From Pastor to Elders

Preparing To Preach

James A. Cress was the General Conference Ministerial Secretary when he wrote this article.

Every pastor must preach, usually every week. In some parts of the world, local church elders also do the same. Some preach well; others preach so poorly that listeners conclude that the speaker must have slept through even the most elementary speech class, and they now hope also to snooze through that which they must endure. The difference between pulpit brilliance and dull, lackluster presentations will be fashioned through the diligent effort of a detailed preparation process.

Preach with a Plan. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Rarely does God answer your prayers for a "Friday-night miracle" with a top-quality sermon. If you wait until just before your message to search for something to say, your procrastination will be clearly evident.

Determine to plan at least a year in advance. If you begin immediately, this process will begin to bear rich fruit within six months and will refresh your preaching the longer you proceed.

Devise a preaching planbook with dated pages for each sermon of the coming year. Establish now a balanced diet of spiritual food which you intend to present. Select major doctrines, practical topics, serial passages from each chapter of an epistle, narratives of great Bible stories, gospel parables, issues confronting society, calendar holidays and special events, or even a lectionary cycle. The most important concept: write it down right now!

If you design a sermon schedule, the Holy Spirit will begin to drop ideas into your mind which you can place in the appropriate pages of your book. While God's omniscience may foretell what you will eventually preach, you cannot recognize without a plan that with which the Spirit will happily enrich your sermons. Of course, circumstances might occasionally necessitate realignment, but overall, your plan will pay rich dividends.

Preach with Participation. Take your planbook everywhere. Jot a note when an idea strikes you, even if you have to interrupt a conversation to capture the thought before it escapes. Enlist others to assist by sharing their ideas, then publicly recognize their contribution in your sermons; more people will join in your process. Engage parishioners through interactive dialogue. Poll for topics or texts which they hope you will address in your preaching.

Preach with Power. By relying on your relationship with Jesus, born out of quality time invested in reading, praying, fellowshipping, witnessing, and seeking God's will, your proclamation will exude more power than you can imagine. Your messages will come with heaven-sent authority that clever platform histrionics could never equal.

Preach with Purpose. When preparing each sermon, ask yourself, "What do I want my listeners to do next Tuesday as a result of what they hear me say today?" Once you determine your objective, make that intent the goal of your sermon and conclude with specific "how to" recommendations for following God's will. Always make an appeal. If you expect nothing from your audience, why waste their time?

Preach with Place. Recognize that you enter the pulpit as a representative of the King of kings. Your words have holy purpose as you stand between the living and the dead. You warn people to shun hell while you call them to embrace heaven. You deliver a message from the throne room of the universe which delivers souls from Satan's grasp. Always remember this lofty responsibility which has placed you to proclaim for Almighty God.

Preach with Priority. If you utilize this planbook system, you need not scratch around for something to say; instead, you will have more ideas than you can develop so many that you can prioritize the most important. Select major topics, eliminate minor curiosities, emphasize essentials, and establish the choicest of great themes.

Preach with Passion. Reject humdrum, lifeless, willy-nilly meanderings. Express your convictions in such a way that people will know what you believe. Preach "as if" you have faith and you will gain it! Ask your questions in the study and refuse to parade doubts in the pulpit.

William Willimon describes his future father-in-law's endurance of one minister's tentative tapdance. "That particular Sunday, the preacher was a master of ambiguity and equivocation. Mr. Parker squirmed in his pew as the preacher carefully qualified just about every statement. . . . The poor preacher continued to flail away, poking here and there at his biblical text, rather than delivering it. 'We need to be more committed to Christ. . . but not to the point of fanaticism, nor to the point of neglect of our other important responsibilities. We must have a greater dedication to the work of the church. Now I don't mean that the church is the only significant organization of which you are a member. Most of us have obligations to various community groups . . .' On and on and on!" After the service Pastor Parker shook his finger at Willimon, himself about to enter seminary, and thundered, "Young man, if God should be calling you into the pastoral ministry, and if ever you should be given a church by the bishop, and if ever God gives you a word to say, for God's sake would you say it!" (Christian Century, May 4, 2004, p. 10)

Preach with a Person. Lift up Jesus in every presentation. Exalt Him as the answer to every need. He promises to accompany your efforts with consequential success.

James A. Cress, General Conference Ministerial Association Secretary