I distinctly remember the feeling that I had back in May 2010. I was sitting in an old musty pew at our denomination’s conference center for a Sunday morning worship. I hadn’t been to church very often since I finished high school in 2003, but for whatever reason I felt the conviction that this was the weekend I wanted to attend my childhood church’s annual retreat.
As I sat in worship that morning many things felt familiar. The order of worship. The affirmation of faith. The hymns. Even the prayers sounded like an old friend. But I was not quite prepared for what would happen when the pastor stood up to preach his sermon that morning.
As he preached from the Gospel of Matthew, it felt immediately like he was talking right to me. How could this be so? I didn’t even know this dude at all. How could he know the things that had been on my heart? As the sermon went along I became more and more convinced of what had to have happened.
I figured my mom must have gotten so excited that I had decided to come to church that weekend that she took the time to call this new pastor. She had to have shared my story with him – even parts of my life that she didn’t know were on my mind. Had she overheard me talking about some things? Or had she been more intuitive than I had known? Either way – she was the one who had to have shared things with the pastor.
And then, I was certain, the pastor must have completely changed his sermon on Saturday in the midst of the retreat. He must have chosen a new text that would highlight some things that surely would put the heat on me in the pew that next morning. And then, I guess, they reprinted the bulletins to reflect the new sermon text and title. What lengths they must have gone to for me to hear this particular message that day.
As I told myself this story over and over again, I first responded with anger. How dare they change everything on the fly just to make me feel this way. How many people must have been in on it? And what did they now think of me? I couldn’t go back there again next week!
But as the days rolled on I realized how crazy and far-fetched that story actually was. My mom was happy that I had decided to go that weekend, but she was much more concerned about me not having reservations than she was about speaking to the pastor. And she wouldn’t have known all the things on my heart that day anyways. And there was no way that the pastor would have had time to change his entire sermon. After all, he had been preaching through Matthew for a long time – and it turned out that the sermon was simply the next text he had arrived at.
Still – those feelings were real that I had during the sermon. It DID feel like he was preaching right to me. And in hindsight, the pastor was. He just didn’t know it!
I share this story because it illustrates the reason we hold so tightly to this second core value – preaching through books of the Bible. Our model of preaching is not one of different topical sermons or topical series where the pastor chooses what he thinks the congregation needs to hear.
Rather, we feel strongly that the Lord has called our church to work our way through different books of the Bible. We hold this conviction for a number of reasons, but three things are worth mentioning in this post.
First, preaching through books of the Bible prevents me, as pastor, from always returning to particular issues that I have on my mind. We strive to “be as balanced as the Bible is balanced”, and this aids us in achieving that goal.
Second, preaching through books of the Bible means not avoiding the difficult topics. Any book of the Bible has those difficult sections that are not so popular in our culture today. And instead of skipping them, this forces us to face them head on. Likewise, people can be certain that I haven’t chosen that text for any reason other than it was the next section in Scripture.
Finally, and most importantly, preaching through books of the Bible allows God’s Word to lead us. We set up the rest of our worship service around the text that we arrive at each week. The points of the sermon should be the very points the text makes. And we can be certain that the timing that an individual passage comes on our plate is exactly the text that God has prepared each person in worship that morning to hear. It is God’s Word that leads our worship services – and thus it is God’s Word that leads the entirety of our lives.
So you can be certain of two things anytime you visit our church. First, we didn’t change the sermon text or main points to single you out. My goal as pastor is simply to communicate the points of the passage in an understandable way. Not to put you in the hot seat! After all, it is God’s Word that gives life – not mine. But, second, you can be certain that God has prepared your heart for the sermon text that day.
In fact, that is the very thing that drives me in my sermon preparation each week. As the Lord is preparing me to preach a particular sermon, I know He is also preparing dozens of people every week to hear that sermon text as well. So if you ever think that I am talking right to you – then you will be right. I just won’t know it!
“For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up. As it is written in the Scriptures, ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.” – John 6:44-45