Rules for preaching: It's not about you

Ryan Hayden • November 22, 2022

preaching ministry

I plan on writing a series of posts on my ten rules for preaching.

These are just my rules. They are some things I've learned about preaching that I try to apply to my own ministry. If I were to mentor someone on preaching, these are the things I'd want them to learn.

Let's get this thing started with...

Rule 1: It's not about you

There are few things that feed the ego more than standing in front of a large room full of people who seem to be listening to you with rapt attention and authoritatively preaching to them. If you aren't careful to do otherwise, you can begin to make the whole calling and the whole act of preaching about you - and when you do, you will miss the entire point.

You are not the point.

The point is Christ. The point is the unfolding drama of redemption. The point is the glory of God. The point is the rescue of souls. The point is the building up of believers into a glorious church.

You, as the preacher, don't play the central role in that - Christ does. The Holy Spirit does. The Bible does. You are just the herald, reading with enthusiasm the good news someone else wrote up for you.

To borrow my favorite illustration from John MacArthur: You are not the chef. You are certainly not the meal. You are the waiter. No one cares about the waiter. The waiter does his job and then the waiter disappears. You want the waiter to faithfully serve you your food and then you want the check. You didn't come to the restaurant excited about the waiter - you came excited about the meal.

As soon as it becomes about you then you've lost the plot. There are far more glorious things on the table, and you are a distraction. There is a word that is alive and can change people, and you are in the way. Make much of Christ. Make much of God's word. Make yourself forgettable.

You are not that interesting.

Or to put it more bluntly: nobody cares about you.

I tell my children this all the time. They seem to think that everyone is thinking about them all the time. They interpret every sour look as an attack and every anonymous chuckle as someone making fun of them. But that person looks sour because they ate some bad pizza, and that couple is chuckling because their two year old just stuck a booger on tip of his nose.

It is a rule of human nature that no one thinks about you. They think about themselves. They think about what they want, what they are eating for lunch after the service, how they are going to pay their bills this month, how they are going to get their estranged son back in the fold. They are thinking about their problems.

So if you get behind a pulpit and talk about yourself, not only are you going to be bringing a message with absolutely zero power to help anyone, but your people will pick up on what's going on, check out, and start thinking about their grocery list, counting down the minutes until its all over.

Charles Spurgeon said the golden key to keeping people's attention is to say something worth listening to. Spoiler alert: the details of your life, your quirky views about weird subjects, and how you feel about things aren't worth listening to.

You are not the hero.

Christ is the hero. So talk about Christ. Make much of Him. Talk a lot about his redemption. Bring every story back to it's place in the gospel.

God is the hero. God loves us. God has given us wonderful instructions for life. God has given us mercy. God has given us grace. God will give us the help we need to make it through.

Seriously, what kind of demented egomaniac opens the words of life that are sweeter than honeycomb and more valuable than fine gold and then talks about himself for thirty minutes? Imagine going to the colosseum in Rome and trying to talk to passersby about the layout of your bedroom. Imagine hiking up to the top of Mt. Denali and then standing at the top and taking a picture of your outfit. If you truly understood where you were you would shut up and wonder. Nothing cheapens the glory or makes you look smaller than your desperate attempt to say look at me when God is in the room.

If you must talk about yourself never, ever, ever make yourself the hero of the story. Don't get me wrong, it's far better to not talk about yourself at all - but if you must, then you must remember that you are not the hero - you are the bumbling nitwit God rescued. Christ is the hero. Bear testimony of that fact or get off the stage.

You should aim to disappear.

One of my favorite stories is when an American went to London on a Sunday and got to hear two of the greatest preachers ever on the same day. During the morning service he went to hear the great Joseph Parker and he came away incredibly impressed by the preacher. For the evening service he went to hear Charles Spurgeon and he came away incredibly impressed by the Savior.

I want the people who hear me to be impressed by Jesus, not by me. I want them to wander at God's mercy and grace and to get caught up in beautiful wisdom of God. If I'm doing my job right, they will forget I'm even there.

When I preach the word, I'm not the point, I'm not the hero, I'm not that interesting, I'm certainly not the solution to people's problems - at my best I'm a giant arrow pointing people to Christ - because He is the solution, the hero and the one who deserves all of the glory.

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