I recently started preaching on the weekends at a little church in Kentucky. It's been really good to get back into the routine of regularly preaching. Sometimes you don't really realize how much you love doing something until you go a while without doing it. Before taking this preaching position, I had only preached a couple times in the last eight months, and it's been refreshing to get back into the rhythm of researching and writing. And, as a result of all of this, I have been forced to think a little more lately about the nature and methods of effective preaching.
What makes good preaching? I suppose there are a million different answers to that question. You could read all sorts of books about preaching, and the author will tell what methods they think make the best sermons. It might be interesting illustrations, a clear structure, precise word choice, a memorable main idea, the ability to preach without notes, engaging visual aides, and a host of other things.
As I have been thinking about this for the past few days, though, I have been struck by what I now think is one of the most important parts of the sermon-writing process--to make it a practice to live with the text for the week. Make it your roommate. Your constant companion. When I'm working on a sermon during the week, it can be easy for me to distance that process from the rest of my activities. But in order to present God's Word in the best way possible on Sunday mornings, it's important for me to get that text inside of me. To internalize it. To let my thoughts and actions soak in it, the same way I let dirty dishes soak in water overnight sometimes.
Colossians 3:16 says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." I like that idea of allowing the word of Christ to dwell within you. We need to allow God's Word to burrow down within us; to take residence there. This is important for the Christian life in general, but I think it is especially essential for preachers and teachers. Before we presume to proclaim and interpret God's Word, we need to first let it do its work in us.
One significant result of allowing God's Word to dwell within us before we preach or teach it is that it produces passion, and passion covers over a multitude of homiletical sins. If we take time during the week to meditate on, prayer over, and interact with our text, we can't help but get excited about it. It makes a good sermon or lesson into potentially a great one. It transforms it from a lecture about an abstract concept into a moment where we allow God to speak though us. As we allow the word of Christ to dwell within us, it's like we are sponges soaking up water, allowing us to wring ourselves out before our hearers.
If you're in a position where you preach or teach on a regular basis, I'd encourage you to make it a practice to live with the text for the entire week before you present it. Read over it a couple times each day, not just in sermon prep, but devotionally as well. Try to memorize a couple of the key verses. Let the message rattle around in your head while you go about your regular business. Because when we do that, we put ourselves in a position where God can use us as his herald, proclaiming his Word to the people. And somehow, I think that's what it's all about.