The Pastor Holding His Own Attention
by Pastor Jack Hyles
(Chapter 6 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, Teaching On Preaching)
1. The pastor must completely lose himself in the truth he is preaching. One of the most important things for any Christian is to lose himself. The best sermons that are preached are those in which the preacher loses himself in the truth that he is delivering. Hence, it becomes vital for the pastor to capture his own attention. As is. mentioned elsewhere in this manuscript, the pastor must capture himself; the truth must hold him hostage. He should not be aware of how well he is preaching, how he looks, the opinions that others hold of him, etc. There are times that he should not even know where he is or be conscious that he exists. He is totally lost, not in the delivering of a sermon, but in the delivering of his soul!
2. He must keep his mind on one thing and one thing only He has people who need him, and he has a truth that will alleviate their needs. He has people who are weak, and he has a truth that is strengthening. He has people who have fallen, and he has a truth that will lift them. He has people that are sad, and he has a truth that will cheer them. He has people who are bereaved, and he has a truth that will comfort them. His total mental occupation should be on the one thing of administering to his people the thing that will satisfy their needs and their hungers.
3. He must not let anything or anybody steal the control of his mind or make him to follow their thinking. It is important that the pastor who has found the message for the hour not allow his mind to be controlled by anything else until that message is preached! He must not allow external stimuli to capture his thinking and take it off of the delivery of his soul through the truth that God has given him with which to meet the needs of his people.
4. The pastor should do his heavy praying earlier and not right before the service. Even such a thing as feeling his need of power can get his mind off of the truth he is about to deliver. Please do not misunderstand me. I believe that every man of God should spend seasons with God. He should walk with God. He should often pray throughout the night, and the rising of the sun should find his cheeks stained with tears. I do, however, believe that the best time for such praying is before and during the preparation of a message. When one has found the message and is waiting to deliver it, he should not be thinking about power for himself but rather meeting the needs of others. Before the message his mind should be totally on his people and their needs.
5. The pastor should go to church early and relaxed. His sole desire should be to feed his people what they need for their spiritual gn:'th and health. He may go to his study early and think of his people as they are now preparing to come to church- they are bathing, dressing, getting in their cars and driving. They are coming to hear God's man give them what they need. In a relaxed atmosphere he must think of them and love them with his mind always fixed on the truth that God has given him for his people for that day
6. He should not allow any friction to exist at home. It is now Sunday morning. Nothing must take his mind off of the surgery he is about to perform. If someone at home starts dealing with something negative, he should deftly avoid it. If there is ever a time when a preacher should agree with his adversary, it is on Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon before he ministers to his people and their needs.
7. The pastor should not be with anyone over five minutes at a time on Sunday morning. A lengthy conversation can be used to capture the mind of God's man and to get it off of the truth that God has given him to deliver. This does not mean that the pastor should be aloof or sharp; it simply means that he should guard himself to see that he controls his mind before preaching. There is nothing the Devil would rather do than get the pastor's mind off the truth. The Devil does not want God's people to be healthy; he wants to dilute the medicine, to pervert the diagnosis and to prevent the cure. He often uses good things as substitutes for the best in achieving his goal.
8. The wise pastor will not mingle with the crowd for any length of time before preaching. Negatives may be mentioned that could discourage him. Heavy thoughts could be used as a cloud to cover the truth that he must deliver to those whom God has made him the under-shepherd.
9. He should not think or talk business matters within two hours of preaching. The pastor is unwise who has committee meetings or deacons' meetings before services. Dealing with business matters could be used of the Devil to divide the mind of the pastor.
10. He should not counsel before the service. I counsel after every service, but never before a service. This could divert my attention from what God wants me to say and give to my people. This is another way that my mind can be captured and directed away from the truth of the hour.
11. He should not read notes or mail before the service. The worst of these could destroy his spirit, and the best of these could capture his mind. Every Sunday I get dozens of notes and letters, but I never read one before the service. I do not want a burden, a problem, a dissension or a complaint to capture my mind and take it away from the message that I am to deliver from God to my people.
12. He should not read notes placed on the platform or pulpit. At First Baptist Church of Hammond the announcements are placed on the pulpit. When I walk in the first thing I do is pick up the announcements, but if there is a letter or note included, I never read it. Such a note could be of a critical nature and it could capture the mind of the preacher, causing his people to go unfed.
13. The pastor should not check the Sunday school attendance before the service unless he knows for a fact that it is a good one. If the attendance is noticeably down, it could bring the pastor noticeably down and could divide his mind as he takes God's message from God's Word to God's people.
14. The pastor should not listen to anything negative on Sunday morning or within two hours of the Sunday evening service. Sunday is no time for the solving of petty problems or for listening to petty complaints. It is a time for God's man to be absorbed in his people and their needs and in the filling of their needs as God has directed him. No surgeon should go to the operating room with more dedication. No Supreme Court justice should go to his bench with more dedication. This is the highest hour in the life of a human being, when the living God has given to mortal man a message for His people. No responsibility is its equal. No burden carries its weight. No duty deserves more diligence and no heart deserves more devotion than that day chosen by God when that man chosen by God brings that message chosen by God to God's people in order to meet their needs.
15. The pastor should not have a schedule that includes late preparation of his sermons. The pressure could be used by Satan. He should not feel that he has a deadline to meet.
16. The pastor should not wear clothing that would divert his attention. For example, I never wear a new suit on a Sunday morning or a Sunday night. If I have a new suit, I always wear it the first time to a preaching engagement out of town or where the people will not know it is new and where I will not be self- conscious. I do not wear a new pair of shoes to my own pulpit first. I wear them likewise while speaking out of town so that the people will not know they are new and so that I will not be self-conscious. I must not have my mind on how I look or upon a garment that I am wearing. I must be totally lost in delivering the message from God to His people.
17. The pastor should not develop any ritual on Sunday that depends on others. His Sunday praying should be alone. I know a pastor whose entire day was ruined because he had a Sunday morning prayer meeting with his laymen and very few showed up. He was so discouraged that he did not deliver the message that God had given him, but rather chose the 11:00 hour as a time to use the pulpit for a whipping post, and the hungry sheep went unfed!
18. The pastor should not eat before preaching. On occasion I have eaten, and on such occasions, I have been aware that I was too full and my mind was taken from my message somewhat because of my discomfort.
19. Have self-control rituals before preaching. For example, I look at my father's picture and ask God to help me to preach with the same fervor that I wanted my pastor to have the one time that my father ever sat by my side in church. Before I preach I think of my mother and realize that she is watching and listening as I deliver God's message. I think of my two little sisters in Heaven who died before I was born and make myself aware that they are cheering me as I preach, but these are rituals that are self-controlled and that do not depend upon others who could disappoint me by their ineffectiveness or laxity and thereby capture my mind from God's message.
20. I choose a last thought before walking in the pulpit. As I walk in the door of the auditorium at every service I think of one thought-that this could be my last sermon. I always ask God to help me preach as I would preach if I knew it were!
21. I choose a thought that occupies my mind briefly right before I stand to preach. Just before I walk to the pulpit to begin my message there is a thought that always I place before my mind. I will not share that thought-it is too sacred and too personal, but it propels me to do my best as I preach.
22. The preacher should remember before preaching how badly he wanted to preach before he ever got the opportunity. He should remind himself that this is that to which he looked, for which he longed and of which he dreamed. Now he is God's man, preaching to God's people God's message from God's Word in God's power.
23. The preacher should remember that someday it will end. At this writing I have preached over 42,500 sermons. One day I will preach my last. I am approaching my 59th birthday By the time this manuscript is published I will be less than a year from my sixties. I do not know how many more times this body will carry me to the pulpit. I must realize every time that it does, it could be my last time and that someday, probably soon, it will end.
24. The pastor should not judge the song service while it is in progress. This too can capture his mind and divert it from the message he is about to deliver. He should not allow himself to critique the song leader or the singing. He should not get up and try to improve the song service. Receive its blessings. Do not indulge in criticism on an ineffective song leader, or an ineffective song service could be used to capture the mind of the preacher. In principle he would be right, but he would not be prepared to stand in the place of Christ Himself and deliver the message that Christ would preach were He present.
25. The wise pastor will not choose a song leader who preaches sermons or gives devotionals between stanzas of the songs. Such palaver could steal a pastor's mind from God's message for the hour and capture his thoughts. If such a song leader is already employed, the pastor should not allow himself to think negative thoughts about him while he is rambling. Pastor, keep your mind on your sermon. Think of the needs of your people. Do not let your mind be captured.
26. The pastor should not appraise himself while he is preaching. It matters not how good the sermon is. It matters not how well the pastor is doing. All that matters is that there are needy people. The pastor knows their need and has the medicine that can heal them. If the doctor makes a grammatical mistake while he is administering the medicine, it will not harm the patient. It would be better if the grammatical mistake were not made, but the important thing is the patient and the cure.
27. The pastor should make his own announcements in the service. Once again he is controlling his own mind and his own thoughts. If someone else makes several lengthy announcements, the pastor's mind could follow him and detour from the mental path that God has chosen for him to travel that day.
28. The pastor should not give public responsibility in the service to others who would capture his mind from the truth he is about to deliver and from the people to whom he is about to deliver it. A godly associate may read the Scripture, another godly co- laborer can lead the prayer; but this should not be a time for fellow- workers to rise and shine to tell their favorite little joke or preach their favorite little sermonette.
29. The pastor should not try to create a spirit in the service. His mind should not be on the spirit of the service. His mind should be on his people and the spiritual medicine he is about to administer to them. That will take care of the spirit of the service. Sometimes God's men are so busy in the early part of the services trying to create a spirit that they completely lose concentration. Let God create the spirit. The preacher should carry the burden and deliver the message given by God Almighty to His people through His messenger.
30. The preacher should not try to salvage a service. For that matter, he should not even be aware that it needs salvaging. He can destroy the purpose for the entire service by analyzing it, salvaging it, measuring it and weighing it. The important thing about the service is the sermon. If the preacher is alive, the service will come alive. If the preacher is spiritual, the service will become spiritual. If the preacher is totally lost in his ministry of representing his Saviour, the people will soon become lost in the spirit.
I think it is unwise to have testimonies before a sermon. I love testimonies, but the best time to have them is after the sermon. Even a testimony can capture the people's minds and capture the preacher's mind so that he will not control his own destiny and that of the service. This is not to minimize testimonies; they are very important and vital, but at preaching time they can become a competition with the message of the hour and with the responsibility of the messenger.
31. The preacher should have mental pictures of Bible events and Bible stories. This is one of the best ways to become lost in a sermon. For example, I have in my own mind a file of images of every story I know in the Bible. I can tell you what the prodigal son's house looked like. I can tell you how big his father was and what his brother looked like. I can tell you what Jacob looked like. I can describe Esau to you. I can tell you what Bethel was like. I can
describe Mt. Moriah to you, and I can tell you the features of Elijah. I have in my mind a mental picture of Mary and Joseph and of every other Bible character and of every Bible location. Such a mental file will help the pastor lose himself in his message, for he becomes actually a participant in the Bible story and a witness of all that is happening. He is then not just relating a story he has heard, but he is telling a story that he has seen.
32. The pastor should have a list of things that can get his own attention back. Sometimes in a service things happen that compete for the pastor's attention. Perhaps someone is moving, a baby is crying, or some other circumstance has entered the service. The pastor should know and have a list of those things that affect him enough to recapture him for his sermon. I have at least a dozen things that always warm my heart. It matters not where I am or who is present or what the circumstances are. To think of them is to inspire me. When I feel in a sermon that something has stolen me from my message, I use one of these things with which to recapture myself so that it can deliver me again to my mission of the hour.
33. The pastor should turn away from interruptions if they are being solved. For example, if a crying baby is being taken from the service, a pastor should look to the other side of the auditorium and preach. The interruption will soon be over. He should not allow himself to witness it while it is in progress.
34. He should correct those interruptions that appear to be there to stay. For example, if there is a crying baby in the service whose mother is making no effort to remove him, it may hurt the service more to allow the child to stay in the auditorium than courteously to ask the mother to take the baby to the nursery or to the hallway It is obvious that this problem is not temporary but that it is going to continue to disturb the service. The best thing for the pastor to do is face the problem, correct it and then use one of the aforementioned suggestions of things that always capture his attention to get his mind back on God's message for the hour.
35. The pastor should fall in love with his people. There are many ways this can be done, but one of them is to watch them during the service on the Lord's day Look at the young people and realize the temptations that they face. Look at the older people and realize the anxieties that confront them daily Look at the middle- aged people and realize the burdens and problems of life that are theirs. Spend some time on the platform loving your people. This will make you even more desirous to be to them what they need you to be and to give them what God has chosen for them to receive through His servant.
36. The pastor should decide whether or not the song being sung or the special being delivered will help him or hinder him in the delivering of his message and his soul. For example, there may be a song that is sung that is a bit peppier than the pastor needs to feel. Maybe a song has a beat to it that would not enhance the pastor's spirit that he needs to have as he preaches God's message. (I am not saying that the song would be one that is wrong to use, for this should never be done!) It may be a good song that is not exactly appropriate for the mental condition that the pastor needs to pursue.
37. The pastor should never preach to individuals. The very thought of an individual to whom he is preaching and/or scolding could steal his mind and capture it from the truth his people need to hear from him.
38. The pastor should never try to impress when he preaches. The purpose is not to impress; the purpose is to heal and to administer the cure.
Many years ago as a young man in my twenties I was asked to share the platform with Dr. John Rice, Dr. Bill Rice, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. and Dr. R. G. Lee in a Sword Conference in Lake Louise, Georgia, near Toccata. It was the first time that I had ever been asked to appear on a program with such men. To be quite frank, I felt totally unqualified and incapable. The first time that I spoke at a Sword of the Lord Conference was following Dr. R. G. Lee's famous sermon, "Payday Someday" I went out beside the lake and wept uncontrollably feeling that I was incapable of filling such a place and pursuing such a mission. Suddenly it dawned on me that if God had me there, He had something for me to say, and if God had me there in addition to R. G. Lee, there was at least something that I could give the people that R. G. Lee did not have for them. He can give them many things; I perhaps could only give one, but I could make my one contribution. This I did, and through these years I have realized that God has a purpose for each of us. It is not our job to impress, and oftentimes our spirit of inferiority is caused by the fact that we feel helpless to impress.
39. The pastor should realize it is life or death! He is standing between the living and the dead as did Aaron of old. He is standing between Heaven and Hell. He is standing at the gates of eternity. Nothing is as important as that!
40. The pastor should preach for a certain result. That result was decided in the early part of this manuscript when he searched to find the needs of his people, and then he searched the apothecary of the Word of God to find the prescription that would heal them.
If the pastor is to be successful in his mission, he must hold his own attention, and his entire focus on the day of his mission should be on that thing that God has called him to do. He is God's man with God's message from God's Word preaching to God's people in the power of God's Spirit, delivering to the people the very message that he feels that Jesus Himself would deliver were He standing before that very congregation!
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Billy Sunday (1862-1935)
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