By Jay Sanders
Preaching has gotten harder for me over the years. It was super easy when I first started. All I had to do was think of a cool story, figure out a spiritual application, and then find a Bible verse to go along with it.
As I grew in ministry and manhood, God graciously showed me the error of my ways.
And now preaching is a little bit more difficult. Don’t get me wrong, though. Preparing a sermon isn’t like digging a ditch or performing brain surgery.
“Difficult” is a relative term…
I mean, preaching is just figuring out the original intent of the author, searching for the context of the passage as it relates to the surrounding passages, and making sure you stay true to the overall redemptive story.
Well, maybe it is more like digging ditches or performing brain surgery. But it’s certainly a lot harder than telling a funny story about almost failing algebra with a little bit of Bible sprinkled in on the side.
Preaching can be even harder, however, if you believe certain myths about it. For the most part, these myths come from well-meaning people who want to protect you from being the kind of preacher I was when I first started.
That’s understandable. But if we’re not careful, their good-intentioned advice can become a new legalistic weight you can’t carry.
I want you to be aware of three myths about preaching:
1. You need to spend at least 40 hours a week in sermon prep.
This is one of those areas where preaching gurus seem to want to one-up each other. It’s almost like guys at the gym talking about how much they can bench.
“I spend 40 hours of week in sermon prep.”
“Really?! I spend 60.”
“You guys must be liberals. I spend 80 hours a week in sermon prep and every Friday I fly to the precise geographical setting of the text I’ll be preaching. Who wants a t-shirt from Megiddo?!”
You might end up spending 40 hours of week in sermon prep. And you might not.
The important thing to note here is for you to walk into the pulpit prayerfully prepared to deliver God’s Word. For some pastors, that will take up most of their week.
Others might have it down by Monday afternoon. Those who can do that don’t need to carry a weight of guilt, thinking they’ve somehow abandoned the Bible simply because God has given them the ability to work fast.
In reality, your time as a pastor will likely be split between counseling others, making leadership decisions during meetings, and spending time with grieving members.
No matter who you are, there will be weeks when 40 hours of sermon prep just isn’t going to happen. Don’t force this or beat yourself up because of your failure to meet some man-made standard.
Don’t worry about the number of hours you’ve put in. Just come prayed up and prepared.
2. When you tell a story, you’re abandoning the text.
This comes from the philosophy that says you should simply explain the text—nothing more, nothing less.
Sure, this has worked for some people throughout the years. But that may not be your style or what’s best for your congregation.
I’m convinced there are people around today who would brand Jesus as a liberal because He told too many parables!
If God has given you the ability to tell a good story, use it for His glory and the good of your listeners. If you don’t have this ability, pray and work towards developing it.
Stories help the message to stick.
It’s possible to work a good story into your sermon without it taking the place of the text. When used wisely, stories can be an excellent supplement to the message.
One quick word here, however. No one needs to hear the story about the train operator whose son got caught in the railroad gears and if the operator saved his son the people on the train would die so instead he sacrificed his son for the good of the people.
In an appropriate way and time, work in a story from your own life. Your people relate more to you than they do to the guy who wrote “The Big Book of 25,000 Snazzy Sermon Illustrations.”
Man, I hope that book doesn’t exist. If it does, my apologies to the author.
3. If no one comes forward, you’ve failed.
I grew up with this one. A lot of evangelists came through the church I grew up in during the 80s. They were of the, “I see that hand” and “let’s sing one more verse twelve more times,” crowd.
One time, after a particularly long invitation, I raised my hand but wasn’t sure if I’d gotten saved, committed to being a missionary, or signed up for a pyramid scheme.
I went to my pastor for some guidance. He told it to me straight with his usual wit and wisdom that made me love him so much:
“Guys like that are all about numbers. They’ll do anything they can to get a lot of hands raised and people at the altars so they can tell their donors how good they did at their last stop.”
Don’t be like that.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t need one more verse in order to move. He doesn’t need you saying, “I see hands all across the house,” when there aren’t any. He doesn’t need any of our manipulative schemes.
God often works beneath the surface.
Study His Word carefully, deliver it faithfully, take the time to know your congregation, and trust God with the results.
Anyone can walk an aisle. Only someone whose heart has truly been changed will come to Christ, and that’s not happening apart from the grace of God. You and I are just the instruments of that grace.
Preaching can be difficult. As I’ve learned, sensing it’s difficult might mean you’re doing it right. But you don’t have to make it more difficult by piling unnecessary burdens on yourself.
- Spend time with Jesus.
- Take the time to know God’s Word.
- Know how your people respond.
And remember, preaching isn’t about trying to impress old seminary professors or favorite pastoral authors who aren’t likely to ever even hear your sermons.
It’s about the glory of God.
Rest in that reality before you occupy yourself with man-made standards of preaching.
Jay is the senior pastor of Towaliga Baptist Church in Jackson, Ga.