What Does the Preacher Want the Church to Know?
After a long, dry sermon, the preacher announced that he wished to meet with the church board following the close of the service. The first man to arrive at the meeting was a stranger. He had visited the services that morning, and the preacher had never laid eyes on him before. The preacher said, “You misunderstood my announcement. This is a meeting of the board.” “I know,” said the man, “but if there is anyone here more bored than I am, I’d like to meet him.”
Preacher are notorious for boring people to death. This past summer, RJ and Wil went to spend some time with Tammy’s parents. RJ, on his way out of the service, told the preacher where his grandparents are members, “You preach a lot better than my daddy.” Keith said, “RJ, why do I preach a lot better than your daddy?” RJ innocently said, “Because, you kept me awake. My daddy always puts me to sleep.” “Out of the mouths of babes.”
While we preachers bear the brunt of a lot of teasing, what we do is the most important work on the face of the earth. There is nothing else on this earth I could see myself doing fulltime than helping people understand the will of God.
Tonight, we want to think about that fulltime work of helping people understand the will of God and ask, “What Does the Preacher Want the Church to Know?”
The Work of the Preacher is Preaching
I know that sounds fundamental, but we need to say it. We need to say that because in the modern world many other things have been dumped on preachers. Think of all the extra-biblical duties which have been placed on professional preachers.
We’ll come back to that point in a minute, because we need to think of those expectations on preachers which aren’t biblical, but first, let’s think about the biblical job description of a preacher. I know of no better place to understand the work of preaching than 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, for in those Epistles Paul is writing to young preachers to guide them.
What do the Pastoral Epistles say about the role of the preacher?
- The preacher is to put truth in front of believers: “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed” (1 Tim 3:6).
- Preachers are to be an example for others: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 3:12).
- Preachers are to devote themselves to public teaching and exhortation (1 Tim 3:13).
- Preachers are to charge the rich in this world about how to live: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17).
- Preachers are to share in the suffering of the gospel: “Do not be shamed of the testimony about our Lord, not of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (2 Tim 1:18).
- Preachers are to entrust truth to faithful people that they might share truth with others: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2).
- Preachers find a long description of their work in 2 Timothy 4:1-5.
- Preachers are to appoint elders (Tit 1:5).
- The Epistle to Titus continues with much the same instructions Paul gives to Timothy.
Brethren, right there is what God wants preachers to be doing. Honestly, in the modern church, we have pilled so much other stuff on top of preachers that they often can’t do what God wants them to do.
Charles Hodge, a popular speaker on brotherhood lectureships, wrote, “What is a preacher? What does he do? This is one gigantic problem! He is to be a good organizer, public relations expert, professional counselor, great promoter and fun raiser, wonderful with youth, superior teacher, eloquent and entertaining speaker, excellent ‘mixer,’ handy errand boy, experienced business executive, bookworm, substitute song leader, official ‘prayer-leader,’ both ‘pusher’ and ‘puller.” In other words, a preacher wears ‘too many hats.’ He spreads himself ‘too thin’. . . . He is to have ‘30 years of experience’ at the age of 25!”
Brethren, preparing lessons to preach takes considerable time. To prepare a lesson, I generally consult three or four translations, the Greek New Testament, several Greek resources, maybe a couple commentaries, and several good illustration books. That’s several hours of work. Then, all that material must be placed in a sermon which will impact the hearts of people while staying faithful to the text. After that’s done, there’s memorization and study of the outline. Honestly—and this is going to shock many of you—it’s not at all uncommon to spend 35 hours or so a week just in lesson preparation.
Preachers Aren’t Perfect
Preachers aren’t perfect; in fact, no one is perfect—“What then? Are the Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:9-10, 23).
When preachers fall, it damages the church’s reputation; there is no doubt about that. Yet, many people want to know, “How could that happen to a preacher?”
The simple answer is that he’s a mortal and a sinner just like everyone else. Yes, preachers need to strive their utmost to live by what they preach. Yet, I must confess that’s a struggle, for I stand here week after week and preach the ideal, but I know perfectly well I often don’t live up to that ideal. Because we are sinners, we preachers need as much love and forgiveness as anyone else: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
Preachers Need Direction
Often, people have expectations of preachers and preachers fail to live up to those expectations and good people become frustrated and hurt. The problem, quite frankly, is that if you ask 300 Christians what a preacher’s work is, you’re likely to get 300 different answers. Charles Hodge, whom I’ve already mentioned, wrote this about the expectations of preachers: “A preacher must have: The strength of an ox, the tenacity of a bull, The daring of a lion, The wisdom of an owl, The harmlessness of a dove, The industry of a beaver, The gentleness of a sheep, The versatility of a chameleon, The vision of an eagle, The hide of a rhinoceros, The perspective of a giraffe, The disposition of an angel, The endurance of a camel, The bounce of a kangaroo, The resignation of an incurable, The loyalty of an apostle, The faithfulness of a prophet, The tenderness of a shepherd, The fervency of an evangelist, The devotion of a mother. And then—he wouldn’t please everybody!”
If you need something from a preacher, you need to tell us. “Who knows a person’s thought except the spirit of that person, which is in him?” (1 Cor 2:11). If you let us know, I don’t know many preachers who wouldn’t try their utmost to help. But, we need that direction.
A Preacher’s Salary is Wages Earned, Not Charity
1 Corinthians 9:7-14.
Preachers understand well that they’re never going to get rich preaching. We would have chosen other careers if that were the case.
Yet, it is often true that what congregations pay preachers say much about what that congregations thinks about preaching. I’ve known preachers who were making next to nothing. Before we moved here, I had to pay all of my own Social Security (15.3%), so I was bringing home well under $300 a week for a full week’s work. That church, quite honestly, couldn’t pay much more than that, and I understood that when I took the work, but, at the same time, how many people in that congregation would have been content to bring home $260 a week?
If a congregation wants to value, not so much the preacher as a person, but the ministry of the Word, they will provide a good salary, as you brethren do.
A Preacher’s Role is Proclaiming the Gospel, Not Enforcing It
The measure of a good preacher is not how much the church grows or how many people respond to the Gospel but how faithful he is in preaching the Gospel.
To Ezekiel, the Lord says, “You, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, the wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that personal shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul” (Ezek 33:7-9). “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor 1:17). God wasn’t going to judge either Ezekiel or Paul by how many people responded to the message they proclaimed, but he was going to judge them on how faithfully they proclaimed that message.
Sometimes people complain that the preacher isn’t bringing in enough people. Preachers should never bring a single person to know Jesus. The Word of God he proclaims should be bringing people to know Jesus. I know that’s largely a matter of semantics, but I fear we often lose sight that our role is the preaching of the gospel. If we preach the gospel faithfully, the word will bring forth fruit as it falls on good and honest hearts. James Denney made this point eloquently when he said, “You cannot at the same time give the impression that you are a great preacher and that Jesus Christ is a great Savior.” It’s about Jesus, and my role is to turn attention to him and to his will.
This sermon has not at all been an attempt to get back at a single congregation or a single person. The basic outline for this sermon came from someone else. Yet, I do believe we have neglected the restoration of biblical Christianity as it relates to the biblical role of the preacher.
Brethren, if we work together doing what God has outlined for us to be doing, the gates of hell will quiver and fall! What will we do? Will we follow Jesus and work together for his glory and honor?