How to Preach the Word in a World of Words
- Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Americans expect results—yesterday. We’re interested in what works and if it doesn’t immediately work, throw it out! If preaching doesn’t appear to be accomplishing anything in the lives of its audience, we question its power. Maybe, we think, it’s time to trade the preacher in on a newer, shinier model! (While we’re at it, why don’t we trade his worn Bible for a brand new self-help book from Dr. Phil?)
For some tired preachers who labor Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year, the results may seem too long in coming. But preachers and teachers must wait as well as work. Samuel Shoemaker said, “It is easy to grow skeptical about sermons when you realize how many people there are who have been listening to them for ten, twenty, forty years yet seem little changed by what they have heard. But do not belittle the indirect and unconscious influence of preaching, nor the possible effect upon someone seeking or in need who happened to come to church that day.”
Our patient God takes the time to do all things well—including changing us. “In season and out of season” wasn’t a pious platitude written in an ivory tower. Paul was profoundly conscious of the wickedness of the heart and the stubbornness of the will. To keep on preaching the Word, to keep on listening to it, requires patience.
The preacher patiently wields the word as a surgeon stands and plies his scalpel, the better to preach incisively. Like a surgeon, the preacher must sometimes wound in order to heal. The Word probes mind and heart (Hebrews 4:12), which can be an unpleasant experience. The Word challenges, the Word warns. But, if “faithful are the wounds of a friend,” the Word is the best friend we have.
But carefully, preacher! We wield scalpels, not clubs. Though the preacher must cut to the heart, he dare not crush it. He may believe he is contending for the truth when he is being merely contentious; he may confuse butchery with bravery.
The sword of the Spirit is double-edged: It cuts preachers as well as pew-sitters. Paul leaves those who might preach carelessly, heedless of their own sin, with a warning: Having preached to others, watch out! Don’t miss the boat yourself! (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27). Preachers are sinners too, and the grace they help themselves to they must share with their churches as well.
It’s hard to preach, it’s hard to listen, but that’s nothing new. Every generation has produced its sloth in this regard. I’m amused by Chrysostom’s sermon title, A Criticism of Those Who Have Abandoned the Religious Service and Who Have Gone Off to the Chariot Races and the Theatres (amused, that is, until my own flock races off to the lake or the ballgame!). There’s always something brighter and shinier out there—some amusement, some new philosophy, some magnetic ism. Ears have always itched; eyes have always wandered. Shoemaker is right. In such an environment, it is indeed easy to grow skeptical about preaching.
So why do we continue to plant a person behind a pulpit to speak and pour people into seats to hear? To paraphrase the aging apostle, the voice of experience, There’s always a better deal on a used god out there, Timothy. But don’t let it throw you. They may have the sizzle, but we’ve got the steak (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3-5).
The preacher is only human. He’s a sinner and his notes are stained with last night’s cherry pie. The congregation is restless and weary and easily distracted. But a treasure chest lays open between them. We may not realize it. We often forget it. But one word of truth spoken in monotone is worth more than all the bright, flashing lies put together. The weakest, weariest preacher is privileged to speak a word that can make all other words hollow. He gets to talk about a life worth living, a death we don’t have to be afraid of. His people get to hear about the love above all loves and the grace that always runs downhill to where we need it.
Sure, it’s a bore sometimes! So’s a peanut butter sandwich. So’s a long marriage on a rainy Wednesday morning. So, I suppose a rainbow would be if it hung around long enough. But there’s nourishment in the sandwich, security in the relationship, and wonder in God’s bow. Why preach? Why listen?
Why, for the wonder of it all!
Gary D. Robinson is preaching minister of the Church of Christ in Conneautville, Pa. His congregation patiently endures the infusing of his sermons with comic book lore.
Copyright BreakPoint with Chuck Colson. Used with Permission. Please make a donation to help continue the Christian worldview ministry of “BreakPoint” and the Wilberforce Forum. Donate online or call 1-877-322-5527
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