Not long ago I was eating breakfast where I eat a couple times each week and heard some men talking about ‘preaching’. Listening to people talk about ‘preaching’ is always a little humorous and sad at the same time. It is a dichotomy to me. (Sorry Bob C).
The humorous part is this; many if not most people (particularly those my age and older) tend to think of preaching in terms of style. In the deep south no self-respecting preacher would finish preaching until his hankie was in his hand, his clothes were wet with sweat, and his voice was hoarse from speaking so loud, long, and forceful. As my friends said on this particular morning, “Now, that’s preaching!!” Admittedly and as a confession, I can get ‘wound up’ and ‘passionate’ about the message and have moments that are like this, so perhaps I am a ‘throw-back’. But from the preacher side of the pulpit, it is rarely, if ever, a plan to speak loudly or softly. Rather, it is (to use a modern-day word) organic. Again, the humorous part to me is that to so many, preaching is defined by ‘style’ and not ‘substance.’ This brings us to the sad part.
As I sat and heard these guys talking about ‘preachers’ and ‘preaching’, this thought occurred to me; in all my years of hearing these types of discussion, I have rarely heard anything said about the ‘message given’, it is always about the ‘manner in which it is given.’ This, it seems to me, is a tragic disconnect from the heart of Jesus. I dare say that Jesus is not nearly as concerned about style as He is about substance, not so concerned about the type of delivery as He is about the truth contained therein , and not so concerned about the method as He is about the message. Having said that and knowing people have preferred styles of preaching, please don’t lose sight of two truths: We will never bore people into the Kingdom or Kingdom Living any more that we can intimidate people into the Kingdom or to Kingdom living.
Today, I read a tweet from my friend, Dr. Randy Davis, which said, “America needs Godly men in the pulpit that will preach God’s Word. People don’t need cute stories or 20-minute “sermonettes.” The world has taken the gloves off. They’re throwing knockout punches. It’s time for God’s preachers to stand up & declare, THUS SAYS THE LORD GOD!”” What a great statement and needed call!!
I’ll suggest that many good things are done today, as a church in corporate worship. At the same time we should recognize that the two most important things a church does corporately is to ‘pray’ and then ‘preach’. These two have the potential and power to affect eternity. As a professional church musician for almost 50 years, I possess a deep love for worship through music, and music of all styles (Ok, rap leaves me cold, but that’s another discussion). However, it is missing the mark when musical worship becomes the center piece of our corporate experience and leaves little time for corporate prayer and gospel preaching.
It is commonly reported that St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary use words.” While this neither sounds like him nor can it be found in his historical records where he said this, these words have seemingly been used in an to attempt to minimize preaching and maximize godly living and discipleship. Today a pastor said to me, “The devil isn’t bothered if we clothes or feed people around the world, but he gets up in arms when we read the Bible, pray, and share our faith.” This type of life grows out of Biblical preaching. Yes we need to be involved in social ministries, but absent the ministry of the word, we are missing the mark.
Never forget the words of Apostle Paul in his last letter to Timothy. As he was facing the end of his earthly life, to his young preacher body, he boldly proclaimed, “Preach the word! Be Ready (diligent) at ALL TIMES. Rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.” What a call! What a command! What a challenge!
For a pastor to preach a “Thus Says The Lord” message, he must be “studied up’ and “prayed up” being spiritually, mentally,and emotionally prepared. The confidence to speak this way only comes when God’s man has spent enough time with God to be confident in the empowerment by the Holy Spirit. Here are a few suggestion which might help your pastor or a pastor to be or become everything which God has called him to be and that he desires to be:
- Allow your pastor to have the needed time for Spiritual and Study preparation (if you are a pastor, make the needed time). No pastor I know wants to stand in front of their congregation ‘ill-prepared’, but oftentimes their other responsibilities do not allow them enough time to prepare. By the way, for many or most, it takes HOURS of prayer and study to adequately prepare a message. Much more than anyone knows goes into the ‘rightly dividing the word of truth ’ for the hearers.
- Pray regularly for your pastor and his family. This big ‘miss’ today among church leaders is the difference in the weight of their job and weight of a pastor’s job. When a church leader experiences a family or other personal problem, they seek out their pastor and they should, and their pastor gladly shares their burden with them. Most people are grateful for their pastor giving his time, effort, and energy to assisting them. BUT PLEASE DON’T MISS THIS: When the pastor experiences family problems, often times, he has no one to personally bear or share his load, so he carries not only the weight of his struggle, but at the same time, carries the weight of his entire congregation. It is a heavy load and is probably one of the reasons for ‘burn-out’ among pastors.
- Offer Him Time Away (with pay) - There are times that a pastor gets so overwhelmed that, if honest, he needs to take a step back and recharge. What I have discovered from my many friends and acquaintances who pastor large or mega-churches is that those congregations seem to be open to allowing their pastor not only vacation time to spend with his family, but they also allow time ‘out of the pulpit’ to recharge their spiritual batteries. I know one church where every July their pastor is afforded time to do just this. Other people fill the pulpit in his absence. Then other churches, offer a ‘sabbatical’ every five or ten years. A sabbatical is a highly Biblical concept which is found in the teaching of the “Sabbath Rest”. (As an aside, pastors may last 5 or 10 years, if churches come to understand the load that they carry and offer time for a spiritual recharge and refreshing.) I’ll offer one more note: Pastors today deal with more weighty issues than at any time in the history of this nation. It’s not that they are lazy or trying to get ‘out of work’, most of the time they are weighted down by the situation and issues they are called on to deal with on a daily basis.
- Become a Servant-Helper to the Pastor – There is indeed a ministry that can be done by members becoming ministers which can lighten the load of a pastor. Men and women can assist greatly by offering to visit hospital, nursing homes, and homebound, in place of or as an emissary of the pastor. All it takes is a little time to visit with the pastor or on a visiting team with the pastor to become trained and comfortable in some of those situations. Some have never walked immediately after a family has experienced a death, received word of a terminal disease, or lost a job. Most have never been the first response minister to one who has been told that their spouse wants a divorce or that their kids have announced they were homosexual. Most pastors would welcome help and be willing to train Pastoral Ministry helpers who would visit and report to the pastor any situation that required HIS presence. This is a ministry which, by experience, I know strengthens a church, especially in the eyes of the community.
As I have written these words, they are intended to help our men who God has called to the pulpit to have the needed time to prepared to preach a “Thus Says the Lord” message. But one of the outcomes of these suggestions could well be that the church would become healthy and productive, thus reproducing. This could happen when members become ministers and preachers have the time to prepare to preach!!