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Preaching: A Ten-Year Conversation

A lesser-known Aesop fable tells the story of a crow who tried to drink water from a pitcher. Because the pitcher had long, narrow opening, the crow could not get to the water. Tipping the pitcher would spill the water. The crow flew away and returned with a pebble in her beak. She dropped the pebble into the pitcher and the water level rose the slightest bit. After many trips back and forth, and many pebbles later, she had raised the water level high enough to drink. All the animals of the field came and drank, as well.

Sometimes preaching means raising the water level high enough for others to be able to drink the living water. We cannot create more water, but we must find a way serve it to others. One pebble at a time, one sermon at a time, we bring the life-giving water to others. Some conversations take time—years, maybe, and in some cases decades.

Some sermons call our listeners to action: “Today is the day of salvation!” “Repent, and believe the good news!” These sermons have the power to change lives (and destinies) in an instant. I’m in favor of such preaching, but the local preacher is also a pastor, and the very word pastor means to feed, and a steady diet of salvation-only preaching will leave the people of your church malnourished if they cannot also eat from the rest of the word of God.

When we remain in one church for more than a few months, we discover that the pulpit is not a one-way street. It is the place of conversation with the people we shepherd. The power of the pulpit goes beyond proclamation. The pulpit allows us to choose the topic, to set the tone, and to draw others into the discussion.

And a conversation it is, because after we step down from the pulpit, we are still involved in the lives of our people. In fact, their lives become an indicator of how effective our preaching really is. Do the people who listen to our preaching week after week, year after year, grow in their Christian maturity? Does our preaching go beyond proclaiming the new birth and also provide spiritual food and drink capable of growing the new babes in Christ? It’s a critical question: Do you preach from Sunday to Sunday, or generation to generation?

In fact, the spiritual lives of the people in your church provide excellent feedback regarding the substance and effectiveness of your preaching. The conduct of their lives is better feedback than a simple pat on the back and the weekly phrase, “Good word, Preacher.” The spiritual lives of your people might help you decide what you should preach on next week, or next month, or even for the coming year.

If you choose to stay at one church, you may just find yourself in a ten-year conversation.