As pastors we are required to become competent students of Scripture in order to handle the task of preaching well. We spend hours each week doing our best to preach that which we have worked hard to understand in a way that connects with the real-life experiences of our people.

While biblical preaching requires the faithful interpretation of Scripture, effective preaching requires that we must also become competent students of the cultural context within which we live. As we rightly focus our attention on Scripture and the context of our culture, we may be tempted to ignore the significance of our own lives in the task of preaching. However, those who proclaim truth in relevant ways must also ask whether such truth is relevant to them. This is not something that surprises any of us who have preached for any length of time, yet it happens to the best of us. Life and ministry are often demanding—sermons have to be written, people need counsel, and the church requires administration.

Amidst it all we are tempted to neglect the important task of discerning whether what we preach is true for ourselves as well as our parishioners. This is a critical part of the process of preparing to preach because the integrity of the preacher matters to the proclamation of the message. There is no substitute for our own encounter with God’s word. We must intentionally mind the gap between what we preach and who we are; too much is at stake if we do not.

What is God saying to me about my own heart and life as I prepare to preach to others?

Over the years I’ve learned to ask a simple yet important question as I prepare to preach each week: What is God saying to me about my own heart and life as I prepare to preach to others? Asking this question requires a commitment to listen to what God may want to say to me as the first recipient of the sermon. This posture of placing ourselves under the authority of Scripture as the first hearers of his word is an essential step to maintaining our spiritual integrity and to authentically proclaiming the word of God to others. Allowing the text to speak to us first also guards our hearts and minds from attitudes of pride and arrogance. By asking this simple yet critically important question, preaching can become a spiritually formative practice for those of us who are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

We who long to follow him, to speak on his behalf, and to call others to his ways must allow Jesus to be the example for our lives first. Jesus lived what he proclaimed! He did more than call people to principles and propositions of truth, he called them to himself and to his example.

May God grant us the courage and wisdom to know that our lives as preachers matter as we preach. May we preach with passion and conviction because we ourselves have heard from God.