Why Do You Preach?

You rush into the kitchen, then into the pantry. You're on a mission. You're standing in the pantry and suddenly your mind is blank. "Why did I just come in here? I needed something. What do I need?" Have you ever had one of those moments? You set out to get something in the living room but muscle memory took over and you ended up in the pantry with no idea why. 

Now you're standing in the pulpit. "Why am I here? Why am I about to preach this sermon?" There are multiple good answers to those kinds of questions about why you preach. Perhaps one of the more common answers is you are called to proclaim God's Word, the Bible. If this is your answer, this is a really good answer. You are called to "preach the word..." (2 Tim. 4:2).

Now, why are you called to "preach the word"? Embodying the right answer to why you preach the word will actually affect your preaching of the word. Again, there are multiple ways to answer that question, but let's focus on an important, often overlooked answer. Preachers are called to preach God's Word in order to help people. "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God..." (1 Pt. 4:10-11; emphasis added). Your sermon is meant to be heard and it is meant to be heard because it is meant to help.

What this means is that the preacher's heart beats for the good of those who hear his preaching week in and week out. His concern is first to say what the Bible says. And one of the fundamental reasons his concern is to say what the Bible says is to help the people who hear him. To not say what the Bible says is to withhold help from people.

The Apostle Paul reveals his heart in preaching saying, "For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness...But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children" (1 Thess. 2:5, 7). What kind of preacher says, "I try to be like a nursing mother in my preaching"? The kind of preacher who says that is fundamentally focused on helping people. 

Practically speaking, this means actual sermons are prepared with listeners in mind. When you know what a biblical text means, you must think about how to communicate it in a way most helpful to those who hear it. Tim Keller quotes Alec Motyer on what a preacher is responsible to in preaching: "First to the truth, and secondly to this particular group of people. How will they best hear the truth? How are we to shape and phrase it so that it comes home to them in a way that is palatable, that gains the most receptive hearing..." What Ken Haemer says about presentations is true of biblical preaching; designing a sermon without your church in mind is like "writing a love letter and addressing it 'to whom it may concern.'" 

If preaching is about helping people then sermons ought to be crafted in a way to be clear and compelling to a specific group of listeners. Generally, sermons that are confusing do not help people. Generally, sermons that do not seek to gain and keep attention do not help people. Sermons that help people are clear and compelling. They communicate God's Word with clarity and they communicate God's Word in a way that compels people to listen.

When thinking through how you will deliver the truth of God's Word, ask yourself whether or not listeners will see that you designed your sermon to help them. In other words, compel them to listen by engaging a sin, problem, crises, or question that they face; that the biblical text addresses. The goal is that listeners do not just see that what you preach is true but how the truth matters to them personally. When you aim to help your listeners, bring them the ultimate solution, the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.