Preaching and the ministry
“What did you think of the sermon this morning/afternoon?” “Did you get anything out of it?” Such questions are frequently asked after a church service, and often reflect a desire to be fed by the preaching of the Word. These questions are concerned with discerning the effectiveness of the preacher in delivering and presenting the truth of God’s Word. In his wisdom the Lord God uses the preacher to accomplish this task.
Believing comes through the hearing of the gospel. As Paul says, “How can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14) The message and the messenger are very closely related. When applied to God’s Word we cannot go so far as to say that the medium is the message – as Marshall McLuhan, a leading prophet of the electronic age, once stated. God’s Word, of course, is much greater than the messenger. Nevertheless, just as the message of the gospel is tremendously important, so is the messenger. The preacher has to make sure that he brings God’s Word in such a way that the people get the nutrition and the full flavour of the Word. He must be totally in tune with God’s message in the way that he proclaims it and lives it. He must be a living example of God’s Word. Through his actions the people must see God.
A lot has been written about the importance of preaching as such, but the importance of the minister as preacher has often been overlooked or underemphasized. For this reason, the topic of this article will be the importance of the messenger in delivering God’s Word to his people. Specifically, the qualities of an effective messenger will be examined.
In the first place, the preacher must be humble. One of the things that made the apostle Paul an effective preacher was his awareness of his own sinfulness. When he preached, he included himself in his message. He was not effective because of his eloquent delivery, but because he came with the fullness of God’s Word and because he included himself in the message. He did not just apply it to others, but also to himself. In his preaching he did not string some general theological truths together, but applied the message to his own heart and to the heart of his hearers. His message wasn’t a dry doctrinal message.
For example, when he calls himself the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:16) he does not make some general statement that can be applied to all men. No, he is specific and gives many examples in his letters of what a sinful man he was before his conversion, and of the continual struggles he faces with regard to his own sins. He does not present himself as someone who is superior to others, but as someone who is just as much in need of redemption as his readers. Paul clearly demonstrates that a preacher, like his fellow believers, is a person who continues to struggle with his sins.
This does not mean that the preacher’s life, and his struggles against sin, should become the focus of the message. God’s Word must always be central. But it does mean that the preacher is always aware that his message applies not only to his listeners, but also to himself. In this way, he must demonstrate humility and an awareness of his own shortcomings.
The preacher must also be joyful. Preaching must be a great delight; the preacher must show that he is excited about the message he is bringing. After all, he imparts a tremendous message of joy and hope. It is not for nothing that Bible speaks about the beautiful feet of those “who bring good news” (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15). It is a great privilege to be able to tell the people of the riches God gives them through no merit of their own. It is exciting to tell the people about God’s greatness and glory, and how they may share in it all.
Preachers are men of different temperaments and personalities. The one is not able to show his emotions as well as another, and so not everyone can share his joy in the same way as others. But that is no excuse for blandness and apparent indifference. God’s Word is wonderful news that must be reflected in the preaching. It must come across loud and clear.
A preacher owes it to God’s people to send them home with joy in their hearts, and with a sense of awe concerning God’s greatness and glory. God’s Word changes people from the inside out. The Holy Spirit works through the preaching to heal and renew, to comfort and encourage. If that is not done then the people will go home feeling empty and disappointed. They must look forward to going to church every Sunday so that they can be reinvigorated and have all the nutrients from God’s Word necessary to make it through another week.
The first thing that the apostle Peter did after the Pentecost was to preach. He told the hearers how God’s Word was fulfilled through Jesus Christ, and how He triumphed over death (Acts 2:32). He told them that He ascended on high and that He is now seated at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33-35). Peter’s joy about these wonderful events was so infectious that “everyone was filled with awe” (Acts 2:43) and they praised God for his wonderful deeds (Acts 2:47).
As you can see, although the message of God’s Word is vitally important, so is the messenger. The qualities that he displays can either enhance or detract from the presentation of God’s message. Ministers of the Word need to exhibit humility and joy as they present the glorious message of salvation so that their work produces thankfulness and joy. If it does not produce thankful and joyful hearts then there is either something wrong with the hearer or with the preacher. And it had better not be the fault of the preacher.