I have a recurring nightmare on Saturday nights.
It involves me stepping up to the pulpit, looking down at my notes and having NOTHING prepared. As every eye looks on, I start to mumble and make up a sermon out of thin air. I’d love to report that the dream ends with me preaching an earth-rattling, hell-shattering sermon resulting in revival, but more often than not I wake up just before falling off the stage I never should have set foot on.
Thankfully this dream has never been a reality, but it does remind me that I need to know a few things prior to preaching. And if you’re a preacher, so do you.
1. Know Your Text
I don’t just mean have one picked out. Holy cow, I hope we at very least have that. I mean we need to know the text the way a chef knows food, or a nerd knows comics - we need to know EVERYTHING we can. We need to know our text inside and out.
Write it out, jot down your observations, study it in multiple translations, understand the original languages, and read a couple of good commentaries. Our creativity, charisma, and carefully crafted sentences are pathetic substitutes for truly preaching the very Word of God.
Prior to preaching make sure you know your text.
2. Know Yourself
No two preachers are exactly the same. Are there any two people more different than Tim Keller and Steven Furtick? Keller’s all turtle necks and Tolkien, Furtick is fohawks and v-necks. Keller was a professor, Furtick fronted a punk band. Completely. Different. People.
Few things are more frightening than listening to a preacher try to be someone they’re not. Like David in Saul’s armor, it’s awkward, uncomfortable and incongruent with who God’s made them to be.
God gave you the personality He gave you and intends that you preach from it, so make sure you know yourself.
3. Know Your Audience
I just finished preaching a retreat for 6th-12th graders. It had been a long time since I’d preached to anyone other than adults and let’s just say my “re-entry” was rocky. Five minutes in, I felt like I’d never preached before. I was sweaty, self-conscious, and couldn’t wait for it to be over. I didn’t know my audience.
WHAT we preach does not change based on the audience, but HOW we preach should. Children, students, and adults all demand different strategies. What works in an urban area, may crash and burn in a rural community.
The more we know our audience, the more we know how to apply God’s Word skillfully.
You may still have the Saturday nightmare like I do, but if you know your text, yourself, and your audience, the nightmare won’t be a reality.