5 Questions on Preaching with Spencer Haygood
Spencer Haygood (M.Div., SBTS) has been a pastor for 23 years and Senior Pastor of Orange Hill Baptist Church for 13 years. He also works as an adjunct professor at Brewton-Parker College and Anderson University. He serves as a chaplain in the Georgia State Defense Force and as a Senior Chaplain for the Cobb County Police Department.
Q1: How long does it typically take you to prepare a sermon?
Any given Sunday morning message will take 15-20 hours of preparation (or more if the passage is particularly difficult or controversial). That’s not because I’m new at this; it’s because I approach this work with the utmost earnestness and a pressing sense of its weightiness. It all begins with study of the passage in the original language, followed by comparison/contrast of a number of translations (ESV, NASB, NET, NIV, etc.), and even consideration of a paraphrase like The Message.
Then, I “interrogate” the text—who, what, when, where, why, how? What are the key words? What are the grammatical, logical, cultural, chronological, geographical, psychological, contextual, literary relationships? And all of this (and more) is to get at the God- intended meaning of the passage.
Only then can I contemporize/contextualize the significance of its truth for us here and now, in Our Time and Place. Then, I follow up with reading in both devotional and critical commentaries to see what I may have missed along the way. Then, pray, pray, pray! Brother, anybody who shortcuts on preparation is just not being faithful to this great calling.
Q2: What do you ultimately want a sermon to accomplish?
Ultimately, I want the sermon to accomplish what the biblical text itself wants accomplished. I want my people to understand and obey what God wants understood and obeyed in that passage at hand. That’s not always a single goal, though one goal often stands out among the rest. Depending on the passage, it may be one of conviction and repentance, or encouragement and hope, or comfort and rest, etc.
But, I think, the great business for which God-breathed Scripture is profitable is always at work—to teach, to reprove, to correct, and to train in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16-17). When we keep this in mind, it guards us against one-dimensionalizing Scripture, flattening every passage out to say the same thing. The gospel forms and informs it all, yes, but the truth that sets us free is multi-dimensional in its saving work in our lives.
Q3: What are one or two big mistakes people often make in preaching?
Well, two mistakes I’ve already hinted at are lack of preparation and one-dimensionalizing the text. They’re both huge! Other “big” mistakes fall into a couple of major categories:
- materially, things like …
- eisegesis (reading into a text something that is not there),
- proof-texting (pulling out a text to justify a preconceived idea with no consideration of context),
- riding a hobby-horse (turning every passage toward some favorite topic)
- avoiding difficult doctrines/passages, etc. (not preaching the whole counsel of God)
- methodologically, things like …
- under- or over-illustrating (neither is helpful),
- trying to sound/look like a favorite preacher, or using a manufactured “preacher” voice and tone (again, neither is helpful),
- manipulating listeners (linguistically, emotionally, psychologically, even physically, like wearing people out with 48 stanzas of “Just As I Am”)
- quoting “facts,” using examples, etc. that just aren’t true or accurate (e.g., appealing to Facebook posts and memes as a source of information is a notoriously bad idea)
There is so much that falls into this discussion—big mistakes—that it could probably be a helpful book on its own!
Q4: How do you handle the gospel invitation and preach toward it?
There are, I know, a number of different “takes” on the practice of invitation. Let me say that I think the process in too many churches is just unbiblical. There’s nothing biblical about getting folks to “come down front” to “the altar.” Protestant churches don’t have altars; there’s no holy piece of geography or furniture at the front of the building. There’s nothing biblical about getting folks to “repeat a sinner’s prayer” or to “invite Christ into their lives” (appeals to Rev 3:20 notwithstanding).
But that said, there must always be an invitation (whatever the focus/purpose of the text may be). My own practice is to weave invitation into the whole of the message—from the reading of the biblical passage (where folks are invited to hear “the Word of the Lord”), to the opening prayer (where they’re invited to call on the Lord), to the introduction (where I am inviting people to identify with the matter at hand), to explaining the text (where they’re invited to wrestle with and grasp what the passage meant), to drawing out its significance (where they’re invited to apply what the truth means now for their lives), to responding appropriately at service end as the Word and the Spirit direct them.
Everything in the message, and all the “invitation” along the way, is driving to the call to close with Christ, come to Christ, walk with Christ, set your eyes on Christ, become more and more like Christ, long for Christ—hear, pray, flee, repent, believe, deny, take up, weep, rejoice, come, follow, go, and on it goes! The gospel invitation is extensive and all-embracing!
Q5: What advice would you give to preachers doing pulpit supply?
That’s a good question, and one to which I haven’t given much thought. A crucial piece of counsel, I think, would be, “Never assume!”
- Don’t assume that you know what “they” need. Make time, if at all possible, to have a conversation with the pastor (or lay-leaders if a pastor is not there) and ask key biblical-theological questions about the state and needs of the congregation.
- Don’t assume “they” (including leaders with whom you may meet) have anything like a truly biblical and functional “theology” in place that you can work from. You may have to put some “big pieces” in place to make sure the message is understandable.
- Don’t assume “they” are all Christians. There’s good reason to believe that one of the more fertile mission fields in America is church sanctuaries on Sunday mornings.
- But don’t assume “they” are all lost and lazy and “Laodicean,” either. The saints of God will be there, and they will be hungry for the word God has for them.
- And don’t assume that you have to “make” something happen. You don’t. You have to continue in the sacred writings, give yourself to them, prepare, pray, and preach the Word, powerfully and proportionately, but without apology. And then trust the Lord to bless it in his time and his way for his glory.