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Preaching notes: Bernie Cueto

May 11, 2018 by Bernie Cueto

Preaching is one of those those sacred tasks entrusted to the pastor that, unless you are doing it on a weekly basis, you cannot grasp the magnitude of the challenge. It is relentless! Sunday is always coming!

At Family Church, preaching is about alignment: alignment with the Word of God (Are we faithful to the Bible?), alignment with the people of God (Are we relevant, interesting, and clear?), and alignment with the preacher of God (Are we personally being transformed by the Word?). Like a car that needs alignment, we often keep replacing the tires, when the tires are but a symptom of the real problem.

We preach expository sermons. That is, we communicate the “theological thrust” of a given passage (Check out Abraham Kuruvilla’s forthcoming work, A Primer for Preaching [Baker]. His commentaries are written with preachers in mind and are the best we have used.). Our goal is to see lives changed. We gear our sermons to address three areas in people’s lives: their heads, their hearts, and their hands. We fine tune our messages to help them to think differently about the truth being taught, to feel differently about the Word as it pertains to them, and to behave differently through application.

I grew up in a Hispanic context where messages were often geared towards one’s emotions. You were moved, blessed, and even inspired, but by Monday morning, it was hard to put into words what the message was about. How can you apply what you did not understand? You want to tackle all three (Head: Knowing! Heart: Being! and Hands: Doing!).

That is what we do and why we do it, so how do we do it? There are two key factors on how we get 11 preachers to preach live sermons at 11 very different campuses.

First, we have a preaching retreat twice a year, where we spend three to four days planning out our preaching calendar about 18 months in advance. At this retreat, we seek God’s guidance to help us best minister to our people for the upcoming year. We are currently in a series called “Restored” from the Book of Romans. This was decided on about a year ago. At the preaching retreat, we broke Romans into manageable portions to preach to our people. The retreats also help our preaching team stay aligned. Don’t have a preaching team? No problem. How about you get away for a couple of days with some other preachers and walk through what has been happening and what you would like to do?

The second factor is our weekly preaching meeting. We have already set texts and themes for the next year or so. We come to our preaching meeting early in the week, having read, read, and reread our passage. Jimmy Scroggins, our Lead Pastor, goes through a “diagnostic debrief” (“How did Sunday go?”). This is a great time to work on further alignment. Then we work on the sermon’s main thrust, the main points that fall under the umbrella of the main thrust, suggestions for illustrations, applications, and support material. Lastly, we put together our listening guide. Don’t have the ability to meet weekly with other preachers? No problem. How about having a focus group made up of folks from different backgrounds in your church that regularly hear your sermons? Spend an hour a month talking about what worked and what could have been better. Don’t be too sensitive. Remember: You are never as good as they say, nor are you as bad as they say! No one bats a thousand. Keep at it. Keep from settling with “I really liked your sermon.” Slow them down. Make eye contact. Tell them, “Well, that means a great deal to me. What did you hear that stood out to you?” At first, they will be paralyzed with fear but, eventually, you will catch someone with homiletical intuition or pastoral insight, and it will help make you a better preacher.

We are learning as we are going. Thankfully, we are not alone in this endeavor. We experience the Holy Spirit guiding us and working in our people’s lives in spite of our failures. Even when we are at a loss on how to align our people, he knows exactly where to work and where to make His mark. He is, after all, the creator, inventor, and engineer of our faith.

That reminds me of the great genius Charles Steinmetz, a contemporary of Edison, Einstein, and Tesla. Story has it that Ford Motors engineers couldn’t solve a problem with a large generator, and they called Steinmetz to the plant. After touring and listening to the machines, he finally marked a generator panel with a piece of chalk and told the workmen, “Replace this and realign that!” They did, and the generator started performing to perfection. Mr. Henry Ford was thrilled — until he got the bill for $10,000! Ford wasn’t pleased. “How can you charge me $10,000 for making a chalk mark on a machine?” Steinmetz responded with an itemized bill:

Chalk mark: $1
Knowing where to mark: $9,999

Ford paid the bill.

There is something to be said about going to the creator, inventor, and engineer of our faith, who always knows where to put the mark. That is what happens when we turn to God to align our hearts to His heart with the Word of God.

Preach well!

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