I’ve sat under many a wimpy preacher. Men who cared more about their style and presentation than they did the Word of Truth. Those who carefully polished every expression, every word so as to receive a certain reaction. Men with a 100 different ties in their closet so that they never had to wear the same one on any given Sunday throughout the year (truth!). Men who didn’t understand the Father, were afraid of the Lion of Judah and unfamiliar with the Holy Spirit but who preached anyway (though not well). Those who thought it novel to use entertainment as a mode of presenting God’s Word. I’ve sat under men who cared more about the Sunday dinner waiting upstairs in the “Fellowship Hall” than they did piercing the hearts of men; those who were apt to dismiss quickly if their favorite team was playing that afternoon. I’ve listened to men who stepped up to the pulpit promising to proclaim the Word of truth only to let us know how very afraid of it they were themselves (“I never ask for wisdom. To me that is just plain dumb. You know what is going to happen: you’re going to hurt! I’m not that brave.”) but who were quick to try to hold others to standards they themselves couldn’t even begin to comprehend.
I’m tired of such preaching. I’m tired of most of what passes as preaching today. I’m tired of having my time wasted. More importantly, I’m tired of having the Word of God profaned by those who claim to know it but don’t and who twist it to their, and our, destruction. I’m sick of sitting down to worship only to have my time with my Lord invaded by frivolity, by endless stories that draw no one to holiness, by sickening attempts to tie God’s truth into modern culture (want the truth? The Word of God doesn’t need to be made relevant to modern culture; that “culture” will fade away. Only God’s Word lasts; it is IT that we bend to, not it to us.) All that such preachers are doing is feeding the flesh and that never helped anyone live a holy life here or make it to heaven in the end.
I’m not a preacher. I’m not even a man so I’m not even qualified to preach. Thus, I can’t speak to preachers man-to-man (nor would I want to try). Yet, I’ve seen these things first hand (over and over) and I must speak out. Lest you think it is a problem limited to one congregation or to one denomination, allow me to digress a moment: I’ve lived a rather vagabondish-life (not my desire) and because of that, I’ve been a member of many, many different congregations and several different denominations. Rarely have I found a church which doesn’t suffer from these problems with their preacher(s). It is a problem that is caused by widespread ignorance of the Word of God.
I have a son who has been called to preach. It is my desire that he be as unlike the men I’ve referred to as night is from day. That is his desire, also. He immerses himself in the Word and he prays. He seeks out proven writers (frequently the older ones) and listens to the bold-for-the-truth preachers and he learns. For now, he is safe. But what will happen “out there” when he is among others who are “called” to preach? When he is sitting at the foot of men who are supposed to be teaching him to understand God’s Word? I’ve thought much about this. I’ve spent much time in prayer over it. I’ve known young men who went to seminary who came out pretty worthless and I’ve known men who have never formally studied who handled well the Word of Truth. With that in mind (and with much prayer), I offer the following advice both to my son and to others whom it might help:
Before you decide to preach, find out if you can do anything else (anything else at all) and if you can, do it for you haven’t been called by God to open His Word to His people or to the lost. If you are sure that preaching is where your heart is, get a heart check by those who know you best; perhaps they see something in you that you yourself cannot see that might disqualify you or delay you from being immediately qualified. Most importantly seek God’s will on it; if He has called you, He will prepare you and you will have no doubts and neither will anyone else.
Once you are sure, bury yourself in God’s Word and in prayer (which you ought to have been doing all along); if you don’t hunger for the Word and for time with God in prayer, now is the time that you must go to Him and ask forgiveness and seek His help. Learn to be with God in praise, in thanksgiving, in petition. Understand that intercessory prayer, while important, is the lesser of prayers; the greater is simply praising God and asking to know Him. Pray that God will bring you to the point where you simply want to be in His presence as often as you can and as long as you can (and that you come to desire to return there again and again). Beg Him to open His Word to you so that you might have knowledge of It, might understand It and have wisdom to live It, teach It and apply Its truth in all ways. Ask for spiritual eyes that you might see as God sees and a heart that loves, and hates, as His. Ask to be made holy, godly and righteous (and the wisdom to know the difference). Teach your mind to rest on the things of God. Spend the night watches meditating on His Word, meet the morning with Him in prayer.
Seek to be Spirit-led rather than seminary-taught. While seminary isn’t necessarily wrong (and can be very right if you find a God-directed one), a bad one can get in the way of you knowing and understanding God’s Truth. In that case it is far better to immerse yourself in the Word while asking that the Holy Spirit teach you (as He has many other preachers who have blessed this world). Who better to teach God’s Truth than the Author Himself? As you study, pray. As you pray, study. Pray that the prompting and probing of the Holy Spirit might be a reality to you always. Let your sins break your heart. Let the fact that you are a sinner with sinful desires continue to break your heart. Let the sins of the world, of the church, bring you to tears. Most of all, pray that your heart might be pierced through that your Lord isn’t everywhere honored (as He so richly deserves). Pray to love Truth and to hate every false way. Doing this will equip you better than those who boast far more credentials than you but who pray much less. (But if God sends you to seminary-GO!)
While preparing to study, while studying, after studying while preparing to teach, go to God and ask Him to break you and take all worldly desires from you (that of money, success, popularity, the flesh); ask that He do whatever it takes to make you a man after His own heart. Pray for spiritual discernment (for there is little among preachers today). Repent daily of not loving Him enough (for surely you don’t nor can you ever do so), repent daily of known and unknown sins; let nothing come between you and Him. Ask God to bring you to the place where He is not the number one thing that you desire but all that you desire (so that you could live without anyone or anything else if only you have Him). Let all of your relationships bow to yours with God (for then you will be a fit son, a loving husband, a good father, a kind friend, a servant to all and an able expositor of the Word of Truth).
When the time to preach arises resist all urges to incorporate worldly ways into your message; that has long been done and God’s people have suffered much from it. Keep the Cross central in your message always; begin there and end there. Pray before and during preparation and then pray again before you preach; ask the Lord to know His Truth and to be wise in your words, pray that hearts might be readied and be pierced, and be bold in your denunciation of sin. Pray to be kept humble. Preach only to please God. Your human listeners are not who you are ultimately preaching for; your Audience is an Audience of One. God Himself is the One Whom you must please with every single word that comes out of your mouth (and out of your heart). You will give an account of all that you have said in the pulpit (for we all will give account); preach that you might face Him having preached to honor Him.
Preach every sermon as if it will be your last to deliver or your people’s last to hear for it well may be. When your preaching is over, pray that God might use the words that you have delivered to His glory alone (and never to yours). Pray for humility as you gather words of praise from those who have been blessed; pray for wisdom and discernment as you gather criticism from those whose ears weren’t itched by your message. Then, as others go off to play and to talk of things of the world, retreat to a place where you can be alone with your Lord and seek His face and prepare for the time when you once again are used by Him to open the Word of life to those to whom He has drawn. Then, and then alone, will you be an able preacher.