FIVE PRACTICAL, YET SPIRIT-LED TIPS TO FEEDING GOD’S SHEEP
Gateway Church was birthed from a Bible study in my living room over a decade ago. Today, we’re a multi-campus, Spirit-empowered church with a global outreach and more than 36,000 active members. Please understand, I’m not bragging about our growth. It had been a God-ordained, God-graced thing from Day One. I’m humbled, grateful and privileged that God chose me to feed His sheep. I’m simply a steward overseeing His family; I’m a shepherd, who recognized a long time ago that you cannot lead malnourished sheep into spiritual battle.
From North America to Down Under, I’m asked quite frequently, “What is the secret to your church’s growth?” While there are many factors for our ministry’s success — God’s grace and favor, adhering to spiritual and biblical principles, just to name a few — I want to share one aspect that I believe is crucial to our call as preachers, Bible teachers and pastors. It is for a reason that the resurrected Jesus looked Peter in the eyes and three times exhorted him, “Feed my sheep.” God has called us to feed His sheep, and if you feed His sheep good food, your flock will grow. Here I want to share five practical, yet Spirit-led tips that I believe will help take your sermons from good to great.
PREPARE LONG, BUT PREACH SHORT.
The shorter you prepare, the longer you will preach. Most people think it’s the opposite. If your preparation is poor, you’ll end up rambling behind the pulpit. When you take the time and energy to prepare your message in fine detail, you’ll be able to hear the purest essence of what God wants to tell His people. Sermon preparation is like sowing and reaping. The more you sow, the more you’ll reap. Do you know why many churches never reap a harvest? It is because the shepherd doesn’t sow enough of God’s Word into the hearts of the people.
My first day of preparation is almost exclusively research. I read many commentaries on the Bible passage God has placed on my heart. For example, for a teaching series of mine built around The Lord’s Prayer, I read between 10-15 commentaries on the topic. Many of these commentaries were written ages ago, but this often gives me some historical insight that I might not have had about the passage. I also research nearly every word of the biblical passage in the concordance contained in my Bible study software. For example, in my preparation for The Lord’s Prayer, I expanded my research of the phrase, … thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. I started with the word, thine—I examined every instance of word thine in the Bible. I did the same for kingdom, power, glory and amen—examining every appearance of these words for nuances of meaning.
Then for some of the verses I plan on citing, I read the surrounding context. As a result, my research notes will be heavy with scriptures. By the way, I even study the word in the Greek language, and as many of you know, Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon is the training wheels for Greek study. During this entire day devoted to research, God will then give me a thought, and I’ll type that thought. Sometimes, I will be reading, and I will be moved to tears by what God is revealing to me.
On the second day of preparation, I organize my notes and write the outline. Once I get my main points, I build the rough draft, then add illustrations to my draft. The third study day, I let the message ferment in my soul, and I will often take time to relax, enjoying lunch with my wife Debbie or take a long drive. Then I come back to write the final draft. I devote the fourth day of preparation to review and extended prayer for both the message and the church service. Yes, I prepare long to preach short.
PREACH SERIES. PREACH SERIES. PREACH SERIES.
My friend and mentor, Pastor Jack Hayford, says that only two-thirds to three-fourths of our congregations attend services on any given weekend. That means, if you have 800 active church members, only about 500 of those 800 will attend a particular weekend service. And it’s never the same 500, week after week. So, a long time ago, I applied Pastor Hayford’s advice to my own sermons: Preach on the same teaching theme for at least four weeks. That way most of the congregation will have an opportunity to hear at least some aspect of the teaching.
Another great thing about a teaching series is that separating the messages helps you maximize use of the research garnished from your extensive preparation. And besides, you never want to use all of your ammunition in the opening salvo. I’m reminded of the story about a pastor of a small church in the Texas panhandle. After a blizzard immobilized the rural town one Sunday morning, the pastor was determined to make his way to church just in case someone else showed up. One farmer did make the trek through the snowdrifts, so the pastor preached and preached for an entire hour to this one farmer. At the end of the service, the pastor told the farmer, “I decided even though there was just one of you, I would still preach a full message for you. If your cows came, wouldn’t you feed them?” The farmer answered, “Yeah, but I wouldn’t give one cow the whole bale.”
I can’t tell you how many messages I’ve heard that caused me to think, “I have no clue what he’s trying to say. Where is he going with that? Why did he share that illustration? Or, this is good material, but it’s very disorganized.”
Rambling, disjointed teaching is especially ineffective. I recall listening to a painfully dull sermon with my family while on vacation years ago. At lunch after the service, I couldn’t resist canvassing the entire family to see what they got out of the service. Everyone had a different perspective about the topic and the main points. Be organized.
Your points should support your topic, and they should be easy to remember. If you can’t even remember your points, why should your congregation? The best way I’ve found to help make your points memorable is by using illustrations. I truly believe a message without a memorable closing illustration is like a joke without a punch line.
Preach your sermon out loud. As a preacher or Bible teacher, the way you’ll get more revelation is by expounding on it. Habakkuk 2:2 says, … “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.” Often, I’m so excited about a message that I want to run with it—I’m excited about sharing what’s burning in my heart. I’m a “burden preacher”—meaning that I get a burden for my congregation to understand a certain truth or overcome a particular pitfall. For me, the burden always precedes the vision and the message.
My wife Debbie is a very intelligent, spiritual woman, but if I can’t explain what’s on my heart to my own wife, I’m not likely to communicate it well to others. That’s why I dry-run my sermons on Debbie. Before I ever stand in the pulpit, my poor, long-suffering wife has usually heard my message several times. The key is that she’s not afraid to tell me, “Okay, Robert, you’ve lost me. I don’t know what you’re trying to teach me here.”
Watching her facial expressions as I rehearse is also very helpful. If I’m trying to explain what the verse means in Greek and I see her eyes glaze over, I know I’ve wandered off into the weeds. And she doesn’t hesitate to tell me, “I don’t care about the Greek words, Robert. I just want to know what that verse means.”
Once when Debbie and I were driving back from a short getaway, I was going over one of my sermons with her. After delivering one of my key points, I glanced over at Debbie and was surprised by what I saw. She was actually fast asleep. I said to myself, “I’ll need to work on this one a little bit more. I just put my biggest fan to sleep!”
FINALLY, FEED THE SHEEP.
Although I referred to this in the opening, I believe it bears repeating. The two main responsibilities of a shepherd are to lead and feed. Which one is primary? Feeding! You cannot lead malnourished people into battle.
Many pastors actually make a huge mistake by sharing too much vision on the weekend and not enough of God’s Word. Vision is for your church leadership; food is for the sheep. Weekend services are for feeding sheep. Over the years I’ve observed that growing churches are invariably led by pastors who are great feeders. So, feed God’s sheep, and the sheep will come. The flock or congregation God has entrusted to your stewardship will thrive, be fruitful and multiply.
In keeping with my rule to close with an illustration, I’d like to tell you about an interesting conversation I had with an acquaintance recently. The gentleman confided to me that a few pastors in the Dallas/Fort Worth community were calling me a sheep stealer… because their church members had left their congregations to join Gateway Church. I kept my response short and sweet: “I’m not a sheep stealer, but I do plant delicious grass.”
Robert Morris is the senior pastor of Gateway Church, a multicampus church based out of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Since it began in 2000, the church has grown to more than 71,000 active attendees. His television program airs in over 190 countries, and his radio program, Worship & the Word with Pastor Robert, airs in more than 1,800 radio markets across America. He serves as chancellor of The King’s University and is the bestselling author of numerous books, including The Blessed Life, Frequency, Beyond Blessed, and Take the Day Off. Robert and his wife, Debbie, have been married 40 years and are blessed with one married daughter, two married sons, and nine grandchildren.