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What is pastoral preaching? Pastoral preaching is preaching to people whom you personally shepherd in a local church. A pastor of a mega church (8,000+) told a group of us: “You pastor your eighty and I pastor my eighty. No one can pastor much more than eighty people.” Why? Because shepherding people is relational. As a church grows, we pastor the pastors who pastor people. The larger the church, the more removed we are from the people being pastored and the more universal our preaching becomes. Pastoral preaching is preaching to people we know. We are discipling
believers with the Word of God. Pastoral preaching is biblical counseling on a group basis. The goal of pastoral preaching is to build up believers into maturity in Christ (Col. 1:28-29; Eph. 4:11-13).
We know the back stories of our audience in pastoral preaching. Our words touch the couple whose broken marriage we are helping to rebuild. We preach to the cancer patient whose hospital bed we sat beside last week; the family we prayed with in the hospice house recently; the two Christians in a conflict that we are mediating and the committee struggling with decisions about how to spend limited money in the budget. We preach to the man hurt by the sting of criticism and the singer so offended by negative comments she doesn’t want to sing again.
In pastoral preaching, we preach to the mom whose son was recently incarcerated for drug possession, and the businessman who sought our advice because he was fired by a supervisor who lives in our community and may even go to our church. In pastoral preaching, we preach to single moms and derelict dads, to lonely widows and discouraged seniors. We are not distant from their stories because we live in relationship with them. We listen to their struggles, and we preach knowing the lives we are touching with God’s Word.


 Pastoral preaching faces the challenge of specificity. We are preaching to specific people in specific situations whom we will see at the church ice cream social on Sunday night, or we will face in a counseling session on Tuesday afternoon. The challenge of specificity means that when I select an illustration to use in the sermon, I realize that it will be highly sensitive to someone in the audience because they have lived it and they know that I know. I sometimes choose not to use an otherwise excellent illustration because I know that it will hurt more than help.
The challenge of specificity means that a practical application might appear to single out someone in the congregation whose story might be known not only to me but others. Sometimes I have called a person on the phone to let them know that I am discussing a matter close to their heart so they can be prepared. They will know that I love them enough that I don’t want to hurt them. I must be very careful about sharing thoughts too similar to confidential information I had received from someone last month. A listener might perceive a good preaching topic as coercive because of what happened at the business meeting earlier that year. Sequential Bible exposition helps alleviate some of the potential tensions that might lead to accusations of heavy-handed preaching otherwise.


I am writing this blog for all of you pastoral preachers. You stand up on Sunday mornings and look into the eyes of people you know personally. As their pastor, you do not have the luxury of emotional distance from the lives of your listeners. Their struggles and their victories are your struggles and victories too. Their tears and their laughter are part of your life too. You will work shoulder to shoulder with them in the ministry next week. You are my heroes, faithfully carrying out your calling to shepherd the sheep with integrity. I write this blog to encourage you as you build up believers through the preaching of God’s Word, and I invite you to join me in a conversation about pastoral preaching.