As a pastor, one of my job’s more challenging and exciting responsibilities is planning sermon series. Paul charges Timothy to “preach the word,” and all true shepherds of God’s flock still receive this call today (2 Tim. 4:2). But how will we decide what to preach about? In a world where anthropocentric sermon series are the norm and feelings are often the thermometers of faithfulness, how can faithful pastors determine what is good and right for their church? Instead of following the tides of culture, the faithful pastor must examine the “flock of God among you” and preach the Gospel in a way that meets people where they are (1 Peter 5:2). The church is a specific people who need a specific message. God calls pastors to lead their churches to the right pastures. But isn’t the whole Bible “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching (2 Tim. 3:16)?”
Before I became a pastor, I was a pharmacist. In my days behind the counter, one of my primary jobs was to make sure that the appropriate medication was prescribed for the appropriate condition. The medications are helpful when applied correctly to the presenting ailment; however, a great blood pressure medicine does little to cure the effects of a sinus infection. Though not a perfect analogy, hopefully, you can see the correlation to shepherding the flock of God. Your church’s spiritual needs and deficits should play a major role in deciding which topics and emphases to preach. Jesus questioned and commissioned Peter three times while he told Thomas to touch the holes in his hands and side. Though Peter and Thomas could benefit from a general exhortation, Jesus knew what each man needed. In a like manner, pastors need to rightly understand the times, seasons, and struggles of a particular congregation and rightly apply the Word of Truth. For my church, this meant we would spend nearly a year walking through the Gospel of Luke.
“Pastors are called to apply the right medicine for the correctly diagnosed ailment.”—Justin Honaker
My church is a small-town church with a rich sense of community, love, and encouragement. We love to gather together and worship Jesus and take care of the needs of the saints. However, like many churches, one of our greatest struggles is understanding the widespread effects of the lordship of Jesus over all things. Because we are in the Bible Belt, it is historically and socially normal to identify as a Christian. This creates a difficult dichotomy—on the one hand, we have a town that is more Christianized than many others, while at the same time, many are inoculated to the truly good news of Jesus. To combat this spiritual battle in our church, we discerned that LCF needed the reminder that the lordship of Jesus actually affects every area of their lives. We needed to be shaken from a Christendom-induced stupor and awakened to the pervasive reign of Jesus Christ over every mountaintop and valley in southwestern Virginia. In this season, we needed a big message from a big God about his kingdom and his reign in our lives. And so, we asked the questions: What genre of Bible book does this most effectively? Is this a need in our body that can be addressed quickly, or is this something that should be addressed slowly? Is this need for a kingdom mindset best drawn out of the Old Testament or the New? All these questions and others led me to the Gospel of Luke, where Christ clarifies the nature of his pervasive reign.
As leaders in the church, pastors are called to see the need and apply the right medicine for every ailment. However, this does not mean that we pander to every felt need about which our congregations are enthralled. Oftentimes, a church needs a pulpit focused on the grandeur and majesty of God when it is in the throes of some issue. In this way, our preaching is proactive and reactive. As we organize the preaching calendar, we are reminded that this is not a call to chase the flock but to lead them. The goal is to present every person mature in Christ (Col. 1:28). Therefore, we are always among the sheep, leading them toward God, addressing specific troubles with specific applications of the gospel. In doing this, we see God challenge immaturity and birth new life.
Just as every tool in the carpenter’s belt is useful and necessary for the construction of a house, every chapter in the Scriptures has its place in the equipping of the saints. However, a wise carpenter knows when to use a sledgehammer and when to use a finishing nailer. In the same way, a wise pastor will learn when and why to preach from certain books in certain seasons, how long sermon series should be, and how to make application appropriate for the body of Christ. Proverbs 27:23 exhorts us to know the flock’s condition and give attention to the herd. Wise pastors will know the flock’s health and are ready to preach the Word in season and out of season.