“But Dad, I NEED it!” It’s amazing to me how often those words are repeated in my house. I have two daughters and a son who are in the teenage years, and they are constantly wanting something new. I occasionally feel like my God-given job is just to say no as often and uniquely as possible. While that is humorous, there is also a bit of truth in it. As a dad, my job is to assess what my children need and to provide that to them as far as I am able to.
Being a pastor is a bit like that. We are preachers of the word. And as such we have a responsibility to determine what we are going to preach, and when we are going to preach it. And every pastor I know of has people in their congregation who regularly believe they know what the pastor should preach. There are multiple stressors pulling on the pastor, trying to influence their decision making. So how is a pastor supposed to determine what we will preach? Consider these habits for helping determine what it is, exactly, that your congregation needs.
1. Be with your people.
This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how often the pastor is not relationally connected with their congregation. This is important because, for most preachers, we have to work to know our congregation. Most pastors are brought in from outside the congregation and have to develop those relational connections. On top of that, there is a commonly held belief that pastors, in order to maintain a semblance of authority, cannot be friends with their congregation. It’s a tragic opinion, in my estimation, but a popular one nonetheless. Consider Jesus’ own testimony in John 10:27, My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. Jesus knew his sheep, and they knew him. They responded to his voice, and they followed him. Pastors, we should be so among our people that we know them. And while most of us cannot know all of them well, we should generally surround ourselves with our people, understanding their unique moments and circumstances, allowing God to use that to influence our sermon planning.
2. Know your church’s context.
There is a little-known passage in the Old Testament that is quite important in understanding good leadership, let alone helping define how a pastor knows what to preach. In 1 Chronicles 12:32, we find an accounting of David’s soldiers at Hebron. In the midst of the assessment, this is what is said of one group of soldiers, From the Issacharites, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do… Notice the descriptor, they understood the times and knew what Israel should do. That’s important. I believe the pastor has a responsibility to have some level of awareness of what’s happening culturally. Not just what we see on the news, but what exists in pop culture, social media, sports and more. It’s not that the pastor should be a master of all things, but rather we should seek to understand the world our people are coming from. Do we understand their unique struggles, influences, stresses, and more? In other words, we ought to be something of cultural anthropologists.
3. Be a disciple in the word.
This one is pretty significant. I have heard it argued that pastors should separate their sermon preparation and their personal devotional time. I strongly disagree. While I understand the fear of turning devotion time into a professional pursuit, I think the greater danger is to preach without it affecting our own soul. Our people need the word, but they need to hear the word from a preacher who is gripped by the word.
Notice in the title that I didn’t argue that the pastor should be a disciple OF the word, although I think they ought to be. No, I think the pastor should be a disciple IN the word, allowing God to speak and shape the pastor, and then preaching from the overflow of what God has done in their own life. Be reminded of the Lord’s words to Joshua after the death of Moses, This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to meditate on it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. I have found that often God knows what the congregation needs when I don’t, and my time in the word is used by God to speak to the unseen need in a way I could never determine on my own.
Micah Fries is the Senior Pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.