Making Progress in the Pulpit

Every preacher is gifted by God in different ways, whether intellectually, or socially, or spiritually. We each bring our own weaknesses into the pulpit, too. But through diligent attention to this holy work—presenting sermons week by week, humbly receiving critique and listening to wise counsel, sharpening our abilities in exegesis and expression—we aim to grow and learn as we steward our gifts faithfully.

Probably every pastor recalls with a shudder his first attempt at a sermon.

My first sermon was in seminary back in 2001 when our homiletics professor assigned me Romans 2:12-16.

It’s a challenging passage about how those “who sin apart from the law will perish apart from the law,” and those who “sin under the law will be judged by the law.”

Paul goes on to say that even though the Gentiles do not have the law, they sometimes by nature do things required by it. In this way they show “that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”

A taxing text. And I struggled mightily to understand this piece from Romans, let alone to explain it coherently or apply it winsomely, to say nothing of preaching Christ from a text that hardly mentions him.

I am sure that I did very poorly on all counts.

It was a long time ago, but I recall clearly the comments of a fellow student after I delivered my homiletic hash, “I think you tried to stick to the text, but I don’t see how the sermon connects at all to the Joe Plumber in the church pew…” It was a point well taken: my first attempt at a sermon was more of a dry exegetical essay than a lively proclamation of God’s Word.

What I experienced that day was an early introduction to the truth that for every minister, preaching is a task which is simultaneously perplexing and enriching, both a mighty struggle and a great joy.

Since my first (very bad) experience of preaching, God has let me continue to proclaim his Word. By now it’s been at least 1500 sermons over the last twenty years. 

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