Sometimes we forget the real purpose of preaching.
We think that a sermon is designed to communicate and apply truth. Of course, a sermon does those things, but that’s not the ultimate purpose. Content and application are just the beginning.
The ultimate purpose of a sermon is to facilitate an encounter with God.
In his book Truth and Power, J.I. Packer wrote, “the proper aim of preaching is to mediate meetings with God.” In Preaching and Preachers, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this. It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.” Communicating the truth of a passage is only the first step in a sermon. We have a much higher purpose in mind.
I wish I knew this sooner. This changes our preparation, delivery, and role.
Preparing a sermon still involves all the normal exegetical work. We must still do all the exegetical work. We must understand the text in its historical, grammatical, and literary context. We must do word studies and consult commentaries. But we must do more: we must also meet the God who inspired that text.
As Darrell Johnson puts it, “The first and foremost discipline for preaching is staying in the text until we meet the Lord of the text. Everything hangs on this. The transforming power of any text lies right here, in the encounter.”
Don’t rush this. Linger in the text until it happens. Refuse to settle for only an academic encounter. Wrestle with the text with the help of the One who gave that text, and apply it to your soul.
Tim Keller points out that skill and gifting is what separates a bad preacher from a good preacher. We should all work on our preaching skills so that we become competent communicators of God’s truth.
But it’s not enough to become just a good preacher. We should aim to be great preachers, and that isn’t a matter of skill as much as the Spirit. “While the difference between a bad sermon and a good sermon is mainly the responsibility of the preacher, the difference between good preaching and great preaching lies mainly in the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the listener as well as the preacher,” Keller writes.
As you stand to preach, remember that your delivery can only take you so far. Work on your skill, but then remember that you need help — and the Spirit is more than willing to help you as you try to introduce people to Jesus.
Work on your delivery skills while recognizing that they’re not enough. Pray for the Spirit’s help, because he’s more than ready to help you.
The best preaching is one in which the preacher knows how to get out of the way.
Our job is to bring people to Jesus and direct all the attention there. We mess that up when we draw undue attention to ourselves or get in the way. In the best sermons, the preacher recedes from view. Jesus gets bigger and everything else gets smaller as a result.
Preaching is about more than content and application. Preaching is about facilitating an encounter with God. Whether we’re preachers or hearers, let’s pray that this happens in our churches, because God is ready to meet us.