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When it comes to our preaching, we live in the constant tension between pastor and prophet.  On one hand, as pastors we want to encourage and care for the sheep.  So, in our preaching we want to be uplifting and hopeful.  On the other hand, as prophets we must sometimes say the hard things that the sheep don’t want to hear.  

In most other world religions, within their sacred writings you won’t find many voices that are critical of their own religion.  But the Hebrew prophets were quite different.  Sometimes the spoke blistering words of rebuke.  It was precisely because they did love their faith that sometimes their preaching required a harsh rebuke.  It was their obedience to God and true love for people that led them to call for repentance.

As leaders in the church in the 21st century, we must not lose our calling to be “prophets.”  

This is exactly what happened in the days of Jeremiah.  Those who had been called by God, had lost their prophetic voice.  

“A horrible and shocking thing
    has happened in the land:
31 The prophets prophesy lies,
    the priests rule by their own authority,
and my people love it this way.
    But what will you do in the end?

                Jeremiah 5:30-31 (NIV)

Notice the strong language that Jeremiah uses.  What had happened was horrible and shocking.  Those who spoke for God had lost their way.  They started speaking lies instead of truth.  And they ruled by their own authority.  What an indictment!!  When it comes to our preaching, we do not represent ourselves nor do we speak and lead out of our own human authority.  We are called by God and we speak on His behalf and under His authority.  

In Jeremiah 5 the result was that the people loved it when the priests lost their prophetic voice. 

It reminds me of 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NIV) where Paul warns…

"For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."

People don’t like to be confronted with their sin.  It is uncomfortable to be called to holiness.  But if we are going to make true disciples, sometimes it will require us to speak hard truth.  

We must speak what people need to hear, not just what they want to hear.  If we truly love our kids, as parents we must sometimes correct and rebuke them.  The same is true for our congregations.  If we truly love our people we must preach the whole counsel of God.  We must call them to be separate from the world and live in a way that is counter-cultural.

I have identified two issues in my life that become roadblocks to courageously preaching the hard truth.  

1. People Pleasing

If I am consumed with the approval of people, I will always struggle to be courageous in my preaching.  If I am always worried about everyone liking me, I will shy away from being a prophet.

In preaching I must die to self and the desire to be liked by everyone.  I must be a pastor under God’s authority and ultimately care more about what God thinks than what others think.

2. Selfish ambition

In this age of obsession with church growth, it is easy for us to become consumed with only growing a large church.  Don’t get me wrong, I love large churches and I love seeing lots of people come to Christ.  But to use the metaphor from the apostle Paul, we are called to build a pure and undefiled bride, not just a large bride.

I have found in my own life that when I am pre-occupied with drawing a crowd and I become enamored with numerical growth, I will lose my prophetic voice.  If I am only worried about the size of my church, I won’t say what sometimes needs to be said because I fear that some people might leave the church.

So, pastor, I want to challenge you to courageously, boldly, unashamedly preach the whole counsel of God.  Be loving.  Be encouraging.  Be practical.  But when necessary, don’t be afraid to take on the role of prophet.  Remember, we are not under our own authority.  We have a higher authority and we have a calling to deliver the whole counsel of God.

Take Paul’s words to heart from Galatians 1:10 (NLT)

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.

Lance is the founder of Replenish ministries and is often referred to as a Pastor’s Pastor.  He is also the author of the book Replenish, which is dedicated to helping leaders live and lead from a healthy soul.  Before launching Replenish, Lance served 20 years as a senior pastor and 6 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church. 

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