We want you to be our minister. We don’t care about your accent, where you grew up, from what seminary you graduated, whether you like football or ride a motorcycle. We are anxious to hear you preach God’s Word, and happy to be enlightened, encouraged, challenged and convicted. We want to be brought into the presence of God in the whole of worship, but in your preaching as well.
How would you describe the preaching you listen to on Sunday morning? What seems to be most important to the one to whom you are listening? For ministers, these might be questions they don’t want their people to be asked, for fear that they might not get a response they would like. However, every good minister should want to know how they are coming across; what do their people see as their great concern and purpose in their preaching?
I look at old sermon notes sometimes and feel sorry for some who have had to hear me, and marvel at their patience to put up with me. In almost 50 years of being ordained, besides hearing myself preach, I’ve listened to a lot of other ministers. Whether it was attending a conference, or the old cassette tapes we used to buy and borrow, or listening on the web now, I’ve heard a lot of preaching. Presently serving on a Pastor Search Committee for a church plant, listening to sermons has made me wonder where the man was coming from, to whom I was listening. Add to this my history of listening, I came up with seven categories for ministers in their preaching; there may be more, but I offer seven dominate traits.
- The minister who is fascinated with theology – Please don’t misunderstand; orthodox, biblical theology is very important. We have our creeds and confessions, and they are wonderful and needed. We want our seminaries to train our men to be faithful and thoroughly grounded in God’s Truth; however, the Sunday sermon is not a seminary or Bible college classroom. It is not a time for the minister to deliver what may be a very correct doctrinal sermon addressing all the different opinions and theories, and dazzling us with his knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, but not feeding the souls of his people.
Sir, we are thankful for your knowledge, but we need our souls fed; we are pilgrims, and if you are going to preach doctrine, then you need to apply it to where we live and our walk with the Lord, and do it with love for our souls and enthusiasm for the God who gave you that knowledge; not doctrine for its own sake.
- The minister who is fascinated with preaching – God calls a man to preach. He uses his God given gifts, and one day he becomes preoccupied with the instrument of preaching that God gave, more than he is with God and the congregation. This can happen very subtly and happen to good men who may be unaware and would never desire such. Recently a young man was suggested as a candidate for our church plant, so some listened to his sermon. It was theologically correct, but his style seemed like what I had heard from other young men from this particular school. It takes many of them forty minutes to say what could be said in fifteen, and the holy tone they speak in seems to be the same, and must be modeled after some minister they all admire. Understand, I appreciate a forty-minute sermon; that’s not the problem; but hearing a man repeat himself so much, speaking painstakingly slow, and doing it with a copied style, was painful. (Another member of our committee turned up the speed, the only way he could comfortably listen, but I warned him not to do so, because we can’t adjust the speed on anyone we call). At one point in the sermon, the young man totally lost his place and began speaking in his own voice and at his own speed, explaining about losing his place, which only proved that what we were hearing was not really the man.
Sir, be yourself and not someone else. Talk to us from the pulpit like you would talk to us in ordinary conversation. We are glad you like to preach, but we want you to love Christ and us, above preaching. We want you to be natural with us; we can watch a movie to see an actor playing someone else. Don’t preach, imagining your fellow ministers hearing you on the web, or seeing yourself as one of the elite preachers at the last seminary conference you attended; no, enter our world and love us and be real with us, like Jesus was.
- The minister who is fascinated with popularity – There is nothing wrong with a minister being popular; the problem comes if he doesn’t know how to handle it. I’ve known a number of popular ministers, and many of them ended up letting their pride get the best of them, and then preaching and everything else became about them. Given our culture’s desire for heroes and for entertainment, it’s easy for this to happen in a minister with the right personality. Sometimes this shows itself in the minster trying to be sensational or dramatic or funny to create an approving response from the congregation. Once he starts believing his own press, the congregation is going to suffer, because now preaching is a whole lot about him, and God never intended it to be that way.
Sir, we have no problem with you being popular; we hope you can maybe write some books someday; but our Hero is the Triune God, not you, and you are His messenger to exalt Him and feed our souls. If you become popular, we will be happy for it, and we will invite others to come hear you preach, but not so they can be dazzled and entertained, but so that they will be drawn to Christ.
- The minister who is fascinated with himself – This minister doesn’t have the personality to be popular, but he tries really hard to be that, with novel or cute things said in preaching, but his sermons are pretty mediocre. His primary concern is not bringing his congregation to see the glory of God and have them meet with Him, but instead, it is about him as head of the organization. Often, he is a control freak, so his sermons are designed to keep the status quo as long as it allows him to get his way with everything that he cares about that goes on in the church. He does all the thinking for church leadership and hand picks the church’s officers. For him, preaching is just another thing to do to keep the organization running smoothly.
Sir, we don’t want you to be our minister. You will eventually kill the church and by then probably “feel called” to go to some other church. We need a man who is part of the leadership with other men, not who sees himself as the CEO. We want a warm hearted pastor who puts others before himself; we want a real shepherd and servant leader. We want a man who is preoccupied with Christ, Who is the King and Head of His Church.
- The minister who is fascinated with security – In the last generation, this seemed to be more of a problem with liberal pastors; they were ministers in congregations that were historically conservative, so they would use the language of scripture and correct doctrine, but their people didn’t realize that they meant something different from what was historically confessed. Why did they do this? Well, it’s always nice to have a job and get paid at the end of the month. Now, this seems to be a problem in conservative churches; conservative ministers busy “unpacking” this and that and saying the word “grace” in every other sentence, but are cowards in many ways. In the interest of “evangelism,” certain subjects aren’t addressed from the pulpit; they are not like Jesus and the Apostles, who addressed controversial subjects. Creative excuses are given for why church discipline isn’t practiced. These are ministers without manhood, but they still get their check at the end of the month.
Sir, we don’t want you to be our minister. We want someone who will preach and practice the whole counsel of God. We aren’t looking for a coward to lead us, but one who is “strong and courageous,” because we know the Lord is with us. We want His truth preached in humility and love, but without you picking and choosing what you think is acceptable. We know there’s a lot of pressure that goes with your work, but it’s what you signed up for. If you repent, we will love you and be with you in all the challenges of confessing Christ in this growingly hostile culture. For the sake of our souls and the honor of Christ, please find job security and your sense of worth in some other occupation if you are unwilling to be faithful in this one.
- The minister who is fascinated with the world – All of us struggle with the world and denying ourselves, to follow Christ. But there are some ministers who see the ministry as a job, so they will be free to pursue their other interests; interests that are legitimate, but not the calling of the minister. We can be consumed with the world in things that are not inherently sinful. Whether it be golf, studying classical literature, politics, or something else, the ministry for these men supports their main interest. With regard to the ministry, they are lazy and often ill prepared to preach when Sunday morning comes; and when it does, they are probably using someone else’s material. Their sermons are often dull, without the passion of a heart that is acquainted with the truth. They fail to lead in shepherding the flock, and are insensitive and detached from those hurting in the congregation. Of course, we want our minister to enjoy other things in God’s world, and even have many interests; but if he is called to the ministry, we want this to be his priority, after his wife and family.
Sir, we do not want you to be our minister. Either repent or find another occupation where you can concentrate on your main interest; maybe you could get a job at the country club, teach classical literature at a school, work for a congressional office, but you shouldn’t be a minister.
- The minister who is fascinated with God our Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and in being God’s faithful servant to Christ’s own. He is not who the previous six types are. He is zealous for the truth and lovingly proclaims the whole counsel of God to His people as best he can. He is not without his faults, but acknowledges his failures and seeks forgiveness; he and God’s people know that while neither is perfect, yet they still pursue being faithful. He sees preaching as God’s instrument to bring others to a saving knowledge of Christ. He studies diligently and seeks to speak simply, in order to be well understood by others, as Christ did. His heart is burning to proclaim God’s Word because it is His Word, and he is a chosen instrument for this task. He strives to make relevant and searching application of God’s truth to those listening. He bravely risks preaching that may offend some, but still humbly and lovingly proclaims the truth anyway. If he loses his employment, well, that is ultimately God’s responsibility to provide for him and his family. He appreciates those who thank him for his labors, but if such is lacking, he is not deterred from his calling and responsibility. He is fascinated with the Triune God and being faithful to God’s calling.
Sir, will you be our minister? We want you to be our minister. We don’t care about your accent, where you grew up, from what seminary you graduated, whether you like football or ride a motorcycle. We are anxious to hear you preach God’s Word, and happy to be enlightened, encouraged, challenged and convicted. We want to be brought into the presence of God in the whole of worship, but in your preaching as well. We desire to support you and your family, and to love you as family, because that is what we are in Christ. We are excited about the future and all that God is going to be pleased to do through your preaching and through the outreach of all our people working together. Welcome!!
Pete Hurst is a Minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; he lives in Virginia. This article is used with permission.