A pastor who has been theologically trained with years of experience in delivering sermons shared guidance on "the effective preparation of a gracious sermon."
The Christian Times, an online Christian newspaper in China, recently conducted an interview with the middle-aged pastor Chen Zhien (a pseudonym) from East China.
Christian Times: What are the basic principles of being a qualified preacher?
Pastor Chen Zhien: Preaching transcends mere instances of delivering one or two sermons; it constitutes an ongoing ministry intertwined with pastoral care. Pastors have the potential to equip fellow brothers and sisters with a framework for comprehending the Bible, thereby ensuring enduring benefits from sustained Bible study and devotionals.
Moreover, the pastor's unwavering convictions in God's word is intertwined with the caliber of their preaching. Any hesitations or uncertainties on the pastor's part become palpable to the listeners. Concurrently, the pastor must personally integrate the teachings into their own life, as this transforms scriptural wisdom into experiential insights.
When preaching, pastors must be cognizant of a concept termed the "key sentence." Regardless of whether the sermon adopts a point-by-point, narrative, or didactic approach, each segment should encompass a central focal sentence. Reiterating this sentence reinforces retention among the congregation.
However, a significant number of preachers appear to lack a coherent direction in their delivery, thereby failing to guide the congregation purposefully. Essentially, a sermon steers the congregation on an intellectual journey from point A to point B. The pastor should be attuned to the congregation's present state (point A) and the destination they are guiding them toward (point B). Without a defined trajectory, the congregation might inadvertently stray to points C, D, or E—resulting in a diminished grasp of the sermon's essence. Hence, preachers must cultivate the ability to center their discourse around a clearly defined objective.
Christian Times: Could you expound on your sermon preparation process?
Pastor Chen Zhien: In my preparation routine, once I've solidified my groundwork, I engage in a self-dialogue of the sermon at least once.
Reiteration forms a pivotal aspect of my preparation. Repeatedly delivering the same sermon facilitates the identification of unclear sections and reinforces the potency of expressions. This iterative process extends to encompass even the pre-sermon prayer. Through multiple rehearsals, the sermon will often be more powerful.
Christian Times: During the year, will you arrange your sermons in advance, or do you tend to make a temporary choice according to each situation?
Pastor Chen Zhien: When a planned approach is undertaken, I will set a theme for each month. For instance, March could be devoted to contemplation of Christ's sufferings, prompting exploration of how we should conceptualize the sufferings borne by Jesus Christ on our behalf. Subsequent messages during March would align with this thematic trajectory.
April, designated the "Holy Spirit Month," prompts congregants toward reliance upon the Holy Spirit and how to be filled by the Spirit. May, recognized as "Family Month," directs attention to how to be a good parent.
Nevertheless, the pastor should also remain adaptable. For instance, if a group of direct marketers visits the church seeking clients, I seize the opportunity to address issues of greed. Indeed, an individual arriving at the church with a covetous mindset has, in that moment, deviated from the path of faith. Genuine faith is characterized by a pursuit of God's kingdom and righteousness, culminating in blessings.
Christian times: Beyond Sunday sermons, how do you train preachers within your pastoral ministry?
Pastor Chen Zhien: I have launched a sermon program, which will be held once a month. When preachers read the Bible and prepare a sermon, it will make them think about what this passage is saying. Then they need to know what it means to today’s believers and finally lead them to take action through the teachings in certain scriptures. Two months are set aside for them to give this kind of exegesis sermon.
I've initiated a sermon program held on a monthly basis. As preachers engage with biblical texts and prepare sermons, they are encouraged to dissect the passage's core message. Subsequently, they must ascertain the relevance of this message for contemporary believers and culminate by spurring actionable responses rooted in scriptural teachings. This process involves a two-month interval dedicated to delivering exegetical sermons of this nature.
Christian Times: What is your assessment of the challenges observed in sermon preparation within Chinese churches?
Pastor Chen Zhien: Present-day Protestantism places considerable emphasis on sermon delivery, yet a distorted mindset prevails. For instance, after a service, congregants might experience a sense of spiritual enrichment, leading them to offer gratitude in their comfort. However, the primary role of the church is to offer worship unto God. Neglecting this fundamental aspect and fixating solely on sermons can inadvertently exacerbate the challenge. Congregants might express dissatisfaction with particular speakers, ultimately directing their focus away from God and toward the speakers.
In truth, sermons should guide believers to comprehend that Sunday worship extends beyond personal gain. When an individual's motivation revolves around personal acquisition, egocentrism and arrogance tend to thrive. Genuine worship elicits a simultaneous sense of awe and relief in the presence of God. Fear and humility yield transformative effects on one's existence.
Approaching the church with a consumerist mentality hinders humility and reverence, even preventing one to perceive God's presence from the pulpit.
- Translated by Charlie Li