In speaking to a promising young man recently about his preaching, we both arrived at the conclusion that his difficulty was not in style, organization or delivery. What he was facing was simply a problem of communicating something substantive to his congregation each week. The problem is not uncommon, even among those who hold to the inerrancy of the Scriptures.
In order to preach effectively, you must have something to say, not merely have to say something! From reading and hearing sermons, all too frequently it seems as though that elemental truth has escaped many.
Are your sermons thin soup? Does your congregation get fed sawdust or the wholesome food of the Scriptures each week? Lean, scrawny Christians are indicative of lean victuals. Are your members healthy and robust? Or are they suffering from spiritual rickets?
It is not as though there is not enough “healthy teaching” (one of Paul’s favorite phrases in speaking to pastors like Titus and Timothy) to go around; the Word of the Lord is filled with all of the ingredients necessary to spread a balanced, nourishing meal before the congregation every time that you rise to preach. There is no end of supplies on the shelves of this well-stocked grocery store.
Well, if that is true, there are only two possibilities for the failure to serve your congregation more than you do: either you don’t know how to shop or you don’t bother to go shopping very often. Either way, you must solve the problem.
I do not want to judge you, determining for you why it is that your congregation has to exist on such slim pickins; I’ll let you determine that for yourself. But to help you do so, consider what follows.
First, your problem may be that you don’t know how to shop. If you are like some shoppers, you have no system at all. You are attracted to whatever strikes your eye, and you purchase it, with little or no regard to what to go after when you select your passage, or the book from which you will be preaching for X number of weeks, and how to get it. It is not a balanced meal to preach from Revelation in the morning, from Ezekiel at night and from Daniel at prayer meeting. That is like buying all desserts, or all meat or all vegetables.
On the other hand, if you don’t know how to shop, your problem may be even more basic; you may not know where to go for what you need or how to get it off the shelf if you locate it. Your own growth as an exegete may be so small that you cannot reach very high and must content yourself with the things that are placed lower on the shelf to attract children. Perhaps you ought to enroll in a course on exegesis, buy some substantive book on the subject, ask another pastor in the community who knows how to do exegesis to give you a crash course, or whatever. You are embarrassed to do so? Then consider this: which is more important—your ego or the undernourished congregation over which Christ has made you a shepherd? What does the great Shepherd of the sheep think about your pride? There is no question about it, if you don’t know how to get out of the Scriptures those healthy teachings that your congregation must have for their growth, if you do not know which commentaries are the best to use or even how to use them effectively, then you must find out. Either find out or quiet the ministry. Let someone else feed the Word to your congregation or learn to do so yourself; there is no other option.
Perhaps, your problem, however, is that you don’t go shopping often enough; i.e., you just don’t spend the time necessary to get up a good meal or two each Sunday. There is no excuse for this either. You are either too busy at other things to which you have wrongly given a higher priority or you are lazy. Either way, changes must be made. Your people, rather, God’s people, must have nourishment. It is a crime to horde up for yourself all of the food from God’s Word and refuse to dispense it to your congregation—for whatever reason.
So, pastor, ask yourself, “How well are my people fed from week to week? What are my shopping practices? How healthy is my congregation, anyway? If you conclude that they are severely undernourished, then it may very well be that the fault is largely yours. Why not prepare a juicy, appetizing, healthy meal or two for them or take the first step toward learning how to do so this week?