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Preaching involves four parts. Get one of them wrong, and the entire chair wobbles, even collapses.

First, the preacher must walk with God.

Without this, preaching becomes an intellectual exercise at best, a sham at worst. The whole act of preaching must be bathed in prayer, and the preacher’s life lived in submission to God.

This component of preaching is in itself enough to keep the preacher humble. Every preacher is still in the middle of the process of sanctification. We all have a long way to go. Still, in order to be an effective preacher, the preacher must walk with God.

Second, the preacher must know how to handle the text.

The first part of sermon preparation involves immersion in the text. What does it say? What does it mean? What’s the author’s purpose? How does the text relate to the rest of Scripture? In this part of the study, the preacher must let the text set the agenda rather than approaching the text with what he wants it to say.

Every student of Scripture knows that this part of preparation requires great care, but yields great fruit. No matter how much I study the text, I always feel like I’m scratching the surface. There’s always more work that could be done, more reflection and understanding that could take place. But there’s more work for the preacher to do.

Third, the preacher must shape the message of that text for a particular congregation.

It’s not enough to understand a text. The preacher must preach it, not in the abstract but to a particular group of people. What do they need to understand? What will they find hard to believe? What are the implications for our lives in our time and place?

Having answered those questions, the preacher must begin the difficult process of shaping the sermon itself, grabbing interest, communicating and applying the passage, tying the message to the gospel, and calling for a response. One of the most difficult parts of this process is knowing how much you can’t say about the text in a single sermon.

Fourth, the preacher must stand and preach as a worshiper of God and someone who loves the people.

The best preaching, as John Piper says, is expository exultation. I love when a preacher stands up and delights in God, showing us his glory while unpacking the text. But the best preachers also stand as servants of the congregation, eager to help them. The best preachers preach with love.

And then the preacher must start all over and begin again for the next week.

Perhaps that’s why preaching is so challenging. Preaching involves doing at least four things at once while living in the real world with car repairs, hospital visits, competing demands, and more.

But when a preacher grows in these four parts, it’s amazing to watch. A preacher who walks with God, labours to understand the text, wrestles with how to communicate it to the congregation, and then delivers the sermon with worship and love — that preacher is a gift. The congregation benefits, and God is glorified.

What a weighty responsibility it is to stand and preach. What a privilege. What a gift.

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