5 Questions on Preaching with Bart Barber
Bart Barber is pastor of FBC Farmersville, TX where he has served since 1999. He grew up in Lake City, AR. God saved him when he was almost 6, then called him to preach at 11. He went to Baylor, then twice to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Bart blogs sometimes at Praisegod Barebones. He is husband to Tracy and father to Jim and Sarah. Follow him on Twitter at @BartBarber.
Q1. How long does it typically take you to prepare a sermon?
Honestly, at this point along the way, I can (if need be) preach better sermons with no preparation at all than I could have preached with hours of preparation at the beginning. But, I don’t preach with no preparation at all. Nevertheless, this is a difficult question to answer.
I preach through books of the Bible, generally speaking. I take a week-long sermon planning retreat in the summer. I emerge from that retreat with at least 52 weeks of passages selected together with title, central idea of the text, the thesis of the sermon, major objective, specific objective, and sermon points. How to distribute that week of time (probably 14-16 hours a day) among the produced sermons? I don’t know.
Generally, I don’t take up that material again until Monday. The points change more often than they stay the same, but usually not by much. The title sometimes changes. The illustrative material goes in at this point. Probably not more than 4 hours each week goes into this. In most weeks, I’m creating from scratch a Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening message or lesson. Some weeks I’m also creating a lesson for a separate Sunday evening discipleship class.
Q2. What do you ultimately want a sermon to accomplish?
I want to see people’s lives transformed by the Word of God. I believe that the life-changing power is in the Word of God, and that life-change has to be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. My responsibility is to be a faithful and accurate proclaimer of the Word of God. If I walk away on Sunday morning confident that I have brought to people accurate the Holy Spirit’s message from the text, then I am satisfied with what I have done.
Q3. What are one or two big mistakes people often make in preaching?
In the circles I run in, this is a hard question to answer, because the often-made mistakes aren’t big and the big mistakes aren’t often made. The big mistakes are eisegesis, timidity, or the use of the pulpit as a personal lectern. Eisegesis is a big mistake because this approach obscures God’s message behind my thoughts. Timidity is a big mistake because it leads us to neglect portions of the Bible either by avoiding controversial passages altogether or by preaching them in ways that carefully avoid things that are in those passages, are timely, and are needed, but are controversial. Personal appropriation of God’s pulpit is a big mistake (and by this I mean when the preacher takes over the pulpit as a place to vent his own pet issues, excoriate his own chosen enemies, etc.) because like eisegesis it dethrones the Lord who is the author of scripture, but unlike eisegesis it is deliberately abusive and it hides the gospel. Thankfully, most of my friends are not making these mistakes with any frequency.
The mistakes often made are smaller ones. Picking the wrong pericope (whether taking too much or too little), misuse of illustrations, failure to apply well, or failures in connection at the point of delivery are smaller mistakes. They’re mistakes, to be sure, and they can have a big effect on the success of the sermon, but these are mistakes that dull the axe, such that more work leads to less accomplishment; the other mistakes are like swinging the axe at a power line instead of the tree—they are mistakes so big that the more effective your sermon is, the worse it is.
But I would say that there is one mistake that rises above the others because it is not infrequent and yet it can damage effectiveness greatly: failure to get the sermon into the heart of the preacher before he tries to get it out at the moment of delivery. The sermon must be yours. It is a common statement in the Prophets: וַיְהִ֥י דְבַר־יְהוָ֖ה אֵלַ֥י (“And the Word of Yahweh happened to me”). If the sermon is going to be something that “happens” to the congregation, it has to be something that “happens” to me, first. When I miss, this is why, almost every time.
Q4. How do you handle the gospel invitation and preach toward it?
If there is an area in which I want to grow, this is it.
I give an altar-call invitation. God used those in my life, and I want Him to use it in other people’s lives. I’ve written a recent blog article that touches a bit on one reason why I give a public invitation. http://sbcvoices. com/recovering-the-heart-of- southern-baptist-church-life/
Developing a specific objective for the sermon helps to move toward the invitation. This is out-of-vogue, and many would criticize it, but I’ll confess that on occasion the appeal to the lost to be saved during the invitation is sometimes grafted onto a sermon that did not relate explicitly to evangelism. Sometimes I am preaching a message that calls people to other decisions. A couple of years ago I preached from Colossians 4:17 a sermon that was targeted explicitly at those who needed to surrender to a calling to vocational ministry. This happens perhaps once a year or so at FBC Farmersville. On such an occasion, I’ll add at the time of the invitation an appeal to the lost to accept the gospel, but the strongest appeal of the invitation is the one that arises out of the specific objective of the sermon.
The “welded-on” gospel appeal is much-berated today, but I’ll rise to somewhat of a defense of it. The people who respond to that invitation are often those who have heard the gospel through other venues at which our church shares the gospel or even after lengthy consideration of the cumulative effect of a number of sermons. I don’t know about you, but we have very few who just walk in unknown to us and receive the gospel at the end of the first sermon that they hear. That “welded-on” gospel appeal tells the person who has been considering the gospel for some time that now is an acceptable time for them to acquiesce to the voice of the Holy Spirit who has been drawing them.
Q5. What advice would you give to preachers doing pulpit supply?
Don’t let your stable of sermons go stale on you. Yes, you can probably have 20 sermons under your belt and just preach those repeatedly. But if you are even a little bit like me, those are going to go stale. Be digging up new treasures. I say that not especially because it will be good for our congregations to whom you will be preaching, but because I suspect that it will be good for you. Me? I’d go nuts if I weren’t writing new sermons. I’d certainly go cold.