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Dear Pastor . . . Don’t Settle for the Status Quo in Your Preaching

By Koa Sinag

Dear Pastor . . . Don’t Settle for the Status Quo in Your Preaching

This article is part of the Dear Pastor series.

Aspire to See Transformation

“Just lower your expectations,” said the pastor, half smiling and gesturing as though signaling a vehicle to slow down. He made this recommendation to a small group of believers who were lamenting the lack of signs of biblical health in their ministry. From this pastor’s experienced perspective, these naïve believers were expecting God to do too much through their ministry and should recalibrate to be more content with the status quo in their struggling church.

Tragically, the realities of ministry lead many preachers to adopt a similar disposition to their preaching. Another pastor, after receiving a mother’s earnest appeal to make his preaching more comprehensible to the less studied in his congregation, rather than putting forth the extra effort to help, simply concluded that his group of Christians must be unserious about their faith and carried on letting “little ones” endure the impenetrable thirty minutes of his studied discourse each Sunday morning. While not every case of preacher apathy might present itself as starkly as these, preachers can give up on aspiring to see much transformation from their preaching and settle for mere transfer of information. A sound theological conviction of the already-not-yet nature of Christ’s kingdom can be distorted into an already-not-much expectation in the pulpit.

Most preachers don’t start out this way. We take up our call to the ministry believing the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16), so preaching the gospel will be a powerful means to effect God’s gracious purposes in people’s lives. The difficulties of seeking to extend Christ’s mission in a yet fallen world with yet corruptible churches bludgeon us into deciding it’s safer to settle for the status quo. Fatigue, fear, and even temptations to doubt the message we are preaching can cut the nerve on the zeal we used to have for preaching as we surrender our vision of God effecting his gracious purposes in people’s lives through our stewardship of his word.

Perhaps you can recall the time when your heart was enflamed by God’s revelation of what his word could do and what he can accomplish through his word, and these promises animated your attitude as you stewarded your God-given gift and task (Jer. 23:29; Heb. 4:12–13; Isa. 55:11; Rom. 10:17; I Pet. 4:10–11; Rom. 12:6–8). Do you remember when you approached preaching as an earnest struggle and with a sincere desire for the glory of God in the hearts and lives of people because you believed that you were working with God as he effected his will in people through his word preached (Col. 1:28–29; I Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 5:20)? These were the kinds of convictions held by preachers God used to lead his church in the past. For example, John Calvin believed that the nature of the Scriptures demanded an earnest, expectant posture from him as he preached them. He said,

When I expound Holy Scripture, I must always make this my rule: That those who hear me may receive profit from the teaching I put forward and be edified unto salvation. If I have not that affection, if I do not procure the edification of those who hear me, I am a sacrilege, profaning God’s Word.1

So, if you are a preacher who has allowed your vision for preaching to be dimmed or deadened, what can you do to remedy your heart and habits?

Love God and Your Listener

Love is the animating affection for the exercise of our God-given gifts and stewardship (1 Cor. 13:1–8; I Tim. 1:5). Without love we are achieving nothing! Sincere cultivation of love for God’s glory (Matt. 22:37) and our hearers’ eternal good (Matt. 22:39) has, historically, been held to be essential to the preacher’s task (E.g. WLC 159). Genuine gospel preaching must be infused with the sense that the preacher actually cares that God is glorified by people responding to him through the gospel he is preaching and that those who hear him understand and benefit from how he is communicating the word (1 Cor. 14:7–12). Love will not allow us to settle for status quo in the honor God is already receiving (Rom.1:13, Rom. 15:16) or the gospel blessing people are already receiving through our ministry (1 Cor. 9:19–23; Rom. 1:11; Eph. 4:16).

Ask God to Put His Word in Your Mouth

It is possible to use God’s good gifts to insulate us from thinking we have to depend upon him (Duet. 8:11–14). God’s good gift of training for a studied approach to biblical interpretation can be co-opted by a pastor’s yet corrupted heart to turn accurate exposition into a mere academic exercise. Preaching that accomplishes the purposes of God for the people of God flows from a preacher who, through the study of Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15), has had God put his word in his mouth (Jer. 1:9). We never get beyond the need to ask God’s direct help in developing and delivering the message he would have us preach to a particular people, in a particular place, in a particular period (Eph. 6:19; Luke 11:13). We can recover God-glorifying, gospel-driven aspiration in our preaching by an intentional return to conscious dependence on God to form his message from his Scripture, for his purposes, for his people, and in us as his preachers.

Love is the animating affection for the exercise of our God-given gifts and stewardship.

Remember the Holy Spirit

“The lack of distinctly recognizing the power of the Holy Ghost lies at the root of many useless ministries.”2 It is possible that our correct conviction that the Scriptures are always the word of the Spirit who inspired them and that it is through the Scriptures that he now always speaks can morph into complacency about consciously depending upon the Spirit. We can content ourselves with being merely technical in our handling of the data in a text without remembering that without the direct work of the Spirit on the soul of the listener (1 Cor. 2:4), nothing of eternal value will take place in the lives of people or the church. As you prepare and deliver sermons, gospel preachers must consciously desire and be dependent upon the Holy Spirit to effect his illuminating and transforming work in listeners—and the preacher!

Expect Christ to Lead Your Church through Your Preaching

Preaching is leadership in Christ’s cause. Both Christ and his apostles preached with the conscious expectation that, through their preaching, they were inaugurating and extending God’s promised kingdom (E.g. Luke 4:43, Luke 8:1; Acts 20:25, Acts 28:31). Preachers can reinvigorate their desire for God to effect his will through their preaching by embracing the conviction that Christ leads his people into his purposes through his word preached. Every aspect of Christ’s mission and ministry through his church requires wise pastoral leadership, and that leadership is always downstream from the word preached. So preachers who are unashamedly committed to the primacy of preaching must develop a vision to actually take people into the green pastures prescribed in God’s word and discipline themselves in the principles and practices of wise leadership that can equip them to integrate preaching and leadership to get them there. If preachers lack this vision and are unequipped or unwilling to lead where the word points, something other than the preached word will lead the church. And a congregation will either be led off its God prescribed path through worldly wise leadership models or stagnate on its God-appointed mission as it contents itself with the accumulation of mere knowledge.

If you are a preacher, you are a leader in Christ’s cause and you can and must desire to lead God’s people into God’s purpose through God’s word preached, and you must practice the habits of a preacher-leader.

Notes:

  1. John Calvin, quoted in T. H. L. Parker, Calvin’s Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1992), 25.
  2. Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 195.

John Currie is the author of The Pastor as Leader: Principles and Practices for Connecting Preaching and Leadership.



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