After I came to faith in Christ at the age of fourteen, I was discipled by a faithful country Baptist Church in Western Pennsylvania. On December 31st of each year, the church held a “Watchnight” service.
The evening would begin at 9:00pm. First, we gathered in the sanctuary enjoying the singing of a local gospel group for about an hour. We’d then move to the fellowship hall where we had a delicious dinner made up of various casseroles that families brought, along with scrumptious desserts. We enjoyed conversation around the tables, talking about what the Lord had done for us over the past year. Then back to the sanctuary for music, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer as we welcomed in the New Year. It’s a country church so at midnight the men fired their shotguns in celebration of a New Year.
The night was festive, yet worshipful as we considered the past year and the new one ahead.
For us preachers, the new year is upon us. This season gives us opportunity to reflect on the ministry the Lord has given us and to trust him for what’s ahead, just like my home church’s “Watchnight” service did for the church. Below are some hopeful reminders that we as ministers of the gospel have as we serve our Lord in the next year. These reminders may not be news to us, but serve as prompts as we consider God’s goodness and faithfulness as we serve him in the days ahead.
The Gospel Never Changes
Preaching the life-giving, never changing gospel is what we’ve been called to do. Christian preachers are called, “Ministers of the Gospel.” That’s what it says on my ordination certificate—that I’m a minister of the gospel, and you are too.
This gospel—the good news of Jesus’ life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and promised return—for the sin of women, men, girls, and boys will never change. The gospel is the bedrock of the ministries to which the Lord has called us. Andraé Crouch said that the blood that Jesus spilt for us “will never lose its power.” And it won’t.
Paul reminds us, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16). The Book of Revelation underscores that the gospel we preach is an “eternal gospel” that is preached “to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Rev. 14:6). As preachers, we can remind ourselves to hold onto this truth that the gospel never changes and confidently preach it!
The New Year Is Full of Possibilities for the Gospel
The missionary preacher of the nineteenth century, Adoniram Judson is known for saying, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.” He could say that despite the horrific challenges he faced as he preached the gospel to the people of Burma. Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Cor. 1:20).
As for the next year, none of us know how the sovereign Lord will lead us in the ministries he has given us. Yet we know that because the gospel is unchanging there’ll be people and places that will need that life-changing word.
Perhaps you’re sensing that the Lord is leading you to a different ministry setting, a new building plan, or that he’s calling you into a season of study, or even retirement—all these transitions are incredible opportunities for the gospel. The people to whom you preach and places to which you will be led by the Lord provide fabulous prospects for you personally and for those to whom you will minister.
The Lord promises, “Never I will leave you, never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5); “’I will be with you,’ declares the Lord,” (Hag. 1:13); “And surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age,” says Jesus (Matt. 28:20), assurances that’ll move us with confidence into the future, into a new year.
Planning for Preaching Helps Us to Move Listeners Toward Maturity
The news that planning one’s preaching can be of benefit to one’s listeners may sound like old news. It is. Yet, it’s old news that calls to be turned inside out and be heard—and listened to—again.
Intentional sermon planning can grow mature listeners. Notice that I said, “Intentional” sermon planning. In my book, Preaching with a Plan, I detail the key role thoughtful sermon planning can have for preachers and congregants.
Paul gives his personal mission statement, which can be ours, too, as he writes to the Colossian Christians, “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28). Paul’s desire and our hope, too, is that the women, men, girls, and boys who come under our preaching will by it become more and more mature in Christ. But this only takes place with intentional planning.
Too often preaching plans revolve around what we want as preachers. “I want to preach through all the books of the Bible before I retire.” That might be good for you, but it may not be what the people under our care need to move toward maturity. We want to find out where they are and what they need to become more and more like Christ.
We Can Be Different Preachers in the Coming Year
Hopefully, this coming year will show that you’re a different preacher than you were last year. By that I don’t mean you imitate someone else’s preaching style or not be yourself in the pulpit, but that you’re growing in your preaching. Here, growth in preaching might mean that you’ll set up a reading list—books on preaching, literature, hobbies you might have, etc.—and allow these to help shape your thinking, imagination, and connection with your listeners.
Medical professionals, teachers, craftspeople all must keep up with their trade to be the best at it. Sadly, sometimes for preachers, the last book they read was in seminary. This is to our shame. Paul reminds the Corinthians that living the Christian life takes work, it takes discipline. “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training…. I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor. 9:25, 27).
Not only can you be a different preacher in the practice of preaching, but you can also reassess your spiritual life. What’s the state of your relationship with the Lord? Bible reading? Prayer? Are you dealing with the temptations you face? Do you have someone, a mentor, a discipler, who can walk with you? It might be time for you to take seriously your spiritual development as a leader, as a preacher, which will allow you to become a different—better—preacher.
In addition to the above, preachers are to take care of themselves physically. I don’t need to remind you of the importance of health—eating and exercise. Let me also add the significance of one’s mental health. Too many preachers are overweight and overburdened emotionally. For this upcoming year, let’s place guardrails for our physical and emotional health, which are key for us to grow in our preaching.
Let’s work on these areas so that we will be different preachers in the coming year.
The new year is coming, and we can prepare for it thoughtfully, intentionally, and prayerfully. As an exercise of “watchnight” take time to receive and celebrate the encouraging news of the never changing gospel, the news of the potential ways of what the Lord might do in your life and ministry in the next year, the hopeful news of planning preaching that makes a difference in listeners’ lives, and the heartening news that we can be different preachers this coming year.
Scott M. Gibson is the Professor of Preaching and holder of the David E. Garland Chair of Preaching at Baylor University/Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. He also served as the Haddon W. Robinson Professor of Preaching and Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, where he was on faculty for twenty-seven years.