Still With the FAQs

I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. ~ Jeremiah 23:21

Here we go again

There are no stupid questions.
– Pert Near Everybody

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Question:
Why can’t God give preachers a message to preach?

Answer:
First, the question is not one of what God can or cannot do as in a question of God’s ability. He’s God. He not only can do but does do everything he is pleased to do. The question is rather one of what God has told us he will do.

Second, If a preacher has received a message from God, then that is a message outside the closed canon of written Scripture. He paints himself a prophet or apostle, who is adding to revelation.

 

Question:
What if a preacher says God gave him a message and all he means by that is he has had the message persistently on his mind and thinks, or hopes, that God has providentially guided him to this message for this moment?

Answer:
Then he ought to say that instead of leading people to believe he has received direct revelation from God in some form.

 

Question:
Why are there so many bad sermons?

Answer:
Because there are so many bad preachers.

 

Question:
Why is God calling so many bad preachers to preach?

Answer:
You need to go home, pour yourself a strong cup of coffee, find a nice comfortable chair in a quiet corner, and think about what you just said.

 

Question:
What is a call to preach?

Answer:
A call to preach is not an extraordinary experience. It is a God given desire and ability to preach joined with a thirst for knowledge, personal holiness, and humble heart of service attested among the congregation the man is joined to and is known by.

 

Question:
What is a bad preacher?

Answer:
How long you have? There are all sorts of bad preachers. For instance, charlatans and teachers of false doctrine are bad preachers. Hypocrites pursuing money and fame are bad preachers. These kinds of preachers are bad preachers the way wolves are bad shepherds. These are what might be called morally bad preachers and that has nothing to do with their abilities in front of a crowd, and usually those types have pretty good abilities in front of a crowd.

If we narrow this down to bad preachers relevant to bad sermons being preached, I can think of a few ways a man might be a bad preacher, but the primary reason is incompetence. A man is a bad preacher if he doesn’t know what preaching is or how to do it. A bad preacher doesn’t know the Bible, or how it works. He doesn’t know how to exegete a passage in its original contextual setting, connect it to the big picture of biblical theology, and explain and apply that passage to a congregation. He doesn’t know how to communicate clearly and have a point to the sermon.

I need to make an important distinction here. In some cases, the above incompetence is due to the fact that the man simply doesn’t have the necessary gifting to preach despite the numerous good qualities he may have. He’s a bad preacher but it’s not his fault and he shouldn’t be in pulpit ministry. In other cases, the incompetence is due to inexperience and ignorance. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and doesn’t know what he needs to know. He probably showed some gifting early and was shoved up front before his inexperience and ignorance could be remediated. He needs training that all preachers are supposed to receive, but far too few do.

 

Question:
What should a preacher do if he lacks knowledge?

Answer:
Not try to compensate for it by yelling. He should give himself fully to praying, studying, teaching, and preaching God’s word.

 

Question:
Shouldn’t we just accept if a man says he’s called to preach and not comment on how well or how poorly he does it?

Answer:
(Stares exegetically)

To Preach a Book: The Eighth Sermon

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

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

The eighth sermon covers Ruth 3:1-5, which is the opening image and inciting action of the fourth scene. The fourth scene closes the story middle and propels us into the story end scenes.

Sermon Introduction

I opened this sermon quoting one of the most famous opening lines in English literature, which is the opening line of Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice. In the novel, Mrs. Bennett is the harried mother of five single daughters who frantically spends her days in trying to secure rich husbands for them in order to save their family from ruin upon the loss of their estate when Mr. Bennett dies. Some see Naomi this way in this part of Ruth, so I connected the two and hoped to show that Naomi was not a Mrs. Bennett.

I recapped the resolution of the previous scene and drew attention to the revelations that moved the story forward. I also reminded how that scene marked the first sign of upward arc change for Naomi. Though the third scene marked a positive value shift in the story, they main tension of the story is still unresolved because they haven’t yet found rest.

I introduced the fourth scene and how Naomi was awakened to the possibility of finding rest through redemption by the kinsman, Boaz. The scene comes at the midpoint of the book where the unifying theme of finding rest is stated and the theme of covenant faithfulness is highlighted. While Naomi’s actions are risky, they are presented in the narrative as actions of faith.

Verses 1-2 Naomi Recognizes Their State

At the end of the harvest season, Naomi acknowledges the blessings they had received, but also recognizes they are still without rest, that settled dwelling in peace and safety with abundant provision. It is not bleak though, because their current state also includes an opportunity because of Boaz their kinsman.

Verses 3-5 Naomi Lays Out a Plan

Naomi instructs Ruth what to do to request redemption from Boaz. The plan is odd to us because we are not familiar with the ancient customs, but we need not read into it anything untoward. Ruth has been presented and maintained as a wisdom character of the virtuous woman. Naomi’s plan and her actions do not conflict with that. When compared with Proverbs, we can note contrasts between Ruth and the strange woman.

Most likely, Ruth had maintained wearing her widow’s garments to this point, which would have marked her as unavailable. Naomi’s instructions to her seem odd on the surface, but she’s probably instructing her to put off her widow’s garments and present herself first and only to Boaz. Ruth responds faithfully and does as instructed.

Sermon Conclusion

Naomi’s actions are seen as faithful because she is responding to the recognition of God’s providence working for their relief. By the end of chapter 1, Naomi was without hope, but this passage in the middle of the book marks the return to hope for Naomi. I concluded by making practical application for our congregation about how we tend to withdraw when we lose hope, and yet faith and hope moves us out of the safety shadow.

Links

You can listen to the eighth sermon here.

Up Next

Next we will look at the ninth sermon in the series

More FAQs

Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard. 
~ Ecclesiastes 9:16

The curmudgeon returns.

Every question has an answer.
– Yiddish Proverb

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Question:
What is bold preaching?

Answer:
It certainly isn’t preaching hard on all the sins and problems of people who are not in front of you. Boldness is openly declaring exactly what the text says to the people in front of you.

 

Question:
What is a high view of Scripture?

Answer:
Viewing Scripture as inspired, inerrant, infallible, finally authoritative, perspicuous, and sufficient.

 

Question:
What is a high view of Scripture in the pulpit?

Answer:
A high view of Scripture in the pulpit is seen by the way the preacher handles the text of God’s word. If he reads it, explains its original contextual meaning, and applies it to the people in front of him, he has a high view. If the preacher already has a sermon and only needs the Bible to find a “text,” he has a low view. If the preacher preaches his convictions and opinions, he has a low view. If the preacher preaches the “truth” without preaching the text, he has a low view. If the preacher preaches verses that he thinks can mean many different things depending on what “doctrine” he wants to preach, he has a low view. If the preacher approaches the Bible as though it were a code book or puzzle where nothing is ever what it is but represents something else, he has a low view. If the preacher relies on tradition, what’s always been done, he has a low view. Well, I could go on.

 

Question:
How long should a sermon be?

Answer:
As long as it takes to clearly preach the text. If a preacher isn’t actually preaching a text, any length of sermon is too long.

 

Question:
Does God give preachers messages?

Answer:
God gave men messages in various ways for around 1,500 years and then he sent his Son to complete the messages he had for man. His Son chose men to entrust with the completion of the messages and the commission of transmitting them to all who would come after them. All the messages God will give are collected in a big thick book that binds them all together in sixty-six books. This book of God’s messages is given to all preachers and comes with explicit instructions to preach the messages God has already and finally given without adding to or taking away from it.

 

Question:
What is the preacher’s job?

Answer:
To give himself fully to study and prayer in order to preach the words God has given so that the lost are commanded to repent and believe and the saved are instructed in the faith so they are equipped to do the work God said they should do and be ready to die.

 

Question:
How can you tell if a preacher is gospel centered?

Answer:
He will actually preach the gospel clearly and consistently.

 

Question:
Shouldn’t a preacher just rely on the Holy Spirit to give him words to say in the moment?

Answer:
(Stares exegetically)

Just the FAQs

Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.
~ Ecclesiastes 9:15

I know the lowercase ‘s’ is redundant and probably grammatically wrong, but the title flows much better with it. Without it, the title sounds as though this post might be something else entirely.

Curmudgeon /kərˈməjən/ /kərˈmədʒən/ A bad-tempered person, especially an old one.
‘Most self-described curmudgeons would probably go along with that, though with the addendum that their resentments and stubborn notions are, to some degree, justified by a brutish, venal world.’
(OED)

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Question:
What sort of a man does it take to be a preacher?

Answer:
Any sort of man will do really, just so long as preaching takes all of him.

 

Question:
How does a preacher prepare a sermon?

Answer:
Sort of like a chuck wagon cook prepares chili. He hunts up all the ingredients and cuts, chops, slices, and dices them. He combines them into a large pot and stirs over a fire for a long time. A very long time.

 

Question:
How does a preacher come up with something to preach?

Answer:
He doesn’t, because if he does, he has failed before he began. God has already given preachers everything they are to preach set down in proper order and organized into sixty-six books. His probably even has an index in the front. Preach that.

 

Question:
How does a preacher come up with illustrations for sermons?

Answer:
He doesn’t. Illustrations are everywhere. He simply has to pay attention.

 

Question:
How does a preacher relate to his hearers?

Answer:
By realizing that at least some of the people, and maybe many, in front of him do not care what he has to say. Don’t waste their time, get to the point, and give them reason to care.

 

Question:
Does a preacher need a degree?

Answer:
Hardly. He not only needs a degree, but he needs all three hundred and sixty.

 

Question:
Should preachers start with a joke and use alliteration?

Answer:
(Stares exegetically)

Too Legit

Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.
~ Proverbs 20:17

No one expected a Paris-Munich fusion R&B duo to hit big in the US in the late 80s, but that’s what happened. The duet named Milli Vanilli was an overnight international sensation and broke into the US market with the same propulsion. They were topping music charts and playing large shows as their fame exploded. Their sudden success at the end of the 80s merited them a Grammy for Best New Artist at the 1990 awards show.

The sweet bread of success turned to gravel in their mouths though. Their popularity had them appearing all over US media and interviewers found their English very rough and suspicions arose over how their singing could be so good and speech so bad. They experienced technical difficulties during a live show where the vocal track got stuck and repeated the same line over and over. By the end of 1990, despite the US album jackets crediting the pair for the vocals, it came to light they were lip-syncing their songs and had never sung those songs themselves. Their Grammy was revoked and they fell just as quickly as they had risen.

People were upset about the fact they presented themselves as something they were not. The whole deception also met with legal ramifications. To put it simply, Milli Vanilli was a fraud. Of course, if they had billed themselves as what they were from the start, a lip-syncing European dance act, they probably wouldn’t have had anywhere near the same success, but they wouldn’t have been impostors.

Pulpit Syncing

No one thinks the music industry a bastion of morality and ethics, but even they have their limits. A fraud is a fraud, unless, of course, you can get away with it. Audiences have a certain expectation that the performance they paid for is a performance of the performers actually performing. When it turns out to be a fraud, they tend to get upset and feel cheated.

Lip-syncing as such is a form of plagiarism. In the real world, plagiarism gets singers, songwriters, and producers fired. Plagiarism gets reporters, journalists, and editors fired. Plagiarism gets authors and publishers fired. Plagiarism gets students and doctoral candidates fired. Plagiarism gets college and seminary professors fired. But, plagiarism gets preachers fed and maybe even promoted.

There have been a few famous cases in broader evangelicalism where plagiarizing preachers have been exposed, but they don’t usually end up fired. Even in small, conservative Baptist churches, where public visibility is near zero, preachers commit pulpit fraud by plagiarizing sermons more often than you think. Preachers lip-sync the sermons of other preachers to their congregations and the congregations are being defrauded. They’re actually being doubly cheated. They’re not hearing their pastor, whom they supply with daily bread, and they’re not hearing the preacher being plagiarized either.

There are numerous good articles on the subject of pulpit plagiarism and the wrongs of it in recent years, so I’m not going to add to that pile. Go forth and read what has been written. Rather, I want to deal with a problem on the opposite pole from plagiarism—originality.

Same Difference

Not a few pulpit Vanillis have their consciences pricked by decrying pulpit plagiarism and palliate said wounds by asserting the impossibility of originality. No one is truly original, they say, and so everybody plagiarizes. I suppose if we crowdfund the guilt it gets a bit thin by the time we get to the pulpit. This objection doesn’t argue that the charge is inaccurate, but rather asserts that everyone is guilty, and when everyone is guilty, no one is guilty. That logic is also a fraud, but let’s proceed.

Originality in the pulpit can be a problem when the preacher is so original that no one anywhere has ever seen what he sees and preaches. Such preachers have immunity from plagiarism because they are so legit original. No one has ever said what they’re saying. These preachers are like the Athenians that Paul encountered who continually pursued something new (Acts 17:21). Luke contrasts them with the Jews in Berea who thought Paul was preaching something new and so they “searched the scriptures daily,” to see “whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). They found that while Paul was preaching things they had never heard, he wasn’t preaching anything new, in fact Paul himself defended his ministry by saying he preached “none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come” (Acts 26:22).

Just because you or I haven’t heard something before, that doesn’t mean it’s new. But, if it’s some imaginative extrapolation from Scripture that the Scripture nowhere teaches, it is new and should be rejected. Bible preaching is supposed to be preaching of the Bible. Therefore, it’s not original or new. It’s timeless. Anyone with the Spirit and faith should be able to see it from the Bible. That holds true for supposedly sound preachers who always seem to find new paths to old truths.

Gateway Originality

Originality is something of a gateway drug for those who pursue it. A preacher dabbles with novel notions and the finding of types and symbols no one has seen, and ere long he is a fount of original ideas. Once you become that legit original, you’re too legit to quit, though quit is exactly what you should do.

50 Million Opportunities

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
~ Matthew 12:36

Spurgeon was an average preacher.

Did I really just suggest Spurgeon was an average preacher? If you know anything about Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), you have reason to be suspicious. He started preaching at 17 years old, and by the time he turned 20, he had preached over 600 times. For most of his ministry, he preached about 10 times a week. Spurgeon preached for 38 years and died at age 57. For much of his ministry, his weekly sermons were published in 20 different languages and sold 20,000 copies per week. His collected and published sermons filled 63 volumes with around 25 million words, and is the largest set of books ever published by a single author. In 2017, a two-volume set of his previously unpublished sermons was released. He preached to crowds of many thousands at a time and it’s estimated he preached to over 10 million people in his lifetime.

Spurgeon also managed do a few things outside the pulpit. He wrote over 140 other books besides his published sermons. He pastored a congregation of 4,000 members, edited a monthly magazine, and answered 500 letters per week. He read around six books each week, usually of substantial Puritan theology, and could remember what he read. He founded and oversaw over 60 organizations, had a pastor’s college that trained close to one thousand preachers in his lifetime, and he regularly counseled what he called difficult cases. In other words, all the hard situations no other pastors could figure out were referred to him. He had a wife who was near invalid and twin sons. He also lived with constant physical pain and criticism and slander. It’s estimated he donated nearly 50 million dollars to ministries in his lifetime. Even this is not everything that could be said about him. Oh, and he did it all without a Macbook or iPhone, or even electricity since the first public electricity generator wasn’t installed until 1881 in Surrey. For that matter, he did it all without a college or seminary education.

I know what you’re thinking. Nothing about that sounds average, and you’re right. It’s not average, and it’s one of the reasons it’s laughable whenever anyone compares a modern preacher to Spurgeon. Spurgeon has not been equaled, and the only safe or sane estimate is to expect that record to stand. But, in what way was Spurgeon average?

Average Numbers

I confess I am not a Spurgeon scholar, or any other kind of scholar while we’re on the subject of my deficiencies. I have read a lot of what Spurgeon wrote and a lot of what has been written about him. So far, I’ve only found one measure of Spurgeon where he was average, and that was his speech in the pulpit. I realize Spurgeon was famous for his unmatched eloquence in the pulpit, but I’m talking about his rate of speaking words in the pulpit. It has been figured to have been around 140 words per minute, which is within the average of 120-150 words per minute for public speaking. Spurgeon wasn’t a fast talker, neither literally nor figuratively. Here is one area where we preachers can take heart that we are very much like Spurgeon. We probably speak words in that same average range for public speaking like he did.

You might to be tempted to take small comfort in that fact, but we can make something of it. If Spurgeon preached 140 words per minute for an average of 40 minutes for the first three years of his ministry, he preached 3,360,000 words in those 600 sermons he preached. If he preached an average of ten times a week, then he annually preached 2,912,000 words. The average pastor today preaches 2-3 times per week. Let’s take the higher number and say the average pastor preaches three times a week for 45 minutes at a rate of 140 words per minute. Each sermon would be 6,300 words and add up to 982,800 words each year. That’s a lot of words, but still less than 34% of Spurgeon’s annual output. Even when Spurgeon was average at the number of words he produced per minute, he still managed preach three times the number of words preached by the average pastor in a year. Maybe he wasn’t so average after all.

Beyond the Numbers

Pastoring is, or should be, a long game. Most pastors would hope for 25-30 years of fruitful ministry. Some do get beyond that. 6,300 hundred words preached in a single sermon doesn’t seem like much. Of course, three sermons a week come out to 18,900, and 156 sermons a year add up to 982,800. The average pastor today is producing around one million words from the pulpit every year.

Those words really start to stack up when you count ministry in years. After 5 years of ministry, the average pastor has preached 4,914,000 words. 10 years doubles that number and 20 years quadruples it to 19,656,000 words. If you make it to 40 years, you will have preached 39,312,000 words, and 50 would be 49,140,000. Think about that. 50 years of preaching will produce around 50 million words preached. That is a lot of words. Of course, the average pastor in 50 years of preaching would still produce less than half the words of Spurgeon in his 38 years, which would be 110,656,000.

Let’s forget about Spurgeon for the moment and consider what these numbers might teach us. David and Moses both teach us the benefit of numbering our days ahead of time (Psalms 39:4; 90:12), so numbering our words ahead of time should benefit preachers. Considering the number of words we are likely to speak in public is especially sobering when we consider that we will have to account for each one (Matthew 12:36). Jesus said that every careless word will be accounted for and surely this will be a part of the accounting we all shall have to give in the future (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Romans 14:12; 1 Peter 4:5).

Every word a preacher speaks from the pulpit is an opportunity to get it right and get it wrong. We get it right when we accurately expound the text in its original contextual meaning and speak according to the analogy of the faith. We get it wrong when we misinterpret or misuse the text, but we also get it wrong when we speak carelessly. Careless words are spoken without thought and consideration.

Who’s Counting

I’m scared to think of how many of the millions of words I’ve preached to this point have been careless words. I know there have been wrong words in there, since I’m not infallible and don’t have all knowledge. I’ve been preaching for over 20 years. Do I have another 20 years to go? I don’t know. Only God knows that.

I do know that words from the pulpit will be judged with greater strictness than words spoken on the street (James 3:1). Since Jesus said every careless word would be accounted for, he’s obviously keeping count. How many preachers’ words are careless when they get in the pulpit with little preparation, study, and forethought? How many times do preachers just rare back and let ‘er fly? Will those words still be counted careless if they said what was true, but it was almost accidental because they gave it little to no consideration beforehand?

These thoughts should make us tremble over the words we have spoken and will yet speak. Each word matters and each word is an opportunity for right or wrong. The only way to assure we are preaching thoughtful and true words and minimizing careless ones is to follow the preaching program Paul charged Timothy with, “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Paul meant “all scripture” (2 Timothy 3:16). Preach the words God gave in the way he gave them and you can make your words count for good.

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