(Unsplash/Aaron Burden)

I used to design websites for churches as kind of a hobby and side gig. I had to retire, but when I was active in the craft, I can well remember my biggest motivation.

I would preach on Sunday to people who would listen and affirm my words with their thanks. But I couldn't control them. I couldn't make people make right decisions.

With website design, I could type out some code and make a website look a certain way. I was in control.

Preaching carries with it this burden of having no real control over the outcome of a sermon. We definitely get to control the input—praying, reading, studying, writing, rehearsing and praying some more—but we can't ultimately make decisions for people, as much as we'd like to do so.

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As preachers, we have to come to peace with this, and if we don't, we wind up manipulating people. We begin to assume that our eloquence or choice of words or our display of emotion will be enough to motivate people to repent and turn to God.

There are three things you'll never be able to do as a preacher, hard as you may try.

1. You'll never convict people of sin.

We try sometimes, don't we? A fellow pastor once shared with me that he determined to preach on sin every week until the house was clean. Eventually, the house was empty, and he blamed it on their unwillingness to get things right.

The problem is, when we try to bring people to a place of conviction on our own, we pile on the guilt and shame, driving people further into their sense of hopelessness.

I'm not saying we shouldn't preach on sin. I'm simply saying that we overstep our role when we attempt to bend the human heart to our wills.

So whose job is it to convict? The Holy Spirit, and I can promise you from personal experience that he is extremely effective. (see John 16:8.)

Our role is to present truth and grace, in love, and trust the Holy Spirit to prick through the hardness of the human heart to bring people face to face with their own issues.

2. You'll never convince people of the truth.

I believe we should be well-studied and prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us a reason concerning the hope inside us (see 1 Pet. 3:15.)

We should seek to be both winsome and persuasive while avoiding the temptation to become argumentative. But at the end of the day, I can't ultimately convince someone to believe the good news about Jesus on my own.

It's a work of the Holy Spirit. And again, he is trustworthy to do his word when we present the gospel.

I've sometimes been baffled by the hardness and stubbornness of the will of some non-believers, and equally baffled when they suddenly bow their wills before the Father and place their faith in Christ.

I learned a long time ago that I don't have to be a gospel salesman. When the fruit is ripe, you don't have to yank it.

3. You'll never convert people into disciples of Jesus.

As a pastor, I thrive on the stories of life change that emerge from our growing congregation. I love knowing that people are coming to faith and coming to life through our ministry.

I can point to examples of individuals who walked into our fellowship for the first time, lost and broken with their lives in shambles. And I've seen marriages healed and families put back together and addicts on the road to recovery.

But I don't make it happen. I can't possibly regenerate dead things into living things. I can't make anyone a new creature. And neither can you.

Guess who can?

When the Holy Spirit applies the word to the human heart, he can convict of sin, convince of the truth, and then convert a person from lost to saved, from dead to living. (See Titus 3:5.)

And here's the beauty of all of this: The pressure is off!

You and I don't have to make things happen. We should certainly work hard to become faithful leaders and shepherds, but the enormously impossible task of generating real spiritual change is left in the hands of the very capable Holy Spirit, for whom anything is possible.

Part of our work is creating space for the Holy Spirit to have his way, for Jesus to have the spotlight, and for the washing of the water of the word to take place before our very eyes.

Brandon Cox has been a pastor since he was 19 and has served churches large and small, including serving as a pastor at Saddleback Church. Currently, he is planting a purpose-driven church in northwest Arkansas. He also serves as editor of pastors.com and Rick Warren's Pastors' Toolbox and authors a top 100 blog for church leaders, as well as a blog about men's issues, a blog about blogging and a blog about social media.

This article originally appeared at brandonacox.com.

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