Friday is for Heart Songs
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with a fellow preacher and friend, Colin Smith of the Orchard Church in Arlington Heights. I so appreciate Colin for his passion but also for his skill in preaching. He is doing a significant amount of training and equipping of young preachers now and I am aspiring to do the something similar in our present situation.
For me, it is going back to my roots in some ways. In what seems like a lifetime ago, during a six-year period when I was between the age of 26-32, I had the privilege of teaching preaching in a seminary in California.
I was in over my head.
I was not academically qualified.
I was inexperienced.
But, in the sovereign plan of God, I was in the right place, at the right time and was given the opportunity to use my spiritual gift of teaching and through that time, found my calling to be a pastor. [And how that all came about is a story for another time.]
Those who don’t preach wonder what we preachers do all week, and those who do preach, wonder how God could use us week to week. Preaching is a humbling exercise when it is done right. For four years, from 2008-2011, I did not preach on a regular week by week basis. Then in the summer of 2011 a friend asked me to preach for him while he took a two-month sabbatical. Through that experience, I learned how much I missed “the rhythm of preaching.”
The rhythm of preaching I am referring to is the weekly grind of pouring over the language, and grammar, and history, and context, of a portion of God’s word and having the Spirit of God rake your own soul over the white-hot-heat of His holiness. In between pastoral visits, hospital visits, marriage counseling, staff meetings and more counseling, a preacher studies and prays his way through the text and the Spirit deepens and broadens not just his understanding, but his passion. Out of that deepened passion and understanding comes the ability to speak with power and authority to others and gives the experience in the congregation of having heard not from a man but from God.
But there is still another part of the process that is almost incomprehensible to those who have not preached themselves. The congregation helps the preacher learn even more about the text in the dynamic interplay of their own prayers and their involvement in the process–their attentive listening, their need, and desire for the truth spurs him on to deeper dependence upon God’s Spirit.
Every preacher has the same experience. As they preach and look at particular faces and responses and because they know particular needs of members, God brings to mind other connections, other texts, other illustrations, other applications that change every message.
Some people ask, “why does the message change from service to service? Why is it 35 minutes in one and 40 in another? Why did you move the illustration of point #1 to the conclusion of the message? Or …
Why does the message lengthen when the audience is live or larger?
Recently I saw a great quote from Blaise Pascal that answered this question.
“There are some who speak well and write badly. For the place and the audience warm them, and draw from their minds more than they think of without that warmth.”
. –Blaise Pascal
The “warmth of the audience” draws more out of the preacher and the preaching moment. So recordings of messages that do not engage audiences or messages that are given to small audiences or large audiences, audiences that are cold-to-truth or audiences that are hot-to-truth are necessarily going to be different in length, in texture, in tone, and impact.
And that is another reason why nothing happens without the Spirit of God working. And it is also a reason why preachers should not be over-criticized if periodically they are a little bit long or short.
And preachers, as best we can, we need to be disciplined with our allotted time.
“Lord, make me a man who is hard-working in the study, passionate in prayer, and supple to your Spirit and to the needs of the congregation in the moment of preaching. For the Glory of Christ and in His name I ask it.”