Calvin Coolidge wisely expressed it: “One of the first lessons a president has to learn is that every word he says weighs a ton.” And so do those of the preacher! -G. C. Jones.
When I first began in the ministry over twenty years ago, I did not excel at preaching. I am by nature an introvert. I am not into big crowds so public speaking is a challenge even to this day, The process I have to go through to prepare to preach is exhausting. Add to that the anxiety and the gravity of the task at hand and it is a recipe for disaster.
In my first year of preaching, my sermons, designed to last 15-20 minutes, lasted on average seven. I was so nervous that I only took one breath during the message. One dear older, wiser Christian pointed out to me one day, “I like what you had to say, but young man the speed at which you said it made me tired.” Armed now with that full disclosure that I am not by any means the model preacher, it dawns on me that those given the task of sharing God’s Word with God’s people should be reminded of the balancing act that preaching truly is.
Preaching can be a huge blessing to the hearers, but it can also be dangerous.
The writer of Hebrews talks about the danger of God’s word in chapter 4 of the letter,
12The word of God, you see, is alive and moving; sharper than a double-edged sword; piercing the divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow; able to judge the thoughts and will of the heart. 13 No creature can hide from God: God sees all. Everyone and everything is exposed, opened for His inspection; and He’s the One we will have to explain ourselves to.
Preaching the Word of God.
Preaching the truth is dangerous because the Word of God cuts through all the barriers we put up to not allow people to really know who we are deep down. If people knew all of our struggles, our dirty little secrets, the demons we struggle with, the brokenness of our relationships, we would end up more lonely and dysfunctional than we are now. Consequently, when we come to church and the verse used for the day begins to tear away each layer of our self-denial and unlock our protected passwords to our life, God’s word becomes dangerous. Our hearts are left bare because nothing is hidden from God. Everyone and everything is exposed. Every relationship and every sin are open for inspection. Now, as truth is preached to us we have to explain our choices, our decisions to the One, our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ, who already knows the answer.
Preaching makes us vulnerable. It cuts through the foolishness and gets right to the heart of the matter, our fallen nature. Misunderstood and incomplete bad preaching leave the sinner here. We go home beaten and discouraged. The law of God, with His high expectations of holiness, leaves us feeling unworthy, measured, found wanting, and finally abandoned. Complete preaching points us back to the clear message that Jesus’ death and resurrection did what we could not do. His sacrifice replaced the requirement of perfection with the perfect sacrifice. The law is replaced by grace.
Preaching the truth without discipleship is even more dangerous.
This may come as a complete surprise to you, but people at times misunderstand what you are trying to say. One way to combat that is to strongly encourage your people to be engaged in some Bible study outside of Sunday morning. Here is the reason why:
The Sunday morning message should not be the main course of our spiritual meal. Even on my best days that message, like Chinese food, lasts only about an hour before people forget most of the morsels of truth I, by the power of God, fed them. Hear me correctly, I am not saying God’s word does not have the power to accomplish its task, we know it does. However, conduct an online test of your members. Have them respond on Monday to what the message was about and how they are applying that in their daily lives. What you hear back in response will shock and disappoint you.
Conversely, Sunday school and other teaching venues provide unique opportunities to disciple people. Beyond your corporate worship gathering, consider focusing on small groups ministry as a means to further pour the Word of God into the life of your flock. When the deep questions arise from the Word of God doing its work with people, they will need a forum to wrestle with what God is revealing in their lives with the other disciples on the same journey alongside them. This will require you and spiritual leaders to identify and train mature leaders to shepherd and disciple their believers in partnership with you. It also means providing a clear vision for your small groups ministry. Preaching without this kind of on-going spiritual support leaves people vulnerable to carry out the work God has called the church to accomplish in His name.
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