The Preaching Secret

And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he never prophesied good unto me, but always evil: the same is Micaiah the son of Imla.
~ 2 Chronicles 18:7

How to not lose friends and anger people.

If you set about the preaching task with determined assiduity, it’s going to happen. You are going to say something that upsets someone, and maybe many someones. After this happens, if you still have the ginger to declare, “Thus saith the Lord,” it will happen again. Just to be clear, I’m not referring to times when the preacher goes off script and pours out offenses on the congregation. I’m talking about when you are preaching a hard passage. If you are determined to preach what the Bible says, as the Bible says it, you will run into hard passages.

Preaching Hard Passages

By hard passages, I don’t mean passages hard to understand like Ezekiel’s wheels. I’m referring to passages that are hard to explain publicly for different reasons. Some passages are hard because they deal with delicate or sensitive subject matter, like some of the laws in Leviticus, events in Judges, the strange woman in Proverbs, the entire Song of Solomon, Isaiah’s ministry of nakedness, etc. Some passages are hard because they deal with a widely debated subject that the congregation could be divided over, like marriage and divorce, women in church, etc. Some passages are hard because they tip sacred cows and rebuke cherished traditions. Some passages are hard because they address some recent or historic problem within the congregation. Varying circumstances could make a passage hard to preach in that place and time. Of course, you have to allow for the outliers, like when you’ve preached some genealogy from the Chronicles and Sister Sally stomps out in a huff afterward. Sometimes you won’t know a passage is hard until after you’ve preached it, because it will step right on someone’s pet sin and they might accuse you of spying on them.

We need to know how to preach such passages without upsetting people. That’s the secret, but we will get to that in a moment. First, let’s think about some wrong ways of preaching hard passages that you’ve probably seen before.

  1. Evasive maneuvers
    This strategy simply tries to avoid hard passages. If you’re a random, shotgun preacher, you can pick your way around the Bible and avoid any passages that will cause trouble. The downside to this strategy is that any length of time using it will stunt the growth of the congregation by leaving them malnourished in the Word, and it will also not fulfill the ministry you’ve been called to for preaching all the counsel of God.
  2. Selective hearing
    This strategy relies on parallel passages in the Bible. Sometimes a passage has a parallel passage in another book and sometimes the parallel doesn’t have the troubling word or phrase. The preacher can select the innocuous version and still deal with the general subject while acting like that other passage doesn’t exist. One of the downsides here is that the congregation probably knows that other passage is there and their interest was piqued when they discovered the subject, because they wanted to know how the troubling parts were to be dealt with. The preacher who doesn’t even acknowledge the difficulty loses credibility with the congregation and his argument is weakened.
  3. Bait and switch
    This strategy involves warming up the crowd with strong expressions of how controversial your subject matter is and how hated you will be for daring to utter it publicly. You have to sell it, “Y’all will probably run me out of here after you hear what I have to say.” That’s the bait and the switch comes in when the preacher proceeds to preach something that congregation well knows and believes. Not only will they not be upset, but they will be cheering him on. The biggest downside here is that you’re not being honest. You’ve made it out like you’re playing the man before Bloody Mary, but really you’ve only preached to the choir and might get the fellowship hall named after you.
  4. The revelation
    This strategy involves properly setting up a message likely to offend by lengthy explanation that the preacher has been given a message from God and has no choice but to deliver it. Various phrases are employed: God gave me this message, God told me to preach this, the Lord laid this on my heart, etc. Effort is made to let the preacher off the hook for delivering a hard message because he was only the messenger. There are a few downsides here. The blow is never really softened in these situations and the preacher only sought to cover himself for a message designed to upset. Aside from this, the preacher has purchased cover for himself at the expense of preaching serious error. When he prefaces his message by saying God has given it to him in some way, he has denied the sufficiency of Scripture and the closed canon. He has dared to speak revelation to the people and the looming threats of Revelation 22:18-19 hover near.

What is the Secret?

Now we’ve come to it. How do we preach hard passages without upsetting people? First of all, we must preach hard passages if we are to preach all Scripture, which is the duty of the faithful preacher. We must understand there is no getting out of it. Second, preaching the whole counsel of God will upset people. Have you read the Bible? God’s Word tends to upset people and when people are upset, they tend to lash out. Since there is a great gulf and they’re unable to grab and pillory God himself, they will do the next best thing. They will seize his preacher and do what they will with him. Read the lives of the prophets and apostles. People got upset when those men spoke the Word of God.

We do want to avoid unnecessary offense and we do want to help the people we preach to. What is the secret for preaching hard passages in the most helpful way? The answer is: expository preaching. Expository preaching is preaching the meaning of a passage in its context. Topical exposition is preaching a subject from selected passages that explains those passages in their context. Sequential exposition is going verse-by-verse through a single passage in a sermon, or through a book in a series of messages. Expository preaching seeks to make the meaning of God’s words plain. Expository preaching endeavors to show people what God has said and meant in the words he inspired to be written.

People will still disagree and get upset with the preaching of hard passages. However, when you demonstrate care for God’s Word and care for their souls in carefully expounding the Spirit’s words, you will have credibility and do the congregation good in the long run.

Coffee May Be Hot

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
~ 1 Corinthians 1:22

At least, I hope so.

Before iced coffee was a thing, there was a spilled cup of coffee and a lawsuit. Aside from millions of dollars, the lawsuit resulted in a more prominent warning label on cups: “Caution: Handle With Care I’m Hot.” The very cup that was spilled had a warning imprinted on it: “Caution: Contents Hot.” That warning was deemed insufficient, so a larger, bolder, more obvious warning had to be used.

I am referring to the 1994 Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants suit, perhaps one of the most famous product liability civil suits. The lawsuit became the darling of politicians stumping for tort reform and decrying frivolous lawsuits. It has been the subject of special reports and the butt of many jokes. The woman in the case was severely burned. She was hospitalized for over a week, followed by two years of treatments for her injuries. Nothing about the burn injuries suffered by a woman in her seventies is funny. It’s awful.

McDonald’s refused all attempts at settlement out of court, resulting in the court case and the large compensatory and punitive damages awarded, which made this case so famous. McDonald’s had not broken any laws that governed their coffee service. The case was about whether the restaurant chain had taken sufficient measures to ensure the safety of their customers and the extent of their liability in personal injuries resulting from the use of their product. That’s where the warning labels come in and warning labels can be funny.

Some labels seem too absurd to be true. Some signs make us wonder about the story behind them. You know somebody tried the ridiculous thing the sign tells you not to do. The packaging for iron-on transfers for t-shirts often includes a warning about not ironing clothes while wearing them. Somebody, somewhere, probably did that.

Not the Problem

Warning signs can be helpful, can be the result of self-protection, and sometimes can be an attempt to fix a problem without dealing with the real problem. The picture with this post is of a hand-written sign taped to the inside of the door of a small pedestrian bathroom in an office building. The author of the sign attempted to give instructions on locking and unlocking the door. The instructions were somehow not sufficiently clear, so trouble was taken to manually revise the verbiage.

I don’t know the story behind this sign, but it amuses me to speculate about it. The door knob has a push-button lock. It is not a safety knob, so a key is required on the outside to unlock it. My three-year-old can operate push-button locks, so why do we need written instructions for adults? Most push-button locks operate only one way. You push the button in to lock the door and twist the knob to unlock the door and open it.

This particular doorknob is a little different. If you push the button straight in, it operates like all normal push-button locks. However, if you push the button in and turn the button to the right, the door will open when you turn the knob from the inside, but will stay locked. You then have to use the key to open it from the outside. I’m sure this happened quite often and is why the sign was made, put on the door, and later revised for clarity. I imagine the author of the sign grew tired of going to the door and finding it locked, though no one was inside. He probably also tired of interruptions when people came to him about the locked door. He wearied of hearing everyone’s complaints about the door, so he made a sign.

That sign, after the edits, may have purchased him some peace, but does it really address the problem. What is the real problem? Office workers complaining? Needing to use the facility and finding the door locked? While those are problems, they are not the real problem. The real problem is that door knob. The additional feature of turning the button to keep it locked is unnecessary and makes the lock confusing to operate, or at least easy to leave locked by mistake. The sign is not a real solution. It’s like covering a hole in the wall with a picture. A real solution to the real problem would be to change the doorknob to one that works the way that is needed.

Churches and Pastors

If some piece of furniture is in the way and people are always bumping into it, you could paint a yellow boundary around it on the floor and hang up signs warning people to be careful. This would reduce the number of bumps and if anyone still bumps into it, you can at least rest easy knowing you’ve warned them about it and it’s their fault if they get a bruise. Or, you could step back and try to get to the root of the problem. Maybe the piece doesn’t need to be there and could be moved out of the way. Maybe the walking traffic could be re-routed some other way away from it.

Problems abound in churches and too often we attempt artificial fixes like signs, and not the kind usually accompanied by wonders. Maybe the spirit of our services is too dull, our evangelism is lagging, our people are apathetic, the attendance is down, participation is down, etc. We are doing nothing more in these cases than tacking up a sign when we just spruce up the service with lively songs, make emotional appeals for more giving, or implement programs. Churches love to hang a program over every hole in the wall.

As pastors, it’s easy to be so wearied that we just want the problems to go away. It’s tempting to find quick fixes or go ahead and grease that squeaky wheel. Pastors need to be able to get to the root of problems and address them appropriately. Maybe evangelism is waning because the church has drifted away from a Gospel focus and centeredness. The answer is not a shiny new evangelism program to get everybody excited, but rather a return to Christ and him crucified. Maybe the church needs a clearer Gospel presentation and permeation of everything the church does.

It would have been easy for the Apostles to just want the complaining to stop in the problem with the widows in the Jerusalem church. Instead, they got to the root of the problem and addressed it at the root in Acts 6:1-6. Rather than just easing their headaches, the Apostles led the church in actions resulting in the growth and better health of the church (Acts 6:7). The real problem was not that widows were being neglected, though that was a problem. The real problem was not that Hellenists were complaining. The real problem was that the Apostles were so overworked with what they were trying to do, the congregation was not being served as it needed to be (Acts 6:1-2). The solution was to appoint other men over that matter and free up the Apostles to focus on the ministry they were called to (Acts 6:3-4).

Just because somebody is complaining about something doesn’t mean that something is a problem. Pastors must not only deal with symptoms and hang up warning signs. Pastors must get to the root of problems and address them in ways most beneficial to the long term health and growth of the church. Pastors must also remember they have been given to the church to mature the saints and equip them for serving (Ephesians 4:11-12). Sometimes we really do need to be careful because the coffee is hot, or the knife is sharp. Sometimes we need to change the doorknob, or rearrange the furniture. We always need to find the real problem and apply the appropriate solution that keeps the church being about what the church is supposed to be about.

This is Your First Rodeo

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
~ Acts 20:28

How to take your first church

After preaching a while, you will be called to your first church. You will not be ready. Depending on the quality of mentoring, some of you are more not ready than others. Before being called, the church, or someone from the church, will ask you questions and those questions can be anything. It’s hard for me to help prepare you for that other than to say be ready for anything. If the church went through a bad experience with their previous pastor, you will probably be asked a number of odd questions that are mostly designed to make sure you are not like him. If the church’s previous pastor was unhealthily venerated, the church will ask you many questions mostly designed to ensure you are just like him.

Be ready for anything is the best I can do from this side of the process. You cannot control what a church says or does in communicating with a prospective pastor. But, you can control what you do in the process and you should remember you are interviewing the church just as much as they are interviewing you.

The Questions You Should Consider Asking

I am not promising the definitive list. I’m sure others with more wisdom and experience can add to this list. My goal is only to list several things you should consider about a church before you accept the call. And we’re off.

  1. Church Documents
    You will want to ask for a copy of their church documents, i.e., articles of faith, constitution and bylaws, covenant, etc. You need to learn about their doctrine and practice. If the church doesn’t have these documents, or if they’re vague or very brief, you will need to ask questions to find out the sort of things that would be in such documents, if they had them.
  2. Church Officers and Staff
    You need to know every position the church has and who holds those positions. You need to know if those are paid positions and what the responsibilities of those persons are. In this area, you need to know things like the handling of finances, cleaning and property maintenance, etc.
  3. Church Membership
    You need to know how many members the church has. You need to know how faithful those members are to the services and such. You need to know if the church maintains members who are not in the area. You need to know the church’s position on attendance and how problems in this area are addressed. You need to know if the church has any special needs members, such as elderly, shut-in, nursing home, etc.
  4. Church Calendar
    You need to know what a typical year in the life of the church looks like. What events does the church have? What special services?
  5. Church Missions
    You need to know what missionaries/ministries the church supports financially. You need to know what outreach the church does locally.
  6. Church Expectation
    You need to know what the church expects of a pastor. Their expectations may be biblical or not, but you need to know what those are. This would include anything and everything they expect a pastor will do.
  7. Church Pay
    You need to know the salary they’re offering, how it will be paid, etc. If they have a parsonage, you will also need to know their expectations regarding it.
  8. Church Problems
    You need to know if there are any current problems within the church membership or between them and other churches. You need to know what you’re stepping into as much as possible.
  9. Previous Pastor
    You need to know about the previous pastor and what happened with him. I am not suggesting nosiness, but you need to find out relevant things to pastoring this church.

No Perfect Churches

Again, that list is not the definitive list, but it is a list that touches on many areas and discussing these things will probably bring out what you most need to know. It’s better to eliminate surprises as much as possible. Some things that come up will need an immediate conversation, while others you just need to be aware of. Answers to these questions will affect the way you do things. I am not suggesting that any bump in the road here means you have to run away. Remember that things are not always what they seem and there are no perfect churches, or perfect pastors.

Preach the Word

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering an doctrine. ~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering an doctrine. ~ 2 Timothy 4:2

It’s not complicated. Preaching the word means taking the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and preaching it.

Expository, or expositional preaching is a common phrase today. It’s trendy now to refer to oneself as an expository preacher, but what does it mean? I’ve seen numerous definitions and heard sermons that were called expository that didn’t seem to be expository at all. If a sermon is not expository it doesn’t mean it’s a bad sermon, but only that it is not expository. There are many different sermon types and all should involve at least some exposition.

What exposition meaneth, I wot not

Exposition is not a church-word. The word is not found in the Bible anywhere. It’s not a word we hear everyday outside of church but it enjoys much use in the world. Exposition is, “A comprehensive description and explanation of an idea or theory.” 1 The definition is general but it is commonly applied to a text, where exposition is a comprehensive explanation of the text under consideration, e.g. a work of literature, scientific text, etc. Whenever someone explains a policy, terms and conditions statement, or a contract to you, they have done an exposition of that document.

Exposition is a comprehensive explanation of some source material, which means it is tied to the material it is explaining and the purpose of the exposition is to make the meaning of the material clear and understandable. If you sought an agent to buy a life insurance policy, you would expect that agent to explain the policy to you so that you understood it and could make an intelligent decision whether to buy it or not. If the agent came to your home, took out the policy, and proceeded to talk about the weather, sports, politics, and his cute little yorkie at home, he would not be doing his job and you should find another agent.

Expository preaching is taking a text passage from the Bible and giving a comprehensive explanation of what the passage means. Expository preaching is not thinking up a sermon and then finding a text to preach it from. Expository preaching is not starting with a text and then stringing together a bunch of bumper sticker slogans. Expository preaching is not telling jokes and stories. Expository preaching is preaching that is tied to the Bible. Whatever else may be involved, an expository sermon should make clear the meaning of the text in its original intent.

What meaneth this bleating of the sheep?

When you listen to talks on preaching or read books and articles on preaching, you will notice that the most time is spent on illustrations and applications. This is true even of much material that is supposed to be about expository preaching. It seems in settings where Q&A is had about preaching, a lot of the questions tend to the issues of application and illustrations. It seems impossible to think or talk about preaching without getting back to these two.

If we are to “preach the word,” we can easily overdo application and illustration. My chief complaint with much of modern preaching is that it is way too focused on application and illustration and not concerned enough about explaining the meaning of the passage in front of them comprehensively. I once heard about a preacher who brought a live sheep on the platform to “illustrate” something about sheep from his sermon text. Of course, he laughed later about the giggles elicited from the crowd as the sheep did things that sheep tend to at that time, temperature, and barometric pressure. This sermon was not preached on a farm but in an urban setting. I grant that most of the people had probably never seen a sheep in person, but I question if it truly enriched their understanding of the Bible rather than distracting and entertaining their minds. If a preacher cannot use his words to explain what needs to be known about a sheep from the passage, I question if they have the gift of teaching necessary for a pastor (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24).

Illustration and application are parts of good preaching. However, they are places where caution must be exercised. They present easy opportunities to become untethered from the text. Once untethered from the text, we are no longer preaching the word. R. Kent Hughes addressed this issue succinctly in the video embedded below. Consider what he has to say.

Notes:

  1. exposition. Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/exposition (accessed July 26, 2016).

The Call

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. ~ Acts 13:2

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. ~ Acts 13:2

Is there a call to ministry? How do I know if I’m called?

Before a man can discern God’s calling on his life, he must discern whether there is any such calling at all. Does God call specific men and equip specific men for specific work? Many assume that He does, but not all assume this. I talked with a man who was a member of a Baptist church who told me he had never seen any such call in the Bible. He went on to say about preachers, “I can preach as good as anybody I’ve ever heard.”

A lot of the material that deals with the call to ministry assumes there is such a call and spends most of the time dealing with discerning that call in ourselves or others. I don’t want to start with that assumption. I want to examine that assumption. I believe God does call specific men for specific work, but is that actually found in Scripture?

Does God call certain men to ministry?

A study of Scripture yields at least five reasons to believe that God calls men to ministry. These are not necessarily in order of importance but are worth consideration.

  1. Generally speaking, we have examples in both the Old and New Testament that God calls men to certain tasks. Think of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, Peter, Matthew, and Paul. These men were called by God to specific tasks. Those tasks were different in each case, but nevertheless they all began by God calling and equipping them for their task.

    This point by itself doesn’t go very far to prove that God has called this man or that man today, but it does show a precedent that God has called men to certain tasks and gives us a reasonable expectation that He has continued to do so. In other words, the Scriptures illustrate that in God’s normal administration of history He appoints men to specific works.

  2. Another reason is the objective existence of the Lord’s church. The church was established by Jesus during His earthly ministry. It wasn’t the invention of man, nor did it just happen to come into existence. He purposely established the church, equipped it, and charged it with carrying out His work in the world. The church is His design and He designed the offices of the church and that at least says there must be men to fill those offices. This at least requires men dedicated to that work, not to mention being qualified for it. This point of itself does not prove a call to preach but, when taken with the others, it does contribute.
  3. When considering the church body, chapters like Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 teach us there is a diversity of both gifts and offices. They also show that not all have the same gifts nor do all hold the same offices. There is a distinction between different members of the body. Along with the other gifts and offices, there are some who have the gift and office of preaching and teaching and some who do not.
  4. These same passages mentioned above make clear not only the distinction between different members but that the Holy Spirit makes that difference. He distributes the gifts and offices as He wills. So in Acts 13:2 the Spirit instructed the church to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work He had called them to. In Acts 20:28 Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders saying that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (elders/pastors/preachers) in the church. Paul spoke of God putting him into ministry and committing the Gospel to him (1 Timothy 1:11-12; Colossians 1:25). Jesus said it is the Lord of the Harvest that sends forth laborers into the field.
  5. The fact that the New Testament gives qualifications for the office of elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-10) presupposes those who desire and/or claim to be called to the work. The church at Ephesus tried those who claimed to be apostles. So the church has a responsibility to judge those who claim to be called to preach.

These points are worth considering. The Bible teaches there is a call and that call comes from God. In the Old Testament, God complained of many who self-identified as prophets but He declared He never sent them. The author of Hebrews also pointed out the calling of Jesus that He was made a high priest and that calling was essential (Hebrews 5:4).

How do I discern God’s call?

This question is a little more subjective because people have different experiences. In other words, the way this call is manifested or discerned is often different between men. Think of the different experiences of Jonah and Saul of Tarsus. Should we look to their experience as a standard for testing the call of others? Certainly not, but the principle is the same that God called them. So let’s stick to things a little more objective in discerning God’s call. Once again, here are five observations to help in discerning God’s call.

  1. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:1 of a “desire” for the office (the work) of a pastor. That primary office/work is defined as giving oneself continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Ac 6:4), feeding the sheep (Ac 20:28), watching for souls (He 13:17), taking the oversight (1 Pe 5:2), etc. The desire for this work is a very strong desire. The word can be used in a negative context to refer to coveting after. The point is that coveting is not a passing thought and neither is the desire to preach. It is a continual, lasting desire. It’s not a flash in the pan or a vapor over the pot. It sticks with you over time.
  2. The passages that speak directly to the work of preaching, teaching, and pastoring impose a weight upon you. You feel them as speaking directly to you and perhaps even feel some shame that you are not fulfilling them straightaway.
  3. If you believe you are being called then you probably have already had some opportunities to speak and/or teach the Word to others. Be careful not to make too much or too little of those times. However, you should consider how you were received and whether or not your words seemed to be a blessing or help to others.

    An essential qualification for this work is aptness to teach (2 Timothy 2:24). Aptness refers to the ability or competence to teach. While a preacher can and should grow in his ability to teach over time, he must have some ability to start with. There is simply no way to know this on your own without the evaluation of others.

  4. Look for confirmation through the church you’re a member of. God’s calling does not come to an individual apart from the church. Consider Acts 13:1-4 how the Spirit worked through the church and Barnabas and Saul. The church is particularly charged with discerning the gifts and callings in the body and should there be an ordination, the church is responsible to discern the candidate to meet the qualifications. The church should not be looked upon as a hindrance to discerning calling but rather as an indispensable part of it.
  5. The last one I would mention is that if you are being called, opportunities should be opening to you to minister the Word. These could come in a lot of ways but we do need to look at our lives in context and discern what the Lord is doing as best we can.

Conclusion bonus

I want to add one thing as a sort of bonus help to those who are wrestling with this issue. If you’re wrestling with whether or not God is calling you to a greater service, let me ask this question: What service are you doing now? The Scripture principle is that when we have served faithfully in smaller things, God gives us greater things (Matthew 25:21-23). If you have not been faithfully serving in lesser, behind-the-scenes roles and you do not already have a heart for service regardless of recognition, then it is very unlikely you’re being called to ministry.

Ministry is service (Acts 6:1-4) and a lot of the hard work required in ministry is not done before an audience. The call to ministry is a call to pour yourself out to God for others and it garners little applause (2 Corinthians 12:15). Count the cost as fully as you can and it will help you discern if you are called.

Preacher Dreams

"And great multitudes were gathered together unto him" ~ Matthew 13:2

“And great multitudes were gathered together unto him” ~ Matthew 13:2

I once dreamed I was Charles Spurgeon and … not really.

Ecclesiastes has a way of working on you. I recently finished preaching through the book in our services. The book tends to make me think about everything much more. I think about life, death, youth, old age, working, living, laughing, a good steak, a good book, what has been, and what will be. I’ve generally been thinking about what it means to live all aspects of life while being subject to the vanity of the creation.

Many find the book pessimistic and cynical, but this is a case where rather than pessimistic, the book is realistic and rather than cynical, the book is honest. Solomon strikingly illustrates that life under the sun is subject to vanity and there are two main ways to navigate it—wisdom and folly. He also continually exhorts us to joy and strains all his might to teach us that true joy in this life can only be had through wisdom and it is a gift from God.

It doesn’t last

Solomon exposes the emptiness of the things we prize and pursue. They are empty because they cannot bring any lasting satisfaction to us. They cannot bring lasting satisfaction because they themselves do not last. Even if you achieve your most cherished dream, where do you go from there?

Solomon poured himself into every endeavor he could think of until they were all exhausted of enjoyment. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Were a few more going to make a difference? He feasted after a fashion the earth has not known. Was more wine or more steaks going to make a difference? He built the temple, palace, and houses for all his wives. Was it the next building project that was going to bring satisfaction? He had servants to cater to him and every need met lavishly. Were a few more servants or more clothes going to bring contentment?

So, as a preacher, don’t get caught up in thinking bigger and better about the church. Some preachers dream of pastoring that large church with great facilities. Some want to build from the ground up to outstrip all the other churches. Even if all your preaching dreams come true, it will not last and will probably be less than you hoped it would be.

The inimitable Mister Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon is known as one of the most successful preachers of all time. He was so successful that just about every theological flavor out there tries to claim he was one of them. He died somewhat young while his mind was still sharp and his preaching still effective. Had he gone on to live long enough, his mind would have slipped and his preaching deteriorated along with health and body. Had he continued on pastoring, the church would eventually diminish.

Solomon identifies waning popularity as a vanity of this creation (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16). Even Jesus’s popularity died off (John 6:66). Some of John the Baptist’s disciples were upset when his ministry began to decline (John 3:26). John gave the best answer to this reality (John 3:27, 30).

A pastor is called to love and feed Christ’s sheep. That is what you should focus most on, whether those sheep be few or many. It is reported that a young preacher once lamented to Spurgeon that his church was so small. Spurgeon wisely told him he would think them plenty numerous when he had to give account for them before Christ’s judgment seat.

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