Not long ago, a lady came to me after the service, with tears streaming down her face. “Oh, I just got so blessed today,” she said. “It was just wonderful!”
“Well,” I said, “I’m glad you got blessed.”
“I wish I could join this church,” she continued, “but my husband is sick and I have to stay home with him.”
“Is that right?” I asked.
“Yes, about two or three years ago he lost his mind. But he’s been watching you on television and your sermons sure have meant a lot to him.”
I didn’t know quite how to respond, or whether it was a compliment, but I was thankful we could communicate, even though the man had lost his mind.
When I first went into the pastorate, I thought every message had to be a salvation message. I was serving in a church with about thirty or forty in worship. The same sheep were coming every week. But I preached every week to the lost. I wasn’t feeding the sheep very much, but I certainly was telling the lost how to get saved!
As I moved along in my ministry, I began to realize that I needed to feed the sheep as well. And whether we’re discipling believers or delivering the gospel to the lost, we need to be aware of the preparation necessary for an effective preaching ministry.
Prepare the Preacher First
Our hearts have to be made ready, and that begins with our devotional life. When I get up in the morning, I read the Scriptures. I quote them when I get out of bed, and I read the Bible to get my mind focused God-ward early in the morning.
I usually jog every other morning, and on that route I have thirty to fifty minutes of quiet time with God. When I don’t jog, I go into the backyard, to the back bedroom, or to my church office, and have a quiet time with God.
I read the Scripture, I pray, and meditate, every day, every week. If I miss it, then I find myself coming up short in my own estimation, and I don’t feel prepared to preach an evangelistic message.
An evangelistic message begins with me — my personal life, my speech, my manners, my role as a husband, a father, my attitude toward the opposite sex. If I want to preach evangelistically, my personal life has to be right.
Am I on good terms with my wife? Have we settled our arguments? Have I abused her mentally in any way? If I leave for the office at odds with my wife, I have to call home and say, “I was wrong this morning; will you forgive me?” Once I get that right, then I can prepare to preach.
My professional life must also be right for me to have an effective ministry. Do I pay my bills? Do I tell the truth? Do I speak with integrity? Am I willing to take a stand on an issue on Monday face-to-face with a person, as I did on Sunday when I was safely in the pulpit where no one could confront me? Professionally, my life must be right if I want to preach evangelistic messages.
My example is important in my personal preparation. W. F. Powell, my first pastor, is my example for being a pastor. I don’t remember one single sermon that he preached, yet the example of that man still is in my mind’s eye. He came to see us and brought Double Bubble gum, when it was not easily available after World War II. He found the gum somewhere, and stopped at our little duplex; he took time out from a huge church to find two little boys and bring them bubble gum. He took time to hug me, to encourage me, to give me a Bible. And I watched him.
Our lives and our examples are to be such that after we are gone, the light of our lives leaves a trail for somebody else to follow. To preach an evangelistic message, we begin with preparing the preacher.
Prepare the Church
If there is going to be a harvest, the church has to be prepared, and it begins with my personal example. Is witnessing a part of my lifestyle? Do I witness in counseling, looking for an opportunity to lead people to Christ. Do I take the time each week to try to win somebody to Christ?
Every Monday night I set aside as a night to visit people and try to lead them to Christ. I’ve had the privilege of leading scores of people to Christ in their homes on Monday and then see them respond publicly on the following Sunday.
Preparing the church includes prayer groups. People in our church pray for others to come to know Christ. At one time, fifteen hundred people in our church signed up to pray ten minutes a day for the church — we called it “Fifteen Hundred Praying Ten.” Every week, we had hundreds of people praying to the Lord of the harvest for lost people.
Currently, we have an Intercessory Prayer Room manned by our people — seven days a week, sixteen hours a day. As a result, every month we spend nearly five hundred hours in constant prayer. We started out with just a few; the number is irrelevant. If we get a group of people praying for people to come to Jesus, we can get the church prepared by prayer.
Evangelistic efforts are also part of preparing the church. Once every year or so, I invite men who have the gift of evangelism to lead a series of evangelistic meetings. We usually have a great harvest when these come and minister their gifts to the church.
Evangelism training is another important aspect of church preparation. We need not just to preach but to equip the saints. At my church in Nashville, I began with two women and two men and trained them with Evangelism Explosion. We started with four, and when I left the church some years later, we were training nearly a hundred and fifty people a year.
Finally, to prepare the church, we must have a sense of spiritual growth. People have to believe that it is a biblical priority to reach people. In our church we cancel everything on Monday nights so that people will be free to go visiting.
Prepare to Preach
I have learned that if I don’t make preparation a priority, I’m not going to preach much of any substance. So I clear the calendar to prepare to preach. All day Tuesday, all day Wednesday, Thursday morning, and Friday morning, unless there is an emergency, I’m in the study with the door closed preparing to preach on Sunday.
I used to go study for an hour, and then go counsel somebody, answer the phone, run down here and see Miss Jones, and go over here to see Tom and Dick, do this, run in and grab thirty minutes more of study, and run out again. Finally I had to decide; if I was called to equip the saints, I’d better get in that study.
I have made it a priority for about ten years now, and God has honored it. I have found more people coming to Christ, and more response when I made study a priority than I ever had when I was trying to do everything for everyone.
In preparing the message, we also need a place for study. I found that if I could separate my study from my administrative duties, counseling with people, answering the telephone, dictating or writing letters, and meeting with committees — I was more effective in study.
In addition to a place for study, and priority of preparation, I protect the study. My secretary tells people I will return their calls later. She doesn’t let any call come through unless I have told her or it is an absolute emergency. I don’t have people crowding out my time in the study. Protecting the study helps me prepare the message of God.
When I come to actually preparing the message, I first seek to know the Holy Spirit’s leading. I pray, “Lord, on Sunday morning people are going to be sitting out here. How do you want me to minister to them? What do you want to say to your church through this passage?” Then I bring every possible source to bear on that passage, collect illustrations, then just keep on at it until I push through with something.
Whatever my subject, I try to do what Spurgeon advised: “When you find your text, wherever it is, just cut cross country to Jesus.” I try to bring that message, so that the people there know that Jesus loves them and has a claim on their lives.
Prepare for Response
When I preach I have a goal in mind for hearers to respond to. I believe God has given me the gift of exhortation. What am I exhorting them to do? When I give an invitation, and I preach to Christians, what am I expecting that person in the pew to do out there? That business man? The housewife? The career woman? The single person?
I try to make my invitation correspond to the message I preach. If we preach to human problems, that Jesus Christ and the Word of God can minister to them, He uses that point of contact to lead in people’s lives and bring them to a confession of faith in Him.
One year at the holiday season, we had a “singing Christmas tree.” We had about a hundred people up on a Christmas tree singing the music of Christmas. At the end, a cross came up in lights, and the choir sang, “There’s Room at the Cross for You.”
I stepped out on the stage and told a little story as they sang the gospel, and then I said, “Some of you here tonight may have never asked Jesus to come into your heart. Maybe you never knew how to pray, and so I’m going to lead you in a prayer. Most of you are familiar with the sinner’s prayer, so just pray this prayer to God with me.”
There were two thousand people there; I was up on the platform, and I began to pray, “Dear Lord …”
And I heard someone say, “Dear Lord …”
“Tonight …”
“Tonight …”
“I realize I am a sinner …”
“I realize I am a sinner …”
At first I thought it was a problem with feedback in the speakers. Then I realized that a guy in the balcony was praying the prayer with me — out loud, in front of two thousand people! Electricity ran through that room; everybody realized what was happening. As I was praying, his voice began to get louder, and he began to cry. He accepted Jesus, and just broke out into weeping. In front of two thousand people he made a very public confession of faith.
When it was over the people surrounded him. We found out later that he had been an agnostic, and had come with some friends who had been praying for him for a long time. He had come under duress, to please his friends, yet the Holy Spirit had spoken to him during the performance that night. Nonetheless, had I not given the invitation, I can’t be sure that he would have actually come to Jesus, except for the sovereignty of God.
When we are prepared for evangelism — prepared in personal ways, prepared for preaching, and prepared for response, we are ready to be used of God in people’s lives. They will be drawn to Him, and we will have the joy of reaping the bountiful harvest.
From Choose Ye This Day, copyright (c) 1989 by World Wide Publications. Used by permission.

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