When I was regularly preparing my weekly sermons I often wondered whether I would make any type of impact upon my church. After all, a pastor will pour anywhere between 10-20 hours of preparation to preach for 30 minutes, give or take. Naturally, you want to know whether the people in the church are benefiting from your labors. Imagine a doctor who dispenses medication to patients but they never report any improvement with their ailments. But believe it or not, one of the most important people you need to preach to is yourself. Yes, you, the pastor.
Far too often I think some pastors believe they prepare their messages for the congregation, but at some level, they are beyond the need of the sermon. Perhaps they think they have few spiritual problems? Perhaps since they have spent so much time preparing the message, they don’t have much need for hearing it preached? Perhaps preachers don’t stop to give it much thought because they think that the idea of preaching to themselves sounds a bit, well, self-centered? Regardless of the reasons, you need to preach to yourself. Why?
I think pastors need to realize that they are just as much in need of the means of grace as anyone else. They aren’t beyond or above the need for God’s grace. Moreover, the pastor is always working (preaching) on Sunday, so it’s not like he’ll be able to go worship somewhere on Sunday and hear the preaching of the word. This means that when you preach, you need to pay attention to things that you are saying. Sometimes I think that pastors can go on autopilot. Perhaps you’ve done this before—when you’re singing a hymn you are reading and singing the words on the page, but for all intents and purposes, you’re not paying attention. Your mind wanders and if someone were to ask you to tell them what you just sang, you’d be at a loss for words. I think this can happen to preachers, whether you use notes, a manuscript, or preach from memory.
It’s important both to preach and to listen to the words that you’re saying, not only to ensure that you’re preaching a coherent message, but so that you too listen to the word preached. I know periodically that I have reflected upon a text as I’ve been preaching it, have been convicted (in the middle of the sermon), and have gone home to make amends with my family. How can I, for example, preach about the fruit of the Spirit (e.g., patience), and then lose my temper with my children? And as important and vital as sermon preparation is, and is itself a means of grace because you are reading the word of God, sermon preparation isn’t preaching.
So, pay attention when you preach. Don’t be so concerned with whether your congregation is listening that you forget to listen yourself. And this is something that is vital to all sorts of people in the church, not just pastors. Do you carefully listen to the sermon? When you teach your children the word of God, for example, are you listening to what you’re saying, or are you merely going through the motions? As you dispense, therefore, the living water of the gospel in your ministry, don’t forget to drink what you’re serving!