Many pastors hear whispers from disgruntled people in the pew: “I’m not being fed” or “I prefer that church and preacher over there to ours.” Such words and sentiments strike deeply into the heart of every preacher, which is often why the words are whispered in the first place.
But as painful as it is for me to admit, not every sermon of mine has been equally dynamic and soul-riveting. I know there have been times when I could have done a better job on prayerful, diligent sermon preparation. Maybe I really didn’t feed the people like I should have on that Sunday. How can we as preachers deal with this?
I think the only way is to be determined to be prayed up and studied up the next time you’re in the pulpit. Resolve to get up early each day the next week and pray as a man of God should. Then study seriously. Grapple with next Sunday’s text. Turn off the television. Stop surfing the web. Put away your fantasy team rosters. Dig into the Bible. Pull off from your shelves those theology books and commentaries of yours and pore over them. Review your old Bible College / seminary class lecture notes. Accept the challenge of that passage you’ll be preaching and wrestle with its meaning and outline and application.
Approach next Sunday with all the earnestness you can. After all, it’s God’s holy and written Word you are handling! Get serious about it once again, like you did when you first began preaching. Shake off the cobwebs and preach with fire in your soul, accepting the calling from God to be the spokesman to your people in your congregation for Him. Let them see His glory through you as you seriously handle His words. And don’t be afraid of being appropriately direct and bold, assuming nothing with respect to the spiritual condition of the individuals in your congregation. Preach with the authority of God, bearing God’s message, speaking God’s Word and forget about yourself and your own authority.
It was the 17th Century English Puritan pastor Richard Baxter who wrote, “I preached as never sure to preach again, And as a dying man to dying men.” 5 Baxter first published this couplet as part of his poetry book which was 173 pages long and whose Introduction is dated: “London: At the Door of Eternity, August 7, 1681.” Yet he lived ten more years and was imprisoned twice for his zeal and uncompromising stand as a Nonconformist against the Church of England. Baxter is a great example of a man captured by holy zeal, preaching every sermon as if it where his last… because with his poor health and the nation’s government against him, it indeed may have been his final sermon.
If you knew next Sunday would be the last sermon you would ever deliver, how would you approach your prayer time and your study time this week? Why not approach every Sunday the same way? Then, if the critics still whisper… you can face them with your head held high knowing before God you’ve done your best. You know that those whispers are their problem before God, not yours. And that’s a liberating feeling! That’s strength in balance.
There are wrong reasons to desire spiritual leadership, and I recognize some men do enter the ministry for the wrong reasons. Some have an inaccurate, and inflated, assessment of their own spiritual gifts and abilities. Others enter the ministry out of pride, or out of a desire to overcome insecurity, or to seek admiration and popularity by standing up front. Still others do so out of a sense of obligation to please parents, spouse, and friends. Some just need the job (how sad to think that way!).
But it can be right and proper and godly to desire spiritual leadership. Just see the words of 1 Timothy 3:1 “if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do” (NASB). You can seek to enter the ministry in order to bring glory to Jesus Christ. You can enter ministry in answer to the call of God in your life as evidenced by your gifts and abilities that others observe and encourage. You can seek to demonstrate the love of Christ as His ambassador to reach the lost (2 Corinthians 5:14). You can seek to help believers become mature in the faith (Colossians 1:28-29; Ephesians 4:11-12).
In my regular counsel of men regarding their role as pastor, preacher and spiritual leader I try to remind them of these truths. I empathize with them, knowing they have a most difficult task. I try to encourage them. But I don’t let them wallow in self-pity. I try to inspire them and represent the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word with accuracy and wisdom.
There are certain issues that come up time and time again in spiritual leadership. When the ones I addressed above enter your life, I hope you can find this article and re-read it and be inspired.
5 Richard Baxter, “Love Breathing Thanks and Praise” from Poetical Fragments: Heart-Imployment with God and It Self. The Concordant Discord of a Broken-healed Heart: Sorrowing-rejoycing, Fearing-hoping, Dying-living (The Second Edition printed in London for J. Dunton, 1689), Second Part, Number 4, page 30. All 173 pages of the original edition of this book have been digitized by Google from the University of Michigan Library and uploaded to the Internet Archive. It is fascinating to see a 312 year old book written by such a revered man of God and is available to read in its original form by accessing: http://www.archive.org/stream/poeticalfragmen00baxtgoog#page/n7/mode/2up