John R. Tinsley
Oh, the joys of constructing a sermon! The preparation brings great delight to the pastor's soul. Hopefully the sermon that results will bring great delight to the souls of those who hear it, too!
Today, a computer can assist in sermon preparation. A wealth of resources are available as Bible software. Often, these are programs that run off the computer's hard drive. In many cases, CD-ROMs replace books that are on the shelf collecting dust. The software packages range in price, and they enhance the study of the Scriptures and enable the pastor to delve into the text more easily.
The pastor copies the text directly from a Bible translation into his word processor. He searches a concordance by typing in key words from his passage. Maps, Bible dictionaries, and Greek or Hebrew texts help in his understanding of the text. An outline begins to emerge, subpoints start to focus, and at this point the pastor produces his own commentary. This means that at least sixty minutes of preaching material is in hand, including an appropriate introduction and illustrations. Now the pastor must decide what is really important!
The Internet provides many useful materials, also. Books in electronic form are accessible. Greek and Hebrew lexicons, commentaries, outlines, and full-text sermons are abundant. There are Web sites for exegesis, textual criticism, grammar, syntax, history, culture, scholarly journals, popular publications, stories, illustrations, and anecdotes. All of these can be helpful in preparing a sermon that will be preached with power and passion.
Red flags, however, appear with any high-tech innovation. Surfing the World Wide Web can rob the pastor of valuable time. The sense of accomplishment in research and the quest for more knowledge trap him into spending more hours in front of the monitor. This can lead him away from performing his pastoral duties. Also, with so many study aids available at the click of a mouse, the pastor may develop the tendency to embrace someone else's thought before wrestling with the passage himself. If he is not careful, he can become an expert at human resources and not enjoy the study of the Word. Psalm 119:103 says, "How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!"
The simple principles of any Bible study still apply: pray for understanding, pray over the meaning of the text, grasp the application, place the application into practice, explore the commentaries, and then preach the Word. Paul exhorts the preacher, with or without a computer:
"I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encouragewith great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.... But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry" (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
Finally, I have something to say about other uses for the computer. E-mail is an economical way of communicating with others within the denomination, with those on the mission field, and with one's family and friends. The Internet provider will allow e-mail through its service, as well as other applications. Juno is a free e-mail service (long distance charges may apply), but it does not give access to the Internet.
Financial management software allows one to keep track of the check book, and balancing becomes a breeze. One day there may be a "flat tax," but for now there are tax programs, some designed specifically for the minister. These can be a great help around April 15.
Also, church management software can keep accurate financial, membership, attendance, library, and property records. Some companies tailor the package to the size of the local congregation.
If your church or pastor has not gotten into the computer age, the time as come!
Mr. Tinsley is the pastor of Bethel OPC in Oostburg, Wis. Reprinted from New Horizons, July 1997.