I grew up in a great church in Florida and was blessed to hear incredible messages as a teenager from Dr. Jerry Vines. Maybe you don’t know Dr. Vines, but he was my ministry hero.
When I was an 18-year-old college freshman at Florida State University, I got my first job working at a church. I was the youth pastor at Lakeview Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida. I had no idea what I was doing, but this church took a chance on me.
On that first Wednesday night, I set up about 40 chairs in rows in the youth room, complete with the donated couch. Four teenagers showed up. FOUR. I was discouraged.
I had no idea how to run a student ministry. And I had no real idea on how to preach. So I pulled out those old sermon notes and just preached Dr. Vine’s old messages. With outlines like this:
- The purpose of the Holy Spirit
- The power of the Holy Spirit
- The practice of the Holy Spirit
And it went like that for my first few months as a youth pastor – preaching to 12, 13 and 14 year olds sermons that had three points, all starting with the letter P, on topics like the Old Testament tabernacle and shekinah glory. As you might imagine, those sermons really didn’t connect.
It reminds me of a famous story in the Bible…the story of David and Goliath.
David was one of twelve brothers, too young to go to war. His father had him taking care of the sheep. One day, David was delivering lunch to his brothers, who were fighting in the war against the Philistines when he saw a guy named Goliath. Turns out, Goliath would come out every day and taunt the Israelite army. That taunting included defying Israel’s God. David couldn’t take it. He said, “Who is this Philistine to defy the armies of the Living God.”
His brothers were embarrassed and told their younger sibling to calm down. “Is there not a great cause here, “ David responded. He would go and fight Goliath.
Fast forward to the next scene and David is meeting with King Saul. Saul realizes that David is intent on fighting Goliath and offers up his armor.
Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. – I Samuel 17:38-39
David refuses this gesture, saying, “I haven’t proved them.” It wasn’t that the weapons were too heavy or that they didn’t fit. David didn’t want to use them because he hadn’t tested them. They were not his own. They didn’t fit him, in the symbolic sense.
That story illustrates what I tried to do as an 18-year old youth pastor. And what I tried to do as a 35-year-old church planter, and what many of us struggle with to this day.
You can’t preach wearing Saul’s armor. With methods and styles that are not authentic. With a style that doesn’t fit right.
Here are three things that are unique about you that should influence the way you preach.
#1 – YOUR VOICE IS UNIQUE
When we started Preaching Rocket, we wanted to help pastors preach better sermons. Pretty hard goal, because we first have to convince people that getting better matters. That you should invest time and money into coaching. Honestly, we would reach more people if we just created a website to download all the best sermons. That’s what people are looking for on the Internet.
But we are firm in our conviction that we don’t want to be a destination for downloads. And a big reason for that is you can’t cut and paste someone else’s sermon and deliver it with your own unique voice.
A.W. Tozer said, “The world is waiting to hear an authentic voice, a voice from God – not an echo of what others are doing and saying, but an authentic voice.”
It’s easy to echo the messages of others. All you have to do is search the Internet or subscribe to a podcast and you’ll have some of the best message content available.
But if God didn’t speak it to YOU, it’s hard to deliver it on His behalf to His church. It’s great to learn from others, but don’t shortchange the process of allowing God to speak to you.
When you stand to preach on Sunday, stand knowing you don’t have to say something but that you have something to say.
#2 – YOUR EXPERIENCES ARE UNIQUE
When you look back to your childhood, your calling, your family and your story, there are a unique set of experiences that made you who you are today. Your story is not my story. And just like those experiences shaped you are, they can shape how you preach.
That’s why the best sermon illustrations are personal illustrations.
Do you know what a preacher story is? These are the kind of semi-true stories that rely on a cornball punch line to generate a small chuckle. Sometimes they are drenched in Reader’s Digest emotional language. Listeners always wonder if they are really true.
A “preacher story” sometimes starts with “There was a guy who…” or “One time back in the sixties…” It’s like a joke that starts “a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar.”
You tell a preacher story when you need to tell a story but don’t have anything better. It’s sermon filler, the preacher version of a comedian’s cheap laugh. They come from illustration books or are forwarded around the Internet.
Those stories rarely connect well because they aren’t authentic. But when you tell the story of how you got a van stuck in a car wash, asked your wife to marry you, or ended up as a preacher, people lean in. When you share your personal experiences, people pay attention.
#3 – YOUR FAILURES ARE UNIQUE
For a long time, I thought I had to speak from a platform of success. But I am not a collection of successes…failure has impacted my life in a dramatic way.
Because of my failures in life and ministry, I struggle with leading anyone. I wrestle through wondering if I should tell anybody anything.
But my story is my story. My failure is a part of my story. And that failure will surely influence how I communicate from here on out.
A few months ago, I read a book by J.D. Greear called Gospel. A quote from that book radically impacted me.
“No pastors who truly understands the gospel thinks he deserves to stand in the pulpit,” Greear writes.
The Bible is full of people who didn’t have it all together whom God still used. In fact, many Bible characters readily admitted their shortcomings.
- Moses, by age 80, couldn’t speak with ease and he admitted it. Plus, he murdered a guy.
- Amos was a rough, unsophisticated prophet and he didn’t hide it. Hilbilly prophet.
- Elijah fell into a depression and he acknowledged it.
- Job openly expressed his grief and confessed his confusion.
- Peter violently denied he even knew Jesus.
John Maxwell says, “If you want to impress someone, talk about your successes. If you want to impact them, talk about your failures.” In the end, we must preach with our humble slingshot, not in borrowed armor.
Should you learn best practices? Yes.
Should you investigate tools and strategies? Of course.
But in the end, you need to prepare your messages using the process that works best for you and deliver it a style that’s authentic to you.
You be you.
David put off Saul’s untested armor and picked up the familiar slingshot. He selected five smooth stones from a riverbed and went out to face Goliath.
Goliath hurled his insults at David and his God. “Who is this boy that comes to me with a stick.”
“Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field,” he said to David.
“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”
Turns out, the simple slingshot was enough.
And this weekend, your slingshot will be enough.
Take your slingshot into the pulpit or onto the platform this Sunday.
Preach God’s Word.
And you be you.