Jump Start # 1994
2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
I was reading about President Garfield the other day. His fellowship was within the Christian Church/churches of Christ. He was a preacher before the Civil War and frequently worshipped with congregations when traveling. On one occasion, he took his wife and daughter to a Sunday worship. In his journal, he wrote that the preacher “didn’t have much juice in his sermon.” I’m not real sure what “juice” meant to Garfield, but it sounds like fervor, passion, enthusiasm and being on top of what he is saying.
Sermons need juice. They are more than lectures. They are not just giving facts. They are storming the will with persuasion, reason and practical conclusions. The audience ought to know what to do with the sermon once it is over. Filling the head but not the heart will do little to change people. Sermons can be so vague, general and without practical use that they become of no use. Add some juice!
The business of writing a sermon is interesting. Each preacher goes at it in his own way. A thought becomes a major idea. Homework is done. Verses, words and backgrounds are researched. Words are scribbled on paper or in these times, typed out on a computer. Ideas come. Application and illustrations are plugged in. For some, this is a smooth and easy process. They sit down and everything flows easily and in a couple of hours it’s finished. On to other things. Others work at it and tinker with the sermon all week long. Some are never completely satisfied with it. It’s a week long project.
Writing a sermon, for some is nothing more than jotting down a few words. Others, it’s a manuscript, pages long. Some engage in the process, much like a composer writing a piece for the symphony, the idea begins with an interesting introduction. It builds around a central theme, a text, a passage becomes the skeleton of the sermon which will support everything else said. Clear points are found. One. Two. Three. Four. They all fit together, like puzzle pieces. The sermon becomes so clear in the mind of the preacher. As he reads, listens and goes about other things throughout the week, we finds more things to add to the sermon. He pours his all into that sermon. He makes it his best. Then comes working it up to the copy he will take to the pulpit.
Some memorize their sermons. Some will just take a few lines on a note card. Others will take detailed outlines with them. It’s all a matter of style and what works for that preacher. There is no correct way. When Paul told Timothy to preach the word, he didn’t tell him how to do that. He didn’t say preach, but don’t use notes. He didn’t say preach long or short. He simply said, preach the word. We come to that passage with our own style, ideas and abilities. Through the years, that style gets modified and changes. And then they go preach. They preach often with a lot on their minds. They preach wanting the words that they have worked on to be memorable and to make positive changes. They preach hoping someone will come to Christ. They preach hoping to save a dying marriage. They preach hoping to turn hearts away from the world and back to Christ. They preach trying to motivate people to be servants of Christ. They preach often to audiences who will not change. They preach before crowds who are there only because they have to be there. They preach to those who love the Lord and have hearts that are pleasing Christ. The audiences are mixed. The audiences have different levels of knowledge, interest and purpose. The audiences have suffered all kinds of emotional struggles. There are people grieving. There are people who are upset. There are people who are lonely. There people who are scared. There are people who are proud. There are people who are angry. There are people who need to forgive, but they won’t. There are people who need to apologize but they won’t. There are families with prodigals. There are families worshipping while dad is at home in bed. There are divorced. There are those in love. There are those who are facing their world crashing in financially. There are people who spent the night before doing wrong. There are people who are solid, strong and spiritual. What an audience. What a crowd.
Each week the preacher begins with what to preach to these people. This is where it all begins. A thought. A passage. A word. Something sticks. Something impresses the preacher. Something captures his attention. This would help the audience. This would make a difference. And once that has been settled, off he goes, thinking, writing and constructing that sermon. It may be a masterpiece, but it may bring little results. This is what they need, the preacher thinks. But nothing happened. Did he have “juice” in the sermon? Sunday passes and a new week dawns. It’s time to start the process all over again. What will it be this week?
Probably the most asked question throughout my life as a preacher has been, “Where do you get your ideas?” Even my family asks that. I sometimes say, “Sermons.com” but they know better. I don’t even know if that is a true website. It comes from the mind, the heart, the listening ears, the open eyes of the preacher. Some weeks, it’s easy. Some weeks it’s very hard. There is an old expression that preachers understand, “Nothing inspires the preacher more than the rise of Sunday morning’s sun.” Deadline. You gotta have it ready to go. Some weeks there are a lot of things going on. Interruptions. Funerals. Travel. Even holidays tend to break up the process. Sunday comes and folks want a sermon, whether it’s Christmas or not. It doesn’t matter what kind of week the preacher has had, Sunday’s coming.
Given enough time, just about any Christian man can get up and say a few things. But to do it powerfully, week after week—I find that it takes a special person and a rare talent to do that. It’s like an artist. Sure, many of us can draw. But can we make a living at it. It’s like being a writer. Sure, put down some thoughts on paper. But to do that over and over and over.
I wanted to share these thoughts with those that do not preach. I want you to see what it takes to develop a sermon. The phone rings in the preacher’s office. He has books spread out, papers everywhere and on the phone the person asks, “Are you busy?” With a smile, the preacher kindly says, “How can I help you?” He knows once he is off the phone, he has to find that thought and that link that he was developing into a sermon. Sometimes that thought is gone. Sometimes he must start over. He understands.
Those of us that preach, we have chosen this life. Those that are really good at it, and there are many, they have mastered this special and unique art of crafting sermons week after week. Through their work, God’s word has filled hearts. Congregations and families are stronger and closer to the Lord because of the dedicated work that these men do. After a few years, they know it would be so easy to just throw a few verses together, add a couple of stories and be done with it. But they can’t do that. Their conscience will not allow that. Each sermon becomes another masterpiece. Hours are poured into shaping that sermon just right. They write with you in their minds. They want a better you. They want you to walk in righteousness with the Lord.
Ole’ Garfield noticed that juice was missing from the sermon he listened to. Garfield used to preach. Preachers know.
So, hold back on saying, “You only work a couple of hours a week.” The preacher will laugh with you, but he wonders if you even have a clue. Most have little idea about what it takes to bring a sermon from start to finish, nor the hours that are poured into it, but the end result is what is important. The word is preached.
Preach the word, preacher! Get busy, Sunday’s coming.