Ministry, preaching, religion

Pastoral Preaching

I’m grateful for Rainer Publishing , and the work they did on my book Pastoral PreachingThe book is now available on Amazon. Below is the introduction.


There is no shortage of papers, articles, or books on the subject of preaching. The number of contributions offered on the subject of pastoral work is equally impressive. Why, then, am I writing on pastoral preaching? My hope is that pastors would be convinced that preaching is a means for pastoral work (caring for the church in a personal way), and pastoral work is an application of preaching. In what follows I make the case that these two subjects (preaching and pastoral work) must be joined in our thinking.

Preaching is a Pastoral Work

In his introduction to Samuel Volbeda’s, The Pastoral Genius of Preaching, Carl Kromminga observed, “that in the United States in the nineteenth century ‘Pastoral Theology’ was considered a catch-all theological classification containing approximately all the operational disciplines except Homiletics.”1

It is my contention and concern that this dividing of Homiletics from Pastoral Theology has not ceased. God’s Word calls for both preaching and pastoral work. Are these two responsibilities divorced from one another? Can they be faithfully executed when such a divorce occurs? Can pastors care for the church effectively without a faithful preaching ministry at the center of church life? Can one rightly communicate the Word of God powerfully without the mindset and the aim of a shepherd?

Samuel Volbeda emphasized this point nearly a century ago.2 He argued that the genius (i.e. the distinguishing characteristic) of preaching is that it is pastoral. He wrote, “It has reference to the sermon preached and to the person preaching it. It follows obviously that, if preaching be essentially a pastoral affair, not only the sermon must have a pastoral quality, but the preacher too must have a pastoral spirit; he must also be a pastoral man. Hirelings and strangers may conceivably go through the routine of shepherding a flock, but shepherds they are not; and time and tests will tell the story.”3

Biblical preaching requires that preachers enter the pulpit as shepherds. The pastor is not simply a dispenser of information. He is not a professional orator attempting to impress the listener with his own cleverness and skill as a speaker. He is not a spiritual marketer who is trying to get his finger on the pulse of what would interest and attract the listener. The man who faithfully preaches is the man who loves God and His church, and therefore watches for souls. He should have the mindset and aim of one who is called by God to shepherd the church through the careful teaching and application of the Word of God. Preaching is a pastoral work.

Charles Jefferson wisely observed “When the minister goes into the pulpit he is the shepherd in the act of feeding, and if every minister had borne this in mind many a sermon would have been other than it has been. The curse of the pulpit is the superstition that a sermon is a work of art and not a piece of bread or meat… Sermons, rightly understood, are primarily forms of food. They are articles of diet. They are meals served by the minister for the sustenance of spiritual life. If this could be remembered it would help many a minister to get rid of his stilted language and to cut off a lot of his rhetorical ruffles; it would free him from his bombastic elocution and burn up his ornamental introductions and skyrocket perorations.”4

Pastoral Work Requires Preaching

At the same time, the aspects of biblical pastoral work that are outside of preaching still require the faithful preaching ministry of the Word of God. No church can be loved and cared for properly when it is not being consistently washed by the careful and powerful preaching of Scripture. It is not, therefore, preaching or pastoral care. It is preaching that shepherds and shepherding that relies on preaching. My focus is on preaching as a pastoral work.5

What I am describing requires a big-picture vision of the ministry of preaching. It is a vision of preaching informed by a thoroughly biblical view of what it means to be a pastor. True shepherding happens when pastors embrace all that God has revealed about all of their work. A biblical view of preaching is the result of the conviction that God’s Word is the inerrant, authoritative, and all-sufficient standard for all of ministry. If preaching is to be what God means for it to be, then preachers must embrace what God means for them to be. This happens as pastors embrace a biblical vision of the church, of their office, and of their God-given mandate. My sole concern, then, is not for a particular method for preaching; but a mindset for preaching.

Who Needs a New Mindset?

The need for a better understanding of pastoral preaching is not limited to a single segment of contemporary evangelicalism. Too often, those who place great emphasis on the importance of preaching immediately conclude that a subject like this one is not a concern for them. For those who are wholeheartedly committed to careful exegesis and biblical exposition, the first instinct is to identify preaching deficiencies with those who do not seem as concerned about such things. But it is possible to have the highest view of Scripture, and the highest view of the importance of preaching, and still fail to practice preaching as a pastoral work.

On the one hand, contemporary preaching often defines good preaching in the terms of relevance. The main concern is that the sermon connects with the listeners. Much contemporary preaching is designed entirely around the concept of speaking to people’s felt needs. This feels like preaching with a pastor’s heart. After all, if you are a pastor, should you not be concerned about “scratching the itch,” answering the questions your people are asking?

On the other end of the preaching-style spectrum are those most concerned with the content of the sermon. The chief ambition is biblical accuracy through the careful work of systematic exegesis. This is not wrong; an orthodox bibliology requires nothing less. It must be admitted, however, that a mindset which views preaching completely in terms of information impartation has contributed to producing many a congregation that is heady but not healthy, informed but not transformed. John Piper perceptively described a different approach in his foreword to Jason Meyer’s Preaching: A Biblical Theology when he wrote, “…the main aim of preaching is not the transfer of information, but an encounter with the living God. The people of God meet God in the anointed heralding of God’s message in a way that cannot be duplicated by any other means. Preaching in a worship service is not a lecture in a classroom. It is the echo of, and the exultation over, God speaking to us in his word.”6

Many pastors view their preaching ministry in one of two ways: preaching that is either aimed at the congregation’s heart (emotions) or aimed at the congregation’s mind (intellect). The biblical paradigm for ministry embraces a view of preaching that proclaims and applies the whole counsel of God’s Word, which addresses the whole of man’s nature, in order to accomplish the whole of what God has revealed as the standard of caring for His people. Such a view represents the compass for faithfulness in pastoral preaching.

Pastoral Preaching Mediates the Care of the Chief Shepherd

What many fail to fully appreciate is that the pastor is shepherding someone else’s flock (Christ’s). The pastor doesn’t know the flock the way the Chief Shepherd does, nor is the pastor qualified to know best what meets the needs of that flock. What is often forgotten by those obsessed with relevance is that the pastor is a steward. He has not only been given a stewardship when it comes to the people he shepherds, he has also been given a stewardship of the message the Chief Shepherd has provided for their spiritual food. His task is not to invent what feeds them; he is to proclaim faithfully what God has supplied for their nourishment. As John Stott noted when discussing the pastor as a steward, “Indeed, if the metaphor teaches anything, it teaches that the preacher does not supply his own message; he is supplied with it.”7

That is not to say (as I will explore later) that the pastor is not to be sensitive to the needs of people in his selection of the biblical material to be proclaimed at any given time. Nor is it to deny that the pastor’s knowledge of his people is appropriately involved in the preparation of sermons. Rather, it is to insist that God has given the Bible for both the pastor’s soul and theirs.

There are four main sections that make up this book and chapter divisions that make up those sections. The four main sections concentrate on the biblical mandate for pastoral preaching, the elements for pastoral preaching, the motivation for pastoral preaching, and the method for pastoral preaching. The chapters found in each of those sections will concentrate on specific matters that pertain to those big-picture items. Some of what I will discuss will be basic to preaching in general. Even so, the pastoral mindset that I’m arguing for is vital for the proper practice of any and all of the basic matters that relate to preaching. I trust that if the reader will consider each chapter with the overall thrust of the work in mind, how these various issues relate to one another will become clear.
At the end of the book is an appendix of personal testimonies from believers who share their stories of how pastoral exposition has served to shepherd them through some difficult circumstances. They serve to demonstrate that what we are considering in this book is not theoretical, it is all very real, and it is vital.

Our day is a day of great need but also a day of great potential and opportunity. The need of the day, specifically the need of the church, is pastoral work through expository preaching.

Ministry, preaching, religion

Does Sermon Prep Get Easier?

Experience (the right kind of experience) is always a good thing. We have all known what it is to try something for the first time and to feel like you’re all thumbs. Then, with a little practice, whatever it was that seemed so difficult becomes second nature to us.

Is it like that with sermon preparation? Can I expect that the longer I preach, and the more times that I prepare sermons, the easier it will become to be ready by Sunday?

I would answer yes, and no.

On the yes side is the fact that with every year of life spent in the Bible our knowledge base grows. We not only know more of the Bible, we have also broadened our knowledge base from books that help us know the Bible. In addition, through constant repetition and practice, we find it easier to spot the pericope boundaries, and the hard work of outlining, and diagramming (if you do this) becomes more instinctive. By instinctive, I don’t mean that we shortcut the hard work; I mean that we find our initial impressions are proven right in an increasing way after we do that hard work. In other words, we begin to see that we are “getting it.”

Another improvement that we will probably see, after years in the ministry, is the shift from a focus on getting a sermon “out” to getting a sermon “in.” By “getting the sermon out,” I mean the nuts and bolts of sermon prep, and a focus on sermon delivery. By “getting the sermon in,” I mean the thinking we do about the people who will hear the sermon and how best to convey the truth we’ve learned to the hearts of those people. Often, the inexperienced preacher labors right up to the moment of preaching in the pursuit of getting a good handle on the information to be conveyed in the sermon. He works to the very end on understanding the structure of the passage he will preach, how best to organize what he finds for presentation, thinking about the doctrine that he finds, maybe some thought about illustrating the material, and a few implications or applications that immediately suggest themselves to him during study. What he misses are the insights that often come after that hard work is done and the preacher has time to meditate over the finished product. It is the post-exegesis work that is often neglected in our younger years.

Another point of progress with time, as strange as it may sound (or convicting it may feel), is that we learn to rely on the Lord more throughout our preparation for preaching. Prayer becomes more needful and precious to us. We are more aware that unless the Lord does the work all our labor will prove fruitless. This is a good thing (pretty obvious), because prayer is a means by which God has chosen to communicate His help to us. How often has a text sat before us, in a sense inaccessible to us, until the Holy Spirit of God helped us through the hard work of exegetical study, and the clouds lifted? What a glorious thing this is to experience, and the longer you serve in ministry the more you will realize your need for that help.

However, there is a sense in which the work gets more difficult with time spent in ministry. With an increased knowledge and conviction of the personal shepherding responsibilities of the pastorate, and the prioritizing of making room in our schedules for that work, we may find our study time squeezed. As noted earlier, some of this is offset by growth in knowledge, but we will be students for the rest of our lives.

That leads to another observation. The more we learn, the more we become aware of what we don’t know. I’ve found that I don’t study less, now that I’m in my third decade of ministry; I study more. There is a growing sense of the preciousness of the text. The Word of God is what we preach, and the gravity of handling God’s Word is increasingly impressed upon us.

We are equally impressed with a growing sense of the preciousness of souls. The people who sit before us are one heartbeat away from eternity. As Paul exclaimed in 2 Corinthians 2:16, “Who is sufficient for these things?” This results in an ever-increasing carefulness in our sermon preparation. That takes more time.

In addition, we realize that preaching is not just about the message to be delivered, or even the people to whom it is delivered, it is also about the man who delivers it. There is much heart-work to be done before Sunday arrives. We cannot preach a text well that sits on the surface of our own heart like seed ready to be stolen as soon as we have done our duty and filed away another Sunday. We don’t have the text until the text has us. We must be objects of our own sermons before we can become good mediators of them. And so, every week’s preparation time must become a worship time. Every week’s preparation time must become a wrestling time. It’s a time of wrestling with truth so that the truth triumphs over us before it can triumph through us.

My own experience with preaching finds me spending more time than I ever have trying to make sure that I “get it right.” There will never come a day when you aren’t examining everything about your work as a preacher. You will examine everything from where it begins (devotional life), to where it ends (a dependent act of proclamation), and you will find yourself more of your own critic than ever before.

What I write isn’t meant to discourage. If God called you to pastor through preaching, then you were made for this. But if you’re a real preacher, you count such a great privilege and responsibility to be a call to a rigorous work. That rigorous work is fueled by an ambition. We desire to please the one who enlisted us. We desire to handle God’s Word in a way that we don’t have to be ashamed. We desire to be found faithful. To whom much is given, much is required. That means you never ease off the gas; you strive to be better and better with the strength God supplies.