by John Meador
Jesus said, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:31b-32 NAS). The truth we share is actually the agent for transformation. If I can see God's Word for what it is, the seed that is planted and that will bring forth true spiritual fruit, then I can realize that the more seed I plant the greater the fruit. How we do that from week to week is the quest!
For the preacher who really wants to connect, one of the greatest temptations is to take a stroll through the Websites or books of popular communicators in order to see what they have been preaching. While I love reading such books, and habitually check out key Websites, it can be counterproductive. For some, there can be a rising panic in the heart that says, "Oh, man, they are really hitting the big topics-I've got to cover that stuff!" And so it goes in one's mind, until what we have are preachers emulating other preachers to some degree. Sounds good, but I doubt there will be any lasting results.
On the other hand, there are those who plow through whole books of the Bible and find trouble connecting with the person in the pew. While their intention is admirable, their homework could be somewhat deficient. It may be that the Bible book which has been selected is best used for another place or another time, or the method of the preacher may be shrouding the power of the Word.
I've got a great word to introduce to you at this point. The word is "balance."
The desire and need for balance in our preaching is what compels us to insure that we have biblical content at the same time we have relevant communication. One time-tested principle to remember is that we must be biblically-based and culturally relevant. While this applies to all of church life, it especially speaks to us as preachers.
There are three things that guide us to balance in our messages, and I'll deal with them one at a time:
First, balance begins with an in-depth understanding of the Word. "Well, of course!" you say. "Who'd ever argue with that?" I suggest that the study habits of preachers today would argue with that. Most pastors today are like poster children for multi-tasking. We've got a million plates spinning and are driven in many ways to keep them going. And yet, quite contrary to that kind of life, the in-depth understanding of God's Word is found in quietness and solitude. Jesus modeled solitude more than once, and He already knew the content!
One of the great books I've read in recent years is a book called The Contemplative Pastor, by Eugene H. Peterson. While Peterson's pastorate may be radically different from yours, his principle of contemplation is great advice for every pastor. How can we truly bring a Word to our people if we do not take the time for intimacy with God and His Word? Peterson encourages pastors to actually schedule the time for study, prayer, and interaction about Scripture. He reminds us that people tend to defer to the schedule, once it's established. This preserves the precious time we need for this purpose.
I can tell you this: if you don't plan your time, others will. And you won't like what they plan for you. A joke around the office at one church I pastored was, "God loves you, but I have a wonderful plan for your life." Plan well your week for study.
My personal practice is to inductively study through any book of the Bible that I am about to preach through. This method of study involves letting the passages speak to me for themselves, instead of me looking for "key truths" in them. The difference is this: while I can "make a truth fit" a passage, the power of the Word involves letting the truth flow from the passage. I get this only when I spend the time to read, observe, interpret, and apply, over many hours.
There are times when I use Bible study materials to do this, as in going through personal "Precept Upon Precept" studies, when they are available. At other times, I simply cut and paste a book onto a word processor file and then mark the text as I go through it. It never ceases to amaze me how truth emerges with time-truth that is of a deeper variety than a casual glance or perusal would bring out.
On average, I'll spend between 10-15 hours studying Scripture and preparing the message each week. There are weeks I spend more time than this. But you must understand that I fight for that time. I wrestle with the schedule and my own tendency to want to get up and "do" something. I am tempted to be with people when I need to be with the Word. Ultimately, I have to win the battle for time in order to be effective.
My encouragement to you today is to begin exercising this first principle immediately, even before we look at other principles coming in later columns. Just do it-and watch God's Word begin to work more powerfully in your preaching.