I once heard my friend, Pastor Doug Logan, challenge a group of pastors to preach for the people, not for the podcast. It is a powerful statement; one that rubs against the ambitions, idolatries, insecurities, and secret desires of pastors. It got me thinking about how pastoring actual churches, made up of real people who we love and care for, affects our preaching. Below are five simple ways pastoring helps and changes my preaching:
#1: Our heroes of the faith change. When I was still young in ministry most of my Christian heroes where authors, other pastors, and dead saints. But the longer I pastor, the more my heroes tend to be the very people in the congregation with me: the evangelist who is faithfully on mission in our congregation, the faithful believer enduring suffering and pain through illness, the young college student whose faith has a zeal and a ferocity, or the older saint who streams tears of joy during worship. The truth is, while I value, glean from, and admire the hard work of those outside the church I serve in, most of my real heroes in the faith are now inside our local church.
#2: We realize we are far from the most mature person in our congregation. This does not need much explanation, but I know many young pastors who believe falsely that if their church were just more like them, their church would be great. The truth is, at my church many weeks I am blessed by the zeal, the commitment, the love for God’s word, the endurance, and the faithfulness of those in the congregation that often goes far beyond my own.
#3: We can’t share our best sermon illustrations. When I pastor I hear the most powerful stories about the effects of sin, suffering in sickness, pain, and victory. They are so powerful and would preach incredibly, but as I pastor, I have to keep them to myself. The reason is these are not people I found online, or heard about from another preacher; they are part of the congregation. And you guard their trust, confidentiality, dignity, and gospel progress by not sharing their story.
#4: My sermon prep changes. The more I pastor the more in my preaching preparation I hear the words of Paul as he writes to the Romans,
11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. Romans 1:10-11 (ESV)
Pastoring helps the sermon prep take on flesh. Rather than vague prayers, I begin to pray specifically for people who may need, or who model, the truth of the text. Rather than vague writing, I consider people in the congregation who I long for to know this truth, or become encouraged by those I know who walk in it well.
#5: My need for the gospel grows. When I preach I certainly need the gospel, to hold out as an imperfect person the truths that I fall short of every week, and to rejoice in the grace of Christ; it would be idiotic to think I don’t need the gospel to preach. But when I put on top of that brokenness, victory, struggle — the unending needs, the pain, and joy of a congregation who I shepherd — I have to surrender each day and say, “Your will be done, Lord. I need your gospel today.” The more I pastor, the more my love for and need of the gospel grows, and the more I realize Jesus is not simply preaching to me, but he himself is pastoring me towards heaven.
Ryan Baitzel is a disciple of Jesus, husband and father of four. He serves as the lead pastor of Emergence Church in Totowa NJ, which was launched in May of 2006. Emergence is committed to planting churches in North Jersey, and currently is training two church planters to plant gospel centered, missional, multiplying churches.