For Preachers: Learning to be with Jesus

I read an article this morning that kinda blew me away. Actually, it kinda blew me up.

Pete Scazzero was interviewed by Preaching Today about what he has learned over the years about message preparation. Not technique or style. But what he has learned about the importance of the pastor’s heart.

Reading the interview, I felt like David being challenged by his friend, Nathan, who after telling a story that provoked the king to righteous indignation, said to David, “You are the man!” Not as in a complimentary, man-crush, “You are the man, bro!” but as in “Dude, listen. You are the guilty one.”

I hate it when that happens. But what a gift when it does! Yes, I feel challenged, and in some ways rebuked, but I also feel inspired… and strangely relieved.

What Pete says about the preacher is somewhat vocationally specific. But I think any believer will find his comments fruitful, as they lead us to the feet of Jesus to reflect and rest.

“I think [emotionally healthy spirituality] addresses some missing components in the way we approach discipleship, especially in the West. We can be very intellectually driven. We can also be driven by success and big numbers, so the idea of living contemplatively—sitting at the feet of Jesus like Mary in Luke 10—feels very counter-cultural to many of us.”

“The 13th-century theologian Thomas Aquinas… said that all of our preaching or teaching should be the fruit of contemplation. In other words, as a preacher I don’t just study and exegete a text; I don’t just find good stories to illustrate the text; I also let it pass through my life in such a significant way that the Word has transformed me—not just on the surface but in the depths of my heart. I am a different person because I’ve been steeping in this text all week long. I’ve sat at the feet of Jesus. That’s the fruit of contemplation.

“In my travels throughout North America, I think the great problem with preaching today is that most pastors don’t take the biblical text and sit with Jesus.”

“To change people’s lives deeply through the Word, the preacher’s life has to be transformed first by that Word. At this point in my ministry, I rarely preach on a text that I haven’t been meditating on all week long—and the goal is to allow God to transform me, not just write a good sermon.”

“One of the best things I have to offer people is what God is doing in my life through this text.”

“If you want to be a great preacher, learn Greek and Hebrew, learn a lot about church history; but first and foremost, learn to be with Jesus.”

“I’ve been a Christian for 36 years, but I’m still such a beginner. ‘We’re always beginners,’ as Karl Barth said. The cross is starting to make more sense to me these days—that the Christian life is all about being crucified with Jesus so that he might live through me.”

“Ultimately, it’s the rawness of your life and your encounter with God’s grace that becomes one of your greatest preaching gifts.”

“Here’s the key principle behind preaching that leads to transformation in Christ: You can’t bring people on a journey that you haven’t taken. You can tell them about the journey, but they could read that in a book. But if you go on a journey with Jesus that has real depth, it will come out in your preaching. If you’ve been sidetracked from that journey with Christ—building a big church, or gaining people’s approval, or being so busy you can’t even think straight—I would say that God is telling you to slow down so that you can be with Jesus.”

Peter Scazzero is Teaching Pastor/Pastor-at-Large at New Life Fellowship in Queens, New York and the author of The Emotionally Healthy Leader. Follow him on Twitter @petescazzero.