Several years ago one of my good friends subbed as a teacher in one of our children’s Sunday school classes at Immanuel. This friend doesn’t normally teach, and he’d probably tell you he doesn’t have the gift of teaching, but he was glad to fill in for us in a pinch. After teaching, this friend told me he felt like he had 30 minutes to tell a class of 5th graders everything they needed to know about God, the Bible, Jesus, salvation, and life! He knew he only had one week, he was overwhelmed with the weight of teaching, and he wanted to say everything that needed to be said.
I think many preachers, especially young preachers, step into the pulpit with a similar burden. They are excited to be proclaiming the Word of God, they feel the weight of preaching, and they want to say everything that needs to be said in one life-changing sermon. Truth be told, there’s an awful lot that needs to be said to the people of God, and cramming it all into a single sermon may not be the most effective way of saying anything of value.
Overtime, many preachers realize that they don’t have to say everything that could possibly be said in every sermon. They realize that, Lord willing, they will have another chance to stand in the pulpit and proclaim the Word of God to the people of God. However, many of these preachers begin to face a similar-but-different temptation. The veteran preacher has worked hard at his craft, and he’s likely studied hard during the week. After finding so many amazing insights in the process of study, many veteran preachers want to “show off” their knowledge so their people respect their intellect and research. Again, cramming everything that can be said about a passage into a single sermon may not be the most effective way of saying true things about God’s Word.
I think a better approach to preaching can be pictured in masonry, wall-building, brick-laying. The only way to build a wall is one brick at a time. You can’t put every brick up at once, and you can’t put the final row of bricks on without first laying the bottom courses of brick. Instead, the mason must simply lay one brick at a time, making sure to lay the brick straight and square.
That’s the task of preaching. Not building an imposing and impressive wall each and every Sunday. Not saying everything that could be said in every sermon. Not impressing our people with how much we’ve studied and learned during the week. But simply laying one brick at a time and laying it straight and square.
This means the regular pastor has to take a long view to the task of preaching. Every sermon must be rooted in the text of Scripture. Every sermon must say things that are true and important. Every sermon must be illustrated and applied. Every sermon must be connected to gospel truth about God, sin, Jesus, and salvation. However, every sermon cannot include everything that could be said, nor can every sermon say everything that needs to be heard.
All of this means, of course, that the process of sermon preparation will require the preacher to set aside some bricks for later sermons. Some things that could be said will end up on the cutting room floor in order to clearly say other things that need to be said. Better to lay one brick straight and square than to throw up a dozen in haphazard fashion. Better to clearly communicate a single biblical truth connected to the gospel and applied to life than to preach a sermon that is received like a scattered bunch of buck-shot.
One brick at a time. That’s how you build a wall, and that’s how a regular pastor must think about preaching. Week after week, Sunday after Sunday, the preacher is building a wall in the hearts and minds of his congregation. That wall is meant to defend and protect the faith once for all delivered to the saints. In our eagerness and our ego, we often try to build this wall in a single Sunday sermon. A better approach is to take the long view and to build this wall one brick at a time, one truth at a time, one sermon at a time.