In the summer months, I usually take off up to four Sundays. Sometimes, I go away with my family, and sometimes I am a regular member of the worship service. I am blessed with great leadership people at Central Baptist Church and they can function well when I am not around.
A number of years ago, I was in the service and I had a denominational guest speaker. One of the deacons of the church was in charge of the worship service. At the end of the service as we had a time of fellowship, one of the church members came up to me and said: "Now, that was a great sermon, pastor!" Having heard that sermon before (since denominational leaders are known to preach the same sermon for a season), I said to him, "When I have the chance to preach the same sermon 13 times, mine will be as great as his!"
I have to admit that for a while that sentence grated on me! Does he think that I am a bad preacher! Have I preached a great sermon lately? Shall I distribute a questionnaire in our Sunday bulletin to find out what the congregation really thinks about my sermons?
I preached some sermons that were real duds, only to get a note during the week that something in that sermon touched a person and that person's life has been changed. I prepared sermons that have passed all the homiletical tests and nobody said a thing to me at the door. There have been sermons whose delivery has exhausted me, but the congregation was not moved. And then there have been those sermons when everything came together – the preacher, the congregation, the text, the sermon, the Holy Spirit – the unmistakable anointing of God.
A lawyer friend of mine who argued many cases in the state of New Jersey said to me once that if I preach one great sermon a month, I am doing well. That statement of greatness reflected the standard that he kept for himself – all his arguments were good, but then one rose to be great. I heard John MacArthur say to preachers that he spends about 40 hours on each sermon. You could hear a gasp in the audience for John McArthur was the only one who had that much time to spend on preparing his sermons: after all he was the preaching pastor in a staff that has over 50 people. Another colleague told me that he spends the largest amount of time looking for perfect illustrations to conclude the sermon.
I asked an English teacher and friend of mine to tell me what he thought of my sermons. Ah, he said to me, excellent content, bumpy transitions! I've been working on transitions and sometimes when I work too hard on finessing those transitions I remember that I have to work on close to 50 sermons a year and I do not want to end up like Joseph Grand, the novelist in Camus' book, The Plague, who for the duration of the plague worked on the perfect sentence while people were dying around him.
I hope that in the church that you attend regularly, and in the churches that you visit this summer, when you hear the regular preacher and the guest preachers, that you will hear lots of great sermons, and that somehow through these sermons God will speak to you, and you will get closer to God and your fellow human beings.