Chuck Swindoll is currently the senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. He founded the “Insight for the Living” radio program and is the Chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary. He has been preaching for almost 50 years.

Preaching: You’ve been at this calling for a long time. How has your preaching changed through the years?

 Swindoll: I
don’t think you can preach for decades and not go through changes. I
believe I’m different now than when I first began, with the feeling of
a little more confidence in style or approach to a particular message
I’d be delivering. I don’t struggle as much with how I want to introduce a message or if I want to.

 I
believe in the old idea of a good flight. You have a good takeoff and
the flight hopefully is not too bumpy along the way. It’s safe. It’s
enjoyable. It’s meaningful. It’s interesting as you’re able to see
things from that perspective. Then the landing is often very close to
where we took off, like a circular flight in a sermon, so that it comes
back to where we started. I’ll often refer to something in my
conclusion that I dealt with in my introduction. 

I
really know who I am now. When I first preached, I was a little bit of
other mentors that I’d been around. I was a great model of the beast in
Daniel, Daniel 7: I was a little bit of that, and a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. 

I
remember my wife hearing me early on when I was preaching as a senior
pastor. It happened to be in New England. She said to me as I mentioned
the struggle of the morning, “I wish you were just who you are more.” I
said, “I am who I am.” She said, “No, when you stand up to preach, you
change. I just enjoy being with you, and you’re fun to be with; but
you’re not fun to be with when you’re in the pulpit.” I said, “Well,
I’m not there to be a comedian.” She said, “You’re not a comedian at
home, but you’re real.” Then she said, “So when you’re real, you
certainly have touches of humor, and that wouldn’t hurt either. I would
like to see the reality of your personality come out a little more.”

Well,
you know I’ve learned that the voice of the Holy Spirit is often very
close to the voice of one’s wife! The Lord spoke to me that day in a
very real way, and I began a journey of giving myself permission—I
would use those words—I need to give myself permission to be who I am.
It takes years to learn who you are.

Some preachers are
busy all their lives trying to be who someone else wishes they were. So
they’re not themselves. When I see that in young preachers, and
sometimes in older preachers, my heart goes out to them because I
remember the struggle of that. I’m no longer struggling with who I am.
Warts and all, flaws and all, I am who I am. I don’t try to hide it;
and because I don’t, I’m freer. I don’t spend as much time struggling
with what they may think of how they may feel.

I
struggle now with: “Is this an accurate presentation with what the
writer meant when he wrote that in the text? Am I communicating it in a
way that is interesting? Does it make sense?” One of my favorite
questions at the close of a service, when a person comes by to shake my
hand—and I usually wait till the last person leaves—I will say to them,
“Did it make sense?” When a teenager stops to talk to me—which I think
is the greatest compliment a preacher can get—I’ll often ask, “Did that
make sense?” You know, teenagers will tell you! They’ll say, “well,
some of it did,” or they’ll say, “You kind of lost me toward here, but
you found me again,” or something like that. I love the way teenagers
describe it.

So I now know what it takes to connect. I can’t tell you what a
relief it is to know that, Michael. I don’t know how to teach another
person how to do it except you go through it year after year after
year. I can sit in my study, and I’ll shake my head and I’ll say—after
working on something for an hour—”That is not going to work. I like the
story, or I like the approach, but that’s not going to connect.”

I’ve
got to connect with the people in the pew, and I work at that
diligently. I’ll spend sometimes 20, 30 hours on a sermon; and I’ve
been preaching now almost 50 years.

Some sermons don’t take that
long. Others are very delicate, controversial or maybe tender. I
remember preparing after 9-11. Oh man, I worked on that day and night;
I hardly slept working on that sermon—and the church was packed to hear
a word from God regarding that tragedy. I remember thinking later, “I’m
so glad I worked so carefully on that.”

Preaching: What do you find most enjoyable about preaching these days?

Swindoll: Knowing
that it is life-changing—knowing that if the individual hearing this
really would connect, his or her life wouldn’t be the same. That keeps
me awake at night with excitement. Each Saturday, I think, “Tomorrow,
Lord, there are going to be people hearing this whose lives are never
going to be the same; and I need You to make that happen. I can’t make
that happen.”

I learned years ago—another way I’ve changed—years ago, I used to try to fix people. Ever gone there, Michael?

Preaching: Oh, yeah.

Swindoll: 
Oh my, and So-and-So wasn’t changing. I knew their marriage was a mess.
I knew if I preached on this, they’d hear that and their marriage would
be fine. Their marriage stayed messy. I used to say, “Lord, I’m messing
up here. I’m not getting through.” Finally He made it clear: “You can’t
fix their marriage. You communicate the truth. It’s My job to take it
from there.”

So much ties in with the will. I get excited
about how the Lord will grab someone’s will in the midst of a message.
I’ve watched people in an audience literally burst into tears. I didn’t
tell the story or preach to make them cry. Quite candidly, I sometimes
tear up. I’ve learned not to apologize for that. He isn’t performing.
He is communicating truth, and it’s touching him deeply. That’s why
tears would come. I tear a little more readily now than I did. I think
you do when you’re a grandfather.

I think you do, also,
when you’ve been hurt. Pain. I read somewhere pain plants the flag of
reality in the fortress of a rebel heart. I’ve had the flag of reality
planted in my heart. Pain does that.

I think it was Joseph Parker
who said to young theologians, “Preach to broken hearts, and you’ll
never lack for a congregation. There’s on in every pew.” So I always
remember the people there who are broken. I never chide them for being
broken. I commend them for being there. I tell those who are there who
are struggling with an addiction that I thank them for being there. I’m
proud of them for coming. In fact, I’ll say to them we have an
opportunity for you to share your life with others in this small-group
gathering on Tuesday night; but today, I want you to know you have
come, you are here, and the two of us are going to meet as broken
people. This is going to really minister to you and to me.

In
that sense, if you will, I bring myself to their level, and I bring
them to my level. I don’t say up or down as if I’m talking down to
them; we are at the same point—all ground is level at the foot of the
cross. So invariably I take them to the cross where we all look up to
Christ.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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