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Bible-Study“Making a hospital visit to a suffering family makes more of an impact than the three points you made in your message on Sunday.”

Occasionally, I hear statements like this at pastors’ conferences and preaching seminars. The idea? Pastoral presence is more important than a pastor’s preaching. The implication? It’s better to spend less time worrying about your preaching and more time engaging people at a personal level.

Sounds good. But it’s shortsighted. And ultimately unhelpful.

Sure, there are pastors who spend all day in the study and never among the people. Those kinds of pastors need to be prodded out the door so they can better serve the flock. (Not to mention that being with the flock greatly enhances your preaching!)

It’s also true that most of your congregation already forgot the main points from your sermon last week. And yes, church members will long remember your presence during their time of crisis. But the point of your preaching isn’t that everyone will remember all the information you present anyway. Neither should preaching preparation be forgotten in the attempt to increase one’s pastoral presence.

No, instead we need to consider the relationship between preaching and presence in a way that measures impact beyond what is immediate, powerful, and memorable. That’s why I say: Do not downplay the long-term, cumulative effect of your preaching.

Preaching is formative in ways that go beyond mere information retention. Every time a pastor opens up the Word and preaches the gospel, he is showing his church how to approach the Bible. Pastors who elevate the Scriptures week after week, sermon after sermon, lead their people to approach the Bible in the same way.

A Personal Example

From the time I was nine years old until I left for Romania at the age of 19, I belonged to a church where the pastor (Ken Polk) preached expository sermons every week. I remember the first (and second) time he took us through the Gospel of John. I still remember his 1 Corinthians series, or his sermons from Judges.

Of course, this pastor was also by our side when we had our first child. He has comforted us amidst trial and loss. He is a pastor, after all, not just a preacher. But I dare say – his Word-centeredness as a preacher is what made his pastoral presence so powerful during our time of trial. His presence was enhanced by his preaching.

I cannot calculate the formative influence that this pastor’s preaching has had on my life. For ten years, I listened to Bro. Ken preach. 10 years. 50 weeks a year. 2 times a week. That’s 1000 sermons.

No, I don’t remember the information contained in the vast majority of those sermons. I don’t remember all the titles or the points. But I have no doubt that his preaching has greatly impacted my life.

  • I approach the text the way he does, looking to discover what’s there, not invent what’s not.
  • I see Christ in the Scriptures because he saw Christ there.
  • I respect the Bible because of the way he always made the purpose of the text more prominent than the personality of the messenger.
  • We are on the same page theologically because he consistently preached a theology that came from the page.

An exhortation to pastors

Pastors, don’t underestimate the cumulative effect of your preaching. You are not dumping information into brains. You are forming the habits of your people, teaching them how to read and understand and apply the Bible for themselves. How you preach week after week matters just as much as what you preach.

Weekly confrontation with the Word of God slowly changes how we look at the world. We see God more clearly, our human state, and the future of the world within the Bible’s framework, even if we don’t remember all the information in an individual message. Sermons gradually change the way we think and feel and believe and hope.

Yes, your presence at the funeral home and the hospital bed is vital. It matters greatly. But there’s a reason why your presence during suffering is so powerful: The Word. A pastor’s visit is unique because the pastor is the one who speaks authoritatively from God’s Word week in and week out. That’s why Christians want their pastor to be by their side, and not just a fellow church member.

So let’s not pit pastoral presence against sermon preparation. Your preaching influences your presence, and vice versa. May the Lord open our eyes to see the quiet, subtle influence that 1000 sermons have on the people God has entrusted to our care.


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22 thoughts on “1000 Sermons Will Change Your Life”

  1. Jared Wilson says:

    Great post, Trevin. I really like this.

  2. Trevin Wax says:

    Thanks, Jared! I hope it’s an encouragement to pastors.

  3. Chuck says:

    Trevin,
    Regarding the “cumulative effect” of preaching I would add that this effect seems most prominent when the Scriptures are preached through rather than treated topically. While there is a place for both, it’s been my experience that over time people remember the Scriptures better when there is some order and the narrative is respected. A preaching ministry built upon topics seems to leave people with a disjointed collection of information that may sound good upon the hearing but tends not to stay with them. Just my thoughts.

  4. Rob says:

    It IS an encouragement to pastors, especially when members forward it to me as a “thank you.”

  5. Alex says:

    I absolutely agree, Trevin! One thing I’m so grateful to my Reformed church for is its high view of Scripture and its Biblical preaching, as well as worship that glorifies God no matter what. Because of that, when I do go through a crisis (which is quite often), I have the blessed assurance that God is still with me in the midst of it all, despite all appearances to the contrary. Most importantly, I know that I still belong to God, even when all Hell breaks loose and everything would try to convince me that God has deserted me. Even if all the world forsakes me, I know that my Father in Heaven has not and never will forsake me!

  6. Thank you for this great article.

    Whenever a Pastor leaves his people to spend time in Word and prayer he should be able tell them “It is in order to be with you effectively that I cannot be with you all the time.”

  7. Randy Willis says:

    Good word, Trevin. Came here through a Twitter link (just followed you on Twitter).

    It reminds me of a post I once wrote, “It Takes 20 Years to Make a Sermon” – http://www.williswired.com/2008/12/03/it-takes-20-years-to-make-a-sermon/. I guess you could also say it takes “20 years” (or a lifetime) to make a disciple.

    One of my metaphors for spiritual transformation is the Grand Canyon. It takes time. And consistent faithfulness to the process.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  8. Dan Sudfeld says:

    This was a very encouraging reminder to press on. Thank you.

  9. Jordan says:

    My life has been greatly shaped by the regular exposition of Scripture. I spent a year living with my former pastor, Jim Wood (www.wvr.org), who would give give an expository devotional four mornings a week. The practice of this man helped me gain a much needed understanding of how to read and study my bible.

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  11. JATomlinson says:

    Another wonderful post. Thank you.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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