Some things are only learned by experience. No amount of education can teach you as much as a few years of experience.
When train search committees for churches, I ask them to describe the type of person they are seeking to lead their church. Almost always, they use one of two words, pastor and preacher. Too often, churches focus on only one facet of ministry - either shepherding or sermon delivery. The fact is that churches need both a shepherding pastor and a sermon preacher.
Allow me to share some observations about those two minister roles. Few men are equally passionate about both roles, but both of them are critical to their ability to lead a church.
When I was in seminary, preaching class was both a blessing and a curse. Students experienced the blessing of studying and preparing a sermon, along with the curse of having it critiqued and evaluated. Most of my fellow students hated the idea of anyone making commentary on their sermons - much less give them a grade on their performance.
I remember preparing and delivering three messages in one class. Even my preparation came under scrutiny. What sources did I use? Were the illustrations relevant and illuminating?
Sadly, many of my preacher classmates failed to realize that church members would evaluate their sermons throughout the rest of their ministry. Openness to some form of evaluation reflects maturity and humility. Just like I fear that church members can be too critical, preachers be too defensive.
If I taught a preaching class today, I would insist that my students learn several things.
First, I would insist that they learn the difference between the titles of pastor and preacher in a local church. I clearly remember a lady in one of the churches that I served who always called me “Preacher.” I can close my eyes even to this day and hear Helen’s voice call out, “Preacher!” Only after years of serving and walking through times of prayer and crisis with the family did I hear her call me “Pastor.” The truth is, ministers receive the “preacher” title when they arrive at a church, but they must earn the “pastor” title.
Second, I would insist that my students schedule and plan their preaching at least one month ahead. Any great cook knows that slow-cooked food tastes better than microwave-cooked food. I love baked sweet potatoes. But, I want them baked. In a similar way, really developing a sermon takes time. And, you never want to feed the church of the living God a hastily concocted “Saturday night special.”
Third, I would insist that my students focus their sermons and keep to their point and avoid rambling. Fifty-minute sermons more often signal poor preparation than extensive scholarship. In my own preaching journey, developing a 25-30 minute message takes more preparation time. The shorter the amount of time I speak means the more time I need to prepare.
Last, I would insist that every sermon be Christ-centered. Tragically, I have heard men preach messages without ever mentioning Jesus. He must be the hero of every sermon. Preachers should lift up Jesus, not their own accomplishments. A wise old fellow once told me, “The reason we are not catching more fish is we have the wrong bait on the hook.”
Please remember that Sharon and I love New Mexico Baptists.
Need a smile?
A little boy that went to the pastor after the sermon and handed him a dollar. The pastor asked, “Why did you give me this dollar?” The boy replied, “Because my dad says you are the poorest preacher we have ever had.”