Pulpit Problems: The Preparation and Presentation of Sermons

John LathropBlog

Preaching. It is great honor to be called to preach, it is a very high calling. I dare say that it is one of the most significant tasks a pastor engages in. Week after week the pastor is called upon to deliver God’s Word to His people. Some pastors speak more than once a week. They speak Sunday morning, Sunday night, and at a midweek service. They may also be responsible to teach a Sunday School class. The duties vary from church to church. Most ministers want to do well whenever they deliver God’s Word. As I mentioned above it is a high calling, but it is also a hard calling. Anyone who has preached knows what I am talking about. A lot of time, study, and effort goes into creating a sermon that is thoroughly biblical, well-organized, and clear. This is no easy task.

I remember one time struggling in the process of trying to prepare a sermon. I told someone about it and they told me to “just do it.” Well, it was not that easy. This same person was later called upon to speak and they told me that they were struggling with getting their sermon together. I have a close relationship with this person and so I did not resist, I told them to “just do it.” They got the point. They now understood that preparing a sermon is not always an easy task. The struggle is real.

Every preacher has their own method of sermon preparation. However, I would venture to guess that each one seeks to accomplish the goals that I mentioned above. Every preacher wants their sermon to be biblical, well-organized, and clear. In addition, they want it to be anointed. Because of this, they do all they can to achieve these goals. They pray, read, study, and make notes. This takes a considerable amount of time but it is the cost of doing well. This is what the minister wants and it is what the people need. A timely message can create a vision, birth a ministry, or get someone through a crisis. More importantly, the Lord wants a good message given.

However, in spite of all of these efforts, there are times when things don’t go as planned. The frustrating part of all this is that we don’t always know why. I have prepared sermons that I thought were going to be powerful. There was “fire” on the page. I could imagine preaching them and they were powerful. But when I preached the sermon there was no fire. The preparation and the presentation were two different experiences. I have had other sermons I preached in which I wondered if I was saying anything significant and they had an impact far beyond what I expected. I confess I don’t know what made the difference, perhaps it was me, and perhaps it was the congregation. Ultimately God is the one who works through His Word.

In addition, there are those inadvertent mistakes that can sometimes find their way into our sermons. Let me give you an example. In the course of preaching have you ever created a new Scripture? I have. What I mean is that you cited a Scripture that does not exist. You said something like “As Paul tells us in Romans 17.” Wait a minute, there are only sixteen chapters in Romans. What likely happened in this case is that you cited the verse number but happened to leave out the chapter number. Or you get a detail in a biblical story wrong? You mentioned King David going to the Temple. Well this is problematic because the Temple was not constructed until the time of Solomon. These things were not said on purpose, they were honest mistakes, slips of the tongue. They can be embarrassing, indeed they can be frustrating (and most preachers have likely had this happen at some point). Depending on how much of a perfectionist you are you may beat yourself up over these mistakes.

Let me as a preacher say that I believe ministers should do the best that they possibly can in their sermons. It is a sacred responsibility, and there is a certain degree of satisfaction that comes from doing it well. But if you are preaching and at some point you make a mistake, like a slip of the tongue similar to the ones I mentioned above, don’t be too hard on yourself. As human beings we are fallible and sometimes make mistakes (this is true of Christians). These mistakes can serve some redemptive purposes. They can keep us humble and more dependent on God. If you have a bad moment in a sermon don’t let it get you down and don’t dwell on it. God knew when He called you that you wouldn’t always do it perfectly. Get up and try to do better the next time. God is not done with you or me yet.

About the Author: John Lathrop

John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.