I am proud to be an evangelist. Each time I preach, it is an honor, but it is also humbling. To know that I have just a few minutes (yes, Lebanon Road folks, it is a “few” minutes!!!) to share a message from the Almighty in view of eternity is a daunting task, indeed. Truly, in that moment, I understand the import of being a “jar of clay.”
One of the joys of my life as a preacher is to encourage other preachers. Through iPreach, lectureships, phone calls, emails, and other times of being together, I gain far more encouragement than I give, but I pray that I can give some encouragement to my fellow workers.
That being said, I do not consider myself an “preacher’s preacher”….not by a long shot! I do not consider myself an expert on preaching. My undergraduate degree is not in Bible. Each time I am around preachers, I am blown away by their knowledge of Scripture, and am humbled by my own lack of the same.
So, with that in mind, I’d like to write to preachers as one who loves preaching, but who tries to convey that I am just another member, but a member who “just happens” to be the one who gets up and speaks most of the time. There are certain cautions I’d like to give. Some (most?) of these I need to do better about myself, and others are ones that I see at times that could harm the work of the preacher individually, or of the church collectively.
When you are here, preachers, what do you need to be careful of?
Preachers, be careful…
1. to stick with Scripture. We are told to “preach the Word.” We need to use other sources to illustrate at times, but those “other sources” need to be clearly seen as secondary to our purpose. If you are not spending time daily in God’s Word, you need to think about your dedication to God, and to your work. When you are in the pulpit, feed the people with what they need the most: the precious Word of God.
2. to love the people. You need to spend a lot of time studying and isolated, thinking about God’s Word and delving deeply into a text. But you also need to apply that text to the lives of real, flesh-and-blood people. You need to love the people! I’ll just say it: I’ve known some (thankfully, not many) preachers who always seemed more concerned about where they might move next than where they were preaching currently. Such is tragic! Preach to their minds and their hearts. Be involved in their lives as much as you can. Apply sermons to this community, this congregation, this nation. You’ll be glad you did.
3. when preaching on sensitive subjects. It is so easy to forcefully present verse after verse after verse on a very sensitive subject and then just say, “See. There you go. Cut and dried. God said it. End of discussion.” That may be true, but we need to be willing to admit that some subjects truly are sensitive. For a man struggling with homosexual tendencies, for example, he may know what Scripture says, but he may also need to hear that you understand this is difficult. For a teenager dealing with pornography, they need to know the truth, but they also need to hear you say that it is going to be hard–yet, possible–to change.
4. about “name-calling.” I rarely call names of people from the pulpit when dealing with false doctrine. Maybe I should do it more, but I would rather preach the truth, expose the error, and let the individuals, schools, journals, etc., be found out through individual study. I have done it, but it is rare. If you are going to call names, please preachers, do so with as much kindness and reservation as you can. Don’t make it appear as if you are enjoying calling out someone! Present it as information that is helpful, not as the climax of some personal investigation. There is a time and place for calling names, but it needs to be done in humility. By the way, I know that Paul withstood Peter to the face, but it was to change him for the better…not to show Paul’s superiority.
5. about imitation. Be who you are! I love my dad. He is the greatest preacher I know, but I cannot preach like him, nor would I try. There are certain aspects of several preachers I try to incorporate, simply because they are better presenters of God’s Word than I am. At the end of the day, though, I have to preach like me! I need to grow and mature, but I still need to allow God to use my talents, abilities, gifts, and (yes) weaknesses to His glory in my sermons.
6. about riding a hobby horse. Preaching “a series” does not mean you need to mention a certain topic for 70 Sundays in a row! Go back through your sermons from the last 6 months. How often did you mention alcohol? instrumental music? pornography? a woman’s role? homosexuality? abortion? attendance? You might be surprised. It’s fine to mention those things, but weave them in and out of sermons over the course of time. Don’t try to drive them home every single Sunday.
7. about appearing perfect. You aren’t. Sorry if that offended you, but I was saying that to me, too! There is a fine line about the preacher. He needs to admit that he isn’t perfect, but he also doesn’t need to tell a million stories about how sinful he is! However, there is an attitude that can come across that needs to be avoided. It is the attitude of “I overcame this and have moved on, so you need to do the same.” It is the attitude of “This has never been a struggle for me, and it shouldn’t be for you, either.” Preachers, people struggle, and you do, too. Admit it.
8. to stand strong. Don’t shy away from difficult and controversial subjects. You don’t have to pound the pulpit to make your point, but you do need to know your stuff (or, better, God’s “stuff” on the matter), and be confident in what you are saying. While you don’t have to preach every Sunday on something that might be hard to say, you need not avoid those things, either.
9. to have emotion. On the other hand, you need to be a human! Crying, laughing, and being upset at legitimate things are okay…even in the pulpit! If a particular illustration moves you to tears, that’s okay. In fact, it may mean more to the listeners than the illustration itself. It’s okay, if you do something funny (mispronounce a name, forget your place in your notes), to laugh at yourself. In fact, it’s actually healthy.
10. to avoid thinking of your own family, while not making them the subject of every illustration. Preachers, preach to the entire congregation, including your wife and your children (if God has blessed you with such). Don’t create a “my family is outside the congregation” mentality. It will harm the congregation and, in the long run, it will harm your family. You need to think of wives in certain illustrations, including your own. That does not mean that she is the illustration, though! It means that she has a soul, too, and she needs to hear this truth.
What would you add that a preacher needs to be careful of as he presents God’s Word each week?