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“play it again sam” – robyn mellar-smith

Photo for Robyn blog

In December I am finishing up as the main preacher for a church community so that I can go back to study full-time for the next two years. As I reflected on what might be important to preach in the next 3 months, I was drawn to re-look at a series I preached in my first year as full-time pastor in 2009. We have a number of new people in our church since then and the nature of the series means that it is worth revisiting.

These sermons are a meta-narrative series, looking at the entirety of the biblical story over 6 sermons. I entitled them Creation, Catastrophe, Covenant, Christ, Church and Consummation. (A member of the congregation made a lovely banner each week to represent the week’s topic.)

So, what have I learned about my preaching as I have revisited a series from 5 years ago?

  1. As a beginning preacher, I tried to cram far too much into one sermon. As I’ve read through the series in preparation for preaching, I have been saying things like “Really? I tried to say all that?!” (This is something that is fairly common I have found as I’ve discussed this with other preachers.)
  2. I have a far bigger view of things and much more idea of how the big picture of the Bible fits together after 5 ½ years of preaching most weeks.
  3. I am much more comfortable living in a message during the week and hence opening the message to more discussion from the congregation while I am preaching, than I was 5 years ago.

What about you? Have you revisited series you have preached years before, and if so, what have you learned about your preaching?

adding and subtracting from a preaching plan? – robyn mellar-smith


After five years as the main preacher in a church community, it was interesting recently to go back over those five years and map the different genres of Scripture I had preached from. I read this idea in “One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills” by Daniel Overdorf. In Week Two, Overdorf suggests making a tally of sermons preached over the last 3-5 years in these basic categories: Pentateuch (Gen.- Deut.), OT History (Josh.- Esther), Wisdom Literature (Job- S. of Sol.), Prophets (Isa.- Mal.), Gospels & Acts (Matt.- Acts), Pauline Epistles (Rom.- Phil.), and General Epistles & Revelation (Heb.- Rev.)

When I tallied five years’ worth of sermons, I found that I had preached fairly well across the different genres, twice as much in the New Testament as the Old, which I was reasonably happy with. The group where the tally was lowest for me was the Pentateuch, so that’s the next place I might do a decent series in.

How do you choose which part of the Bible you are going to preach in next?

Before I was a preacher, I was a song leader once a month or so in a Baptist Church. Upon discussion with other music leaders, I found that there was a variety of ways in which people picked their songs each week, from deeply seeking God for exact song titles, to looking at songs musically to see what segued together well, to choosing a bunch of songs while trusting that God was with you. Over my time as a song leader I travelled from the first group to the last, mainly because of time pressure and experience. I found that my song leading improved when I wasn’t so anxious about whether I was doing the exact song God wanted me to (for obvious reasons J)

So also when choosing passages to preach, I pray, I talk to our leadership team, I reflect together with my intern and then we choose some books or topics, trusting that God is with us and will guide us.

I do believe that it is helpful for the congregation to have balance across the various genres of the Bible, however spending some time in one of the Gospels each year is a priority for me as Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith (and so counter cultural!)

What about you? Whether you are the main preacher or a visiting speaker, how do you choose what you are next going to preach on?

How far ahead do you plan this?

Is there a book or genre you have been avoiding?

God bless you

when it’s never enough – robyn mellar-smith


As the main preacher of a church community, one of my favourite things to do is to preach through a book of the Bible. You never know what is going to come up and I think that working through a whole book is the “steak” of the preaching year, particularly for those members of the congregation who are in the Sunday service most weeks. If our small groups focus on the passage as well, then people feel like they have really journeyed with a book of the Bible, and there can be tangible growth and transformation.

At the moment I am preparing for a study of the book of Proverbs through October. I am challenging the congregation to read the chapter pertaining to the date each day, i.e. on the 1st Oct read chapter 1, 2nd chapter 2 etc. We will have six sermons from the book, from the end of September to the beginning of November. Obviously these will be on topical themes rather than working through the book chapter by chapter, but I am looking forward to the challenge!

My problem is that no matter how much pre-reading I do and no matter how good my intentions are, I never really get to the depth that I would like. Pastoral situations interfere with study time. Sermons have to be prepared on the hop. And I tend to finish series like this feeling as though we never went as deep, nor covered as much as I would have liked to.

There is a part of me that gets anxious about this. I know that there is often so much more that I could have offered. Like knowing all the different types of food and only offering people bread and water…

But, on the other hand, I really believe that the stuff that truly matters in a sermon comes from God and not me, and I choose to trust that God is working even when I feel like I have not done enough preparation or dug deep enough. I know that bread and water mediated to us by God’s Spirit is far more valuable than steak without the breath of God to warm it and apply it to our lives.

How about you? When you preach through a book do you feel this frustration? Or do you have any tips for working out the crucial things that must be covered in a book study?

how much should I pray for my sermon? – robyn mellar-smith


When I was training for ministry at Carey Baptist College a few years ago, one of our lecturers challenged us to consider spending as much time in prayer for our sermon as writing the sermon.

That’s quite a challenge!

For starters, for most ministers, there doesn’t appear to be enough hours in the week to do all the things that seem to need doing. One of the most difficult tasks for me as a fulltime sole pastor of a NZ Baptist church has been working out where best to spend my time. The sermon is very important to me, but it already takes a sizeable chunk of my average week to prepare one (some weeks more than others!) How can I commit the equal amount of time to prayer for my message?

On the other hand, those sermons that God seems to touch in special ways, do impact people’s lives. I have seen listeners strengthened, encouraged and brought to a place of change in Christ, when God has moved in their hearts through the message.

What sort of time should be given to praying for the sermon?

For me, the answer has come by trying to make my whole life one of prayer, rather than spending a specific time on my knees begging God to do something special with my message. I am still very much a learner, but since I have committed to spending a good half-hour first thing every morning with God, and then checking back in at least twice more in a day (usually after lunch, and then again in the evening) I am more likely to hear anything God wishes to say to me, and I am more trusting that He will do something with the sermon.

I do have a special prayer I pray while I am writing the message, then again on Saturdays when pulling it together, and then before I speak. It goes something like, “Help, Lord, please do something with this message. Please use it for your glory.” (Imagine this said with desperation some weeks!)

And you know what? I find that most of the time He does do something.

Having preached week in and week out, off and on for a few years now, I can testify to God’s faithfulness; that even weeks where I actually thought the sermon was going to be rubbish, He has graciously shown up and moved in people’s lives anyway!

In the end, it’s all about Him. No matter how poor or great a speaker I am, God is the only one who can bring transformation.

I’m glad, because that takes a lot of pressure off me. Sure I still do the work of preparation. Sure I still pray. But it’s what God does when He takes my paltry offering and anoints it that truly changes lives.

To Him alone be the glory!

robyn mellar-smith – how then shall we plan?

Around this time of year I start to give serious thought to a preaching plan for next year. I am the sole pastor of a medium sized Baptist church who is responsible for the preaching slot on Sunday morning. This means that I either preach myself (around 3 weeks out of 5 this year) or I find someone else to speak.

When I studied at Carey Baptist College a few years ago, I picked up the idea from a course by Paul Windsor that it is good to preach a series from an Old Testament book, a Gospel and an Epistle each year. He also suggested doing a topical series and taking time to focus on special days in the church calendar, such as Pentecost Sunday.

This year I have taught a fairly long series in the Gospel of Luke (in two parts), a few weeks on the Self-Denial mission material from Tranzsend, a series in the book of Isaiah, and next month I am planning a short series on the Holy Spirit in the book of Ephesians. When we have guest speakers, I don’t require them to fit in with any series I’m doing, and enjoy it when they choose to address a topic I would be reluctant to, such as a guest speaker next month who is hopefully going to speak on “Christians and Sport.”

My question to others is…how do you choose what books/topics to focus on?

Obviously this is a matter for prayer and discussion with leadership, but do you have goals you try to reach as far as variety? What are the factors that feed into your planning?

Part of me believes that it is important what books we teach when, but a bigger part believes that God will get his message across regardless of what book it’s from, if we do the study and seek him.

I would be especially interested to hear from those who have responsibility for the weekly preaching portion of the Sunday service. Blessings.

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Robyn Mellar-Smith is a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, and the pastor of Epuni Baptist Church in Lower Hutt.

robyn mellar-smith – what does a bowl of jaffas have to do with it?

One of the things that has given me great joy as a pastor is mentoring our youth leaders in preaching. I meet monthly for lunch with our 4 youth leaders aged 17-23, and last year thought that maybe I would add value to our sessions by teaching them to preach.

We started off by looking at Paul Windsor’s “First Fifteen” – the method by which I was taught to do exegesis at Carey Baptist College. What a lot of fun we had! After we had worked through this, I asked them to pick a passage and they chose James 4:1-10. We then proceeded to work through the “First Fifteen” with this passage. I was delighted with the illustrations they came up with! To be honest, I’d love to go over all my passages with them – they had such unique ideas 🙂

We decided that they would do a sermon for our Sunday morning congregation “tag-team” – five minutes each. One would do “the world”, one “the flesh”, one “the devil”, and one would do the application and summarise. We spent several sessions going over what they might say, with each of them contributing ideas to the others. Then they individually wrote out their pieces, practising together and gently critiquing each other.

On the day they were fantastic, with the sum-up guy producing a huge bowl of jaffas and giving some away to members of the congregation, to signify us giving away authority in our lives to the various areas outlined in James 4:1-10. Instantly memorable! The congregation loved it.

They were so outstanding that I suggested that next time they preach two at a time so they could have a longer time each to speak. The first one was last Sunday and was amazing.

This time they fitted into my series in the Gospel of Luke, rather than doing a one-off sermon. Their exegesis was quicker, their ideas better, and they were more confident in their speaking. They still had to do a lot of preparation work, but we met regularly and talked about how they were doing.

You would have to be there to receive the full extent of their offering because the whole youth group was involved in illustrative skits before the sermon but if you want to have a listen, have a look at

They still have a little way to go in getting their exegesis into a fully flowing message, but I understand that. And, like most beginning preachers, they tried to say too much. (I’ll put my hand up for that as well.) But on Sunday I was intensely proud of them and the congregation was too!

Are you mentoring anyone in your congregation in preaching? And if so, what have you found helpful?

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Robyn Mellar-Smith is a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, and the pastor of Epuni Baptist Church in Lower Hutt.

robyn mellar-smith: when it doesn’t write right

A little while ago, I was preaching through a series in the book of Psalms. I decided to speak on Psalm 73 because it is one of my favourites and because it typifies ‘reorientation’ as I understand it (from the Brueggemann typology).

I was looking forward to getting into this psalm a bit deeper & duly spent a chunk of Monday (as is my practice when preaching weekly) doing the exegesis and thinking through what might be important to say, especially in light of the two psalms we had considered the previous Sundays (24 and 88). My study Monday was a bit interrupted, but I went home with a sense of excitement, encouraged by the movement in this psalm from a dark place to a place of reliance on God, as the psalmist moved his focus from other people to God. (more…)

robyn mellar-smith: preaching across the stages

Over a recent couple of weeks of summer holiday, I spoke to three people close to me who have been Christ-followers as long or longer than me, but who are now questioning their faith and unsure of the “whole church thing.” Two out of the three still go to church, but sit through the sermon feeling quite “ho-hum” about it all. I suspect I have several people in my congregation like that also – dear people who over the years have faithfully served God, but now find the shape of our services a bit hard to sit through, although they have a strong personal faith. How do we preach to such people? (more…)