4 Ways to Help Your Pastor Prepare for Sunday
Every pastor knows that Sunday is coming. Ideally he will live and labor in the text he'll preach from the beginning of the week until the end. As pastors and people part ways in the greeting line, how can they strive together for the proclamation of the Word next Sunday?
As I've learned the rhythm of laboring over the text in prayer and preparation for Sunday, I've also had on my mind some rhythms God's people can enter into in order to prepare for and promote the effective preaching of God's word. We're all in this together as we long for the conversion of visitors who may not yet know Christ, as well as the holiness, healing, growth, and mutual comfort of the saints in our local church.
1. Pray. One thing I've noticed is how helpless I feel during sermon preparation. The prophet Isaiah laments to the Lord, "Who has believed what he heard from us?" (Isaiah 55:1). Unless God is at work, my work is all for nothing. This presses me all the more into prayer - prayer for myself to rightly divide and apply the word, as well as prayer that those who hear will have sensitive hearts that respond with repentance, faith, and good fruit. At times I've wondered, "Is anyone praying for me?"
As Luther reminds us in the Catechism, God does not need our prayers for his kingdom to come and his will to be done. But when we look toward the Sunday sermon praying, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done," we're asking that it would come to us as well. I can't think of anything more more encouraging for my sermon preparation than the comfort that God's people are speaking to God on my behalf before I speak to them on God's behalf. I encourage you to join your pastors in prayer as he prepares. Pray that the Spirit would give him wisdom and insight into the riches of the Gospel. Pray that those who attend church will be moved by the Word to repent, believe, and bear good fruit. And, as you pray, let him know that you are doing this labor of love on his behalf.
2. Study the text. In our congregation, we encourage our people to read in advance the texts that we'll be preaching on in the future. Pastors and people study the same text during the week, and then gather around its exposition on Sunday. This allows observations, questions, and the general sense of the text to be present as the sermon unfolds. In other words, there's less ground to break up for the first time before the seeds are planted and watered. Neural pathways are previously paved so that the Word can settle in more securely.
One way to approach this practice is by cyclical reading, or "reading on repeat." This is when the congregation commits to reading a book of the Bible over and over as it's preached. For example, this summer we're preaching through the letters of John and Jude. We encouraged our congregation to commit to reading one chapter of John's letters each day. John's three letters adds up to seven chapters - one for each day of the week. If your church follows the one or three year lectionary calendar (as we do most of the year), then you have a steady diet of Scripture to consume each week. Even if your pastor only focuses on one of the texts, reading all three and praying the Psalm allows for some deep sea diving in the world of biblical theology. You'll come to church all the more able to integrate what you hear in the sermon with what you've read and pondered during the week.
3. Share your questions or observations with your pastor. As you pray and study in tandem with your pastor, share your questions and observations with him along the way. Your insights may contribute to his proclamation of the text, and your questions will alert him to what might not be clear in the text, as well as those elements that are of concern to other hearers. Your insights will provide clarity and encouragement to his preparation, as well as let him know that his labor is not in vain. Few things are more encouraging to pastors than the knowledge that his congregation has an appetite for the Word of God, whereas few things are more discouraging than the sense that hunger lacks and apathy prevails.
4. Come prepared. Bring your Bible and a pencil. Have the text open and ready before the service even begins. As your pastor approaches the pulpit, pray one more time and then lean forward with anticipation. When we do this, not only do we learn, not only do we encourage those who teach us, but we also foster a Word-centered culture in our churches.
As an associate pastor, I have the privilege of sitting under solid preaching from our senior pastor half of the Sundays each year. It's restful and refreshing to take breaks from feeding to be fed. For the longest time I did not prepare for his sermons beyond prayer for his preparation and prayer for my growth as I listen. About a year ago or so I asked myself a very obvious question, "Why don't I bring my Bible to church?" The text is printed in the bulletin, there's no shortage of pew Bibles on hand, but there's something special - something intentional - about bringing my Bible to the sermon. I purchased an ESV journaling Bible with plenty of margin space for notes. I can now go back to the Sermon on the Mount, or the letters of John, and see how God has used a steady diet of Scripture to feed my soul. It's a mess - written in handwriting that only I can read - but I cherish it as the ongoing record of God's work in my life through the preached word of God in my church.
None of these practices are complicated. In fact, sometimes they are so simple that they escape us. But when we commit to them in greater measure, we communicate something profound - we love the word of God. We love Christ preached and known and reveled in through the proclamation of the Scriptures. We those who share the word with us, and we also love those who will be transformed alongside us. Even though only one man preaches any given Sunday, we all participate in the process week by week.
Pastor John Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran Church - South Windsor, CT