At North Coast, we have a preaching team, a real preaching team. No one in our congregation knows who they are going to hear on any given weekend. Whether it’s me or our other teaching pastor, Chris Brown, we both start our study of the text by asking, What does it say to me today, and how does it fit with what I’m observing in the lives of others and our congregation?
Only after we’ve finished with that process do we begin to check out what others have said and done with the passage. We check commentaries to see if we’re on-target or off-base theologically. We might listen or read the sermons of others to pick up some helpful insights and applications. But it’s always second, never first.
Here’s the reason why: If we start with our favorite commentary or teacher, it’s hard not to be overly swayed by their observations, insights and illustrations. Everything is seen through their lens. It’s hard to remain authentically and personally engaged with the text or a topic.
You can see this principle at work in any small group discussion. No matter what the question, the first person who speaks usually frames the answers for the entire group. Even if my initial response was to take the question in an entirely different direction, I’ll almost always segue into the flow of their initial answer.
Preparing my messages in this order not only raises their authenticity quotient; it also helps me keep up with the fast-paced changes in our culture. Commentaries, my favorite preachers and even my old notes can quickly lock me in the past. Frankly, the burning questions of 10-15 years ago are often not very relevant today. This also goes for the burning theological debates and the cultural hot buttons of yesteryear. And I’m not the same person either; so all things considered, the same passage can garner radically different insights if I give it the opportunity.
As an aside, this also helps with longevity. If I were to preach the same applications to the same text every time, after 28 years, I’d have some rather bored parishioners. It’s hard to be sticky when you’re boring.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t great value in commentaries, my favorite preachers or even my old preaching notes. But the value is in balancing, correcting and nuancing what God is teaching me today, not regurgitating what he taught me in the past.