I was once in Starbucks writing a sermon when a woman began asking me questions about the books I had sprawled upon the table. She was a vocal non-believer. She found faith in Jesus strange and foolish. Yet, she seemed to enjoy asking questions about my faith.
Her questions turned even more pointed once she discovered I was a pastor. She asked me, “When you preach a sermon do you think it’s the best sermon ever preached?” A bit flustered, I answered, “Um. Hmmm. No.” She provided a solution, “Why don’t you just spend your week finding the best sermon ever preached on a particular passage and preach that sermon?”
I laughed and said, “I’ve never been asked that before but that might be the best question on preaching I’ve ever received.”
Allow me to provide a portion of my response to this Starbucks skeptic.
A pastor should preach sermons that pastor his people.
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill made famous the phrase, “All politics is local.” I make the argument that all sermons are local. A pastor does not preach sermons to unknown people. Rather, a pastor stands before a congregation and preaches to people he hugs in the hallways, visits in the hospital, and counsels in his office. He officiates their weddings and presides over the funeral of their loved ones. Ministry is local and the sermon plays a key role.
When I prepare sermons, I do so with the people God entrusted to my care in mind. I reflect on how I can speak to the recent widow on the fourth pew, the struggling man on the back row, and the single mom in the balcony. I know their names and faces. They will invite me over for dinner. I will show up to their kid’s ballgames and their retirement party.
People are not pastored by a internet preacher or a downloaded sermon.
A pastor should preach sermons which stem from his own study and devotion to God.
There is a tremendous chasm between reading a novel and merely googling a book synopsis. I’m sure you remember the high school English assignment you did not read. Instead of investing the time and effort to read the 400 page novel, you merely skimmed the pages or googled a synopsis. Did you know enough to turn in the assignment? Sure. Could you have an intelligent and meaningful conversation about it? Of course not.
Sermons are not preached to dazzle an audience or to merely make it through another Sunday. They are intended to shepherd the flock entrusted to the pastor. They should be the product of deep, meaningful study and a healthy, vibrant devotion to God.
I recently finished a four-week sermon series on the Lord’s Supper. It took massive amounts of preparation and prayer. I read 1 Corinthians 11 every day for weeks in advance of the series and every single day in the four weeks of the series. I can honestly say that I read and prayed through 1 Corinthians 11 over 45 times. After much reading and prayer, I read handfuls of commentaries, books, and articles to gain a wider understanding of varying interpretations and traditions. I engaged people in conversation and asked congregants pointed questions. The end result was a tremendous learning and spiritual growth on my part. Overflowing from that learning and growth, was a sermon series which I pray was faithful to Scripture, glorified God, and was helpful to my people.