“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through Him, and nothing was created except through Him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (
At the start of it all, we as human beings made a pretty grave mistake. Instead of relying on God and submitting to His direction, the first people instead sought to know good and evil for themselves. Not defeated by our rebellion, God had in mind all along to save us by sending His Son Jesus Christ. What a strange decision, for Jesus to come down and save us as fully human and fully divine. In order to save men of flesh, the Word became flesh.
As strange as it may at first seem, I have come to believe the doctrine that most informs the methodology that should be at the core of our preaching is the incarnation. So what does the incarnation of Jesus have to do with the way we preach on Sunday morning? I think you will find the doctrine of the incarnation can have serious implications for the way we bring the Word to our congregations.
Debate has been raging since the days of the early church until today about how important the preacher is in the effectiveness of a sermon. On the one side there has been the staunch insistence the preacher is inconsequential to the message. Those on this side of the argument insist that in the end, God is the only One who can reach people for the gospel, and while we stand up there and talk, the only defining factor is whether the Holy Spirit decides to move the congregation today. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the ones who insist that while God is fully capable of working despite the preacher, that He has chosen in His sovereignty to use the preacher’s talents and abilities rather than superseding them.
The question remains Who is in correct regarding this matter? Does God work regardless of what the preacher does? Does God choose to let the effectiveness of our sermons depend on our preparation and effort? Much like the incarnation of Jesus, the strangest answer is the correct one: It is a combination of the two.
“Since God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never know Him through human wisdom, He has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense” (
Just as God’s plan for salvation used the flesh of man to save man, God continues to work through people to reach other people. Throughout the Bible story, even pre-Christ, God made a regular practice of appointing particular people to be His voice to a lost and hurting world. Scripture itself was written not by a divine incorporeal hand from the sky, but rather by the hand and in the style of human beings. God has been bringing His Word to us through flesh since the fall.
So who are the people God has chosen to speak through today? For better or worse, we as preachers have the privilege and the responsibility of being mouthpieces of God, some of us on a weekly basis. This means the office of preacher is one of deep importance and should not be demeaned in its role. The importance of this role is illustrated by
So what does this mean for the practice of preaching itself? How should this change the way we sit down to prepare a sermon and stand up to deliver it? I would argue there is a three-fold application of this fact. These three facts are that we should approach the office of preacher with a degree of care and reverence, that we should be open to expressing our individual style and creativity in preaching and that we should strive to be honest and real people in the eyes of our congregations.
The most important implication is an attitude of reverence that each preacher should have toward putting together sermons. It gets easy once you have prepared dozens or hundreds of sermons during your career to view preaching as a task that you must accomplish before the end of the week. The fact that God uses us and our talents to reach people means we always should prepare sermons with great care and diligence, as failure on our part could have serious ramifications for how well the message reaches the people in the pews.
On the other hand, this fact should encourage creativity and personal identity in writing sermons. If God was glad to use the particular writing styles of the different Scripture writers, than it stands to reason He will use your personal style and gift. This means there is no one right way to deliver sermons and that preachers should embrace their preaching identity.
Finally, the importance of the person of the pastor means you should be open and real with the people who are in your congregation. People reject those who pretend to be better or different than they really are. They also connect better with people to whom they are able to relate. This may be the reason Jesus spoke in parables so often to the people. He was a down-to-earth and relatable Man, who spoke with the same voice His fellow people did.
Now that I have placed a great deal of weight on your shoulders, here’s the fun part. While we are very important, if not essential, to the declaration of God’s Word to the people, we cannot do so without God’s help. We should be thankful, indeed, that we are not left alone to try and grow people spiritually under our own strength. In fact, God discourages such a course of action.
As the verse in 1 Corinthians says, God has chosen neither the wisdom of man, nor a voice from heaven, but some combination of the two. While He uses us with our personal style and our ability to relate to reach our congregations, the real meat of the sermon can only come from what He has to offer. Like John the Baptist, we do not come to dispense salvation but to herald the only One who can.
The question then is: What does the fact of God’s role in preaching mean when it comes to the actual practice of preaching? It does no good simply to reflect fondly on the fact God can and does speak through us if it does not in some way affect the way we prepare to speak to the congregation. I contend that much like the role of the preacher, the role of God in the sermon has three ramifications for the way we preach. These are that we should approach preaching with a great deal of humility, that we should seek God throughout the entire process of preparing and delivering a sermon, and that we should be expectant to see God move in our congregations.
The fact of the matter is that if we are to partner with God in the process of writing a sermon, we will come face to face with our own limitations. This is expected and beneficial. While I maintain the importance of embracing your own style, ultimately we must lean on God to give us substance. This means we also should give credit to God when we are successful and great things start happening in our churches. If we did not do all the work, then why should we get the credit?
Another fact is that if good preaching requires God’s hand, than we should be seeking what He has to say throughout the entire process of producing and delivering a sermon. I have heard some imply God might interrupt the sermon as planned and prepared while in the middle of it being preached in order to speak something God wants said to the congregation. While I believe that is certainly possible, I cannot help but think the preparation should be done with God in order to avoid the need for Him to interrupt what we might have produced. We can stand confidently with notes in hand if we know we can rely on our notes because God’s hand has been with us the entire way.
Finally, if we believe God is involved equally in the process of sermonizing, then we should be optimistic about our churches. Serving in ministry is hard work and filled quite frequently with failures and disappointments. This means it is very easy to become pessimists and stop truly believing great things can happen under our leadership. The truth is, though, it is not all up to us. We are working together with a powerful God who can do “infinitely more than we might ask or think” (
So in the end, we find ourselves comparing the mystery of the incarnation to the mystery of preaching. God chose in His wisdom to come down as the second Person of the Trinity as entirely God and entirely human. God chooses now to communicate to the church in the entirely human preacher, backed entirely by the all-powerful triune God.
So take heart, my brothers and sisters in arms! We face a grave responsibility that will use all the best of us, but we stand shoulder to shoulder with the most powerful of all beings, the one true God. We should approach our preaching with reverence and humility. We should use our unique skills while constantly seeking God. We should be honest about our own limitations, at the same time confident in God’s ability to do amazing things through us.