Ready to Preach?
Every now and then someone in the church will ask me before a sermon, “Are you ready?” When asked, I greatly appreciate the loving care for me as a pastor and the anticipation for the preaching of God’s Word, and yet I always have to smile to myself as I think how to answer. “Are you ready?” How do you answer that question?
From one perspective, I don’t know that I am ever fully ready to preach God’s Word. The holy weight of the task demands humility, brokenness and dependence. Preaching is a sobering task for which no one is ever fully ready, able or worthy. The pastor is merely a redeemed sinner that God graciously works through. We are but beggars, longing that God would magnify Himself through us as unworthy broken vessels. Therefore we preach, praying that God would graciously do what only he can do—cause growth (1 Cor 3:7).
In addition, no matter how much preparation one does, there is always more that can be done: more to read, more time in the text, more prayer, more time in crafting the sermon, more time on illustrations or application, etc. Readiness can imply the arrival at some point as if one is finished or has exhausted all that needs to be done. There is always more than can be done! From this standpoint, one is never fully ready. At some point in the preparation process, the pastor has to trust in the grace of God and get up and preach. We work hard in study and prayer and then trust the Lord to work.
There is also another side to this question. On one hand, it is true that no one is ever fully ready to preach; but on the other hand, the pastor is required to be ready to preach. Paul reminds Timothy of this responsibility in 2 Timothy 2:15 when he says, “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.” Paul continues later explaining God’s expectations for how the Word should be viewed and taught. Second Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” A right view of inspiration demands precision in study. God has given each and every word of the entirety of Scripture for the purpose of godliness and like Ezra, the pastor must set his heart to study, understand, live and teach the truth (Ezra 7:10). Such accuracy is assumed when Paul later tells Timothy to “preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2). The surrounding context reveals there is a wrong way to handle God’s Word. This serves as a sobering reminder for us as pastors that we need to be ready to preach, rightly handling the Word of Truth.
Now most of us would not dare step into the pulpit intentionally trying to be negligent, unclear, hypocritical, or half-hearted. We hope to step behind the pulpit in faithful, dependent readiness, preaching with clarity, accuracy and humility. That being said, none of us are exempt from dangers that lurk in the heart. In pastoral ministry, Sunday always comes. As soon as you finish one sermon, there is another one coming. This is one of the great joys and privileges of ministry, and yet it also presents unique challenges. While there is planned time for preparation in order to be faithful, schedules change, crises happen, and some passages just take more time than others. There are some weeks with later nights and earlier mornings than the normal late nights and early mornings. While the Lord graciously works during these times, the temptation for laziness, prayerlessness, taking shortcuts in preparation, and “winging it” endanger the heart. There is a difference between (a) being as diligent and faithful as you can in the text and trusting the Lord with the realization that you will never be fully ready and (b) presuming on the Lord because you did not put in the time and energy to prepare. In other words, we need to be ready to preach.
The Lord knows our hearts, and He has given high expectations for those who handle His Word. He knows when we take short cuts versus when we did the hard work to understand the authorial intent. The Lord knows when we wrestled with the text in our own soul versus when we merely came up with something that preaches well. The Lord knows when we prayerfully crafted the sermon with the precious people we preach to in mind versus when we put some notes down on the paper to fill the time. The Lord knows when we have incredibly difficult weeks and are seeking to be as faithful as we possibly can versus when we use busyness as an excuse or we don’t prioritize our time in God’s word. The Lord knows whether or not we are ready. Preaching is hard work—there is no way around it: hard work in the text, hard work in our souls, hard work on our knees, hard work for our people.
When someone asks you if you ready to preach, what will you say? We might not ever be fully ready, but by the grace of God, would we be those that are found faithful, ready to preach.
Justin McKitterick is one of our ten TES campus pastors, having served as the Pastor-Teacher of Grace Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida since 2011.