We live in a world of ambiguity. It seems that because of the changing times and climate in our nation, we who are called to preach the Word are afraid to speak the truth. We are worried about offending the “powers that be” or the deacons or the elders. We are afraid we might say too much when, in fact, we often say too little.
While preaching seems to be outdated and cast aside in favor of communicating, I think preaching is only biblical if it is communicating truth. Where the Bible speaks specifically, we cannot be vague. I realize it’s vogue to be vague, but it’s not a historical understanding of preaching. My mentor, Vance Havner, said, “The task of the preacher is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” As the old Scottish farmer said when he heard a noise outside his house one night, “I would not harm thee for the world, but I am about to shoot where thou standeth.” As a preacher of truth, you aren’t called to coddle the saints; you are called to challenge them to godly living.
Paul named specific sins in the churches and even named the church gossips in Philippi. He pointed out a leader (Demas) who had forsaken him. This same apostle who wrote 1 Corinthians 13 on love also wrote words of rebuke and correction.
We endanger the call, art, and gift of preaching when we make it about style instead of substance. Everyone has their own style. Some use more illustrations than others. Some prefer exposition to topical. Some use topical preaching but center the topics on specific texts. What we can’t do is try to be cute and current and lose our cutting edge. “The Word is quick and powerful and sharper than a two edged sword...” If that is true, then we don’t need to preach with a spoon, we need to preach with a knife.
Some preaching has devolved into trying to be sexy. We use sexy titles, but in the end the sermon has little appeal that will change the course of a life. It may contain good information, but preaching is about inspiration. We are to inspire people to be saved or to be Christlike in their actions and attitudes. If we fail to inspire and challenge, have we not failed to preach?
Havner noted, “We aren’t called to feed giraffes, we are called to feed sheep.” We are to put the food on the level where the people can understand it. I would also say that well fed sheep will gather consistently to be fed because they know their shepherd is leading them into green pastures and beside still waters. When well fed sheep have a well versed preacher, the sheep have restored souls.
You feed sheep on the ground, meaning you have to know your people and know about life situations if you are going to minister. The sermon preached by a pastor in New York City will not work well if it is simply regurgitated to a congregation in a rural town in the South or out West. James Denney said, “If you shoot over the heads of your congregation, you don’t prove anything except that you don’t know how to shoot.” Michael Buss said, “The job of the preacher is to gather the people in his arms and draw them near to God.”
I asked one of my heroes, Ron Dunn, the greatest expositor I’ve ever met, if I could pastor for a long time in one place. He said, “If you stay fresh, if you stay in the Word and give them the truths you have mined out in your personal study and time with God, you can stay as long as you want.” Well, I’ve been at Sherwood Baptist Church for 23 years, and there is still so much to say. I’ve preached almost every book in the New Testament, but there are new insights I’m gaining from great, rich pockets of truth that I didn’t see twenty years ago.
God has not called preachers to be entertainers or to be boring. We are called to present the greatest story ever told to people who need to hear and believe. Don’t sell preaching short. Don’t grow weary in well doing. Call out people to a deeper commitment. Call on the Holy Spirit to endue your message with power. Call the lost to salvation. Finally, remember when you were first called and the joyful prospect of preaching the Word to people that energized you each day. Go back, reflect on that call, and rekindle the fire that once burned in your heart. You’ve traveled too far to give people leftovers. Take them to the buffet of blessings in the Bible and show them how to feast on God’s Word.