A preacher must prepare a sermon to preach. But he must also prepare himself to preach. Paul says: ‘Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers’ (1 Timothy 4:16). Doctrine is not enough. A life must match it.
So how should a preacher prepare himself? What does a watched ‘life’ look like?
Here are eight marks that I believe are essential for a prepared preacher.
1. The prepared preacher is converted
Unconverted ministers are not a rare occurrence. Church history is full of them. A famous example is John Wesley who went as a missionary to North America to preach to unbelievers long before his own heart was strangely warmed.
Why must a preacher be converted? A man without faith in Christ is not prepared for anything, let alone to preach. How can a man tell others to repent and believe when he has not repented and believed? He is open to the charge, ‘Physician, heal thyself’.
If you’re an unconverted preacher, forget about the rest of my other points. Stop being a hypocrite. Repent and come to Christ. Be prepared for eternity yourself before you seek to prepare others for it.
2. The prepared preacher honours God’s name
We live in a digital age which encourages making name a for yourself on the likes of Twitter and Facebook. But people have always wanted to make a name for themselves. The Tower of Babel is a classic example.
The prepared preacher bucks the popularity contest and wants to make a name for Christ, not himself. His mantra is always, ‘He must become greater; I must become less’ (John 3:30).
Preacher, ask yourself, ‘On Sunday mornings, do I want people talking about how good my preaching is or how good our God is?’
If you’re not focused on Christ and his name, you’re not prepared to preach.
3. The prepared preacher builds God’s kingdom
The preacher is not only tempted to make a name for himself, but also a kingdom. He wants a people to rule, buildings to oversee, wealth to manage and maybe even control of a few other establishments, like schools and nursing homes. But the prepared preacher is not interested in building his own kingdom. He is building God’s kingdom.
How does the preacher know if he’s interested in God’s kingdom growing rather than his own? Does we pray for other churches from the pulpit in our local area? Do we encourage our own church members to leave for fulltime ministry as pastors and missionaries?
If you’re not interested in Christ’s kingdom growing outside your walls you’re not prepared to preach
4. The prepared preacher obeys God’s revealed will
The blind man in John’s gospel affirms: ‘We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will’ (John 9:31). And James tells us ‘The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective’ (James 5:16).
If we want the Lord to bless our preaching, we need to prepare our own heart first and live in obedience to his will. Notice that the qualifications for elders in Timothy and Titus are primarily about moral behaviour. We need to practice what we preach.
If you’re not seeking to be obedient to Christ’s will, you’re not prepared to preach.
5. The prepared preacher watches over his physical needs
The preacher needs to care for his body so that his willing spirit can thrive. Jesus acknowledged the frailty of his disciples, when he said: ‘The spirit is willing, but the body is weak’ (Matthew 26:41).
Our Lord’s human body required sleep and Sabbaths and we certainly do not possess his omnipotence.
One must eat and drink and exercise or one won’t preach ever again. Paul reminds Timothy that ‘physical training is of some value’ (1 Timothy 4:8). And encourages medicinal awareness: ‘Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. (1 Timothy 5:23).
If you’re exhausted and hungry, you’re not prepared to preach.
6. The prepared preacher repents regularly
The Christian preacher does not need a bath as he is already clean. But as he walks about in the muck of the world and wrestles with his own flesh and Satan, mud splatter is inevitable. He needs to wash his feet in daily repentance.
We must ask ourselves, ‘Do I keep short accounts with my Lord? Do I find repentance springing up immediately after sin?’
If you have dirty feet, you’re not prepared to set foot into the pulpit.
7. The prepared preacher forgives others
Hebrews warns us ‘See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many’ (Hebrews 12:15). A bitter root within the preacher towards his congregants will start to show itself in his preaching, for out of the heart the mouth speaks.
Also, the unforgiven listener will struggle to listen to a preacher – our hypocrisy will undermine anything good we say.
If you’re bearing grudges, you’re not prepared to preach
8. The prepared preacher is aware of Satan
Paul warns us that ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:12).
If we’re not conscious of Satan we will rest in human strength. But if we are conscious of Satan we will be even more dependent upon Almighty God in the face of such a mighty enemy.
If you aren’t conscious of Satan’s attacks, you aren’t prepared to preach.
There you have it. Eight marks of the prepared preacher.
But what about prayer? Yes. Prayer is vital. But what do we pray for? These very marks. Why? Because our Lord taught us to pray about these eight marks:
‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’