Early in my pastoral ministry, a wise professor warned me to make sure my preaching was more like roots than like pipes. The water and other nutrients a tree or plant needs are found passes through the roots. And as the roots feed the tree, the roots themselves become stronger. However, water passes through pipes without the water benefiting the pipes in any way. The water helps others, but not the pipes. In fact, the longer the water passes through the pipes, the more rust and decay corrupt the pipes. So those of us who preach and teach the word must vigilantly strive to be roots, not pipes, as we minister the word of God to others.
I face this challenge each week in preaching and teaching. Ninety-nine percept of the time, I am plodding through new scriptural territory. And I am taking in so much that sometimes it is hard to keep up. I also face the fact that Wednesday and Sundays come with blinding speed. For instance, I have been studying Psalm 119 on Wednesdays for the better part of this year. And it has definitely been a challenge, homiletically. First of all, it is one (singular) psalm, with basically the same theme approached from different angles. Likewise, many of the same terms and phrases are used in stanza after stanza, requiring that I keep considering fresh ways to same the same thing. And each stanza is eight verses long. This forces me to think about how to organize the messages differently, so that they don’t sound redundant. In some stanzas, this is rather easy to do – as the outline of the section is obvious. But with others, you have to wrestle with it a little bit to get it to yield. These practical challenges require me to work hard to make sure I am feeding my own soul as I do that nuts and bolts work of ministering to my beloved congregation. I do not want to be a “preaching machine,” in the bad sense of the term. I don’t want to be a pipe that pumps out sermons, without my life being changed by the word that I preach.
Recently, my son told me that when he grows up he wants to writer sermons, just like me. I was surprised and encouraged to hear him say this, seeing my son is usually rather intimated by what I do. But I also found it funny that he did not say that I preach sermons. Most of the time, he catches me in the process of preparation. And it seems like the actually preaching of the sermons is just a momentary blur. But I must remember that my preparation really isn’t about the preaching of sermons. My study is to be for the feeding of my own soul. And the congregation is to receive the fruit of my personal time with God in prayer, meditation, and study. Even though the preaching moment is the most urgent matter; it’s not the most important. The life I live and the work I do between sermons are more important than the sermons themselves. So may the Lord grant that my personal life and commitment to sound doctrine be a system of strong roots from which much fruit grows to his glory.