I still get a tightness in my stomach, even though I have preached at the same church since 1999. As the last song of worship ends and someone gives a public reading of scripture, I begin to experience anticipation mixed with trepidation. It is time to preach. As I step onto the stage, place my Bible on the pulpit, I take a moment to gaze into the eyes of my congregation. I can hear their thoughts, “What do you have for me today, pastor?”
What is the Preaching Event?
What is the preaching event? How are we to understand the mystery of what happens when God’s Word is declared to God’s people when the church assembles? Forgive my alliteration by allowing me to suggest four elements of the public preaching event: preparation, pleading, proclamation, and pastoral.
1. Preparation. The preaching event begins in a pastor’s studio. I prefer the term studio over study because you must craft a sermon, like building a piece of furniture or throwing a clay pot on a wheel. You construct each sermon for a particular congregation at a specific point in time. A sermon is something to be heard, visualized, and experienced. The preacher should imagine how the message will be delivered while preparing, and he should begin pleading for the Spirit’s help as he prepares for the declaration of God’s Word.
2. Pleading. If Spurgeon pleaded for the Holy Spirit to help him while climbing the stairs to his pulpit each Sunday, then we should be making our pleas much sooner. Effective preaching is impossible without the Spirit’s participation. In my studio, I plead for illumination as I cross over the bridge from exegesis to exposition. I pray for eloquence as I craft each rhetorical element of my message. I ask the Holy Spirit to help me accomplish what Augustine exhorted of every preacher—that our message would teach, move and delight the congregation. There is a mysterious element to preaching that involves Acts describes as “the filling of the Spirit.” This filling is what I ask for each time I preach. This filling is what I desperately need when it is time to proclaim God’s Word.
3. Proclamation. My mentor, Wayne McDill succinctly, yet accurately describes the preaching event as “the moment of truth.” Proclamation is the moment in time when the Spirit of God ministers his inspired Word through the advocacy of preaching to those gathered to worship. The experience of preaching is like none other. There is a sense of power that comes upon the preacher and a sense of urgency because he has something important to declare. Harry Emerson Fosdick considered the preaching event to be “an animated conversation” between preacher and congregation because the preacher is excited to share life-changing news to people who need to hear.
The trepidation I experience each time I preach is merely the physiological response to the pneumatological reality that is taking place. The weightiness of preaching is something felt, yet the Spirit sustains the preacher.
I am a big advocate of live, expository preaching. I believe the preaching event must be “incarnational,” involving a live preacher proclaiming God’s living Word to a live audience—and this all happens in a moment. It then becomes history, never to be lived again. Preaching is a moment of truth.
4. Pastoral. The preaching event is one of the shepherding ministries of the church elders to their congregation. Just as Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep,” each pastor should nourish, care, guide, and protect his members during the preaching event. We nourish our members as we give them a steady diet of God’s Word. We care for our members as we preach to the needs of their souls. We guide our members as we show them the narrow path that will lead them to heaven. We protect our members from the lies they continually hear from society, Satan, and their souls. From the heart of God, through the heart of the preacher, to the heart of the congregation, the preaching event helps straying sheep to return to the Great Shepherd and Overseer of their souls (1 Peter 2:25).
There are still some mysteries surrounding the preaching event. What does the “filling of the Spirit” mean? When is it present? When absent? What is “unction” or “anointed preaching”? Questions relating to preaching multiple church services, live-stream preaching, and the digital distance created by multiple preaching campuses or “venues” demand our consideration and critique.
What should the preacher hope for as he and his congregation experience the preaching event? The pleasure of God, the transformation of God’s people, the communion of the saints, conversion of the lost, and motivation toward mission are just a few of the blessings coming from the preaching event. In the end, the preaching event is a sacred task and tremendous privilege–well worthy of the “butterflies” that will flutter around in my belly this Sunday morning.