by Robert Earl Houston
I want to invest this in the lives of all those who preach the gospel. Hopefully you will agree at least with the premise. I welcome your comments within the blog:
THOU SHALT NOT FORGET TO PRAY – Sermons are not birthed in the laboratory of “good ideas.” They should be birthed in prayer. That special communion time with God – whether you’ve meditated all week or because you’re bi-vocational you only had Saturday to devote to sermon preparation, you should never select a text and then pray. No, you should pray first – clear your heart and mind of the debris – and then ask the Holy Spirit to point you toward the text you’re about to exegete.
THOU SHALT NOT BE SHALLOW IN RESEARCH – One of the best investments that I’ve made in life is Logos Bible Software. I was introduced to it at the WHW Expository Preaching Conference in Los Angeles in the late 1990s and I’ve been a faithful user (and buyer) since that time. I recently upgraded to Logos 5 and it is important to do your research. Make sure that you are true to the truths in the original languages, syntax, culture, etc. A preacher who does not invest in tools does not intend to dig a foundation, you’re just going to dig a drainage ditch.
THOU SHALT FIND A QUIET PLACE – I don’t have kids under foot, but if I did, I think that a sermon writer cannot adequately write out a sermon while Johnny is running around the house, Susie wants time with dad and the twins are throwing the cat around. You need a special, quiet place (or time) where it’s just you and the Lord. No television, no distractions by radio, etc. Me personally? I like to have some soft jazz or light music going while I’m putting a sermon together but every now and then I have to turn everything off to concentrate and to make sure I’m hearing the Holy Spirit correctly.
THOU SHALT BAKE FRESH BREAD – I’ve been pastoring since 1991 and I can count on one hand the number of times that I have went back into the archives and preached the same sermon twice at the church I pastor (exception: If I’m preaching both worship services, of course, it is the same sermon – but two very different crowds). When I read the text, the Lord’s mercies are new everyday. No congregation is the same week to week – and their needs are different. I go to the pulpit with a new, fresh word (for my pentecostal friends, a rhema word) that I may be able to speak into their lives with a fresh, anointed word. Worship should not be predictable and neither should the sermon.
THOU SHALT NOT ENTER THY PULPIT WITHOUT PRACTICE – I am a firm believer that the sermon needs to be rehearsed before the minister enters the pulpit. I believe in the rule of “7s” – in order to ingrain the sermon into the cerebral cortex, you need to rehearse it at least 7 times. In plain language you need to go over the text (either reading it or verbally speaking it) at least seven times. Also (and I know I may catch some heat for this) you may need a “fresh pair of eyes” to review your sermon. I worked for Morris Cerullo in San Diego as a Senior Project Manager and the rule of the ministry was that you were not allowed to submit anything without having someone else review it. My wife, Jessica, is my proof-reader. Not my editor, my proof-reader.
THOU SHALT PREACH IT THY WAY – I love Thomas Dexter Jakes’ presentations of the word. I could add to that list Paul Sylvester Morton, Darryl S. Brister, William J. Shaw, E.V. Hill, Adrian Rogers, Gilbert Earl Patterson, Timothy Winters, O.B. Williams, and the list goes on and on. However, I have to preach it my way. Not my way in ownership, but in stewardship. I have some public speaking weaknesses. I have difficulty sometimes with longer words, especially Greek words. So I have to “chop ’em up” in my manuscript or play off my weaknesses in preaching. I also have a faster than normal cadence – but again, if I slowed it down, it wouldn’t be me. I never will forget being at a national convention and one of the officers in the back room was packing his briefcase prior to the sermon. One of the pastors in the room said, “Aren’t you going to stay and hear Dr. (name withheld)?” He smiled and said, “No, I heard (the minister who preached the night before) last night.” ‘Nuff said.
THOU SHALT EVALUATE THY SERMON – I have family and friends who will tell you, on Sundays and Mondays, I go through a very personal, cathartic evaluation of my sermon or sermons preached that weekend. I will beat myself up. I will wince. I will say “why did I say that?” because I want to be the best Robert Earl Houston I can be. Doctors have a peer review when the patient dies. I believe that a preacher needs either personal or peer reviews of their sermons. That may not always mean after the sermon is preached. Sometimes you may have to pick up the phone and bounce off a concept off a colleague who is not going to sign off on everything you propose because they are your friend.
THOU SHALT NOT SEEK APPLAUSE – When I preached my first sermon in 1978, in the words of the old preachers, I “killed the house.” I was prayed up. I had went over my first sermon at least 50 times. And the house was full of people who wanted to see me do well. That week, I my head was swollen. You couldn’t have told me anything. My father in the ministry, the late Dr. A. Bernard Devers, I, noticed my appreciation for applause and he faked ill that following Sunday knowing that my ego was going to ask if I could preach that night with 3 hours notice. I failed miserably. I let him down. I let my home church, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, down. I remember the looks on their faces, “what happened to him?” But most of all, I let God down. Pastor Devers told me something that sticks to my skin this day: “Last week you gave a great performance, this week you begin to learn how to preach.” Lesson learned.
THOU SHALT FEED THE SHEEP – I think the reason why some pastors don’t connect with some congregations is that they preach sermons that would work in a Convention or College or Conference setting but does not connect with the people in their church. Sometimes, “theologues” can be so excited about a new word they learned in Greek and carry it to the pulpit and the people look at them like “I’m having trouble with my teenage daughter, what in the hell does a Greek lexicon have to do with me?” I believe expository preaching is best when you bring the congregation along and put your ears to the ground. I’m not saying preach their problems across the pulpit. I’m saying preach their hopes across the pulpit. Make the expository message applicable.
Finally, THOU SHALT FEEL GOOD – When I was in Portland, my pastor was Dr. Johnny Pack, IV and he is about 5’7″ and I’m 6’2.” I received my theological foundation from Dr. Devers, but I received my spiritual encouragement from Dr. Pack. He taught to not be so stone-faced and view the presentation of the gospel as some burden that pained me to preach. No, he taught me that it’s OK to enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit and to also be excited about His presence with me in the pulpit. When Pastor Pack first came to Portland, I was preaching and he stood up and rubbed the back of my head and said “Feel good.” I didn’t get it immediately but as time went on, that was his way of saying “yield yourself to the Holy Spirit.” He also taught me that just because I have 20 pages of a manuscript, I don’t have to preach all 20. If the Holy Spirit is moving in such a way, I may have to shut it down after my first point.