I’ve known preachers who preached on tithing and didn’t tithe. Or they interpreted tithing as 10% after you’ve paid all the bills, taken the kids to Disney, and bought a new car. Their preaching on tithing is watered down and non-confrontational, lest someone challenge them on their interpretation.
Early on in my ministry here, I challenged the church on tithing. I was questioned by a member who demanded to see my giving record. I showed it to him. Then I asked to see his. He was shocked. Apparently, he didn’t believe me when I said I gave more than 10% to the kingdom. The church’s financial records didn’t lie. He never confronted me again.
Some preachers always preach on family, sex, and relationships, not because they are experts, but because they are trying to figure it out themselves. I remember serving as a youth pastor, and our pastor preached on how to have a successful family. One of his kids said to my wife, “He just started playing tape #_ because it’s not how he really is.” We spend more time talking about how to have a happy family than Jesus did. Why? We’d rather pretend that’s the solution to our problems rather than love Jesus with all our heart and THEN love our neighbor as ourselves.
I know preachers who preach on family and marriage who have been in serious counseling with their family and marriage and never once mentioned that. If they were honest about their own struggles, they might help more people. Trying to pretend you are something that you aren’t is a major characteristic of a Pharisee.
One of the funny stories Ron Dunn used to tell is when he was a young preacher and he preached a three point sermon on the family. A man in the church came up to him and asked him if he was married. Ron said, “No sir.” The man asked, “Do you have children?” Ron said, “Obviously not.” The man then said, “When you get married and have children, you’ll throw away that message.” Thirty years later, Ron was back in that church and the man was still there. He asked Ron if he had thrown away the message. Ron replied, “Years ago.”
Some of us need to throw away a few messages. We may be calling people to a level at which we ourselves aren’t willing to live. We may lack power from on high because we aren’t being honest with ourselves or our congregation. John Calvin said, “If ministers wish to do any good, let them labour to form Christ, not to form themselves, in their hearers.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones noted, “I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God.” A good example is the best sermon. The minister’s life is the life of his ministry. We need to spend just as much time studying how to live well as we study how to preach well.
After our first ReFRESH® Conference, a pastor in attendance told me how God had spoken to his heart. He went home that Sunday and confessed to his church that he had been preaching in the flesh. It led to a move of the Holy Spirit among the people. Sunday School teachers started confessing. The honesty of that fine man allowed others to be honest. John Blanchard says, “An exposition of the truth is no substitute for an exhibition of it.” “It’s not enough,” said A. A. Bonar, “to speak faithfully but we must also live faithfully.”
Manley Beasley used to say, “You know more now than you are living up to.” He was right. I know more than I’m living up to right now. Knowing that I’ve been befriended, discipled, and mentored by men like Vance Havner, Manley Beasley, Ron Dunn, Warren Wiersbe, and Tom Elliff, I should be much further along in my sanctification. Sometimes I wonder if I’m making ANY headway. It seems I take three steps forward and four steps backwards at times. If I’m to be a better preacher, my best preaching should be to myself first. E. M. Bounds wrote, “The sermon cannot rise in its life-giving forces above the man. Dead men give out dead sermons, and dead sermons kill.”
I preach two sermons each Sunday. I always feel better about the Sunday night sermon than the Sunday morning sermon. One, it’s less pressure. The folks that come on Sunday nights really want to be there. You aren’t playing church when you come back on Sunday night. Two, I’m more relaxed. I consider Sunday night my “family night” with the church. I can let my hair down and share my heart. I’m not worried about us getting out at a certain time. I’m more myself.
I want to simply suggest a better style of preaching for all of us. Not self-denial, but Spirit directed. Let’s back up, take a deep breath, and realize we are but dust. We are only here for a speck of time, and then, for the most part, our ministry and our sermons are soon forgotten and our libraries sold for pennies on the dollar. As Ron Dunn said in the days of great revival at his church, “The Spirit taught me can He can do more in five minutes than I can do in twenty years.”
Let’s face it—none of us are what we should be. We need to lay down the mask, burn the façade, and realize we are just wretched men, sinners saved by grace, powerless without the Spirit of God reigning and ruling in our lives. Ivor Powell wrote, “Scintillating eloquence may captivate people, but it is the power of God that changes lives.” The only power in preaching is when it is Scriptural and spiritually driven.
Leonard Ravenhill wrote, “We are tired of men in soft raiment and softer speech who use rivers of words with but a spoonful of unction. Unction is God’s knighthood for the soldier-preacher who has wrestled in prayer and gained the victory.”
When the Spirit is reigning, I’m not worried when I break down, shed tears, show passion, or tell folks I don’t have it all together. After all, what God wants is not an expert pulpiteer; He wants an empty vessel He can fill for His glory. Anything less would be less than God designed preaching to be.
How can they hear without a preacher? Better question, could they hear better if we just got God-honest and let the chips fall where they may. If you are still trying to put on some “preacher front” that makes you look like a poster child for your denomination, you’ve missed what’s really important.
And just in case you are wondering what all your preacher friends think of you, don’t worry—they aren’t thinking about you at all. They are too busy worrying about what you are thinking about them!
Here’s your point of reference: JESUS. Everything else is an effort in futility.
Here’s your point of power: The infilling and overflowing of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s your point of evaluation: Was Jesus glorified?
Just a few thoughts from a fellow struggler.
(copyright Michael Catt, All Rights Reserved)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.