You’ll Never Guess What Happened When I Stopped Preparing My Sermons

I’m going to keep this brief, as I honestly could go on and on about it.

I’ve grown increasingly concerned of late that my preaching and the response of my congregation has become a bit rote. Perhaps a better word would be “predictable.” This was confirmed for me back in February when I felt the Lord ask me to not plan or prepare for any of my messages from Ash Wednesday through this past Sunday (Palm Sunday). It was basically a fast from preparation.

After a bit of wrestling on my part, I yielded to the Lord and walked into my church on Saturday, March 11th for my first “unprepared” service at ACF. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

My strategy was simple: I’d hang out in the back of our auditorium during the worship time. I’d pray, listen, and then go with whatever God gave me in the moment.

I participated in fourteen different services during the last forty days, and I preached fourteen different “spontaneous” messages.

It was one of the most terrifying and yet exhilarating faith walks I’ve ever experienced.

Now don’t think that I just winged it, as I didn’t. That would have been both presumptuous and irresponsible.  I spent the hours I would have used for message prep just reading and studying the Bible, and praying. I prepared me, not the messages. I didn’t end up teaching on any of the passages I had studied, but I did feel very full and very personally prepared.

Yesterday as Susie and I shared some time together on our front porch, we talked about my experience these last forty days. I told her what I want to tell you now: this has dramatically changed me. And, it has totally changed the way I view preaching and teaching.

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Here’s a list of some the things I and ACF experienced during my fast from sermon prep:

1. I prayed more. There’s nothing like not preparing for a message to drive you to your knees.

2. I was more desperate. I had to listen for God’s voice and wait for his word to me. It kept me very dependent and greatly honed my listening skills.

3. Our congregations had higher expectations. I told our congregations what I was doing, and it greatly affected how they approached our weekend services. They came with curiosity and expectations, and many told me that they prayed for me during the week.

4. My messages were more Word-centered. When I plan my sermons, I typically build series out of topics that I feel the need to address. I then build individual messages from texts on those topics. But during this season of waiting for God, I didn’t feel led to a single topic. I would literally hear only a Scripture in my brain–Colossians 1, Romans 8, Psalm 22. That’s all God would give me. I typically knew almost immediately what verse or verses in the chapters God wanted me to cover. But I found it surprising how God only gave me scripture. Think there’s a lesson there?  Hmmm…

5. I was bolder. There’s something about getting a word directly from God for a specific service that makes you very confident and bold. I felt great authority as I spoke knowing that I was delivering exactly what God had given me only moments before.

6. We saw more fruit. I prayed before every message that we would see demonstrations of God’s power in each service (1 Cor 2:1-5). When it came time to call for a response, there was clear evidence of the Spirit’s increased work in our congregation. Some of the huge breakthroughs I’ve been praying for among ACFers happened in the last few weeks.

7. I felt less pressure. It’s impossible to be impressive or “preach well” when you haven’t written a message. There are no three points and a poem, no breathtaking illustrations and no tweetable comments. It’s just you, God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. As a result, I felt less pressure going in. (That is, AFTER God give me the text in each service. I felt plenty of pressure BEFORE I knew what I was speaking on.) I felt free to just deliver what God had given me, and then walk away. The rest was up to God.

8. I was more productive. I preached fourteen different messages in the last five weeks. There’s no way that I could have written and delivered that number of messages during that same time period. That type of writing and teaching load would have wiped me out. But here at the end of it, I feel refreshed and invigorated.

Lessons? I want to save those for another day. Suffice it to say that this has caused me to greatly rethink the way I approach preaching. And, it’s caused many in my congregation to rethink how they listen to a sermon. And that, on any weekend, is a win.

If you want to listen to any of the messages I shared the last few weeks, you can find them here. They begin on March 11 and end on April 9.