I’m a preacher.
Believe it or not, when I’m up there at the pulpit, spilling my guts for the glory of God, there’s nowhere I’d rather be, nothing I’d rather be doing, no one I’d rather be. In the whole world. And much of what I’ve learned about preaching applies to just about everything in my life. So when I use the word “preach” during the next few minutes, feel free to sub in other words, like “parent” or “lead” or “paint.”
Here they are: Five invaluable lessons that are rocking my world and can rock yours, too.
1. I need to preach like it’s going to change the world. This is probably the most recent lesson I’m learning about my preaching and living. For too many years, I’ve been preaching as though I’m “just” a small time pastor in a sedentary little church that hasn’t grown much in twenty five years and probably won’t grow much in the next twenty five. Oh, I preached like I wanted things to grow and change, but that’s a world apart from preaching like they will change, are changing, will keep on changing, so look out world. Preaching with any less fire in my bones is an insult to the God who can do immeasurably more than all I could ever ask or imagine. If I’m preaching something that really can’t change the world, I’m not preaching biblically. Period. Or living biblically. Period.
Your takeaway: Live, speak, and act like you’re going to change the world, and you just might.
2. I need to preach my devotions. I have no business preaching anything that hasn’t gone through my heart first. This means I need to preach from my own time with God. As Jesus said, “I speak what I have seen in my Father’s presence.” I’ve heard so many pastors say that you should never make your sermon prep your devotional time. Why the heck not? As far as I’m concerned, it’s when pastors DON’T preach from their devotions that we get served empty verbiage bereft of power and passion. I refuse to compartmentalize my walk with God that way. Yes, my time with God is so much more than you’ll ever hear about on a Sunday morning, but if it’s not coming from my time with God… uh… where is it coming from, exactly?
Your takeaway: Is your relationship with God the source of your inspiration, your energy, your everything? Or just a compartment in your life?
3. You’re 50% less dynamic than you think you are. This one hurts. A lot. Good preachers watch video recordings of themselves preaching from time to time because they know what they think they’re doing and how they’re actually coming off are two different things. The last time I saw myself preach I wanted to jump into a propeller, it felt so flat. We think we’re vivacious, interesting, friendly, and enthusiastic, and effective. The truth is often less flattering. What this means is that I need to deliver what feels like overkill each and every time I preach. It feels over-the-top to me, but the guy in the pew is thinking, “Huh. That was pretty good.” Pastors need to discover their stage persona and milk it. It’s not that you’re faking anything, it’s that preaching draws out a different side of you than anything else does.
Your takeaway: Put yourself out there. Show more interest, more enthusiasm, more energy than you think is necessary. It’ll probably come off as just about right.
4. The last ten percent of polish produces the most fruit. I’ve spent most of my life preaching good sermons. Communication comes naturally to me, so good sermons take me about five hours of prep time, including a few rehearsals. But powerful, inspiring sermons? They look virtually the same as good sermons on paper, but they take twice as long to prepare. Powerful sermons require rehashing that point that doesn’t quite feel right over and over again, until God shows you what’s wrong and helps you fix it. It means turning that clever phrase over a hundred times until you find just the right words that will make it memorable instead of just interesting. The sobering fact is that eighty percent of the fruit in preaching lies dormant in the untapped final ten percent of our efforts. All I give Jesus when I preach are loaves and fish, true; he has to perform the miracle to feed the multitude. That said, I’m not holding back any loaves and fish when I prepare.
Your takeaway: Whatever you do, don’t settle for “good enough.” Polish, polish, polish. When you’re creating something, listen to that little voice that says, “Something’s off.” Don’t stop till you fix it.
5. You have another twenty percent to give. Enough with the percentages, I know. But it’s true. Remember the scene from C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Horse and His Boy, when Bree the galloping horse thinks he’s giving it all he has… until Aslan starts chasing him? Well, for most of my career I thought I’d been giving preaching 100%—my prep, my prayer, my delivery. This fall, I dug deeper and found another 20% to give, which has made all the difference. We tend to hold back our everything because we’re afraid of bottoming out, or worse—afraid of giving it all and discovering it still isn’t enough. Paul risked it all, poured himself out as a drink offering, and I want to do the same. I suspect next year I’ll find another 20% hidden in the couch cushions of my soul. I sure hope so. God deserves it.
Your takeaway: Think marriage, parenting, work, serving at church. Ask God to help you dig deeper, then go for it.
Well, what do you think? How could these apply to your life, your family, your ministry? I’d love to hear your comments.