Each time a preacher steps behind the pulpit, a myriad of thoughts can flood his mind. Spurgeon wrote concerning the multitude of thoughts that can invade the mind of the preacher. “We cannot tell how many thoughts can traverse the mind at once. I once counted eight sets of thoughts which were going on in my brain simultaneously, or at least within the space of the same second.”1 Some of these are sermon thoughts, others are thoughts regarding a question or statement from someone in the audience; however, most of these thoughts are from a variety of subjects. It can be difficult to manage all of the thoughts that flood the mind of the preacher during the act of proclaiming the Word of God. With hundreds of sermons to think back through, there are a host of thoughts that have occupied my mind during the time of proclamation. As a result, the preacher is confronted with an important question. What things should I keep in mind while preaching?
As a preacher who stands before a congregation each week, this is a piercing question. Are there specific things that I should keep in mind while preaching? And if so, what should those things be? In my reflection on the matter, here are a few things to consider.
There is an authority above you
As a preacher, we are dealing with theological matters. As such, there is a tendency to elevate our own opinion regarding theological matters. One thing I find helpful to keep in mind while preaching is the reality that I stand under the authority of One who is greater. The message that we deliver to the people needs to be received from the authority of God not the authority of my opinion on the subject. Any truths that we communicate to the audience are not truths that rest on our authority, but the authority of God. Remember, the proclamation of God’s word is to be done on an authority higher than yourself.
There is a truth in the biblical text
When we stand to deliver a message, that message must coincide with the truth found in the biblical text. A lot of things may be said in a sermon, but there are certain things that must be said in a sermon. What must be proclaimed is the truth found in the text. God’s word is filled with important and much-needed truths. People need to hear these truths and it is our responsibility as preachers to communicate those truths. Time must be spent to exegete these truths so that they might be presented clearly and concisely. Remember, there is a truth in the biblical text that the people need to hear.
There are people before you
Each time we stand to preach, we must be mindful of the listening audience before us. We are proclaiming a biblical truth to a listening audience that is not before us by chance or accident. Each one is thereby divine appointment. Just as we must spend time exegeting the text in order to communicate the truth of the text, we must analyze and evaluate the audience in order to properly apply that truth. The audience is not there to hear a good story or even to receive some good advice. The audience is divinely appointed to be there to hear a word from God, a word that they desperately need. Remember, there are people, real people, who sit before you as you proclaim the word of God.
There is a required response from the audience
As we preach, if a biblical truth is presented, a response is required from the audience. There is an interesting thing about absolute truth: when it is presented, the listener must respond to that truth, either in belief of that truth or in unbelief of that truth. We must be faithful to present the biblical truth in a clear and concise manner; then, in association with the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, there is a responsibility of the audience to respond to that truth. The audience’s genuine response to the truth will be seen not only in word, but also in deed. Remember, if a biblical truth is presented to the audience, a response is required.
With this list of items to consider while preaching, there is also a number of thoughts that should be avoided while preaching. Don’t think about a mistake that you made in your last sermon. Avoid dwelling on personal issues that are not relevant to the sermon. Eliminate any thought related to negative feedback that you received recently regarding a sermon. And the list goes on and on of the things that cloud our mind while preaching. Remember, the sermon is not about you, so don’t let your thoughts be about you while preaching it.
Someone once asked me to describe the phrase “preaching with unction.” I replied, “When a preacher preaches in a way that his heart and mind be so connected to the biblical text that the power of the Holy Spirit is able to flow from the word of God through him as the mouthpiece in a way in which the audience is able to recognize that relationship.” This can only take place if our heart and mind are united to the text. If we are to “preach with unction,” we will need to manage our thoughts while doing so. There are some specific things to keep in mind while preaching.
Kevin Ulmer is the Pastor of Maplewood Baptist Fellowship in Richland Hills, Texas. He is also a Ph.D. student in Preaching and the Assistant to the Associate Vice President for Institutional Research and Assessment at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.