How This Pastor Prepares for a New Sermon Series1
Happy 2017 Errbody! If you ask me, now is a P.E.R.F.E.C.T time to begin a new sermon series - and that is exactly what we are about to do. This upcoming Sunday, we will be starting a new Winter Sermon Series Titled, "Do Our Beliefs Matter?"
In this new series, we will explore together the contents of our doctrinal statement as we try to figure out how our beliefs about God should positively affect our lives and can help us to not only understand the Bible better, but can help us "live Scripture out" on a daily basis.
Typically, there are at least two things I do as your Pastor to prepare for a new series:
1) Pray. A lot. I ask God all sorts of questions during these preparation times, such as:
- "God, what is the main thing You want us to learn right now?"
- "What are You doing in the midst of Your people that should be acknowledged and celebrated?"
- "What are our current struggles?"
- "What would we like to hear? Why? What would we not like to hear? Why?"
- "What surprises do You have up Your sleeve for us?"
- "How do I need to be shaped in order for me to love You more and help Your people love you more?"
- "Why have You brought this particular series to our [Pastor Tom and I] minds?"
- "What do You want to tell us that I wouldn't know we should hear?"
- "How can this sermon series increase the fame of Your good name?" Etc.
So, this week I'll be doing a lot of praying. For me, for our city, as well as for our entire congregation. If you are a member of Holden Chapel and you are reading this then that means this week I am praying for your preparation as well!
2) Read. A lot. I like to research ahead of time. It helps me to be more "present" as I'm going through a sermon series. For example, if our series is going through a book of the Bible - I'll usually read through that book 30 or 40 times all the way through - just to get the feel of it. I will usually do some thinking about the big picture of the book, learn about its main themes, its trajectories, its idiosyncracies, its mood, its difficult passages. I will also think about its place in the overall canon of Scripture. I also read about how the contents of that book relate to Jesus. Every book of Scripture relates to Jesus - but they all do so differently. Reading ahead of time helps me stay more faithful to Scripture than I otherwise would be.
In a series like the one we are about to go through - I'll usually pick up a few books on the general theme to help me begin to think about the subject from the "big picture" perspective. I just finished my first full book in this regard. This particular book caught my eye not only because a lot of respected preachers recommend it as "required reading," but also, because of the title. The book is called, "Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life." This book is written by an African-American Preacher and Professor Robert Smith Jr. who currently serves as the Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. This book won the "Book of the Year Award" from Preaching Magazine in 2008. After reading it, I can see why. It is a PHENOMENAL resource. It encouraged me in so many ways.
This book was one of the most enjoyable "Preaching" books I've ever read. It got me excited all over again about how important, helpful, and valuable "doctrinal preaching" is and can be. I was reminded again that,
Doctrinal preaching is not a mechanical process governed by a human agent; rather, it is an event that happens under the auspices of the Holy Spirit.
Phew! What a humbling, relieving, and thrilling reminder! Somehow, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God can take over doctrinal sermons and can use them for the edification of the church! Smith uses two metaphors to describe what I (as one of your Pastors) should be doing as the Holy Spirit takes over. He says:
1) The Pastor is to be an exegetical escort. The function of the exegetical escort is to embrace the text of Scripture in order to usher the hearer into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation. My job as a Pastor is to let Scripture say what it needs to say, through me. I must not project my own presuppositions and interest onto the text in a way that would change its meaning. Scholars call this "exegesis." Another word for it is, "Biblical faithfulness."
2) The Pastor is also to be a doxological dancer. The function of the doxological dancer is to communicate the doctrinal message of the Bible with accuracy and ardor so that the exuberant hearer exults in the exalting of God.
In the same way that it is inappropriate for me to try to make Scripture say what I want it to say, it is also a sin to make the good news of the gospel "boring news" from the pulpit. He says,
Doctrinal preaching that is both accurate in its textual interpretation and ardent in its proclamation influences and motivates the hearers to be exuberant in their hearing of the message and to exult or rejoice in God during the preaching event while they are exalting God in the worship service.
Amen! This is a high-calling. Congregation, will you hold me to it? Will you pray that the Holy Spirit can use these weak vessels [Pastor Tom and I being those very weak vessels] so that the church understands anew the hope and power of the Gospel? I need your help to hold me up when my arms are too weak, and we need your prayers so that our words as we preach would be better than what we could give you in our own strength. After all, all of this is for YOU. Every sermon is to edify the Church and help her live out her calling in the world.
I can't wait to be a part of God exalting Himself through us. God certainly did it in 2016. I believe He can do it again in 2017! So, let's prepare ourselves, shall we?...
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