What should a preacher be known for? What is the purpose of preaching? In a day with multi-media special effects, drama and major productions, preaching and preachers have fallen on hard times. Many churches have canceled Sunday evening services because people won’t come back to hear the preacher. With the glut of TV preachers, the country preacher struggles and suffers when his people compare him to Brother Spit-and-Polish. What’s a called man to do?
First of all, he should remember that preaching is a divine calling. It is not a job. It’s not something you do because you are too stupid to do anything else. H. D. McDonald wrote that “a godly preacher is not the organ of a human fraternity but the oracle of a divine gospel.”
The great expositor G. Campbell Morgan noted, “The only way in which a man can possibly enter the ministry is when the Holy Spirit of God bestows upon him a gift from the Head of the church. By that gift he is made a minister of Jesus Christ.” Paul makes it clear that pastor-teachers are one of God’s gifts to the church. I’ve seen some churches treat pastors like hired hands and pay them like slave labor. It’s obvious by the way many congregations and deacon bodies treat their pastor that they have no clue he is a man with a sovereign commission from God.
If a young pastor forgets his is a divine call, he will soon drop out of seminary discouraged and disillusioned. If a pastor going through mid-life forgets his call, he will leave his wife and kids, his ministry, or both. Anytime the preacher forgets who he is really serving and who he ultimately answers to, he is on the road to ruin and despair.
It is a true statement: preachers don’t get paid for what they do, they get paid for what they put up with. If a farmer had a stubborn mule, he’d kick it, sell it, or kill it. If a preacher has a stubborn church member he’s supposed to listen every time the donkey opens his mouth. Farmers can separate sheep and goats, pastors can’t. More than one preacher has been run off from a country church by an old goat that thought he was a sheep.
Another factor for the preacher to consider is his doctrine and exposition. Preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He cannot chase every whim that comes along. He must not surrender to preaching to felt needs. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Faith doesn’t come by making people feel better about their depravity. Discipleship doesn’t come in cherry flavored, bite sized drops. Preaching is not a mixture of truth, pop psychology, human reasoning, humor, Dear Abby, and a devotional thought.
Preaching is the exposition of Scripture. The Word of God is given to break hearts not tickle ears. Preaching is to be an exhibition of truth. Preaching is telling folks how things really are, not how they want to hear it. Pity the church that wants their preacher to be politically correct and biblically corrupt. The power of the preaching moment is in the content – not the personality.
I once asked Ron Dunn, how long can a man stay at a church as pastor? When do people get tired of hearing the same voice? His response was simple: “If you stay fresh, you can last.” Henry C. Fish put it this way, “Preachers who saturate their sermons with the Word of God never wear out.” A. W. Pink said, “The man who preaches the Word of God has an inexhaustible supply to draw from.”
I have preacher friends who blatantly preach other people’s sermons. They download a sermon from Rick Warren’s website (they used to pull out Joel Gregory’s tapes), listen to it for 30 minutes, and walk into the pulpit – with a word from Rick, but not a word from God. The man who does not spend time with God, wrestling with what his people need from God’s Word for this time in the life of the church is a discredit to the pulpit.
I once served a pastor in another state. He announced that he was preaching on Ephesians. Because I had unpacked and organized his library, I knew what he had on the book. He had been at the church almost a year and had yet to do that – meaning he was preaching old sermons. At that time, I had eight or ten commentaries on Ephesians. I offered to let him borrow some of mine. This was his response, “No, I like to stick with one commentary when I preach through a book.” To be interpreted as, I don’t study, I don’t think, I don’t compare interpretations, I don’t dig in the Word for myself. I just mouth the words of others. During the series, he preached through that commentary almost word for word. Trust me, there was no power!
Nobody is original. If a preacher says he is, he’s deluded. We all glean and borrow. That’s why God gave us commentaries. But the message has to have permeated and penetrated our heart, soul, and mind or else we are giving our people leftovers from someone else’s table. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.”
Finally, I would say preach without fear. Deal with sin as sin. Speak of grace, but don’t be afraid to talk about divine judgment and holy wrath. A preacher will never be at peace with himself if he doesn’t speak the Word. Let the chips fall where they may. You are speaking for the Lord God of heaven and eternity. There are bigger things at stake than what Sister Stick-in-the-Mud thinks. Don’t let the cold water committee douse the fire from heaven. Ask God for a holy unction and anointing from on high. You may get fired, but you’ll hear the applause of heaven. Vance Havner said, “Better be a free preacher who can walk into any pulpit responsible only to God, immune to praise or blame, than a ventriloquist’s dummy.”
Let me leave you with this thought from Augustus H. Strong: “The preacher who talks lightly of sin and punishment does a work strikingly analogous to Satan, when he told Eve, ‘You will not surely die.’”
(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.