Pastors suffer from an abundance of unsolicited advice about their preaching. Many not called to preach think themselves the most gifted to critique. Despite this, there are few church members more critical of the preaching than the one who delivers the sermon.
After I have preached my wife usually asks, “How do you think it went?” Most of my responses are in the “I guess it went alright” vein followed by, “How did you think it went?” Assurances of “it was great” or “that was one of the best sermons you’ve ever preached” are mostly doubted. I know the times I’ve lost my place in the notes, become mentally distracted, and realized the second point had too much or too little content. My train of thought has refused to leave the station, or derailed once it did.
A pastor’s normal excessive scrutiny about his preaching is bad enough, but it is made worse when these five lies are believed.
1. If I just preach the Bible my church will grow. Churches grow or don’t grow for any number of reasons. Good location, good organization, an overwhelming move of the Spirit of God or a charismatic leader are some possible reasons. Churches almost never grow solely because of the preaching. Conversely, churches almost never stay small or plateau as a result of the preaching.
2. If I study and pray enough I will always get God’s mind on the sermon text. We all approach the scripture with certain biases. These are not always erroneous, but they can cause the preacher to mistake an interpretation or application. I remember a well-known pastor saying, “One Sunday night I preached a sermon on why the Antichrist has to be a Jew. After the service a member graciously approached me with a few scriptures. The next Sunday night I preached on why the Antichrist has to be a Gentile.” There is a reason Paul calls us “jars of clay.” The treasure is priceless and eternal; the container is aging, chipped and fading every day. The Word has enough power to overcome the frailty of the one delivering it. When you mess up a text, admit it and move on. If you have not landed on particular interpretation out of three, preach them all and let the Spirit do His work.
3. There is a single best way to preach. Whether a pastor preaches expositorily or topically is not typically the reason a church grows. It is humorous how often I see a pastor advocate for expository preaching as a key to church growth when his own church is not growing. Both history and our contemporary setting provide numerous examples of Christians growing in the faith, and churches increasing in number under different styles of preaching. I prefer expository for a number of reasons, but am not inclined to limit the work of God to a single style. Preach with confidence from the gift(s) God has given you.