If this sounds like an odd title for a blog post, let me explain its origin: WordPress blog statistics show you what internet searches have brought people to your blog. For example, on a given day, my stats might indicate that people have searched for “what does it mean to delight in the Lord” or “What is the meaning of the drink offering” (which access two of my most-read sermons on my blog). But from time to time, I have also had “hits” from those searching for: “What should I preach on this Sunday?” I am not sure which of my posts or messages have been accessed with this search question, but since I have seen this question hit my blog repeatedly, I thought it might be beneficial to write an article that directly addressed the topic.
This is indeed a crucial issue, as the selection of the text or message for Sunday’s sermon is one of the most important responsibilities a pastor has, and it should not be taken lightly. I pray that the following will be helpful:
First, the process of having a message for Sunday begins in the life of the preacher.
I Timothy 4:16 commands the minister, like Timothy, to “pay close attention to yourself, and to your teaching.” The order here should be instructive to us: Paul exhorted Timothy to pay attention to “yourself” first — and THEN “your teaching.” A preacher’s message is not, indeed cannot be, disconnected from his life. It is vital for every Christian to walk with God every day, by spending time in His word. I Peter 2:2 says, “like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” If we want to grow as followers of Christ, we must abide in God’s word daily.
But we also need to heed the admonition of the text, and be committed to spend time in “the pure milk” of the word. The “pure milk” of the word of God is the unalloyed word of God itself, unmixed with any other input. It does not involve reading the comments in a study Bible, or some renowned minister’s Bible study — or even daily devotions like the ones I post here on shawnethomas.com. All of these things can be good, and they have their place — as supplements to one’s daily time in God’s word. But nothing can substitute for a Christian with an open Bible, who allows the Spirit of God who indwells him to speak to him directly through “the pure milk of the word” with no hindrances, and no intermediaries of any kind.
Every preacher should begin his day with this “pure milk of the word.” And, importantly, he should NOT do it for a “message” which he hopes to be able to find there for other people, but simply to nourish his own soul. I believe one of the key mistakes a pastor or teacher can fall into is letting their own personal devotional time devolve into a search for a sermon for others. This takes the focus off of personal application of the word, which we all need. If you are merely using your Bible reading time to find a message for others, it takes the spotlight off of your OWN needs, and sins, and areas for improvement in discipleship. It reminds me of the way my son David, when he was a toddler, sang the old song, “The B-I-B-L-E”: “The B-I-B-L-E, yes, that’s the book for YOU!” Yes, the Bible IS “the book for YOU,” but it must first be the book for ME — especially if you are a preacher or teacher! Read “the pure milk of the word” for YOURSELF, every day, and take notes on what God speaks to you about.
When you do this, you will have all kinds of notes about areas of your life that God is addressing. Are you the only person who has these weaknesses, failures, sins, and challenges? No! “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man …” (I Cor. 10:13). People in your congregation will have many of these same problem areas, and in your messages you can speak to them about what God has spoken to you about first.
I have had many a person come up to me after a message, telling me how convicted they were about what I had spoken about. I usually reply that they were just getting to listen in on what God was already convicting ME about first! I think this is important. First, it lets our people know that we as pastors are not on some “high spiritual plain” way above them. We are fellow sinners, fellow pilgrims, on this journey, and deal with many of the same issues that they do. And secondly, as we share regarding issues that God has spoken to us about in our own devotional times, we will deal sensitively — because we ourselves deal with those same issues — and with conviction — because we feel these truths strongly, as they have already impacted our own lives. These are not areas of mere “theological speculation” with us; they are issues which touch our lives as well as theirs.
So will a pastor get “a message” or an application for a sermon in his daily quiet time? Sure; if he is walking with God in His word every day, he certainly will. But it is essential that his MOTIVATION for reading scripture is not to find sermons for other people, but to apply it to his own life first. This distinction is vital, and should be a continual source of self-examination for the minister.
So the first key to having something to preach on Sunday is to personally walk with God every day in His word. “Pay close attention to yourself”, as Paul told Timothy, and you will have taken a most important step towards “what to preach on this Sunday.”
A second source of direction has to do with one’s preaching pattern. My conviction is that while there is certainly a place and time for topical messages, the best overall means of preaching is expository preaching through books of the Bible. This has many benefits, including that one will preach from passages and on topics that he would most likely never choose to preach on, unless it was contained in a text that was next in line in an expository series. It forces the preacher to deal with “hard verses”, and to address topics that, while important, might not come to mind as readily as others.
But another of the benefits of expository preaching has to do with the topic at hand: it eliminates the continual quandary of “what should I preach on this Sunday?” If you are preaching verse by verse (or section by section; it need not literally be ONE verse at a time) then you begin your week KNOWING what you are going to preach on the next Sunday. This is a great boon to a pastor, and alleviates one of his biggest burdens, that of the selecting a message for the week. When you preach expository messages from a book of the Bible, instead of spending hours deliberating on what topic to preach, you are able instead to give those same hours to actually developing a message on the text. If you have habitually preached random topical messages, and find yourself continually asking, “What should I preach on this Sunday?”, you might pray about changing your preaching scheme. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate, and to commit yourself to preaching expository messages through books of the Bible.
One of my favorite seminary professors told our class one day that if you study the Bible as you should, the difficulty regarding Sunday’s sermon will not be coming up with something to preach, but of limiting the many things you could preach on to the one most needed for this week! If you will walk with God personally every day in His word, and if you will commit yourself to expository preaching, I believe you will rarely find yourself asking the question: “What should I preach on this Sunday?”!