It Starts with a Conviction –
If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. Jeremiah 20:9 (ESV)
Somewhere during the mid-1990’s I was sitting in a preaching class at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Extension center in Shawnee, Oklahoma. And, I remember hearing one phrase over and over again. “What is the CIT?”
Now, I grew up in a Baptist Church in the Texas Panhandle. I was on the cradle roll, started in big church at the age of 4, attended VBS, youth camps, and revivals. I had good pastors, who loved Jesus and loved the Bible. I had heard a lot of sermons. But, as a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, and a kid from the panhandle of Texas, I had no idea what a CIT was, or how to find it.
Thankfully, that professor helped. And, so did many other preachers who I began to listen to, who were preaching in a way that was totally new to me. But, as a youth minister and seminary student I began trying my hand at Expository Preaching. For me at first, it was a stylistic change. But, over the years, I have learned by instruction, and by practice that exposition is about a conviction, not about a style. And, I have discovered that every week I need to know the CIT before I can finish putting my sermon together and take that tenderly crafted work into the pulpit.
Sermon preparation for me begins with the conviction to be thoroughly text-driven. No authority resides in me, or in the office of pastor, or in the church as a congregation. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus Christ, who is the Living Word, and been placed into the divinely inspired text of the Bible. I may have things I want to say, or think need to be said to my congregation. But, I am convicted that nothing is more important to say, than what God has already said in His Holy Word.
So, with the conviction that each sermon must be driven by what is in the text, I begin the task of allowing the text, with the Holy Spirit to illumine my mind, to tell me what God has said. What has God said in this particular passage? Who was this author? What was going on in his life, and in the life of his audience? Why did he write these words, and what did he intend his hearers to understand? What was his main point? There it is – the Central Idea of this Text – the CIT.
This does not happen without prayer and the tenacity to stay in your chair until you get it. I was once in a hospital room on a Monday morning visiting a member who had missed church the day before. She asked me, “Pastor, what did you preach about yesterday?” I knew the text the sermon came from. I could even sort of remember the catchy title I had given my sermon. But, I could not tell her what I preached without a long explanation. I walked out of that room determined that the next time I was asked, I would be able to tell the main point of my sermon in a sentence or two. If I really had the passage burned in me, and truly understood the main idea of that particular text, then I ought to be able to summarize it rather easily.
After letting the Spirit teach me what the text is really about, I want to see how that text fits into the whole of God’s gospel narrative. We are not preaching if we are not proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. I have been guilty of preaching a good 3 point sermon about healthy marriage, and then concluding with a simple gospel presentation, and feeling good about having preached the gospel.
Every text of Scripture is powerfully preaching Christ and Him crucified. The work of sermon preparation is not just make it say that, but figure out how God is glorifying His Son, and calling sinners to Himself in each text. I do not want to tack Jesus on at the end. He is the author, the subject, and the conclusion of every text of Scripture. It is our job to help our people see Him clearly on every page of Scripture.
Finally, when I think my sermon is prepared, I like to read it again, often on Saturday evening, and ask the question – so what? I have found the heartbeat of this passage. I have shown the grace of the gospel through Christ’s death and resurrection here. But, why do we need to hear this word on Sunday? Why has God inspired these words, and given them to us on this day? What difference will this make to the lady in our congregation who just found out she has cancer? How will this affect a mom who has spent all week changing diapers? How will this help the man whose company is downsizing and he is not sure about his job? Will these words help a teenager who is struggling with their identity? Will a lost person find hope in these words? Will a believer love the Savior more and serve Him more faithfully? If I cannot answer the so what question then my sermon is not complete.
Preaching is a science and an art to me. I am no expert, but I love the journey of practicing and improving the technique and skill. Preaching is an awesome responsibility, and a mighty privilege. God’s grace is most evident in the fact that He has trusted such earthly vessels to carry such divine treasure.