Becoming a Better Arranger: There’s a Meeting in the Air


When asked if there was room for forgiveness for those who had aided the terrorists of 9/11, General Norman Schwarzkopf pithily replied, “I believe that forgiving them is God’s function, our job is simply to arrange the meeting.” While General Schwarzkopf may have had a particular kind of meeting in mind, today’s preacher is called to help arrange another kind of ‘meeting in the air.’

Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to his hearers.  (Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching)

In the definition above, the Holy Spirit applies the passage to the hearer. And when He does, there is a whole different kind of meeting going on.  If, the purpose of the preacher is to help arrange this meeting whereby people hear the voice of God personalized for them through the pages of Scripture, then, the question is, how does a preacher call that meeting to order? Even before trying to answer the question, it’s obvious that the role and power of the preacher is limited.

God is sovereign. He is in control, and sometimes He shows up and makes His presence known despite all the hindrances that would seek to make us unaware of Him.   We are thankful when He does. When we gather together, He promises to meet with us.

What follows are a few suggestions which can help make the environment more welcoming to the Holy Spirit and sharpen people’s ability to hear the word and attend the meeting.

1.  Make the text central. God may give you a great idea for a sermon, but make sure that your idea is firmly grounded in Scripture. How many sermons have you heard where the preacher had something he wanted to say, and the Scripture merely functioned as a jumping off point for the message? Not only should the idea be firmly grounded in Scripture, it should be the Scripture that takes center stage. God speaks through His word.

2.  Let the message first speak to you. If you haven’t met God in the message, how will anyone else? This is where, “The Holy Spirit first applies the preaching to the experience and personality of the preacher.” There is no general rule for when sermon preparation should be done, but if it is done early in the week, that gives the Spirit time to work on the preacher. Early work also makes the rest of the week more pleasant as no looming deadline hangs over the preacher’s head. That is not to say that there may not be times where the Holy Spirit leads in another direction later in the week, but early preparation can be of great benefit.

One caution. Just because the message has held great significance for you personally does not in any way guarantee that it will hold significance for those who hear you. All the things you’ve learned in good sermon preparation still apply. If the arranger is a poor communicator, then, he is a poor communicator.

3.  Invite the Holy Spirit to speak to the people before the message begins. It might sound something like this, “Lord, as we come to you this morning, we ask that you speak to us personally through your word.” When you pray, you are asking God to come. You are asking Him to do His sovereign work, and you are acknowledging that you are dependent upon Him. He is the one you want to hear. You are also letting the congregation know what you want to see happen and hopefully what they want to see happen. This is not just about hearing a good message. Not only are you relying on God, you are letting the congregation know the reliant expectation of the hour. It’s time to hear from God.

4.  Know your purpose. When your purpose is in front of you, you are much more likely to hit it. Knowing that you are there to arrange a meeting will keep you practical, relevant, and reliant.

5.  Don’t be afraid to use the 2nd person pronoun, “you.” In an age of inclusivism, often times “we” has become the dominant pronoun. The problem with “we” is that it is much less personal than “you.” ”We” can build bridges to the people, and “you” can help them hear. When you are communicating, speak to one person, not a crowd. I still remember watching Billy Graham give an invitation, and at the end of the message Reverend Graham would say something like:

“Tonight, you may have come with friends, but if you have, they will wait for you. It may take five minutes for you to come from the top balcony, but you come. God is waiting and He’s speaking to you. You come now.”

If the person in the pew hears you speaking to one person, then that person can be them. And when you are speaking from the scripture, they can hear from God. “You” can be used anywhere in the message. The key is that ”you” is relevant to someone’s experience and not used as a tool to berate or condemn them.   There are times when “you” is better than “we”, and vice versa.

6.  Make Christ the focal point of the arrangement. He is the face of God, and if people get to know Him, then they are much more likely to be familiar with His voice and be able to hear what he has to say.

7.  Study people who are good at arranging. Continually. Not something I learned in seminary. Unless you are one of those creative geniuses who live in rarified air, you will need good models. Not just at the beginning of your ministry but throughout. God gifts some people incredibly, and the rest of us need all the help we can get. The best way to become a good arranger is to listen to other good arrangers. You will become like those you hear consistently.

What do they do well? What would you do differently? Where does your approach vary from theirs?   What thoughts are launched as a result of hearing them? In addition, watching and listening to others and then bringing those observations to the scripture can help you craft your philosophy of ministry. Listening to others can help you better define what is important.

Find several great preachers who are theologically sound and who resonate well with you even though their styles may be different from yours and each other. Listen, listen, and then listen some more. Listen each week. Listen for what God is saying to you personally through their messages, and also for what you can learn from the way they communicate. Listen for content. A turn of a phrase. Something that grabs your attention. Several points in an outline. A story . A particular line in Scripture. Then adapt it and build the message for your style and audience.

You get no bonus points for originality. In seminary you are taught to craft a sermon from the ground up. Gain the knowledge and learn how to use the tools. But, if you were looking to become an expert in any other particular trade, you would apprentice under the best you could find. Continually listen to the best models that fit with who you are. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

8.  Listen to yourself. Play back last week’s message. And then do it again next week.   It might be extremely painful, and if it is, all the better. You are seeing where you need to change.

Where do you repeat yourself? Where does the message get lost? What did you do that created a barrier for others to hear? What about your grammar? Your transitions? Your voice? Study it all. Not so that you can be the smoothest preacher that ever lived. Who cares about that? We’ve all heard smooth preachers who delivered flawless messages, but somewhere in the mix, something was missing. It was as if someone simply turned on a recording and left the room. Maybe someone did.

It’s not about delivery. It’s about arranging a meeting. As a good communicator you want to eliminate every hindrance to people hearing. You are trying to get better so that you can get out of the way and they can hear from God. If you are a poor communicator, you will draw attention to yourself and that is something you don’t want to do. You’re not the focus of the message, God is, and you want to do everything you can to draw attention to Him. There’a a meeting in the air.

9.  Give people an opportunity to reflect or respond. At the end of the message, allow time for prayer focused on the application of the message. As you pray, you may want to include a few moments of silence asking God to personalize the message. You may want to give an invitation, and your invitation can take many forms. From inviting people to come forward and pray, to an uplifted hand, to a silent prayer, to a hymn of praise. Often times, after the sermon is preached, a quick prayer is offered and people are on their way. Thanks for coming out.

When services are closed abruptly, the purpose of arranging can get lost. The message can become all about my personal application and from there it is not far to thinking about another application, getting out of the parking lot. No time for reflection makes it is easier to lose touch with the One who has arranged the meeting in the first place. Closing a service does not have to be overly dramatic or long, but it can be a great time for a meeting.

Arranging is no small matter, because God longs to meet with His people and build a relationship with them.

When we gather to worship, it’s all about a making arrangements.

There’s a meeting in the air.

Rick Reitz


— by Rick Reitz

Reitz is the author of W(hole)Hearted.  He is a pastor and speaker specializing in strategic planning and leadership development.


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