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Preaching to an empty room

Preaching to an empty room
Posted on July 1, 2020  - By Dr. John Sypert

As a preacher, I often struggle with knowing if the Word of God is changing people’s lives. My desire is to see God create, through His Word and by His Spirit, authentic people in our church.  People with real and deep faith in God and real and deep love for others.

The humbling reality is that I cannot do this. Only the Word of God can do this work. No preacher is able to change people’s hearts. This is God’s way of keeping preachers humble and prayerful.

Nonetheless, the struggle to know if God is doing this transformative work remains. Even after the best Sundays, I often spend Monday mornings moping around in despair, wondering if God is doing anything in people’s lives. Thankfully, I have learned that this is not a struggle unique to me. Every pastor I know talks about this being their experience as well.

For weeks now, I’ve preached to an almost empty room due to the coronavirus quarantine we are under. This reality has exacerbated my struggle to know if God’s Word is changing people’s lives, because it has removed the opportunity for me to observe the immediate response and receptivity of people to the Word. It is hard to know if I am getting through to my audience even when I can see them, all the more so if I cannot see them! A preacher can usually tell if the Word of God is falling on hungry or disinterested people. And when it falls on hungry people, it makes the work incredibly rewarding.

No preacher is able to change people’s hearts. This is God’s way of keeping preachers humble and prayerful

His Word is enough

By God’s grace, this unique situation (preaching to an almost empty room) has helped me grow in my belief in the sufficiency of the Word of God. It has challenged me to trust in the sufficiency of the Word of God to do the work of God. It has encouraged me to trust that the Lord is working through his Word, even if I am unable to see any immediate or tangible fruit from it.

Kevin DeYoung, in his book Taking God At His Word, says that the sufficiency of Scripture is “the attribute most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians.” What does he mean? He means that many of us are quick to look outside the Bible for new revelation, a new and “fresh” word from the Lord, or a new experience to bring us closer to God. When we think this way, we are assuming that the Bible is not enough, that God did not give us everything we need for life and godliness in Scripture. We are assuming that we need something more than the Scriptures to be really close to Jesus and experience His love for us.

The sufficiency of Scripture is the rock on which I have sought to build the ministry of our church. But as I have preached to an empty room, as I said, I have struggled to believe that the Word of God is enough for the people of God. God loves to make sure that we believe what we say we believe!

The Lord is challenging and encouraging and helping me believe in the sufficiency of Scripture like never before. Since I cannot see my audience while I feed them the bread of life, I must trust all the more that God’s Word is accomplishing all the good purposes that He has for it (Isaiah 55:11). DeYoung concludes, “The word of God is more than enough for the people of God to live their lives to the glory of God.” Do you believe this?

During this global pandemic, I pray that God would increase our confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. May God give us life through the food of His Word.

Dr. John Sypert

About Dr. John Sypert

John Sypert completed his M.Div and Th.M from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and received his Ph.D in Theology and Apologetics from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He currently serves as pastor at Preston Highlands Baptist Church, Dallas, where he lives with his wife and two sons.



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