A question came recently from a young friend who has been invited to preach in a few weeks. He’ll be filling in for the pastor who is away that Sunday. It’s a small congregation, and he doesn’t know the people or much of anything about the church. Did I have any suggestions about how to choose a sermon?

There are two ways to go here, and only one of them really works. You can start with the church and think, “What do they need to hear?” Good question if you are their pastor. Bad question when you don’t know the congregation.

What do you do then?

Preach a message that is simple and clear and stirs your own heart. It’s not easy, in fact it can be very difficult, to come in cold and preach to people you don’t know. You can’t and shouldn’t depend on much help from the audience because they don’t know you very well. Think about what can you say in 30 minutes that is simple, clear, and stirs your own heart. This probably isn’t a good time to review the “meal offering” of Leviticus 2. Hard to get their attention on that one. Stick with a message that is close to your own heart. 

In most cases a visiting preacher doesn’t need to ask, “What do the people need?” because he won’t know the answer to that question. Stick close to the central truths of the Bible. Pick something that feels comfortable to you, that you care about and believe in. That way you can preach with confidence knowing that you have a message from God’s Word you are excited about.

You can reach the author at ray@keepbelieving.com. Click here to sign up for the free weekly email sermon.