Category Archives: Preaching, Teaching
A few weeks ago, I had the distinct privilege of preaching God’s word at the DiscipleNow Student event and Sunday morning service of First Baptist Church (Justin, TX). This church is pastored by Dr. Roger Ferguson. The Adult and Student Minister is Shawn Finney. It was a joy to worship and fellowship with this wonderful group of believers.
If you are interested, you may listen to my sermon here.
I am not what some would call an animal lover. At the moment, I don’t have any domestic pets. But if I did, there are two standard rules I live by: 1. I do not allow them to sleep in my bed, and 2. When it comes to licking, my face is off-limits. But I do like them. My father and mother had two dogs during my adolescent years. Both were Cocker Spaniels. They were great family dogs. And my wife and I had a Toy Rat Terrier in the early years of our marriage. Now that we have a child the thought of getting another one has come up in conversation a few times. Because of this I have begun to pay a little more attention again to anything related to pets.
The other day while I was watching television, a PETCO commercial came on. To be honest, I don’t remember much about it, except the tagline. Take a look for yourself:
“What We Feed Them Matters.”
When I heard that tagline, the preacher in me took note. I said to myself, “There is an illustration in that.” As I began thinking about it, I immediately saw a connection between that PETCO commercial and our calling as pastors.
The Bible depicts us elders as being shepherds and the church as being sheep or a flock (Acts 20:28-30). As the Apostle Peter writes, we are called to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willing, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly, not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3).
Shepherding the flock of God entails a number of responsibilities. As Jeramie Rinne writes in Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus, “Elders manage, lead, admonish, and keep watch over members.” (p. 74) But central among these tasks is teaching; teaching the word of God (1 Timothy 3:2 – “able to teach”; also see 2 Timothy 4:1-2). Rinne affirms this assertion, “If elders shepherd Jesus’s sheep, then their most basic task is to feed the souls of church members from the Scriptures.” (p. 45)
But in teaching the word, we must commit to rightly handling it (2 Timothy 2:15). I have been in ministry long enough to know that everyone who is teaching the Bible ain’t teaching the Bible. It is important that we prayerfully strive to rightly interpret the word, or cut it straight. Our desire should be “to give instruction in sound doctrine.” (Titus 1:9) That word “sound” means healthy. Take note, brothers: healthy doctrine produces healthy disciples. So let’s, by God’s grace, feed them the pure, unadulterated word of God.
May the Lord Jesus’ command to Peter in John 21:17 be applied to our calling as pastors as well, “Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.‘” (emphasis mine)
What we feed them does indeed matter.
It was beautiful, sunny Friday morning. I was sitting on the couch in our living room, relaxing and watching television. As I turned channels, I came across a popular Christian Television network. The upcoming program was from the ministry of a pastor whom I was familiar with. So I decided to view the broadcast.
For the next 30 minutes, I watched as the crowd hung on to his every word, responding in agreement with a hearty “Amen!” or “Say that, Preacher!” While they rejoiced, I lamented. And here is why. For the entire half hour, the preacher never pointed the people back to the text of Scripture. Instead of seeing the biblical text as the road upon which sermons ought to travel, he treated it as a launching pad, simply serving to help the message get off the ground. After takeoff, he took the sermon where he wanted it to go, which unfortunately was far from the intended meaning of the chosen passage of Scripture; and many, if not all, in the audience were unaware he – and they – had gone way off course.
This might sound homiletically simple or archaic, out of touch, maybe even legalistic to some, nevertheless, here it is: faithful preaching must be rooted in and refer back to the text of Scripture. Most of us get the beginning part of that statement. It is the latter part I am focusing on in this post. In the preaching act, we need to work to consistently reference our selected text of Scripture (Even with first person narrative sermons, I believe there is a way to do them to where Scripture remains the main character on the stage.).
One of the primary reasons why I believe directing people’s attention to the text throughout our sermons should be a regular practice in our preaching is because it affirms God’s word as being the locus of authority.
According to the Apostle Paul, we have been charged to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2). It is our sacred duty then to strive to faithfully and clearly lay out the whole counsel of God before others. No hermeneutical gymnastics or homiletical ear-tickling; just a sincere and prayerful commitment to rightly explain and apply the Bible to those listening.
Our job is not to impress people with our oratorical skills, but instead to impress upon them the oracles of our God. Should we work to carefully craft our words? Sure. But we must remember that our words in relationship to the Word are to be like mirrors that simply reflect the light of God’s truth and angle it in the direction of the hearers so that they might better see our Triune God, themselves and others. After all, God’s gospel/word, through the work of the Holy Spirit and when mixed with faith, is the only thing that changes our eternal destiny and produces spiritual maturity (Romans 1:16; James 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1).
So, as you preach, take people back to the text.
See yourself as a preacher-guide; someone who is assigned to walk with people through an exhibit of Scripture, pointing out vital information and showing them how it impacts their lives and the world around them. Certainly, no matter what you do, there will always be those who will close their Bibles (if they have them at all) or leave them open on their laps or on their iPhone/iPad screens and never look down at them again after the text is read. People are going to do what they want to do. But, listen, let it never be said that we as preacher-guides simply escorted them to the entrance but soon left them to make their way around on their own, or that we failed to do our jobs because we were extremely ill-prepared or haphazardly took them through exhibits.
But more than just guides, we are heralds of King Jesus! When we step up to the pulpit, the lectern, or the coffee table in our casual wear or suits, may God grace us to remember that we are called to faithfully and clearly proclaim the Good News of his kingdom and his edicts, so that the weight of his loving authority would come to bear on our consciences and lives, transforming us into his very image.
Along with “Hear Ye! Hear Ye!” let’s cry, “See Ye! See Ye!” Take them to the text over and over again. And when it is all said and done, may we the people of Jesus proclaim with our lips and lives, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17, ESV)
That’s in essence what a precious church member said to me one day. I am not sure how we got on the subject of pastors and preaching. But there we were standing in the middle of the hallway having this discussion.
I have come to discover that that member’s understanding of what we do as pastors is not a rarity. Many people share the same sentiment. It usually goes something like this:
“So do you mean to tell me you get paid to simply study the Bible and come up with sermons? That doesn’t sound much like work to me.”
“Is that all you do is study and prepare sermons?”
“How hard can it really be to put together a sermon?”
If you are reading this and resonate with those viewpoints – that preaching isn’t really work – this post is for you.
In passing, let me assure you that we do more than just preach (or teach) as pastors. We counsel; perform weddings, funerals, baby, business, and house blessings; visit and pray for people who are sick; lead volunteers and/or staff; etc. And that’s just scratching the surface. But let’s just focus on the subject at hand: preaching.
Is preaching work? You better believe it is! Let’s explore two reasons. They are fairly simple to understand. Nothing complex.
1. Scripture says preaching and teaching is work
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he gives these instructions:
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and ‘ The laborer deserves his wages.'” (1 Timothy 5:17-18, ESV)
The primary focus of this text of Scripture deals with ensuring elders who rule well receive remuneration, which normally consists of money. But what I want to draw your attention to are the terms Paul associates with preaching and teaching in these two verses. Let’s look at the text again. I’ve highlighted the words for you.
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and ‘ The laborer deserves his wages.'” (1 Timothy 5:17-18, ESV)
The word labor in Greek is kopiao, which can also mean to toil or work hard. If God says preaching His word is work, then it’s work…for those who strive to do it well, that is.
2. Reality affirms preaching and teaching is work
Have you ever been privy to hear about or see a pastor’s or preacher’s individual sermon prep routine? Most have not. So, allow me to give you a glimpse into what that process generally looks like. Pastors/Preachers, undoubtedly, have different ways of going about preparing their messages. There are few different routes to get to the same destination. And yet, what follows, are some common sermon route markers that are situated along the road of preparation. Although this process is in many ways static, it can be very fluid at times.
Route Marker #1 – Spend time praying over the sermon text (this is of course after the text has been selected; and there are various ways to going about doing that even)
We don’t just pray before we begin; we pray throughout the entire process.
Route Marker #2 – Read the text over and over again
To familiarize ourselves with the sermon text, we read it dozens of times, maybe even more. And occasionally we will read it from different versions of the Bible other than the one we study and/or preach from.
Route Marker#3 – Read the literary context of the text
This simply means we will read the verses before and/or after our selected text (this also demands that we broaden our scope and consider the context of the Bible book, the author’s other writings – where applicable, the Testament, and the Bible overall) to see if there is a connection to our primary text, to ascertain meaning of words, and to help us grasp the author’s train of thought, which, in part, aids us in understanding the sermon text.
Route Marker #4 – Study the sermon text in its original language
If it is an Old Testament text, then we look at the Hebrew. If it is a New Testament passage, then we journey over to Greek. We examine things like grammar, syntax, word definitions, and much more.
Route Marker #5 – Conduct a thorough background study
Here we research all things historical, cultural, geographical, social, religious, and political.
Route Marker #6 – Synthesize the research
Now we bring all of the pieces together to determine the meaning, truths, and principles of the text.
Route Marker #7 – Build the sermon
This various a bit from preacher to preacher. Some mentally form the sermon in their minds. Others draft an outline. While others write out (initial draft, edit, re-write) a full manuscript. Regardless of the method, fundamentally, each of us works to put together introductions, transition statements, body, illustrations, and the conclusion – the sermonic food elements we put on the plate as the spiritual entree to serve to the people of God.
Route Marker #8 – Internalize the sermon
Most of us rehearse our sermons, either in our minds or verbally to ourselves or maybe even to someone else. We marinate over the sermon not only for the purpose of proclaiming it to others but also for personal application.
For common people like myself, this whole process can take anywhere from 10 to 15 hours a week (and that’s probably on the conservative side). Keep in mind, that is just for one sermon. Now imagine if you had to preach Sunday morning and evening, and Wednesday evening. That’s three services requiring three individual sermons!
And, remember, there is still the leadership, administrative, and pastoral care responsibilities that we have to take care of; not to even mention spending time with our families (if married and with a kid or two).
So, next time, after you finish listening to your pastor(s) faithfully discharge his duty to rightly handle the word of truth in his preaching, would you say a prayer of thanks to God? And it wouldn’t hurt to communicate your appreciation to him for his diligent labor…because after all preaching is work.
19th Annual E.K. Bailey Preaching Conference – Day 2
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Downtown Dallas traffic…
Anyway, after finally reaching the parking lot directly behind the Fairmont Hotel, I quickly grabbed my things and headed to the Regency Ballroom where the day’s activities would commence. And boy were we in for a treat!
For starters, we were led in a time of praise and worship by the incomparable Gaye Arbuckle, who serves as the Minister of Music at the Concord Church of Dallas, TX.
After that, my friend and brother in The Lord, Pastor Gaylon Clark (Lead Pastor of Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church – http://www.gmzaustin.org – in Austin, TX) took to the microphone as conference emcee to welcome us and open our morning session in prayer. By the way, if you don’t know, Gaylon is a great person, preacher, and pastor. It would be worth your time to get to know him, or at the very least become acquainted with his ministry work there in the Greater Austin area.
Afterwards, Dr. Chuck Fuller, whom I introduced you to in yesterday’s recap, gave a lecture on “Preaching the Prophets”. It was as if we were sitting in a classroom on the campus of Anderson University. Here is a summary of what he shared:
“Preaching the Prophets”
Dr. Chuck Fuller, Lecturer
Fuller began with defining the role of prophets. Prophets were not lone eccentrics. They were theologians. The prophets were preachers. Our task as preachers of the prophets is to re-preach the prophets’ sermons to a new audience.
Fuller’s approach to preaching the prophets:
Interrogative: You have to ask the right questions
Integrative: You have to have a full, broad picture of the prophets. Ask: how do they fit into the grand narrative of Scripture?
I. Who were the prophets?
They were much like us:
- Mostly bi-vocational ministers with a message to preach
- Real men with an urgent message to their friends – even their enemies
- They were change-seekers
- They took the covenant that God gave his people and applied it to current crises.
II. What did the prophets do?
Preached in the midst of cultural and religious diversity.
Approached culture head on, demonstrating the weaknesses of competing world views (1 Kings 18).
The prophets cut through cultural confusion, striking it with biblical truth. With clarity and stark contrast, the prophets ripped through cultural confusion to reveal ultimate truth.
III. How do we do what they did?
Homiletics means to “say the same.” Preaching is saying what the Scripture says.
Two common errors in handling the prophets:
1. Avoid inverting the hermeneutical process.
Before jumping to grammatical interpretation, survey the historical situation. Exegesis is incomplete without context.
From Gary Smith – Questions to ask of the prophetic material:
When did this prophet speak?
What was the issue or crisis at hand? What was the political, social, spiritual context?
Who was in the prophet’s audience?
Why did the audience need this message?
Knowing why a prophet spoke is the key to understanding what he said.
2. Avoid reversing the application
Reversal occurs when we begin with our current issues, press them into the text, and make the text support our agenda.
Three helpful principles for preaching the prophets:
1. Remember the structure of prophetic preaching (Indictment, Judgment, and Hope)
2. Connect the Redemptive Promise
“The hopeful groanings of the prophets find their fulfillment in Jesus.”
3. Return to the enduring theme of the prophets: repentance.
Never think that the redemptive work of Jesus represses repentance; it fuels it.
Gaye Arbuckle led us again in worship with a soul-stirring rendition of “Healer,” and then Pastor Bryan Carter, Senior Pastor of the Concord Church – http://www.concorddallas.org – in Dallas, TX, preached the conference opening message. There is no way I could give you all of it. You just had to have been there. But here is the gist of it.
A Sermon from Jeremiah
by Pastor Bryan Carter
Text: Jeremiah 38:1-13
If we are going to finish well:
1. We must embrace our assignment (vs. 2-3)
Speaking of Jeremiah, Pastor Carter pointed out two characteristics of Jeremiah and his ministry.
- He has character that won’t quit.
Jeremiah didn’t abandon or withdraw from his God-given assignment. Jeremiah stood strong even in the face of opposition. Preaching is not just done in good times. Preaching is done in both good and bad times. True preaching is not dictated by people’s response. True preaching is dictated by a divine call.
- He has content that won’t fail.
His message was not popular. Everybody may not be excited about what you are preaching. Don’t let society dictate what comes from your pulpit.
Don’t be concerned with having a big church, but be concerned with big preaching.
2. We must expect some low places (vs. 4-6)
When we preach God’s word, there will always be people who will be offended with our message. Every preacher has to become familiar with pit ministry. If you want to be a true preacher of God, you are going to have to deal with some pit moments.
A hard thing about pits is that you don’t always see them coming.
Have you ever been stuck in the mud? Ministry stuck in the mud. Preaching stuck in the mud. Family life stuck in the mud.
At this point, Pastor Carter did this run on being stuck in the mud. My recap won’t even do it justice. This just goes to show that preaching is an event. There is a unique dynamic in the preaching moment that the pen (or keyboard in this case) can in no way describe.
3. We must know that encouragement is on the way (vs. 7-13)
At some point, there is going to be “but” in your story. God can use a complete stranger to get you out of your pit. God will pull you out of your pit. While Jeremiah was in the pit, God was in the palace working on his behalf.
We broke for lunch and came back in the afternoon to attend two of the four-part workshop sessions on some aspect of preaching the Old Testament. The workshop offerings are comprehensive with subjects ranging from preaching law to preaching Christ in the Old Testament. I chose to take preaching historical narratives with a focus on the book of Nehemiah, led by none other than H.B. Charles, Jr., Pastor-Teacher of the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church – http://www.smbcjax.com – in Jacksonville, Florida.
There is a lot I could say about H.B. (check out his blog at www.hbcharlesjr.com, and purchase his newest release: On Preaching: Personal and Pastoral Insights for the Preparation and Practice of Preaching) and the first two sessions he led us through. Suffice it to say, you will just have to order the CDs. Until then, here are a few of what I will just call HBC2 one-liners and “tweetable” statements. If I had to sum up and give a subtitle of what he spoke to us about today, it would be: “The Case for Consecutive Expository Preaching of a Book.”
- If you are doing your job right, some weeks your members will leave celebrating, and some weeks they will leave convicted.
- If we handle the text right, every week can’t end with a shout.
- We ought not to offend people with our sermon presentation. But there is, as Paul says, an offense of the Gospel. Something is wrong with you if you preach about hell with a smile on your face. You should preach about heaven with a smile on your face and preach about hell with a tear in your eye.
- You need to do more than preach the facts about the cross at the end of your sermon. You need to preach the implications of the cross throughout.
- On writing and sermon planning – A bad page is better than a blank page.
- Have a sermon plan, but don’t be a slave to it.
- The key to exposition is authorial intent.
- In our study we are trying to build a bridge from the world of the text to the world we live in. And the bridge needs to land on both sides. If it doesn’t, it’s not a bridge.
- Exposition is not about style [of preaching], it is about how you handle the text.
Bonus: Pastor Charles will also be hosting the inaugural “Cutting It Straight” Expository Preaching Conference in Jacksonville, Florida in September of this year – September 24-26 to be exact. H.B. is a prolific Bible expositor himself. That alone should encourage you to attend. But the lineup of men he has invited to teach and preach alongside of him is outstanding! For more information and to register, log on to http://www.cutstraight.org.
As I said, there was way more that he downloaded on us in class; it was a mixture of informative content and pastoral/preaching/preacher exhortations.
I pray you find these recaps helpful. Tomorrow, I attend another mini-conference; and if The Lord says the same, I hope to share with you a synopsis of what I learned. So, stay tuned.
The first time I heard about the E.K. Bailey Preaching Conference was when I was matriculating at Dallas Baptist University for my bacherlor’s degree in Biblical Studies. I wasn’t much into conferences then, so I never attended. Not that I had anything against them. I just hadn’t been exposed to them at that time. If I recall correctly, it wasn’t until I was hired on in my current position as Associate Pastor of Christian Education in 2003 did I actually attend. And I was hooked!
“This is what I have been missing?! Why didn’t I come to this earlier on?!” is what I was thinking to myself as I walked the Fairmont Hotel halls and sat in the various classes for the first time. High caliber teaching on preaching by seasoned professors and pastors/preachers, stellar examples of biblical expository preaching by preachers from various backgrounds and across the nation, a treasure trove of quality Christian books and other resources on subjects ranging from Christian living to theology to, of course, preaching, and the camraderie of like-minded Christian brothers – a kind of preacher’s fraternity, if you will – are some of the defining characteristics of this internationally renown conference.
Having a B.A. in Biblical Studies, an M.Div. in Theology from George W. Truett Theological Seminary, a shelf full of books on preaching, and now pursuing a DMin at Dallas Theological Seminary, I still attend to this day because it is that exceptional and it inspires me to continue to grow as a preacher of God’s word. I would highly recommend it.
This year is the 19th annual meeting of the E.K. Bailey Preaching Conference. The focus is “Preaching 360: Old Testament Edition.” In addition to the plethora of workshops offered, attendees have the option of registering for mini-conferences – 4-hour seminars on topics regarding preaching or some aspect of pastoral leadership in the local church. Yesterday, I sat in on “Preparing Effective Expository Sermons,” taught by Dr. Chuck Fuller (PhD in preaching from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville), Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at Anderson University in Anderson, SC.
Below you will find some of the notes taken from his lecture and powerpoint presentation. It was a great refresher for me on the basics of homiletics. I know there are many who were not able to attend this year. So it is my desire to share with you some of what I learn and experience over the next few days (Note: The conference has a lecture and preaching segment every evening, but I will not be in attendance for those.). I will try to post a recap of each day in the evening. If not, then I will publish it the following morning.
Preparing Effective Expository Sermons
Dr. Chuck Fuller, Teacher
Monday, July 7, 2014
Primary Text: Psalm 90
Book Recommendation: The Heresy of Application by Haddon Robinson
I. What is Expository Preaching?
“The act of preaching brings forth a combination of exposition, testimony, exhortation, and teaching. Still, preaching cannot be reduced to any of these or even to the sum total of its individual parts combined.” (Albert Mohler)
“Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.” (D. Martin-Loyd Jones)
“Oral communication of biblical truth by the Holy Spirit through a human personality to a give audience with the intent of enabling a positive response.” (Jerry Vines)
“A message which focuses on a specific portion of Scripture to determine the precise meaning of the text, so that hearers will adopt the attitudes and actions of the text for transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Dr. E.K. Bailey)
A. Biblical Theology on Preaching
1. Colossians 1:28 – “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (ESV)
Content: “Him we proclaim”
To be a Christian sermon, the preacher must preach the text in view of the gospel…
Means: “warning everyone and teaching everyone”
Warning/admonishing: to correct the mind, to put right what is wrong, to improve the spiritual attitude
Teaching: forceful direction for Christian living
Goal: “present everyone mature in Christ”
Evangelistic and sanctificational
Preaching is God’s way of saving sinners and edifying saints, and a sermon can do both.
Preaching is NOT merely presenting information about the text (2 Tim. 4:2)
“Preaching is a person-to-person encounter, through warning and intensive teaching, that God uses to perform his saving work.” (Dr. Chuck Fuller)
We want the Bible to use the preacher to preach the Bible’s message. This is expository preaching.
Expository: exposit – to expose
Expository preaching, fundamentally, means text-driven preaching. It is rooted in and driven by the biblical text.
Expository preaching is not the preacher using the text to say what he wants, but the text using the preacher to say what God wants.
II. Why Expository Preaching?
Protects God’s Word from human distortion
Promises to deliver truth to God’s people
Promotes the gospel of Jesus Christ
III. Preparing Expository Sermons
A. Basic Process
CHOOSE a passage of Scripture (a complete, coherent unit). Read it until your eyes fall out. Pray until it’s in your blood. Study it until you can summarize it in one sentence.
Choose a text that comprises a natural, literary unit (complete thought, story, or argument). The paragraph markings in English translations can be helpful.
A Note on Topical Preaching: If you begin with a topic, identify three or four key passages that address the particular topic, choose one as your primary text. Then, allow the text – and not merely your chosen topic – to drive the sermon. Cross reference to the other texts sparingly and only when necessary.
PONDER the purpose of the passage. Why did God inspire it? In what way does it exhort, rebuke, reprove, encourage, or comfort? What does God intend this passage to do to us? State it in one sentence. This is the thesis, the big idea, the main point of your sermon.
An effective sermon has one main, driving thrust derived from the main idea of the biblical text.
The big idea is not informational, but transformational. Nothing in Scripture is purely academic. The big idea must be directly applied to life.
STRUCTURE the sermon around the big idea.
Introduce it in a way that grabs attention and quickly points to the need.
Flesh it out (in points or moves) according to the way the passage unfolds.
Conclude in a way that recapitulates the whole of the sermon and makes a specific, focused call to respond.
Start with the biblical text.
Develop the big idea: I. Main Point – explain, illustrate, apply; II. Main Point – explain, illustrate, and apply; repeat
Craft the Introduction – Usually best to wait to craft this at the end. Intro. should take roughly 3 minutes. That’s how long you have to capture their attention and gain credibility.
Draft the conclusion – summarize, illustrate, apply
“The sermon should be a window to the text, not a portrait.” Dr. Chuck Fuller
November 16, 1994. I remember that day so vividly because that was when I received confirmation from God that He had called me to preach. I was 17 years old. I preached my first sermon that following month at First Baptist Church in Austin, TX (and, yes, I can recall the text and title of my sermon. But there’s no need to share that. Why live in the past, right?). Since then, God has graciously afforded me opportunities to preach His word and to learn, via experience and observation, some lessons on pulpit etiquette along the way. Here are some do’s and don’ts when you are invited to preach at a church as a guest minister. Keep in mind these are simply general rules of thumb and should, therefore, be adapted to the context you find yourself in.
Do express gratitude
Death to entitlement. Always remember that the pastor didn’t have to open up his pulpit for you. For sure, God was ultimately responsible for providing the opportunity, but he used that pastor to extend the invitation to you. So be sure to take a moment to say thanks (both privately and publicly), even if it is not your first time preaching there. Remember: you might be in demand, but you are not indispensable. If the congregation is encouraged to bring their “amens,” then be sure to bring your “thank-you’s.”
Do stay within the preaching time limit
There have been a couple of times when my pastor, Dr. Karry D. Wesley, has had to pull me aside to correct me for preaching too long. I understand the reason for this now better than I did at the time. Generally, people are accustomed to the primary preacher’s sermon time and will quickly become mentally fatigued and irritated if a guest minister exceeds that. Many will check out on you and some might even get up and walk out. It is better to leave people wanting to hear more than for them to leave having wished they heard less. So, be sure to ask how much time is allotted for you to preach, and then do your best to honor that.
Do be yourself
I’d rather be an original me than a copy of someone else. Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to preaching, it is okay to learn from, even admire within reason, those who are more experienced and developed than you. But whatever you do, don’t try to become them. There is only one [Insert Your Favorite Preacher’s Name Here], and there is only one you. The people to whom you are preaching will appreciate it too. Congregants might be flattered at first that you look up to their pastor to the point to where you seek to mimic his preaching delivery, but after a while you will grow stale on them. People can smell inauthenticity from a mile away. Find your voice. Get comfortable in your preaching skin. Be you.
Do inform the pastor of your sermon
In many cases, pastors will give you leeway to preach on whatever the Lord puts on your heart. I have recently found it to be a welcomed courtesy by pastors when I informed them of my sermon plan ahead of time.
Do dress according to the church’s culture
If the people dress formally when they attend service, then follow suit. If members don flip flops, pants or shorts, and tropical tee-shirts (shout out to Pastor Rick Warren), put some lotion on those feet, legs, and elbows and join in. If there are no preferences, then wear your normal getup. The point of you being there anyway is to declare God’s word, not to display your wardrobe.
Do steer clear from controversial matters
If while preparing your sermon, you have this thought, “Oh man. This is for sure going to be a controversial message because I know where they stand on this issue.” then it is probably best that you not preach it. If the issue is a core conviction of yours and would violate your conscience to preach at that church, then it would be better to not accept the invitation or to rescind your confirmation.
Do state the Bible version you’re using
Before you begin reading your text, it is a good practice to let the congregation know what version of the Bible you are preaching from, especially if you know the pastor uses a different one for his sermons.
Do respect the church’s worship customs
If the congregation normally remains seated while the preacher reads the text, please honor that. If it is customary for them to sing a closing doxology, or to invite the preacher back up to have final remarks before dismissing in prayer, then comply. Simply put, respect the house.
Do preach the word
Seek to make an impact, not to impress. And the only way to do that is to allow the word of God to be the road upon which your sermon travels, rather than a runway by which it takes off. Stick to the text and watch God change hearts and destinies through our finite efforts to communicate His holy word.
Don’t arrive late
Unless you have a good reason, don’t arrive just in time to preach. In my mind, you are not on time. You’re late. So arrive early. But things happen. Your flight is delayed. You get stuck in traffic or lost on the way to the church. These types of incidences are understandable. Just be sure to contact the pastor or someone at the church to inform them of your situation. Don’t leave the host pastor hanging, causing him to constantly check the time, wondering – as he begins to toss around options in his head if you are a no-show – what is going on because he hasn’t heard from you.
Don’t prolong the preliminaries
Don’t taxi on the runway too long, otherwise your “passengers” will become frustrated and impatient. Take only the needed time to appropriately acknowledge the host pastor and congregation, and those who are associated with you, and then get the sermon off the ground.
Don’t embellish your relationship to the Pastor
Don’t say that you and the pastor are close friends when you know you two are merely acquaintances. Your pretense will run the risk of creating offense. Be cordial and grateful with all sincerity and truth.
Don’t take liberties not afforded
Don’t preach for 45 minutes and then sing an impromptu invitational medley for 10 minutes. Unless you’ve been given permission, don’t extend the invitation to discipleship or salvation, or an altar call (i.e., calling people to the front of the stage for prayer). Don’t publicly ask for permission from the pastor to do something that should have been asked privately. Don’t seek to raise a love offering for the pastor. Don’t call for charismatic worship demonstrations in non-charismatic churches (e.g., encouraging all worshipers to speak to God in tongues, or to run up to the altar and place a “faith seed” at your feet, etc.). Just preach and then take your seat.
Don’t continue the sermon at the close of the service
It is tempting to try and wrap up some loose ends of your sermon near the conclusion of the service, but don’t do it. Don’t add another point before you give closing remarks. Don’t re-preach your sermon in your benedictory prayer. Trust God that all that was said was exactly what was needed for that time. No more, no less.
Don’t act grandiose
If I could borrow a title from one of John Piper’s books and tweak it for this point, let me say, “Brothers, We Are Not Celebrities: A Plea to Pastors/Preachers for Humble Ministry.” I will never forget the time a guest minister was invited to preach at my home church in Austin. Why, when we went outside to check if he had arrived yet (he was late, by the way), did we see him pulling up in a stretched limousine? Oh, but it gets better – or I should say worse. The driver gets out, proceeds to the back, and opens the door for he and his wife. His wife exists first and then he follows. When I tell you this brother looked like he took a page out of Flava Flav’s book (no disrespect to Flav), I am not kidding at all. This brother had rings on almost every finger and a few chains around his neck. But seeking in my heart not to judge a book by its cover, we approached the limo, greeted them, and quickly escorted him to the pulpit. Honestly though, I was skeptical. Well, when he opened his mouth to preach, suffice it to say my suspicions were confirmed.
Brothers, when we step on – and off – the stage, may pride be low and humility high, and may it be our ambition for Jesus to get all the shine.