The adage is that a pastor wears three hats: leader, teacher, shepherd. Those three areas often overlap in ministry, and there are seasons in a church that a pastor puts on one hat more than the others. But there is little doubt that the role of the teacher is huge in local church ministry. Churches often tell us—“we want a pastor who exemplifies the qualities of a leader listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.” Both of those lists highlight the ability of a pastor to teach well.
It was this time of the year, as a pastor, that I would take a week away from the church, go to a place in the mountains, and plot out messages for the next ministry season (September through August). My wife was usually amazed and amused at how much prayer and sweat equity went into this effort.
I’d ask myself: What have we covered on weekends at the church? What have we missed teaching? What kinds of things do we need to hit annually? What does the church need most at this time?
So, with those questions in mind, here are a few things a pastor might consider:
1. All seasons of the year are not created equal
The most critical times of the year for a message series are the fall season (usually after Labor Day), after Christmas (often the second week of January), and after Easter. Churches have many guests at Christmas Eve services and Easter services—but big on our minds should be, “how do we get them to come back?”
2. How long you make each message series is essential
Our culture has a short attention span. We also live in a highly mobile society—so we have flow through in our churches. Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City recognizes this—even with his expository style of preaching. He says something like, “If I only have a person two to three years at Redeemer, is 1 and 2 Chronicles all I want them to get?” The series I planned usually varied between four and ten weeks. Make the titles of both series and individual messages enticing. It may be a series going through the Book of James—but you could title it with something that attracts people to want to be there. The church I attend just finished a series in Galatians titled “Free For All.”
3. Messages must have application
As pastors—we do not want people walking out of church only informed but not transformed! Take a look at the application in the New Testament—Ephesians is about 50% application, James is about 80% application, the Sermon on the Mount may be as high as 90% application! Pastors need to ask, “How will this matter to them on Tuesday morning?”
I had someone say to me recently about their preaching, “When I got out of seminary I thought everyone wanted a free seminary education. I found out that is NOT what they want!” Charles Swindoll once warned that if we use too much Hebrew or Greek in our messages—it can leave people in the church thinking they can’t “get it” by reading their English language Bibles. They can get it in their everyday Bible. Application is key to fostering understanding and ultimately, growth in those listening to and learning from you.
4. There are three keys in communication:
Aristotle, three centuries before Christ, said every act of communication involves three things: logos (your content), ethos (your life), and pathos (your passion). In matters of content—ask, have I done the hard work on this text? Can I communicate it clearly and simply?
In matters of ‘life’ —ask, do I have credibility and the trust of those to whom I will communicate? Obviously, none of us perfectly live out the truths we teach. I often told my church, “When I preach, the person I am preaching to the most is myself.” In matters of passion—ask, does the message burn deeply within my heart and soul? If so—your audience will be greatly impacted.
Jesus said, “I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.” John 12:49 (emphasis mine) Pastors—may your next teaching season bring greater fruit than ever in your ministry.