I remember years ago getting an email from a ‘ministry company’ that sold, among other things, sermon series for all different kinds of ministries. One of their “selling points” was that having a pre-made sermon series freed up your time so you could spend it on “more important” things like building relationships. While the thought is well intended, good intentions don’t equal what is right. There are millions of people going to Hell on good intentions, you know.
This, among other things, got me pondering the thought of ‘how did the early church leaders preach the Gospel?’ What is the Biblical precedent and standard for preaching a message? Would the Apostles approve of pre-made sermons for those that they trained up to take over after they left? Would Jesus agree with this idea of grabbing some pre-made messages to free up your time to build relationships?
In all questions of such things, it is always advisable to ask one question: What does the Bible say? And once you have found out that answer – stay with it. Always stay with the Word of God. It doesn’t matter how ear-tickling or wise the other opinion may be – if it doesn’t agree with the Bible – forget it!
Where To Preach
So what does the Bible say? What does it say about where the Apostles were supposed to preach? Sure, Jesus said to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, but the world is a big place. There’s many ministers that wonder if they should take a church or preach over here or over there. These are surely the same type of questions and issues the early Christians had. What did the disciples do?
Acts 16:6 says, “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” And Acts 16:10 says, “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
The early church leaders were led by supernatural experiences on where they were to preach and where they were not to preach. If we are supposed to follow the Word of God, then we too should get our direction on where to preach and where not to preach from God. That means that we don’t look at how well someone will pay, how nice people are, how established the church is, how much of a need there may be. These things are external and ever changing. These are fleeces. Fleeces are things that the people of God were led by in the Old Testament. But we are in the New Testament era. So for believers, preachers, ministers today – choosing where we should and shouldn’t preach isn’t based on our thoughts, ideas, or circumstances. It’s based on what God thinks and what God says.
Too often believers take a job somewhere to preach, to be a minister and things start to turn out bad after a few months and they wonder what happened. Well, it could be that the Lord never intended them to go there because He knew what kind of people they were behind those big smiles and bigger wallets. Or it’s possible He knew that personalities would clash. He might know a lot of things that we don’t. He is God after all. Either way, the important thing is for us to be led by the Spirit of God on where we should go and shouldn’t go. Pray. Seek the Lord and don’t move until you hear from Him.
Where Does The Word Come From
The Word that is preached, the message that is brought – where does it come from? Where does it originate? For the people trying to sell me these pre-made sermons, it originated some place in their study time, or so I hope. I don’t really know. Perhaps it started in a coffee shop while they were looking over what was a good idea for whatever topic they picked out of a hat? It might have started as a good intention to create a message that would tell people about one specific aspect of the idea of grace (or whatever topic they had). Maybe they looked into psychology and statistics and figured that the topics that they were covering would make them some money.
What about in the early church though? Did they have the luxury of going down to the market and getting a new tent, dinner, a used shovel, some camel feed, and a new series of sermons? Would they even consider that a luxury?
The Apostle Paul said in Romans 1:15, “So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.” He’s saying that what he is ready to preach is in him. It’s not found somewhere else externally, but internally in him. The prophet Jeremiah said it differently hundreds of years earlier – “But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not (Jeremiah 20:9).”
Many today, yes – many, will stand up in front of a group of people and preach a message that is little more than a book report. They have read some scriptures and tied it up into something a little longer than a TedTalk and called it a sermon (unless that might scare people aware). Whatever they want to call it, many times, it is just simply a book report.
There is no seeking the Lord for His will or plan for the service or the message. They just come up with their own ideas and plans and put together a nice message, wrapped up in a bow to encourage the people, to hopefully help them grow. That isn’t Bible though.
2 Corinthians 6:1-2 says, “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
The Apostle Paul was saying that they were working together with God, not apart from Him. Many would stand up and boldly declare that they are doing things biblically – bringing the Word to the people. Yet, the truth is they have removed God from the process. Sure, they might have prayed a bit, might have studied the Word a bit. But that doesn’t mean you’re doing things the Bible way.
Jonah 3:2 relays what the Lord told Jonah about his journey to Nineveh. “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” Jonah wasn’t going to tell them something He read in the Torah. He wasn’t going to tell them something he learned at Temple. He was going to tell them what the Lord told Him to say. It was a message that he received directly from Heaven.
1 Peter 1:12 says, “To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven-things which angels desire to look into.” The message was preached, not from opinion or from the mind, but out of the spirit, given by the Holy Spirit.
Why Do We Preach?
Why are we even preaching to begin with? Is it because we’re trying to fill a void or a spot that is needed? Is it just because we love God so much that we want to tell everyone? That would be a good reason itself. But good reasons don’t qualify God reasons. I know that sounds cheesy, but it relays a bold truth. Good reasons will only take you so far.
A good reason is okay, but there’s more to it than that. There has to be. Preaching just because you love God isn’t a good enough reason. After all, people fall in and out of love all the time – even with the Lord. If that is what we are resting our hopes of the Gospel being preached on, we may be in trouble. Thankfully, there does seem to be more to it than that.
Where as just preaching because you love God is good, there’s a deeper reason to it than that. There’s a stronger, more solid factor in determining if one will preach. The Apostle Paul again tells us in Romans 10:14-15, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!””
He tells us also in 1 Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” The preaching, at least for the Apostle Paul – which seems to be a decent standard – was a result not because of love, or education, or training, or culture, or family. It was a result of being called. Repeatedly he says that he was sent. Many people get sent. Some are sent to fetch coffee or a newspaper by their boss or spouse or someone else. But the Apostle Paul was sent to preach the Gospel, not by his father or teacher, but by God Almighty, the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are many today that are leading, preaching, teaching because they are trying to fill a gap in their church. There’s no one else to do it. Someone needs to give the message of truth to this group or that, this ministry or that. There’s no one there that will stand in the gap who has been called, who the Lord has sent. And this stepping up is admirable. They should be commended. When there is no one that has been called, when it is only someone stepping up to meet a need, this idea of having a pre-made sermon may seem enticing. However, while meeting this need to the best of one’s ability, those seeing this need should be praying for the Lord to send someone to meet that need who He has called.
For these volunteers who are not necessary called, or sent, but just see a need and have an overwhelming desire to help, some may say that they need a little help. They may not know how to put together a message that would rival that of Billy Graham. So perhaps, wouldn’t these pre-made sermons or things like that be a benefit to them?
One may think that. Again, what does the Bible say?
Hold that thought. The answer to that ties into everything else.
What Are We Preaching?
The Apostle Paul made this interesting statement to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2-3:
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;
Paul opens it up with something we can all agree on – preach the Word. Then he tells us what is involved in that – convince, rebuke, exhort with long-suffering and teaching. He tells him to do this because there is a time coming (and it’s here – just look around), when people will not listen to sound doctrine (what the scriptures say), but instead will follow after their own desires. Now there are different levels of following after your own desires. You can follow after your own desires in smaller or greater ways. Doing so is simply being deceived. When one is deceived, they slowly walk away from God, getting further and further from Him and His Word. So to say that one is “following after his own desires” is not a blanket statement. One person can being following after his own desires more or less than the next person – but they’re both following after their own desires.
Today many people (Christians) choose to attend churches that will get them in and out in under an hour. They feel like they have gotten their spiritual fix when in reality they have done little or nothing. God had long left that church because he wasn’t invited to begin with. Sure, they will use His name, maybe even given an altar call (again, if that doesn’t offend people). But He isn’t there. And it wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened. Look at the church of Laodicea. The Lord was standing outside the church knocking, but they were still preaching in Jesus’ name.
Results Of Preaching The Way God Designed
When one has been called and has been sent with a message to preach the Word, there are side effects. There is a chain reaction. There is a cause and effect. There are results to doing what the Lord said, the way He said it to do it.
1 Corinthians 2:4-5 says, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” The Apostle Paul says that when he preached, it was not out of his mind (man’s wisdom), but from the Holy Spirit. And not only that, the preaching included demonstration of the Spirit and of power. People were getting healed, set free, miracles were taking place. It wasn’t happening because he was the great Paul. If so, then God would be a respecter of persons. He’s not! It happened for a specific reason. And that same reason can be applied today. (No, the age of miracles isn’t over).
Paul continues to talk about how he preached. In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 he says, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.” Again, he says it wasn’t just words. Unlike many churches today that just preach fancy words and hurry to get out so everyone can rush out to eat, Paul’s sermons carried more weight. He preached the Word and signs followed. The power of God was on display.
Remember when Paul preached a sermon that was so long that Eutychus fell out of the window and died (Acts 20:9)? They didn’t stand around and cry for very long. Paul took him up, embraced him and he came back to life. Signs followed!
Many years ago, there was a fad that went around – WWJD – What Would Jesus Do. Well, what would Jesus do? In Matthew 4:23 you can see what He did do. “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.” He preached the Gospel, he taught, and signs followed.
Listen to the naysayers. Oh, but that was Jesus. He was special. He was the Son of God. He was God. Yet he told us something completely different.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” – John 14:12-14
I know what some are thinking – the age of miracles is gone. Well, apparently no one told Jesus. You can find scripture that says you will do greater works than Jesus if you believe, but I’m still looking for the one about the age of miracles being gone. That’s because it’s not there! It’s one of those doctrines of men – man’s desires we already looked at. It’s people following after their own desires, not the Word of God.
Modern Day Examples
I remember hearing the stories of Oral Roberts praying before tent meetings. He’d have crowds of thousands waiting to hear him speak, but he wouldn’t come out. Many thought it was a great way to rev up the crowd, to build anticipation. But it wasn’t that. He’d have people keep coming back telling him it was time and he would tell them to sing another song. He said that he knew he had nothing to give the people. There were people coming that needed a touch from Heaven. There were sick people, really sick people. There were some people that if they didn’t get healed, they were going to die. He knew that unless he would get the anointing, he was no good to anyone. So he would stay in the back, off stage, and pray until the anointing fell on him. Oh, he could tell a difference. And when it came, he would come out and preach a fiery message. It was a message from Heaven, from one that was called and sent. It was a message with signs and miracles following.
There’s another story about Kenneth E Hagin standing up behind the pulpit ready to give his Mother’s Day sermon that he had worked really hard on. He said he had worked long and hard on it and even had quotes from these great men in there – a real good message, in his opinion. But as he stood behind the pulpit, he knew he was supposed to have a healing service. He argued with himself (and God) for a bit while preaching.
It was Mother’s Day with people in attendance that wouldn’t come back until Christmas time. He had worked really hard on this message and it was good. He argued with the Lord a while until finally he just stopped and told the people he needed to obey the Lord. He stopped his sermon and did what the Lord said. As a result, 5 families – five whole families came to know the Lord and were added to the church. His obedience resulted in the change of eternity for five whole families.
In Dr. Hagin’s book Plans, Purposes, and Pursuits, he relates when the Lord appeared to him and spoke about this subject:
The Lord spoke to me and said, “I bless all of My people as far as I can. But the reason there is not the move of God and the depth of the flow of the Spirit, and the fullness of the manifestation of the Holy Ghost today is because men do not take time to hear from Me. And they do not take time to follow My plan set forth in the scriptures. The more closely you follow My plan, the more My power will be in demonstration and in manifestation.” Many times, the reason people fail and the reason ministries fail is because they have the wrong plan, purpose, and motive.
Whether or not you want to believe that Jesus appeared to him or not, what He said lines up with the Bible. Today we are taken up with the idea that we have so much to do that we don’t have time to pray and seek God. We don’t have time to find out what He wants to do. But that’s the most important thing. Sadly, even those who at one time did this very thing have let it slip and taken the easier way – and it shows. Oh yes, they still have some demonstrations of the Spirit, some signs and wonders, but the greater move of God is lost. God will bless us as far as He can because He loves us.
You Can Too
We sometimes have these ideas that people like Kenneth E Hagin or Oral Roberts, this pastor or that preacher, people who had mighty miracles working in their ministry (even the disciples and early apostles) – that those miracles came, those great sermons came because of some special favor of God or God liked them better. That doesn’t agree with the Bible!
We tell people that God loves everyone. He does. Look at the 12 disciples. There was a reason that there were 70 disciples and then 12 and then 3 and then 1. It’s not because God had a favorite. It’s because each level of those wanted God more than the people behind them. God is not a respecter of persons. As we draw near to God, He draws near to us. The problem comes when we don’t draw near to God and we think this is all of God that there is. If we would put away everything else that the world (and anyone else that doesn’t agree with the Word) is using to try and pull at us and just dedicate more of our time, more of who we are, more of everything to Him – the same anointing, the same power, the same miracles that worked in these other people that passed on will work in our lives. That agrees with the Bible.
It’s Too Important
The preaching of the Word of God is too important to be left up to pre-made sermons. It’s too Important to be left up to anything else but praying and seeking God. The message, the sermon – not the book report, should be found first in prayer. It should be obtained not through man’s wisdom, no matter how wise it may seem, but through seeking the Lord and His will in prayer. After all, how well does a person sitting hundreds of miles away, who has never met your church, your group, know what they need in that moment? They don’t, but God does.
Do they know what message they need to hear today? Do they know what that group is going through? No! They’re not God. But God is God. There are things that people are going through that can only be answered by a Word from Heaven. If there’s a group of people there that need to know about faith, there’s no need to preach on relationships. But a pre-made sermon doesn’t know that. A guy sitting behind a computer making a book report for a few dollars doesn’t know that. God knows that. And He’s not going to tell you until you take time to seek Him and get that message – to get His will.
But we think all will be well because we have filled the church time up with the Word. But there’s no anointing because it wasn’t God’s will for that to be preached in the first place. That class time has been wasted. The Bible says that anything that is not done in faith is a sin. How can you have faith unless you know the will of God? That’s where faith comes from. Just something to think about.
The great preacher and man of prayer EM Bounds once wrote, “As the engine never moves until the fire is kindled, so preaching, with all its machinery, perfection, and polish, is at a dead standstill, as far as spiritual results are concerned, till prayer has kindled and created the steam. The texture, fineness, and strength of the sermon is as so much rubbish unless the mighty impulse of prayer is in it, through it, and behind it.”
Again he said, “Preaching which kills is prayerless preaching. Without prayer the preacher creates death, and not life. The preacher who is feeble in prayer is feeble in life-giving forces. The preacher who has retired prayer as a conspicuous and largely prevailing element in his own character has shorn his preaching of its distinctive life-giving power…No learning can make up for the failure to pray. No earnestness, no diligence, no study, no gifts will supply its lack.”
If prayer is not a vital part of one’s life, let alone the getting of the message, then what is the point of either?
I find it ironic, a little bit funny, that we tell people that God won’t give us the entire plan for this or that because then we would not be walking by faith, we would be walking by sight. And yet we choose to use someone else’s message because it’s easier, and for some reason we don’t consider it ‘not walking by faith’, when in truth, that is exactly what it is. It’s even worse because it is in the area of the preaching of the Word and the edification of the saints.
We should do what is right, not what is easy. Too many have chosen to do what is easier, to throw a few dollars at the problem, to take this easy way out or that, instead of paying the price for God’s anointing and His message to see lives changed, the Kingdom built, and the outpouring of His Spirit.
Deuteronomy 6:18 says, “And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may be well with you, and that you may go in and possess the good land of which the LORD swore to your fathers.”
Those sweet volunteers who have stepped up to fill a role where no one else could. – they should be admired. One would think that these untrained, free of Bible school education volunteers could surely benefit from these pre-made sermons? Right? One would be wrong.
The ministry of helps is an important office in the body of Christ. Without men and women stepping up to do things that need to be done, the pastor would not be able to do the things God has called him to do. But does that translate to volunteers who don’t know much about the Word of God needing pre-made material to preach or teach? Not at all.
There came a time in the early church when things were growing. They were growing so much that there was a problem with distributing food and waiting tables. The disciples were being pulled away from their ministry and they needed some to to help so they could go back to studying the Word and praying. The people that were chosen to distribute food and wait tables – yes – waiters and bus boys – had qualifications. Yes, you had to qualify to wait tables in the church of the disciples. I know that seems foreign to many, but you have to qualify for the things of God – and some don’t. Look at what they had to be:
Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; – Acts 6:3
The people that were to be chosen to wait tables had to be of good reputation and full of wisdom and the Holy Ghost! How can we expect any less of those that preach and teach in our congregations? We are thankful for volunteers, but there is a standard set by God as to who can do what. Many have thrown that standard out the window and just chosen those who want to do something. Many times we just want to give someone an opportunity to serve – which is great. But you don’t put someone in a place that carries the importance as preaching the Word, a place that God has not called them to, just because they want to serve. You do a disservice to the one you have set in that place, a disservice to the ones they are ministering to, and a disservice to everyone else effected by it – including God Himself. Those people teaching and preaching, they’re going to be held accountable by God when they stand before Him.
The “job,” if you can crudely call it that, of preaching the Word on a continual, ministerial basis, is a calling of God. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have guest speakers. That means the person who is put in that role should be called by God to do it. Take a look at the Old Testament. It contains important information that we can learn from. The Old Testament office of priest was reserved for those that God had called to it. No one else was allowed to stand in that office without dire consequences. And when the one called did stand in the office, they had to carry out the duties in a specific manner. If not, bad things happened. But never once in the Old Testament do you see people stand up and volunteer to take the place of the priest to ‘help out.’ It was reserved for those who had been called to it.
Today the place of the preacher has been brought down from it’s place of reverence and respect that it’s seen as any other job. Anyone can do it. While anyone can preach, and in fact, we’re all called to preach, we’re all called to go into all the world and share the message of God’s goodness. However, the office of the minister is reserved for those who are called to it, not just those who want to help out. We have stripped away the reverential position that it once had, to the point where everyone thinks it is open to anyone. It isn’t.
God has called each and everyone one to a specific place and calling. To be the most successful, we must stay in that place and not try to take another. Because we haven’t done that, we haven’t treated the office of the minister with the respect it deserves, treated prayer and God’s will with utmost reverence – we have brought down the work of God to man’s level. Instead of seeing signs and wonders accompanying anointed preaching, we have book reports where people aren’t changed, and they leave like they came. Sometimes, by God’s grace and love, they leave a little changed.
It should not be. If the church is going to take its proper place – it must get back to putting prayer first, putting the desire for God’s will first, instead of doing church as usual. The idea that a sermon is just a nice little speech must be done away with. We must come back to preaching the way the disciples preached, the way men of faith in times past have preached, and do away with the modern idea that it’s just a few minutes organizing a message. There’s more to it than that. And when we change and do things God’s way, He is going to show up and confirm it with signs following.