Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Preacher's Choice In Knowing What To Preach - Preaching Verse By Verse and Knowing The Status Of The Congregation

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1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 "You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia."


Whenever it comes to standing behind a pulpit on a Sunday morning, the preacher's goal is always to bring forth a word from God from the word of God. The last few posts have featured introductory suggestions for discerning the selection process for planning out the preaching of God's Word. Thus far we have noted four suggestions for determining the direction a man ought to pursue when preparing sermons:

1. Begin with prayer

2. Know relevant texts that can address a given topic on the preacher's heart

3. Anything gleaned from the preacher's reading of books, listening to podcasts or other sorts of media

4. Knowledge of contemporary events

Today's post is going to wrap-up the suggested list a man can take when trying to figure out the direction their preaching ought to take. In addition to the four above suggestions, we can offer two others:

The preacher ought to prefer preaching verse by verse or chapter by chapter expository preaching

There have been many books over the years that have advocated what is typically called "expository preaching". Expository preaching is not a style of preaching. Instead, expository preaching is the very heart of preaching - namely, "exposing" or "explaining the text" to the congregation for the purpose of exhortation and application by the power of the Holy Spirit. The gold standard of such preaching is the verse-by-verse expository sermon or what is technically called "continua scriptura" method. God revealed His word through the writing styles and personalities of the prophets and apostles. Each word they used and each line they wrote are by-products of Divine revelation. 

The beauty of expository preaching is that it takes the guess work out of what to preach next. An insightful reader in the last post had noted that the former suggestions had applied to so-called "topical preaching". I'll admit that in these posts, I'm attempting to cover the broad-swath of what is the practice of homiletics or Biblical preaching. If for anything, some of my suggestions intentionally apply to situations where a topical message or preaching series might be done, as well as those occasions where a preacher is going through a book of the Bible. 

If anything, a stand-along message or preaching from a Psalm can break up monotony and keep both the preacher and congregation apprised of what God's Word teaches in other places. Certainly taking a subject and bringing in other texts of scripture can be illuminating and enjoyable for the preaching and hearer both. 

It would seem to me that if a pastor were to offer a study diet of variety in his preaching repertoire, he may preach 25-30% topical messages; 60-75% verse by verse messages and 5% stand-alone sermons. Undoubtedly, verse by verse or chapter by chapter expository messages enable the congregation to be fed God's Word as it was revealed. 

The preacher ought to take into consideration what is happening in his congregation

A preacher not only needs to be a student of the Word and the student of the world around him, but he undoubtedly better be sure he is a student of his flock. As time passes, there ought to be a growing trust and rapport between the pastor and the congregation. Pastors worth their salt ought to prize home-visitations, phone-calls, texting of church members and one-to-one conversations as much as they prize time in their study. 

Whenever we read a passage like the opening set of verses in today's post, Paul knew what was going on at the church at Thessalonica. Their spiritual status was a factor in sculpting what he wrote. Whenever a prophet would give a Word from the Lord, that word was always timely in meeting the needs of the audience. Undoubtedly, sermons ought to be planned for the purpose of shaping the congregation. With that said, sermon preparation also entails being orientated on the basis of the audience at hand. A youth group may hear a slightly different message than say, a group of senior adults. Why? Both groups are going through different experiences and will hear different things - even though the preacher might be speaking from the identical same text. 

Now whenever you put all the people of a given church in a sanctuary on a Sunday morning, more factors enter into the picture. This is where the preacher must needs rely on the empowerment of the Spirit in the delivery of the message. I can't tell you how many times the sermon delivered ended up being different from how I had prepared it. The Holy Spirit knows who is going to be in attendance and what responses are going to occur before the conclusion of the message.  

If a pastor is not spending time with the people to whom he ministers or praying for them on a regular basis, he will never hear God properly on what to preach. Whenever one reads the seven letters written by the Apostle John in Revelation 2-3, seven times we read the refrain: "hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches". To the degree I know the people in the church I pastor, it will be to that degree I have clarity on what God is wanting to say to them in the preaching of His word. As Proverbs 27:23 states - "Know well the condition of your flocks, And pay attention to your herds."

Closing thoughts

The last few posts have been dedicated to offering suggestions for determining the direction to go in preparing sermons. Over the last three posts we have offered six suggestions:

1. Begin with prayer 

2. Biblical texts he knows that can address whatever subject he has on his heart

3. Gleaning from whatever he has been reading

4. Discerning what God might be saying in the current events in the culture. 

5. Preaching sequentially through Bible verses, chapters or books. This can eliminate much of the guess-work in determining what to preach next

6. A growing understanding of the status of one's congregation can aid significantly in determining the spiritual dietary needs of the congregation

It is hoped that these suggestions can aid any preacher, especially those starting out in ministry, on what to preach next. As any pastor will tell you - next Sunday is just around the corner...will you be ready to come with a word from God? 

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