The Privilege of Preaching

Preaching isn’t easy.

That last sentence might qualify me as Captain Obvious with some. While it may be lacking in sophistication and nuance, it is nevertheless an extremely true statement.

If for no other reason, we know preaching is difficult because of regularity associated with it. I heard one preacher recently comment on this aspect by saying, “Preaching is difficult because you know Sunday comes around every three days.”

Sure, it only seems that way but anyone who preaches on a regular basis understands what he was trying to say.

But the real danger related to the difficulty of preaching is not so much that we’re overwhelmed by it. Instead the danger for those who preach is that we stop seeing it for what it truly is.

Because more than anything else, preaching is a privilege. An amazing privilege.

Paul could hardly believe that he was allowed the privilege of preaching. In Ephesians 3:8, he writes, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,” It was by grace, not his own merit, that he was able to preach the message of the greatness of Christ.

  • Maybe I need to post that verse over my desk in my regular place of study or on top of the monitor I use to prepare my messages.
  • Maybe I need someone to text me that verse during those weeks in which I conduct a funeral as well as prepare three biblical sermons.
  • Maybe I need my church to include those words on the paycheck I cash each week when I complain that I’m underpaid for the labor of my ministry.

And maybe you are underpaid as you labor in preaching and teaching but only receive a half portion of honor (1 Timothy 5:17). But stop for a minute and think about this. God uses the content of your sermons to bring to salvation those who place their faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:21). What an incredible thought! Heaven will be populated in part because of sermons like yours. And you will share that glorious space with some only because God anointed and empowered to preach His great gospel.

What is Good Preaching?

Frequently at the end of a worship service, as church members greet their pastor on their way out the door, you hear these words, “Good sermon, preacher!” Sometimes when pastors get together and the conversation turns to church life, a particular pastor is mentioned, and someone says, “Man, he’s a good preacher!”

But what is good preaching?

Some may see it as being entertaining. Perhaps the speaker is a good storyteller or maybe can relate some humorous anecdotes. As a result, someone says, “That was a good sermon.”

Others view it mostly as being educational. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, relates a conversation he had with a member of a church that was liberal in their theology. Mohler asked him, “What should be the goal of a good sermon?” The man was puzzled by the question and replied, “You know, I’ve never really thought about it. I guess something to think about.” No mention was made of life transformation. No mention of catching a spiritual glimpse of the glory of Christ. Just something to think about.

While neither of these are unwarranted, I suggest to you that primarily a good sermon is characterized by faithfulness, both to God and His Word. The images in Scripture of a faithful preacher give us a clearer picture of what preaching is to be.

Preaching as stewardship. A common New Testament image of a preacher is that of a steward. Essentially, a steward is a trustee and dispenser of another person’s property. What a good preacher says every Sunday is not primarily from his own mouth but rather from the mouth of God, heard in the Bible.

In ancient times, a steward had authority entrusted to him. He was not independent but accountable to his master. Typically, he was given responsibility for a household to provide what they needed to eat.

Pastors are seen as stewards in the New Testament (Titus 1:7) Paul viewed his preaching ministry as that of a stewardship (Eph. 3:2-9). While occupying a special role as an apostle, Paul did not just apply this to himself but also to others (1 Cor. 4:1,6).

A steward did not provide for the household out of his own resources. The master of the house gave the provisions, and the steward distributed them. Good preaching is not essentially a matter of the ingenuity of the preacher, his creativity or cleverness. It is a matter of his faithfulness to the text of Scripture, evidenced in 1 Cor. 4:2: “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (ESV).

Preaching as heralding. There is another image in the New Testament of what constitutes good preaching. It is that of a herald.

In biblical times, a herald was a representative of the king. When the king had vital information to communicate to his subjects, he did not post it on the royal website. Instead, he sent his herald to verbally deliver the message. This role carried with it a grave responsibility. To misrepresent the king was an offense punishable by death. Yet the herald also possessed great authority. To ignore him when he spoke the words of the king was tantamount to ignoring the king himself.

As a herald of the Great King, a preacher must take seriously this matter of delivering the message exactly as intended. While a herald might do his best to gain the people’s attention, ultimately he was measured by faithfulness, not his audience’s response.

A good preacher is a steward and a herald, and a congregation’s expectations cannot biblically exceed this. Preachers need not labor under any burden but this: to faithfully deliver the truth of Scripture is good preaching.

Can We Get Better at Preaching?

I read a blog post by a seminary professor that humorously answered this question by saying, “No, of course not. I’m just doing this for the money.”

Why would I suggest that preachers should intentionally strive to get better in their ministry of preaching?

First Timothy was Paul’s letter to his true son in the faith, Timothy. His purpose was to give instruction on church matters and how a pastor like Timothy should conduct himself with and in front of his congregation. There was indecision in Timothy’s heart, perhaps because of his age, and Paul sought to embolden him to give himself to his preaching and teaching ministry. Through concentration and perseverance, young Timothy would make visible progress in his preaching and teaching ministry (v.13).

The call to improvement in preaching has nothing to do with age but everything to do with attitude. (If the relevance of this imperative to improve doesn’t apply to every preacher, then how could we assert that other parts of 1 Timothy are relevant to pastoral ministry today?)

We’ve all heard the old adage about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks. But this is only true if the proverbial old dog thinks that new tricks are only for puppies. An old dog can possess the attitude of a puppy and learn every new trick that he needs to learn.

I remember someone saying this: “The apostle Paul has no category for a preacher who thinks that he has peaked in his preaching ministry.”In other words, Paul’s admonition to Timothy to make progress in his preaching and teaching ministry was a universal imperative and one that every herald of the gospel must take seriously.

The Progress Project

Preachers seem to live Sunday to Sunday. Our lives are defined by those times when God’s people gather and we proclaim to them the riches of Christ Jesus.

I have humorously told my family for years on Saturday nights late in the evening, “I’m about to get my game face on.” But there is a sense in which I feel like an athlete getting ready to compete, or like a solider preparing for battle. Maybe those aren’t the best metaphors but somehow they resonate within me.

HOWEVER…as a preacher of the gospel, I am not defined by any single day but rather all of my days in which I discharge my stewardship as a herald of the truth.

Each day takes on even greater importance when I embrace the call to make continual progress in my preaching. This is what Paul enjoined Timothy to do in 1 Timothy 4:15 with these words:

 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.

The things referred to were listed a few verses earlier: public reading of Scripture, exhortation, and teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). In other words, Paul had in mind Timothy’s ministry of preaching and teaching, which was at the heart of his pastoral ministry.

The practice of these things, the immersion of one’s self in them, and the subsequent progress and growth–it’s not just something one day a week. Rather, it is something we do everyday. That’s why I am maintaining that preachers are defined by every day, not just Sundays.

For this reason, I invite you to join me in the Progress Project, an on-going pursuit of improvement in one’s preaching. Let’s ask ourselves this question everyday: “What can I do today to get better in my preaching?” And at the end of everyday, let’s ask ourselves: “What did I do to improve my ability to study, understand, and share the truth of Scripture to God’s people each week?”