times and they have disappointed me. That’s what happens when sinners live in covenant together. But through it all, I can say I have never loved “a people” more than I love this congregation. How has that love affected my preaching? Well, it has made each sermon more agonizing and more meaningful. When I preach to these dear brothers and sisters I am preaching to scare away wolves and startle sheep who are drifting perilously from the protection of the flock. I’m no hired-hand speaking. I am a shepherd preaching.
Thank you. I love you.
See you Sunday.