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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Preaching for the "Home Run"

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Last week, I received an email with a good question about preaching:

I have heard people say that preaching is more about preaching sermons that are “base hits”* rather than hitting a “home run”* every week. This seems to be very true of my own preaching (even though I sometimes don't feel like I get on base*) and it also is a more biblical view of long-term sanctification over a lifetime.

My question is, "How does a pastor handle the pressure of preaching every week?" If I’m being honest, I feel that I have to hit a home run* or I have wasted everyone's time that week. Does the pastor prepare his sermon so that it's a base hit* or do you swing for the fences* every week?

Here's my stab at an answer:

Almost every pastor will have the experience you mention.

Some sermons seem to resonate in a special way with the congregation. In these cases, you can feel it while you are preaching: the congregation is uniquely still and quiet (or loud and animated – depending on your denomination) and there is a sense of holy awe. After the sermon, there is evident joy in the singing and prayers and conversations that happen after church. These “home run” sermons are a lot of fun to preach.

But most sermons are “base hits”. The preacher presents the meaning of the text, teaches and applies it faithfully, and the congregation receives it gladly. Nothing unusual seems to happen, but God’s people are taught his word and the church moves on.

A few observations and a conclusion for you:

  • There may be legitimate reasons why you aren’t feeling encouraged about the course of your preaching. It could be the result of insufficient work in the text, sloppiness in crafting a message, or failure to prepare yourself spiritually. I’m not saying that is definitely the case, but it is possible. Try to get input from godly people in your church about your preaching in order to make sure that you’re not missing something.
  • Your observation about sanctification is correct. It seems that God normally changes us and builds his church gradually. Most sermons will be more like putting a brick in wall than building the whole wall in one morning’s message.  
  • I’m not sure that “home run” sermons are used by God to accomplish much more than “normal” sermons. They are more exciting, but I don’t know that they are necessarily the means of more conversions or more sanctification. In fact, I’ve been surprised more than once when someone professed faith in Christ after what I thought was a pretty mediocre sermon on an obscure text.
  • There’s a danger to teaching your people (and yourself) to desire and expect a “home run” every week.

    • It can tempt the preacher to “cherry pick” texts that are particularly given to exciting sermons. If you have to have a home run every week, books like Lamentations and Titus aren’t going to get a lot of play in your rotation.
    • It can also tempt the preacher to over-reach and manipulate in order to stir up the congregation.
    • It can also teach the congregation that if they haven’t felt something obviously exciting, God wasn’t at work. This may connect to your fear that you’ve wasted everyone’s time if you don’t hit a “home run”.
  • Preaching is normally an exercise of faith more than sight. We don’t always see the immediate results of our labors, but the preacher must press on in confidence that God is powerfully accomplishing his purposes.
  • I don’t think that you should prepare your sermon with a “home run” in mind. Make sure you understand the text, make sure that you have done the hard work of prayerfully meditating on how the text applies to the lives of your congregation, make sure you have labored to organize your message in a helpful way, make sure you have chosen compelling ways to communicate the message, beg the Holy Spirit to attend the preaching of the Word… and then let it rip. The results are up to God.

* For our international readers, these are baseball terms. Baseball is a sport like cricket, just way more awesome.

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As a teaching pastor for less than 2 years, this something I've felt a lot over the last couple of years. It can be a hard thing to explain. I am absolutely confident in the necessity, centrality, and efficacy of preaching God's word every Sunday. However sometimes I have to believe those things more on faith than feeling. Some Sundays just seem to connect and the Holy Spirit "seems" to be more active. Often times I deliver a sermon, do the pastor hand shakes, and head home praying God did more than I felt as I struggled through a sermon. He is faithful to do just that, in spite of me.

I was reminded of this yesterday when interviewing a couple that was joining our church. The wife told me of something I had said, virtually straight from the text, that had allowed her to come to grips with her 2 year old daughter's diagnosis of a significant chronic health issue. This is something she had wrestled with and been harboring bitterness towards God for more than 2 years. Now, with tears streaming down her face, she was able to see God's hand and sanctifying grace in it all. I remember the sermon she spoke of and my feeling of inadequacy and disappointment as I wrapped the sermon that day. It is a matter of humility to trust Spirit and the Word to do the work, while we are simply messengers and stewards.

Thanks for this word and a reminder that we all feel this way sometimes. Also, baseball is truly "way more awesome." LOL.

Great post, thank you so much. Very encouraging as I prepare my message for this weekend. My favorite line is of course, "For our international readers, these are baseball terms. Baseball is a sport like cricket, just way more awesome."

Baseball and preaching, the recipe for a great blog post!

I coach fastpitch softball, which is like baseball, only way more awesome! I discourage kids from "swinging for the fences" just like you discourage preachers from aiming for home runs every week. The reason is that it changes the fundamentals, their mechanics.

I loved that you insisted on good preaching mechanics in your post. Really, with good mechanics a strong athlete will hit more home runs than he/she will trying to 'over-swing'. I would say the same is true of preaching. Hit the text in front of you with good discipline, unbridled effort and clear vision and you will hit your share of home runs.

One other note: Moneyball would remind us the key statistic for baseball players, and I would say for preachers, is on base percentage. Nuff said.

Thanks for the engaging post.

Michael, thanks for a great post! When I started preaching I remember being very encouraged by the pastor when I asked him how one knew if one's sermons where really hitting home or were just words floating over people's heads.

He said that sometimes you heard that people were saved or touched dramatically by a certain sermon but usually it was just providing a solid biblical meal for the congregation. One can't remember all the meals one has had but it would be obvious that you were malnourished if you hadn't had them. Without a steady healthy diet from God's word you don't have healthy Christians and us preachers should try to provide one good nourishing meal at a time.

Anyone up with sport in a general way will understand the baseball analogy even if they don't follow the sport but obviously Mike (and those who commented) have absolutely no concept of the beauty, drama and depth of the game of cricket and its literature!!! Perhaps we all need to read Ed Smith's Playing Hard Ball to better understand each other's sports!

From a british missionary in Chile

Love the last line of this post "The results are up to God". I had an opportunity this past summer to preach for our church. I felt a bit discouraged afterwards, and was sharing my thoughts with my wife on the drive home.

My ten year old pipes up from the back seat with a line that I will never forget as long as I live: "Dad, it isn't about you, it's about God working through you." It's amazing how the Lord uses those around to put everything in perspective.

A fantastic article, full of helpful and realistic advice to a preacher like myself.
But as a Brit I almost choked on the cricket reference at the end. Cricket is a game where both teams wear the same colours, bat two at a time, stop for meal breaks, play for 5 days, can't cope with the rain and many games end in no result. Now that's what I call awesome!!!

Thanks Mike. Very helpful as I prepare for this week. I guess I should preach with confidence that every sermon from God's perspective is a 'home run' as the Spirit takes and uses it.
And on another note you and none of your readers have obviously played Hurley! (For those who are American or British that's an Irish Sport!)

Great post! My wife and I moved to Provo, Utah to start a church just over a year ago. The community is almost 98% LDS. When someone does attend our service, I sometimes feel like I'm preaching to a wall. I appreciate the reminder that the results are up to God!

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