My assignment is about preachers and preaching. After serving as an apprentice preacher for the last 48 years I now have the opportunity to display how little I know about the subject. But I would not trade any of these past few 48 years for anything.
If I had it to do all over again, I would do it again. The only thing I would do differently is that I would be a little more straightforward with some brethren who thought I was a little too straightforward to begin with! I hope that I might through this department make some small contribution to help my younger preaching brethren along the way.
More than Making a Living
I recently ran across this story in an old journal called The Preacher’s Magazine (London, 1892.) It seems that a preacher moved to a new location. Running up on a villager he asked the fellow what his occupation was. “I am the village rat-catcher,” the man replied: “and what are you?” “Well,” the preacher said, “I am the new preacher in the village;” whereupon the rat catcher made this observation, “we must all get a living somehow.”
Mr. Spurgeon told this story to his preaching students, and made the following observation: “If a man’s one object is to get a living, let him by all means take to rat-catching than to preaching. It is probably legitimate to kill vermin to earn your bread, but it would be prostitution of the sacred ministry to pursue it with that design. It is to be feared that not a few look upon the work in that light; and in their cases it is to the loss of the church that they did not buy a ferret and a couple of dogs and seek small game under the floors of barns and stables, they would have cleared men’s houses of pests; but as it is they are themselves the pest of the house of the Lord. Preach with a single eye to the glory of God or else hold your tongue.”
This is a worthy observation about preaching. It brings to mind the quote, “Don’t preach unless you have to!”
My one fear in taking on this assignment is that some might think this department is for preachers only and skip over to the next page; or that these thoughts are so authoritative that they will immediately and harshly judge their local preacher. I hope, good friends, you will refrain from either activity. So, let me share a few pointers I have gleaned along the way; and share them with you for the edification of the church.
A Key to Longevity
I would give great emphasis to the thought that a preacher should never stop studying about preaching as long as he preaches; and he certainly ought not to quit preparing fresh sermons. One could spend fifty, sixty, seventy years in the pulpit and never exhaust the GRAND OLD BOOK!
Now I have heard some criticize a preacher’s longevity with a congregation being accounted for because of what he did NOT preach. More often than not, a long ministry with a congregation can be so accounted because he always had something to say that was beneficial to those who felt he had the eternal interest of their souls in mind.
Some may find it easier to “move on” than to prepare new sermons. From time to time we will write about sermon preparation. All of us who preach could stand to improve our introductions and conclusions; and the first thought might be to get them closer together in the sermon!
No preacher should ever want to be labeled as an “issue oriented” preacher, but he should never be afraid to preach on any issue that is bothersome to the cause of Christ. Evil and error were attacked by our Lord and his apostles, and we are not doing our job if the devil does not feel threatened by our work.
When I was a young man I remember my granddaddy using the expression “hobby riders” to describe meddling trouble-making preachers down in the mountains. Those horsemen were good at splitting churches, dividing brethren, and making disciples for themselves.
It is sad that we can read some journals (paper and paperless) and never catch the first glimpse of the Cross. We should never equate soundness with making a noise over a matter that in the end is one of human judgment. Don’t waste your pulpit time!
The Preacher’s Ministry is Preaching
More times than not, the critic of a preacher will not know diddlysquat about preaching. Their expectation of the man is based on some preconceived idea of what his work is all about. I have often wondered over the years how some who know so much about preaching are going to escape their accountability for not preaching. Those whose sole interest in life is “rat-catching” ought not to be considered coinsurers of sermons, and correctional officers in charge of overseeing the preacher.
A word of advice to young preachers: avoid any so-called “ministry” that makes the prime focus of your work “social” work. Any congregation that is large enough to engage a “staff” of ministers is also large enough to have capable elders and deacons to oversee and carry on what they are hiring “ministers” to do! Do the work of an evangelist!
Our goal in preaching is given by the Lord Himself to the apostle Paul: “to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive the forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Jesus Christ” (Acts 26:18).
Let us not discount the need for preachers and preaching. Paul outlines some important truths for us in Romans 10. Men must call upon the name of the Lord to be saved! They will not call if they do not believe. They will not believe unless they hear. They will not hear without a preacher.