I am a husband, a father, and a pastor. These are my primary responsibilities. And these central roles, and all that go along with them, do not include the other responsibilities and opportunities the Lord has entrusted to me. I have a full and busy life. But there is one responsibility that is the more demanding than them all. Bar none. Without question. Sermon preparation! The wonderful privilege and terrible responsibility of weekly preparation is bondage. A sweet, rewarding bondage. But bondage nonetheless.
Most other things in my life are shaped by this primary task. That is, I am convinced that you must live the life of a preacher in order to do the work of a preacher faithfully and fruitfully. Preaching cannot be a “back burner” issue in your life, if you are going to preach with skill and power and diligence. You must have your priorities straight.
When the apostles were forced to deal with an issue of growing pains in the early church; the set a group of godly men over the pressing matter, rather than handling it themselves. The apostles stated their ministerial priorities in clear and simple terms: prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). Now it seems that we who are pastors are most concerned about the “table” matters that the apostles sought to avoid. We love to serve, plan, organize, manager, and administrate. And in the process, the ministry of the word is left unattended.
The point I want to make, however, is not really meant for those who preach. I want to say something to those whose task it is to listen to those who preach from week to week. Sermons do not grow on trees! Biblical preaching is hard work. Indeed, there are preachers who do it well and make it look so easy. But in most instances, the good preachers work very hard to make it look easy.
Before I go any further with this, let me admit that sermons do grow on trees for some preachers. Those who find sermon on trees fall into two categories. First, there are those who do not take preaching seriously.
A friend recently told me about a visionary pastor who is doing great things in the community. I was genuinely impressed, until I asked what kind of preacher the guy was. He told me that the guy’s goal is to preach as rarely as possible. I replied, “Don’t tell me any more about him.” I lost all interest when I discovered this brother did not make preaching a priority in his pastoral work. A pastor who does not preach is an oxymoron. Faithful biblical preaching is my primary, central, and definitive responsibility as a pastor.
Likewise, sermons grow on trees for those who take preaching seriously, but are not serious about preparation. For some men, the work of preaching is pretty easy because all it requires is that they find someone else’s work to steal. Without a doubt, no preacher is original. And if we are not learning from others, we should not be teaching. I would advise a man to milk a lot of cows, but churn your own butter. But beware. Pulpit plagiarism makes lazy preachers! And it cheats the congregation, no matter how well it is received. Not to mention, it’s unethical!
May we who preach take heed to Paul’s exhortation to Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, ESV). If you are a senior pastor, or a associate pastor who has weekly preaching duties, make sure you do your best to prepare yourself to rightly hand the word of truth. Plan your preaching. Delegate. And study. Think yourself empty. Read yourself full. Write yourself clear. And pray yourself hot. Then go to the pulpit and preach as a dying man to dying men, as Thomas Baxter said, as never to preach again.
If you are a leader or a member of a local church, do all you can to encourage your pastor to spend the needed time in the study to get himself ready to preach. Pray for him. Thank God for the shepherd God has given you to feed you with knowledge and understanding. Encourage him as you see his diligence in study is evident in his pulpit work. Make sure your pastor has the tools (translated: “books”) he needs to do the heavy lifting of Bible exposition. Do not call on him to kill cockroaches (thanks for the line, Tony Morgan). That is, do not consume him with so many secondary matters that he does not have the time or energy to give to the study of the word of God. Consider him worthy of double honor if he labors in preaching and teaching (1 Tim 5:17). Above all, remember that sermons don’t grow on trees!