Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 17 May 2011
"Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction." (2 Tim 4:2)
MAIN POINT: This week's article is a note to preachers, in particular myself, that preaching requires four critical moods.
I love to preach. Having gone through theological training, and being schooled by some of the best preachers in the world, I still feel frequently inadequate. The irony is that when I feel confident, and when I think I have preached well, there seem to be very little effect on the people. On the other hand, when I feel weak, and inadequate after my preaching, strangely, lives are touched. Preaching can be a humbling experience. I have a world-class professor as my mentor. He has been voted one of the top 12 best preachers in North America. Sitting through his class is an experience in itself. With great training comes a heavy responsibility.
I write the following to remind myself about the FOUR critical moods needed before, during, and after preaching. If you are a preacher, or one who may be called upon from time to time to preach the gospel, feel free to listen in. You may want to share this with your pastor, leader or anyone who from time to time, are called to preach.
Firstly, preaching is a privilege. No one comes to the pulpit based on his qualifications or experience. He must be called. I have heard of stories of people demanding that they be allowed to preach. Sometimes, when they are refused, they start throwing tantrums like a little child who is denied ice-cream or candy. A pastor friend of mine once told me about a church member who did just that. This member whines. Complains. Spreads rumours about the integrity of the lead pastor. This is sad. When the pulpit becomes a place for people to show off their skills, it is so sad for the church. The pulpit is a place for a childlike heart, not childish minds.
I remind myself that preaching is a privilege. The Word of God cannot be handled lightly. Neither should the pulpit be an opportunity to showcase one's preaching repertoire. God forbid! The pulpit is a privilege extended to a member of the congregation out of which the preacher should come. I understand that in some churches, due to the way the Church is designed, and the seating arrangements, sometimes, the preacher needs to be seated up front behind the pulpit, in front of the congregation. When it is time for the preacher to speak, he will then step out from behind the pulpit and appear. This may be a small consideration. I will prefer to come out of the congregation and walk toward the pulpit.
To me, it symbolizes 2 things. First, it recognizes that the preacher is a member of the congregation. Second, it is a privilege to be called upon, not a right to be demanded. Preaching is a privilege. It can be requested. It can also be asked. However, it should never be demanded.
I cannot over-emphasize this particular mood. All preachers must pray for their congregation or the people they are preaching to. In prayer, the preacher reminds himself that he cannot preach on the basis of his own strength or talents. Whatever gifts he may have, in prayer he is offering it up to God. Karl Barth reminds us:
"It is a great thing to preach, to believe, to obey - even in our imperfect way - the Commandments of God. But in every expression of faith and obedience, it is prayer that brings us into a relationship with God and allows us to be fellow-workers with him." (Karl Barth, Prayer and Preaching, London: SCM Press, 1964, p23)In prayer, we re-affirm that we need God to work. It is God's people. It is God's ministry. We are God's. In Why Revival Tarries, Leonard Ravenhill has this to say.
"No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. The pulpit can be a shop-window to display one's talents; the prayer closet allows no showing off.The single most important room in the preacher's house is the room of prayer. He who does no praying should do no preaching.
Poverty stricken as the church is today in many things, she is most stricken here, in the place of prayer. We have many organizers, but few agonisers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere." (Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries, Kent: STL Books, 1972, p19)
There is no substitute for hard work. One of the main duties of a pastor is not preaching, but to prepare to preach. Preaching is less about the preparation of the texts, or textual exercises, or speech improvements. Preaching is about getting our hearts and mouths in sync with what God is telling us pertaining to the text. If our hearts and our mouths are out of sync, we are in danger of becoming hypocrites at the pulpit stand. If what we say, and how we feel are in tune, we let God's Spirit lead us, to guide our congregation to true worship, as one that is in Spirit and in Truth.
Too many people rely on commentaries, other books, and resources to preach. In many cases, just by squeezing in a few stories here and there, laced with a few Bible verses, one can easily pass a speech test, and deliver an ordinary sermon. No! A sermon preparation takes much study and meditation of the texts. It requires a substantial amount of self-searching prior to material scanning. One of the great things about the Internet is the wide availability of preaching resources. With the search engine and some helpful websites, one can easily cut and paste from a multitude of materials and preach a sermon from there.
God forbid! We are not in the business of cutting and pasting other people's sermons and then call it our own. We are in the ministry of proclaiming God's truth as revealed to us in the texts. We are in the ministry of revealing Christ. We are in the ministry of letting God's Spirit work. Whatever materials and research we do, are only there to illuminate, not substitute our work. The Internet has its usefulness. Unfortunately, it can prove a bane when it comes to laziness in preparation. The simple truth is this: If one does not prepare, one should not preach. Period.
Finally, we come to the delivery of the sermon. In any Christian preaching, we must be mindful that we are not simply dispensing good advice. Yes, some people are struggling with their marriages, but that should be reserved for marriage conferences or seminars. Some people are dealing with depression, but leave the counseling to the counselors or the medical staff. Some people deal with discouragement, but let friends and loved ones deal with them.The preacher must preach Christ. The preacher must reveal the Person of God in Christ. In other words, when we preach, we are proclaiming that God's kingdom come, and God's will be done in heaven and on earth, in the Name of Christ.
If we fail to proclaim the Word of God, and to direct the glory back to God alone, we are guilty of calling attention to our selfish selves. God forbid!
One of the most powerful preachers of this century is the Scottish born preacher, Peter Marshall. In one of his sermons, he says:
"I wish I could convince you somehow that it is not the Church I am trying to present - but Christ! The Church has its faults. That is because it is made up of people like you and me. We are far from perfect. The wonder is that the Church has as much influence as it has . . . and is supported as well as it is.
There are a few hypocrites in our churches. Of course - we all know that.
But there are hypocrites in your club too, and that doesn't seem to bother you. There are hypocrites in your lodge, and that doesn't keep you away. But hypocrites in the Church seem to be such a stumbling block.
We are not offering the Church - but Jesus of Nazareth. The whole function of the Church, after all, is to introduce people to Christ. That is our business and it is nothing else." (Catherine Marshall, A Man Called Peter, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1951, p304)
May God raise up more preachers who can see preaching more as a privilege rather than a right. May God raise up people who prays before, during, and after preaching. May God bless the Church with people who are ready to put in the hard work to prepare, exegete, analyze, study and to listen to the Biblical texts. May God raise up leaders and preachers who will proclaim no other except Christ alone.
"Apostolic preaching is not marked by its beautiful diction, or literary polish, or cleverness of expression, but operates 'in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.'" (Arthur Wallis)May the Lord help me as a preacher never to forget the above. May I ask my readers where they are to hold me accountable to the four preaching moods I share above.
"Pentecost meant pain, yet we have so much pleasure. Pentecost meant burden, yet we love ease. Pentecost meant prison, yet most of us would do anything rather than for Christ's dear sake get into prison. Perhaps Pentecost relived would get many of us into jail - Pentecost, I say, not Pentecostalism - and I am throwing no stones." (Leonard Ravenhill)
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