I just returned from the National Preaching Summit in Indianapolis, and had a great time. Preaching is on my mind this morning, as a result. Every preacher needs to have some concentrated time to think about preaching, it’s calling, and it’s craft. That’s what the last couple of days have been for me.

Among other responsibilities, I was afforded the opportunity to offer 3 indispensable lessons I’ve learned about preaching over the years I’ve preached. Obviously, there are many foundational things most preachers believe to be true. So, I took the assignment as: Share 3 indispensable lessons other than “the givens” you have learned about preaching.

Here they are, and I’d love to hear yours.

  1. The seed grows where it’s planted. In the Parable of the Soils, Jesus reminds us it isn’t just the quality of the seed that is scattered, it’s where it falls. I used to spend 80% of my time preparing sermons as opposed to preparing people. Now, that’s flipped. Just as the leading indicator of worship’s impact on someone is how they approach God’s throne, so it goes with the sermon. We can preach our hearts out (and should), but the seed will grow where it’s planted. The same goes for me, by the way. The text will typically impact me to the extent that I am prepared to receive it. I wonder if we worked to prepare people as much as we do the sermon–how much “better” the sermon would be–simply because there was an increased hunger and thirst for righteousness among God’s people when they heard it? Praying for and working to prepare the hearts of God’s people is great sermon preparation.
  2. Preaching is the primary place where both theology and direction are set. We might like to believe direction, particularly, comes from elsewhere. The truth is, it comes from the pulpit. Ideally, theology shapes direction. But, in the absence of sound theology a direction is still set–albeit a bad direction. What and how we preach impacts both how the church sees God and how it follows Jesus as a Body. It isn’t the only thing shaping these important facets of life in Christ–it’s just the primary thing. It took me years to embrace this reality, which I had always suspected. Once I did, it made me a more careful exegete, a more diligent preparer, and more attentive to the Holy Spirit as I prepared. Preaching isn’t just a matter of teaching ideas. It’s also about leadership.
  3. People remember true wisdom more than stories or illustrations. Don’t get me wrong–I love good stories and illustrations. However, people can hear better jokes and stories elsewhere. Only Jesus has the words of life. So, I pay even more to the substance of the sermon more than ever before. I used to think stories were remembered more because they were better. Then I considered another possibility–they are the only things we say that are memorable (yikes). Illustrations are great–even vital to good preaching. They are not, however, a sermon. A biblical sermon focuses on the living and active Word of God. That’s what separates a preacher from Jay Leno or Garrison Keillor. People today need most what God’s Word provides. Of course, part of task is to not make a living word a dead or dull word. But, I’ve come to realize truth changes lives–not stories or jokes. Stories and jokes I share can contain truth, and they can accentuate truth. They themselves, however, are unlikely to change lives. The Word of God, on the other hand…

Those are three for me. How about you?