“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3, NKJV)
In retirement I have not so much switched roles as I have changed vantage points, from pulpit to pew. In my brief stints on a pastoral staff I would preach periodically, but for the bulk of my pastoral ministry I would step into the pulpit on a weekly basis.
My approach was to preach through books of the Bible, typically alternating between Old and New Testaments. I mixed it up a bit around Christmas by pulling together Advent series. It’s amazing to me that I was able to come up with 28 different themes, ranging from prophecies from Isaiah to Luke’s nativity narrative to incarnation-related passages from the epistles. One year I preached on passages related to the four stanzas of Joy to the World!
Deciding on sermon series is no longer on my plate. Now, I am on the other side of the pulpit, a parishioner in the pew pulling up to the table to be fed.
In these days of COVID-19 quarantine the pew has taken a different form. I remember seeing a cartoon where church attendance increased when recliners were installed to replace the pews. Well, that has come to pass and perhaps it has increased attendance by drawing people to livestreaming services who might not ordinarily attend.
Another phenomenon that home church (not to be confused with a house church) has provided has been the ability to attend church services out of driving distance or that we might not have opportunity to attend.
Sitting in the “pew,” listening to different preachers brought me to a realization, perhaps even a conviction. A sermon must nourish the soul by delving into the text to reveal the mind and heart of God.
I realize that getting something out of a sermon involves not only the approach of the preacher but also the preparation of the hearer. But there were times when I would pull back from the table of feeding on God’s Word and find myself particularly satisfied and strengthened.
I experienced that delight when the preacher brought me not merely to the text but into the text. He didn’t just refer to the text in his message or touch on the passage here and there. He entered the text, explaining its meaning, following its logic, burrowing into my heart.
I offer two thoughts that help me enter the text to my spiritual nourishment and growth in grace. One, the message has to be exegetical. The preacher must not simply talk about the text. He has to talk the text, bringing the message out through its God-spirated substance and structure. “God says this, and He brings it home in this manner, and for this purpose.” I would know where the preacher is in the text through its examination, explanation, illustration, and application. That transparency would cause my heart to quicken at the counsel and care of my God.
My other thought from the pew on what makes the message meaningful to me has to do with its delivery. Perhaps conversational is the best word, but by that I don’t just mean being colloquial. I mean connectional. It’s clear the preacher is not just being academic or scholarly. He is handling the text as one who been handled by it and is eager to minister it to others who share his need.
As a pastor, he knows his sheep. He is in tune with their burdens and their needs. The way he expresses himself connects with the sheep. He catches their ear by somehow communicating awareness and empathy. In a sense, as he has exegeted the text, he has exegeted his audience, and preached accordingly.
- How do you know when God’s Word has been preached?
- What might you pray for the preacher and for yourself in sermon preparation?
Heavenly Father, whose Word it is; Lord Jesus, Word incarnate; Holy Spirit, who inspired, inscripturated and illuminates the written Word – may You inhabit the preaching of Your Word for the building up of Your church. Amen.
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.