To Whom Should a Pastor Primarily Direct His Sermons?

In Jim Shaddix’s convicting and helpful book, The Passion-Driven Sermon: Changing the Way Pastors Preach and Congregations Listen, he tells the following story:

I learned an important lesson about people’s perception of preaching shortly after assuming my second pastorate, a small congregation in the deep south. I began immediately preaching systematically through a book of the Bible. All of the messages during the first several weeks were more fellowship-oriented, addressing Christians as the receptive texts demanded. I assumed the people were receiving the sermons eagerly as their shepherd fed them the Word. Boy, was I naive! About two months into the series, I finally came to a text that was more evangelistic in nature. So I proceeded on Sunday morning to wax eloquent with a hot sermon on hell, making primary application to those persons without Christ. The next day one of the prominent men in the church stopped in front of my house as I was mowing the lawn. He rolled down the window of his truck and yelled, “Great message yesterday, Pastor. You finally started preaching!” And I thought I had been preaching all along.

The fact of the matter is that many congregations today believe that every sermon ought to be directed at the lost, informing them of their sinful condition and their eternal destiny of torment (23).

I think many Christians believe the primary form of evangelism is to invite lost friends to church so that they can hear an evangelistic sermon. When this theory is implemented in a church, the extent of the evangelism of church members is to invite and the extent of the evangelism of the pastor is to preach evangelistic sermons week in and week out. Under this system, the pastor is the primary evangelist and the rest of the church serves as gatherers, not messengers.

However, is this the way preaching and evangelism are meant to primarily function? Is it wrong to invite someone to church? Is there no place for evangelistic sermons? Obviously the answer to both questions is “No.” Still, to whom should the pastor primarily be directing his weekly sermons?

I believe that as long as we keep the proper perspective, we can rightly say that the pastor should primarily direct his sermons to believers rather than unbelievers, while not neglecting the probability of the presence of unbelievers in the hearing of the sermon.

A quick glance at 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 may give the impression that Paul only preached evangelistic sermons. He wrote to the Corinthians, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (v. 2). However, Paul is writing this letter to the church for their edification. The role of every pastor is to be an undershepherd of the flock of God. This flock must be fed and so the pastor’s primary purpose on Sunday mornings is to glorify God through the preaching of his word to the people he has chosen and redeemed in Christ.

Like Paul, we are to preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). The direction of a sermon should be dictated by the text. If pastors narrow themselves to solely preaching evangelistic sermons only one implication of the atonement will be on display. This will show that the gospel is only vital for unbelievers. This will also place the burden of evangelism solely on the pastor’s shoulders. What pastors should strive for is to expose the word of God to the people of God to equip them to live a gospel-centered life with the gospel on display in their words and actions.

This does not mean there is no place for evangelistic sermons. Primarily directing sermons to believers does not imply that unbelievers should not be invited, should not attend, or cannot respond to the gospel. The way God has rigged the whole process of pulpit ministry is that when the preacher proclaims what God has said and nothing more, believers grow in Christlikeness and unbelievers can receive saving grace by responding to the gospel. When a pastor sets out to preach the word of God as God has intended, he will be preaching the gospel. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then, go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.”

In fact, direct messages on the atonement and God’s power to save sinners through faith in Christ will undoubtedly be preached if expository preaching is employed. But the role of the pastor must be to feed the flock that God has entrusted to him. The gospel is for both unbelievers and believers. To set aside certain days where you preach the gospel and neglect preaching the gospel from all of Scripture every single week is to miss the point of preaching. However, at the same time, it is not best for a pastor to solely prepare evangelistic sermons directed at unbelievers. The role of the pastor is to shepherd his flock with all of the word of God and he is to proclaim the whole counsel of God for the guidance and growth of his flock.

Shaddix calls this “reflecting on the cross.” He writes, “The shepherd of the local congregation has the responsibility of reflecting weekly on the cross of Christ in order to show its implications and applications for the body of Christ and the individuals who com rise it” (24). He admits this is the primary function of the New Testament itself.

So, pastor, preach the word primarily for your flock! Preach the word in all of its depth and reflect on the cross for the guidance and growth of your flock.

Church member, rejoice when your pastor preaches the word for your edification and spiritual nourishment. I know nothing brings me more joy than when my pastor reflects on the cross and draws out its implications from Scripture. Call him to preach the cross each week as together you worship the Christ who died to draw you to himself and together as a body.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.


Is It Sinful to Preach Sermons You Did Not Write?

It is not uncommon for pastors to preach sermons written by well-known pastors. With the miracle that is the Internet, the sermons of popular pastors are readily and easily accessible. Pastors will lead their churches through sermon series’ that were first used by other pastors. I have to say, this would be a great temptation for me. I have benefited so much from the preaching of various well-known pastors like John Piper, John MacArthur, Timothy Keller, David Platt, Matt Chandler, and others. The sermons these men have preached are not only available on the internet, but they are even organized by sermon series and by Scripture. If I were to lead a church through Romans, it would be tempting to access MacArthur’s and Piper’s sermons through this letter and preach them to the congregation. I know of pastors who have borrowed themes and sermon series from guys like Andy Stanley and J.D. Greear. All of this reminds me of a saying I once heard: “There once was a man named ‘Spurgy.’ His sermons are preached by all the clergy.”

Some would contend there is nothing sinful about preaching sermons written by others, especially if credit is given to the sermon writer (“If my bullet fits your gun, then use it.”). Advocates would argue that it is quite humble to use sermons written by more gifted pastors for the benefit of the congregation. However, if you are a pastor who frequently preaches the sermons of others or if you are a church member whose pastor does this, there is one obvious question you must face: Is it sinful for a pastor to preach the sermons of others? What follows is what I hope is a concise and helpful answer.

I believe that preaching another person’s sermon is unhelpful at best and outright sinful at worst. Obviously, preaching another person’s sermon as your own without giving proper credit is plagiarism. Any preacher doing this should stop immediately and repent. There is no place for this kind of dishonesty in the pulpit. As the great English preacher Martin Lloyd-Jones once said, “I am assured that this is not uncommon practice. I have but one comment to make about this—it is utterly dishonest unless you acknowledge what you are doing…He is a thief and a robber; he is a great sinner.”

But even if a preacher preaches another person’s sermon giving them full credit, this is still very unhelpful to both the church and the preacher. The church is best served by a pastor who labors over the text and seeks to faithfully expose its meaning. Even though the man who wrote the sermon may have wonderfully exposited the text, the man preaching the sermon did not and was not personally impacted by the text. Part of the impact of the sermon is the passion of the preacher who has been overwhelmed by the grandeur of the text he is preaching. This is lost when a preacher preaches someone else’s sermon. Remember, pastor, you are God’s man for the local church you are shepherding. As helpful as Piper and Keller are, they do not know your church. You do. God has called you and will use your unique abilities to preach the riches of God’s grace in Christ week in and week out.

Regarding the importance of being gripped by the truth in your sermon preparation, Lloyd-Jones again writes,

When you yourself are gripped and moved in the preparation you will generally find that the same happens in the preaching.

Similarly, the prominent Puritan pastor-theologian, John Owen once said,

A man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.

These comments from Lloyd-Jones and Owen suggest that pastors should prepare their hearts and sermons through diligent prayer and study of the passage. Pastors cannot approach sermon preparation lightheartedly or casually. Preaching depends highly on preparation, so pastors must prepare the way they want to preach—passionately and personally gripped by the passage. The purpose of preaching original sermons is not prideful boasting in personal ability. Preaching original sermons forces the pastor to dive into the text, to be gripped by the text, to be set ablaze by the text. When a pastor has encountered the living God in meditation on Holy Scripture, the congregation will leave the pew the same way their pastor left the study; set ablaze with flaming desire for God and his unparalleled glory.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

Morning Mashup 07/30

A Letter to the Caliph – A graceful, strong, and moving open letter from missionary and author, Tim Keesee, to the leader of the Islamist militant group, ISIS.

Weary of Culture-Warring – Eric Teetsel: “Unapologetic Christian conviction vying in the public square does not exacerbate the gulf between Christians and others. For what fellowship can darkness hath with light? The Gospel is good. It is true. It is life-giving. Therefore even the clumsiest act of evangelism is an act of love. If competing for public policies that reflect our Gospel-centered values is an impediment we ought not cease fighting, but instead demonstrate to our fellow citizens that we are fighting for them.”

Why No One Cares About the Christians of Mosul – Tom Wilson: “The contrast between the world’s non-reaction to the decimation of Mosul’s once 60,000-strong Christian community and the hysterical hate-fueled frenzy being directed against Israel over the casualties in Gaza reminds us that in the liberal imagination, all human suffering is not considered equal.”

How to Memorize Entire Books of the Bible – If you have ever wanted to memorize extended passages of Scripture, Jemar Tisby of RAAN outlines a method that has helped him do just that. I have also found this method to be effective in memorizing lengthy passages–even entire chapters and books.

There is No Right to Same-Sex Marriage – A Virginia judge dissented the commonwealth’s 4th circuit’s decision that Virginia’s marriage amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He said, “The fundamental right to marriage does not include a right to same-sex marriage.” Check out Ryan Anderson’s further reflections.

Three Views on How Long a Sermon Should Be – Thom Rainer examines what church members and church leaders believe about the proper length of a sermon.

The Parable of the Lawn Mower – If you find agreement with the statement, “Preach the gospel, use words if necessary,” check out this parable that teaches an invaluable lesson. See how your works do indeed preach something, just not the gospel.

It is not he that reads most , but he that meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian. –Thomas Brooks