Hello again brethren (= brothers & sisters),
I write this to you the week before Memorial Day, so I haven’t yet preached on May 29, but since May has five Sundays, I have gotten to deliver eight Sundays’ worth of sermons to you since April 1. I heard from many of you before April, and I have heard from several of you since, that you already knew how I preached because you have heard me many times over the past thirteen years. That being said, prior to Pastor Jim’s retirement, the closest thing I have had to a “routine” were limited to when he had his neck surgery, and when he took his sabbatic trip each spring.
In the past eight weeks, the biggest learning curve I have had in this role is to structure a weekly routine of study, meditation, writing, and [what I call] “percolating”. I confess to you, and have had to repent to the Lord, that through Easter, I spent every Friday working eight to twelve hours writing my sermons. This was a mentally taxing process because I had squandered time earlier in the week doing administrative stuff. I am slowly but deliberately working to nail down a reliable rhythm of reading on Sunday afternoons, studying on Mondays, and doing administrative stuff on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so that by Thursday evenings, much of the guts of my sermons are clear. This has taken away much stress on Fridays and Saturdays. Much more important than my calendar, however, is what God has allowed me to see about the preaching process.
Save sitting by the bed of a saint nearing their heavenly commendation, or praying with someone as they yield their life to Jesus, nothing an elder/overseer/shepherd does is as holy as opening the Word of God before the People of God and heralding the great Good News of salvation. When one of God’s men stands behind the sacred desk and exposes the truths of scripture faithfully, the Holy Spirit convicts sinners, encourages disciples, challenges believers, equips witnesses, and builds the Kingdom. I pray weekly that I never take this lightly. Because God is in the business of saving souls and transforming lives from the inside out, it is imperative for a preacher to A) recognize the weight of such a responsibility, B) hear clearly from the Lord Himself, and C) have a burden over the souls in their care. It is critical that I never position myself as to preach AT anyone else. Rather, I must humbly strive to convey whatever God has laid upon my heart for all of us to hear.
Though every preacher has a different personality, and I reject the idea of taking on a different persona in the pulpit, every good preacher should want to continually improve. Pastor Jim modeled this for all of us to see. He had a passion and drive such that he wanted to continually improve his knowledge and skills. He was never lazy, settling for what was comfortable or easy; he wrestles with difficult passages, gleans from the wisdom and experience of others, and always works to deliver what our church needs to hear, when we need to hear it. Some of you are quick to point out that he and I have very different personalities and delivery styles. I agree completely! The very ones of you that point this out, remind me that what matters is that we preach the Word! Even within one personality, different passages direct different delivery styles. Some passages require me to do more teaching and explaining, others force me to do a little less “thinking” and a bit more “feeling” (refer to what I said on Palm Sunday).
I have also been told since April that I would make a good seminary professor. That’s all find and good, but when you sit in the pews on Sundays, you aren’t a bunch of aspiring theologian pin-heads debating amillennialism or supralapsarianism! I have to work to take theological concepts that might otherwise seem academic, and shape them such that they are relevant to normal church members. Also, I need to remember that we aren’t in Vermont, or Hungary, or the inner city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I need to always allow the Holy Spirit to guide me in making my sermons to be what God has to say to OUR church, THIS week.
I will never preach because of what the news paper says. I will, however, preach knowing exactly what the news paper has said. We want to be well-informed disciples, dealing with the cultural whirlwind around us. We need to be equipped to speak the truth, with grace, directly into the issues of the day. I promise to never bring partisan political speech into God’s pulpit. However, where God’s Word speaks, I will speak. First Baptist Church shall not be afraid to call sin “sin”, neither shall she neglect to proclaim that her bridegroom died to wash that sin away.
I practice expositional preaching. As you know, I love to preach within a series of sermons. More important than the series, though, is the principle of digging into, unpacking, and mining the riches of God’s Word. You have not hired me to spew my own opinions. If it were not for the Word of God, I would have nothing to say, and ought to shut up and sit down. As Pastor Jim has done so well, I aim to treat scripture not like a diving board, but like the swimming pool itself. He handled God’s Word as such, with great fidelity and care. I very much hope that one day, you might say the same about me.
For those of you that have given me feed-back in recent weeks, thank you! My door is always open when it comes to these things. I also wish to thank y’all for the spirit with which you’ve spoken to me, not in a tone of criticism, but one of encouragement. I am thankful to God that we have such a gracious and encouraging church! I am also thankful that He has so kindly given me the opportunity to preach every week!! May He continue to show us His favor!
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say that to you He hath said,
to you who – for refuge – to Jesus have fled?
Rev. Andrew J. Reynolds