In Lewis’ classic retelling of the eschatos (the end times), Aslan tells the children to come “further up and further in” as they prepare to walk into Narnia’s new heaven and new earth. This is the way my training and preparation for ministry has been. As I walked across the stage at Brewton-Parker I thought myself ready to charge the gates of hell. A few years in ministry taught me that I needed more training. If we fast forward to First Baptist Atlanta graduating with an M.Div. from Luther Rice (the best seminary in the world) I was only painfully more aware of my insufficiencies. At least I was in good company. Paul himself felt insufficient for the great and glorious task of preaching the Gospel (2 Corinthians 2:16; 3:5-6).
Some time ago it was apparent that God was once again calling me “further up and further in”. I have returned to seminary, not so much seeking a doctorate, as seeking Himself and His will for my life. A few weeks ago I was on campus for a modular on preaching. I thought I had read anything and everything on preaching; however, the eight textbooks proved I still had a little reading to do. As I sat there through the week and heard from godly men, I became immensely thirsty for Jesus’ will for preaching. Jesus was a preacher (Mark 1:14-15). He preached long and hard. Sometimes He would meet with great results and something with little or no results. Sometimes, like in John 6, many followed Him no more after He preached. Jesus proved that preaching was not about fishing for results. Preaching is about passionately dispersing truth. As you progress from the Gospels into the Acts of the Apostles you get to read sermons from some “unlearned and ignorant” men (Acts 4:13). All the education in the world will not profit the preacher that has not bathed himself in the presence of God. If we haven’t been with Jesus, then His Spirit will not be with us in the pulpit. If you have to choose between zeal without knowledge and knowledge without zeal, chose neither. These men, some fishermen and some scholars, trekked across the Roman Empire preaching. They preached in markets, houses, and synagogues. Their results certainly varied, but their message was constant.
In our society accustomed to the perfect bodies and hair of newscasters, the church has come to expect no less. Preachers do not have television prompters, as least real preachers do not. It is intimidating to be a preacher today. Our members can go home and open their laptops and have access to some of the best and worst preaching in the world within minutes. They may listen to preachers who had 40 hours to work on one sermon, and are unfortunately removed from the gutters of ministry and service. Friend, if you have 40 hours to work on one sermon and nothing comes down you need to look for other lines of work. However, the Bible’s definition of preaching is not about the polish or the performance. The biblical definition of preaching is one of transparency. Please do not miss what I am saying. By Sunday the preacher should be polished and prepared. He should have examined the scriptural passage from every possible angle. He should have done all of his homework in commentaries and the original languages. God have mercy on the preacher trying to preach a sermon that he has not internalized himself. However, your people need to see transparency. It is exhausting trying to guilt people into work, and thankfully that is not our job. The temptation for the preacher is to spend so much time on the performance aspect of preaching that he neglects the weightier aspect of transparency and honesty.
You do not need a new pastor; you need to pray and support the one that you have. Just as young girls are bombarded with superficial images of what society demands they look like, so the preacher is buried under false examples and what church culture expects from pastors. Church, the pastor is not there to entertain you. Transparency is the most difficult thing to accomplish in the act of preaching. Keeping our hands out of our pockets and making constant eye contact is child’s play next to intentionally lowering all our defenses. We are called to stand with prayer induced confidence that we have a word from God. We then must stand boldly proclaiming Truth only because the Word has so deeply convicted us that week as well. Can you see through us yet? Pray for us. We want to be poured out as a drink offering for you. Beloved churches, pray for your pastors. Pray that we learn this new lesson on preaching.