Another year. Another year of preaching. So why do we do it?
There are so many factors involved. I don’t want to ponder issues of pay (many preachers receive less than minimum wage for what they are doing). I don’t want to dwell on inappropriate motivations, even if they are significant for some. I will just mention some of them in passing.
Let’s take stock of some of the good reasons we preach.
1. We preach because God is a God who speaks; therefore we have something to say. Actually there are probably too many who are too confident that they have something worth saying. I don’t think we have much that is worth saying, but the Bible is a revelation of God that is certainly worth proclaiming! That is why Paul could urge Timothy to “preach the Word!” in his final words to him. He wasn’t urging Timothy to chatter and noise and declaration of vain imaginations relating to societal ills and self improvement principles. He wanted him to preach the Word.
Consequently the Bible must never become just a repository of preaching material. It must always remain the very exclusive fuel for the fire of our walk with Christ, through whom we can know the Father. When the Bible starts to feel dry to us, we have a real issue. Not because we need to squeeze a message out of its apparently dusty pages, but because something isn’t right in our relationship with the One whom we represent when we stand to preach.
2. We preach as an act of service to others. Paul views every gift given by the Spirit to the church as a gift given for the building up of others. Consequently any gifts that relate to preaching must be offered to others in faithful service. So it can’t be primarily about our own fulfillment, and certainly shouldn’t be about our own egos. We preach to build up others — to proclaim, to offer, to invite, to comfort, to challenge, to help. Not to control: that would be self-focused. Not to cajole: that would be self-serving. Not to show off: that would be self-glorifying. We preach to serve.
3. We preach because the Gospel is thrillingly good news. The mission of the preacher is not merely to communicate ancient truths relevantly. God has given us a message. And that message is labeled as good news for a reason. The great sweep of redemption history involves the intra-trinitarian mission to rescue fallen creatures and restore them to full glorious fellowship with a loving and giving God.
It is not some sort of heavenly Plan B to make the best of a bad situation and try to restore some semblance of respectability to a God who is on the throne but attacked on every side. When time is wrapped up and we have the benefit of both hindsight and eternal perspective, we will be gasping at the multi-colored and multi-faceted dazzling beauty of what God has done in Christ.
We get to proclaim that now!
4. We preach because people need to hear the Gospel. There are only two types of people in the world. Those who need to hear the gospel and be saved, and those who need to hear the gospel as they are being saved. While we may get beyond simplistic and trite presentations of some scaled down version of the good news to some sort of legal loophole, we never move beyond the gospel in its glorious richness.
What God is like, what He has done for us in Christ, how much we need Him, redeclaration of total dependence — justification, regeneration, reconciliation, adoption, fellowship. Preaching Christ so that people will trust in Him. This is something our people can’t hear enough about. They need the hope, the faith and the love that are only found in the Gospel. We are not called to give tips for successful independent living or to offer life coaching team talks. We are called to preach Christ and Him crucified, that all may trust in Him, know Him, enjoy Him.
Gospel preaching, why wouldn’t we want to do that?
5. We preach to build God’s kingdom. There will always be a tension here. Ever since Genesis 3 we have all been deeply infected with the death-virus of godlikeness. We will default to independence in any way conceivable (including self-driven ministry), and our flesh will always look to build our own kingdom. But we are called to join Christ in His work of building the church. It is not about our pursuit of godlikeness, but about our humble service for the God we desire to honor and please.
There are so many factors to keep in mind in this pursuit. God often works more slowly than we’d prefer. So we need patience. God can transform people and communities in miraculously short order. So we need to expect great things. God can choose to build His work in ways we don’t expect. So we need to trust in His providence. God can choose to bless the work of others, even in our neighborhood (after all, the earth is the Lord’s, including your neighborhood!) So we choose to esteem others. We are not building our own kingdom. We are privileged to participate in building His.
6. We preach to equip others for ministry. No matter how great you may be, you are nowhere near as great as your whole congregation equipped, enthused and launched into ministry. I’m thankful that many churches have grasped that ministry is not wrapped up in a clerical class. God has given gifted people to the church to equip believers for their ministries. I long to see the day when an entire church is so gripped by God, so equipped by God, and so excited by God that they are like an army of effective witnesses, of empowering encouragers, of heartfelt worshippers, spilling out into the rest of the church and the community and the world.
We preach to that end. We don’t preach to look ministerial. We don’t preach to build our own reputation. We preach to serve Him, and we preach to serve them.
7. We preach because we can’t help but speak of Someone so wonderful. This should be the case. Sadly, over time, it can easily cease being the case. We can end up in a role, in a ritual, in a rut. We end up preaching because that is what we do, or that is how we pay bills, or that is how we get respect. We feel we should. We feel it is expected. We know it is needed. And somewhere along the way we fail to notice the fog gathering between our hearts and heaven.
A growing spiritual complacency is the proverbial frog in boiling water syndrome for preachers. God can become familiar and distant at the same time. He can become a concept, a set of truths, a source of identity for us, but somehow fade from being the captivating One who so fills our hearts and lives that we can’t help but speak of Him. May we all have a constant stream of newly engaged folks in our churches — constant reminders of the simple reality that a captivated heart can’t help but spill out.
8. We preach because we care about the people to whom we preach. Again, this should be the case. Sadly, over time, our flesh can easily co-opt the other-centeredness of ministry and turn it to a self-serving project. We can become preachers doing so to gain respect, to gain credibility, to gain attention, to gain a following, to gain influence. The gain increases and the give becomes token. Of course we can talk about giving — we can frame the ministry in self-sacrificial and spiritual terms. But really?
Just as spiritual fog can go undetected for too long, so a growing self-absorption is hard to spot in the mirror. Our flesh will always justify a subtle pursuit of godlike status. So we must keep walking with the Lord and ask Him to search us and know us. Ask Him to underline the motivations that drive what may look like a gloriously giving ministry. The true biblical preacher is shaped by the Word they preach, and they join God in giving of themselves as they preach it to others. The blessings are hard to quantify, but they must be the by-product, not the goal.