“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 2 Tim 4:1-3 NASU
Preaching is our most important responsibility as shepherds of the flock of God.
God has tasked the pastor with the faithful, accurate proclamation of His Word and I believe He will hold us accountable for the unfaithful discharge of our chief responsibility. We are not responsible for what our flock does with the Word of God—the Spirit of God and they are responsible for that—but we are responsible to announce its truth plainly and boldly. I intend this article as a bridge from the series I was doing on creating opposition in the church through our own fault and the opposition that comes when we take a Biblical stand. On the positive side, if we focus on “Preaching the Word and loving the people” we can avoid much opposition.
In this article I want to explore “Preaching the Word.” Let me add that I in no way want to add further burdens or false expectations to anyone. I know that many in ministry feel as if one more straw would break their camel’s back. I firmly believe, however, that proper attention to our preaching ministry will lighten our load and not add to it. A pastor who is deepening his preaching ministry will often be deepening the spiritual depth of his flock and will certainly be deepening his own walk with the Lord.
We do much to help ourselves when we pay attention to our preaching. By emphasizing preaching I do not de-emphasize “loving the people.”
Lack of sacrificial, Christ-like love will undermine everything you say.
You will model for your people a person who says one thing and does something quite different. They will be quite complacent in remaining in their spiritual hypocrisy as they observe yours. Ideally, “loving the people” should be the outflow of a deepening personal application of Scripture in which we are becoming more Christ-like. Paul wrote the Galatians, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19-20 NASU).
Certainly Christ must be formed in us as we expect His formation in God’s flock through our preaching. Our preaching ministry will in most cases make or break our ministry. Generally speaking, well fed sheep are happy sheep. They are much less likely to be breaking down fences in search of food, pushing and biting each other, and going off in wild directions when they have plenty of good, green grass.
What are some common pitfalls we face in our preaching ministry? Lack of adequate preparation is certainly one. It is hard work to prepare a sermon! For one thing, how can we grapple with our personal application of the text if we are throwing together a sermon at the last minute? Village Missionaries perhaps struggle with this more so than other pastors. We stress a relational ministry in which we are with our people. That takes time—sometimes a lot of time. Yet with discipline we can carve out adequate preparation time as well. Some of us may need to get up early. We might have to schedule our study time, allowing the possibility for major interruptions. Often, we waste the time we have looking at e-mails, doing this and that—everything but the deep digging into the text that we need. Certainly, the most critical and important thing we do deserves the priority of our attention.
Another pitfall involves inattention to communication. I recently learned of a Village Missionary who is preaching 45 minutes or longer to his congregation. He is sharing all the deep truth he learns in his study of the Word but his congregation is dismayed because they don’t understand much of what he says! If he continues on his present path, he won’t last long, no matter what we try to do to help him. We need to understand that it is our responsibility as a communicator of God’s truth to communicate.
Communication, especially in today’s world, involves sensitivity to the needs of the listener.
You remember the basics of your preaching class. We have to begin by giving people a reason to listen. Our message should center on one idea, the homiletical idea that gives unity and clarity to the message. We have to help people transition through our message, making sure that main points are highlighted as main points and each is logically related to the other and certainly tied to the text. Extraneous material needs to be avoided as it only confuses the listener. We conclude our message with something that cements the truth and gives a call to action.
It is hard work to study a text of Scripture. It is even harder work to communicate it clearly. I don’t recall ever preaching a message where I was fully satisfied that it was the best it could be. Someone who feels that he should preach at least 45 minute messages on a Sunday morning should start by preaching 20 or at the most 30 minute messages. Only the very best preachers can hold a congregation’s attention beyond that. When your congregation starts begging you to go longer and expresses disappointment at the shortness of the message, then you will have the freedom to lengthen your messages.
Another pitfall is preaching hobby horses or minor points of doctrine.
Old timers in Village Missions may remember that Rev. Duff discouraged missionaries from using the word “predestination.” I imagine as a former Presbyterian minister Rev. Duff believed in predestination (maybe he did not) but he knew that this doctrine was beyond the scope of our statement of faith and tended to divide believers. Rev. Duff launched this mission with a non-denominational approach that majors on the majors and works quite well, especially in rural communities.
He recognized that a strong stand for major gospel truth will bring people to faith and growth in Christ, while inevitably alienating some. He also recognized that a strong stand for every detailed minor position will inevitably alienate many, including other believers. In such a case, the work of the Gospel is not furthered but hindered. We have not changed our approach!
For one thing, imagine how difficult it will be for the Village Missionary following you if he has a different doctrinal perspective! The one who takes a strong stand on all the five points of Calvinism will make it extremely difficult on a following missionary with a less reformed perspective. The one who believes in the free will of the sinner will make it difficult on the one with a reformed perspective if “free will” is taught and promoted. The one who teaches a post-trib rapture will make it difficult for the pre-trib guy.
Major on the majors and use sensitivity and wisdom in dealing with the minors!
If you must discuss doctrines other than the statement of faith, do so by surveying the various perspectives. Much better yet, preach through books of the Bible and faithfully teach your passage. Be able to defend what you say from that passage and the context of the book. I realize I will be ruffling some feathers by writing this. Some feel they must campaign for their particular flavor of theology and feel it would be compromising to not lead their congregation to a “liberating” knowledge of the truth.
Yet, how wonderful if our flock would simply grasp and live the truths reflected in our statement of faith! Given our world’s ignorance of Scripture, it will take many years of ministry before they will understand the simple but major doctrine reflected in our statement of faith.
Another pitfall is to not work at improving your preaching.
There are many resources out there to help us, whether they are books, tapes, or preaching seminars. Especially if we are getting complaints about our messages, we should be striving to improve. Your D.R. can be a great resource. Why not record your message, send it to your D.R., and ask him to suggest ways to improve your preaching? It is much better that this happen then a church member sending a tape to establish his complaint about your preaching ministry.
Finally, perhaps the most serious pitfall of all is to not apply personally what you preach.
Your congregation will constantly be watching you to see if you believe the truths of the gospel enough to apply them.
How can we preach on the Great Commission, for example, if we don’t try to lead someone to Christ ourselves?
How can we preach on humility if we react with anger to criticism from a member of our church?
I know how hard it is under the pressure of ministry to do the hard work of personal application and I’m not saying I did a very good job. Yet I do remember wonderful, devotional times of study as the great truths of Scripture penetrated my soul. It is one of the areas I miss most about the pastorate. Applying your own sermons will sustain and even bless you in ministry. If they don’t, do you think your messages will sustain and bless your flock? My challenges in applying messages reminded me of how challenging it was for the congregation to do so.
Perhaps avoiding this pitfall of not applying your messages will do the most to avoid the others. As a vibrant, real experience of Jesus Christ shines through your message and your life, perhaps they will not even mind if you go a little longer. But please, not an hour!