We’ve been thinking about prayer here on vibrance recently, a slow-rain sort of approach, letting things settle in before we forge ahead. In this post we unwrap the roles prayer plays in the process of sermon preparation and delivery. I see five touch-points where prayer is vital to effective preaching ministry; as always, your thoughts and comments are welcomed.
Prayer in Setting the Preaching Calendar. Before anyone else becomes involved, elders and deacons notified, musicians and drama teams informed, the pastor must get alone with God. The prayer and reflection at this point is more listening than brainstorming, more sensing than saying, and the pastor’s attitude is a quiet, willing “Lord, please show me what this flock needs next so I can serve You well here.” I remember Dad confiding in me more than once that he was thinking and praying ahead with the church in mind. My dad continues to be the best example I have of caring for his people as a shepherd cares for a flock. “God, what does this flock need next? I want these folks to be healthy and strong.” He took seriously Peter’s words
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers —not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be…” (I Pt. 5.2-4)
Whether you are an expositor, your congregation responds best to expositional topical preaching, or you tackle pertinent topics one after another, God still wants and needs to be involved in your direction-setting. Get alone with Him for several hours or a couple days at a time. Bring your Bible and an empty legal pad, and be ready to listen —just listen— for His still, small voice.
Prayer in Structuring the Series. The Holy Spirit has the ability to guide a pastor in June as he plans for September, for He is already there. Prayerfulness needs to characterize the week-to-week structuring of the series. I remember being led to take our High Schoolers through the Old Testament one book at a time, Bible-survey fashion (only I don’t think we called it that – we wanted them to come back, ya’ know?). I and my leaders decided we would do well to match a school year calendar so went from September through May with well-placed seasonal breaks where we knew we’d probably have absentees due to school vacations. I think we unwrapped the Old Testament’s 39 books in 30 weeks or so. It worked. I also remember Dad coming downstairs to supper one evening, relating his surprise when he discovered it would probably take twenty-six weeks to work our way through the twenty-six verses of the little book of Jude. And it did. But it worked – it was a practical and timely study!
Prayer in Planning for Sunday. Just as a maker of fine cabinetry carefully designs, chooses stock and painstakingly assembles his project, so pastors need to prayerfully compile common knowledge, recollect things the church has studied before (“old knowledge”) and new information discovered in preparation on the way to Sunday’s sermon. That’s a lot of information! It is; and it’s one of the things Dad had in mind when he said with a smile, “It’s hard to remember everything when you know … so … much!” What to say? What to leave out? (just as important if you want roasts not to burn at home) How to say it? God expects you to put it together, Pastor, but He doesn’t mind at all if you pray “Guide me, oh Thou great Jehovah…” as you craft Sunday’s message.
Prayer in Sunday Morning’s Preparation. The pastor’s heart is key Saturday and Sunday as the message’s delivery approaches. Are you clean and ready for use? Anything that would contaminate the message on it’s way through? Tend to it; this is serious and eternal business. Next, pray for your congregation’s receptivity and response. Pray before the service with participants (musicians, drama folks, technicians, ushers, your prayer-warriors). Participate in the music portion of the service, with the understanding that your sermon is worship too; you’re giving your best to God with love and admiration. Your spoken solo is just several times longer than Mrs. Smith’s, that’s all. You may want to lay out of the song just before your message, or a portion of it, to silently pray and focus on a good transition into your introduction.
Prayer Through Your Sermon. You of course will be praying as you preach, but having a number of people in prayer FOR you as you’re preaching is a key to effective pulpit ministry as well. Two or three is all you need for a quorum according to Matthew 18, but like one on your left, one on your right and one at your back as you speak, these prayer warriors can fortify you in prayer every step of the way. Charles Spurgeon is well-known for effectively utilizing prayer while he preached. When giving people tours of the Metropolitan Tabernacle where he pastored he would often ask if his guests would like to see the power plant. Of course they would oblige and he’d take them to the boiler room beneath the pulpit, where chairs were set up for people to pray for him while he preached each week. It was a large church and I’ve read that as many as 500 people prayed for him in the room beneath the pulpit while he preached just above them. What confidence in the Almighty that must have given him! They’re praying for me – right now! Spurgeon had people pray through the sermon, not so he would make history, though he did, not so many would come, though they did, but because he wanted God to work freely through him – which He did.
When men work
When men pray,
Well that’s probably a good start, I’m sure it’s not an exhaustive list. What other aspects of this come to mind? I’d be thrilled to hear things you would like to add, or facets you’d like to highlight. If you’re not the pastor, consider going back through the points above with an eye for praying for him through each of these phases, even without him knowing that’s what you’re doing. You may hold one of the keys to his ministry success in your hand — it’s the key to your prayer closet.