“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
I’ve never met a man more committed to doing a good job than my earthly father. In his mind, if he wasn’t 15 minutes early to work, he was late. He worked hard while he was on the clock and he stayed until the job was done. His vehicles were clean. His yard was always immaculate. His shaves were pristine, and his shirts were always pressed. I’m sure he often looked at the slob I am and wondered where he went wrong. I can recall him telling me many times, “If a job is worth doing, then it’s worth doing right.” He instilled this into me, and he lived it before my eyes every day of his life. He was no hypocrite.
Today—as a pastor, few things bother me more than listening to a man behind a pulpit preach when it’s obvious he didn’t prepare. Not only is it lazy, but it also exposes a low view of God and His people. Preaching is the last job on earth where a man should just “wing it”. A man claiming to be a preacher whose preparation is little more than jotting a couple of verses or ideas down just before stepping behind the pulpit is a man who needs to be promoted to lay person.
In Paul’s final canonical letter—as he instructs his young protégé, Timothy—he explains to him that preaching the Bible takes work—hard work. It takes hours of blood, sweat and tears. Preaching the text of Scripture accurately will never happen if a man isn’t committed to studying. “Do your best”, Paul says. Don’t be a pulpit slouch.
Understand—a sermon is not just a series of random, unconnected thoughts that are blurted out whenever something pops into the preacher’s head. A sermon does not lack cohesiveness. On the contrary, a sermon is a form of communication which intends to draw the congregation nearer to God through the accurate explanation of His Word. That means a sermon should not only be Biblical, but also logical and understandable. To quote one pastor, "Edification requires intelligibility". Clearly then, this requires much thought and preparation on the part of the preacher. He must spend time crafting his introduction, his explanation of the text and his conclusion. He should make dead-level certain he explains whatever text he chooses with authorial intent—and in a way that the congregation fully understands what God has said through that passage. Then—and only then—can he move on to contemporary applications. This isn’t always easy. But it is always necessary, nonetheless.
Far too often, a man will read a verse or two as little more than a springboard and then go on to ramble on for 45 minutes. Sentences aren’t connected. He chases rabbit after rabbit. There is no predominant theme of the sermon. He has no idea, really, what point he’s trying to get across. The text is lost in the shuffle. Oftentimes, he’ll tell you he didn’t get to finish his outline when the truth is he wasn’t prepared to deliver a sermon. And the result is, you leave not only wondering what the original text was actually about, but also wondering what he even intended to say in the first place. All this is evidence of a gross negligence on his part—a complete lack of preparation. Such a man needs to sit down and let someone else speak who is willing to prepare.
Perhaps worse than anything else, the unprepared preacher often blames God for his poor preparation. He will say, “I was studying something but then the Lord gave me this sermon.” There isn’t a hint in the New Testament that the Lord is dropping sermons into the heads of preachers. On the contrary, Paul told Timothy “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Understand, the Bible is complete. So, God is unequivocally not giving further revelation today. That means He is not speaking through dreams or visions or some still small voice. He isn’t speaking through feelings or emotions or ideas. No, God is speaking by His Spirit through His Word. And so, the pastor is to preach that Word through which God speaks.
I say all that to say this once again—few things drive me crazier than listening to a preacher ramble because he isn’t prepared. And that’s because if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. And no job is more important in this world than shepherding God’s sheep. If a man is unwilling to do sheep work, he shouldn’t be a shepherd.
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Todd Bryant is the Lead Elder at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Northport, AL. He has pastored there since 1998. For more more information on the church and links to audio sermons and apps for electronic devices, visit www.sovereigngrace.net