It still doesn’t feel quite natural to refer to myself as a preacher. I know we’re all supposed to be preachers. I know the calling I’ve had since I was a little boy. It still seems like a job that’s well beyond my ability. It seems arrogant or presumptuous of me to take that title, even though I do believe that God gave it to me. Now I dare to go further and speak of preaching as if I had some idea what I’m talking about. My few rough sermons hardly qualify me to opine on what one ought to preach. I suppose the urge to do so anyway is part of the drive that compels me to preach in the first place.
The word “preach” has come to have negative connotations in our society. I’m using it because it is the word God used when he spoke to me, but even I find it a little uncomfortable. I hope that is not for the same reasons I suspect society has come to shun it. The word has become associated with condemnation. To be “preached at” is to have your faults spread out before you with no room for defense. No doubt some “preaching” is out of line, but I think the deeper problem is that we need to have our sins exposed and we rebel against the truth.
I think of it in terms of delivery more than content. When I listen to someone who has learned to present a preacher affectation, I find myself tuning out. I see an actor, not a preacher. There’s a difference between being a good speaker and being a good performer. A good speaker I can appreciate. A good performer I might enjoy in a theater but not in front of a congregation. I’m looking for substance rather than style. I do not doubt that my bias in this area has kept me from receiving truth from honest men who happen to have been trained that way.
Having said that, I have not been one to be overly critical of delivery. That’s a good thing, because if I am to be judged by my own standard, I would be found seriously lacking. My brief experience has helped me to form or to firm some ideas of what is most important for a preacher. There are two things, intertwined and equally important. On one hand to always speak only the truth, and on the other to always call sinners to repentance.
If I am afraid of any aspect of my calling, it is to be found misrepresenting His Word. On many occasions I have approached a passage of scripture with an idea of what it says and how to present it only to learn upon further examination that I was wrong. In many cases I did so because others had shared it with me that way. Sometimes I even find it difficult to let go of the way I see it, but I must preach the Word faithfully. Twisting it to get my message across is unacceptable, even if the message itself is truth. From time to time I may use a passage that is part of a greater thought to illustrate a point, but even this makes me uncomfortable. The Bible is not a series of disconnected phrases that can be mixed and matched to suit our pleasure. It is a collection of historical accounts, poetry, and letters, each intended to communicate thoughts and ideas in whole. We would not cut a novel or a letter from a loved one into tiny pieces, reading them in random order and perhaps leaving parts entirely unread. We would read it from start to finish. Letters we would typically read all in one setting. Obviously this doesn’t fit well into the usual format of a sermon or the time allotted to deliver it, but I try at the very least to explain the larger context from which a passage is taken. I am sure my methods will mature with time, though at present I’m not sure how best to communicate the truth of the whole when I only have time for a very small part. I find myself falling into typical patterns even while feeling dissatisfied that I have done so.
Then there is the heart of our message. The truth of the Good News that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. As long as I even suspect that one person hearing my voice has not committed to Jesus as Lord, how can I but repeat the call? The same Bible that teaches me about Heaven also teaches me about Hell. If I believe that Hell is real and that anyone might go there, what kind of monster would I be to turn my back on them? The love that binds me to my Lord compels me to call out, “Stop! Repent and turn to Jesus before your time comes!” So it is that whatever I preach about, I almost always bring it back to the message of repentance, and the more I think on it the less frequent it is likely to be that I will ever speak without that plea.