This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.
1. Preaching is a wonderful privilege.
Preaching is declaration of the gospel—what the Apostle Paul calls in Ephesians 3:8 “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” C. H. Spurgeon remarked on that verse that “all God's truly-sent servants have experienced much delight in the declaration of the Gospel of Jesus, and it is natural that they should, for their message is one of mercy and love.”
In an age that often mocks preaching and in churches that often undervalue it, we need to guard our hearts by cultivating the right attitude towards preaching.
2. Preaching demands loyalty—to the Lord and to his people.
The Roman poet Ovid said that “every lover is a soldier.” Love commits, love risks, and love sacrifices. Just so, every preacher shows his love for the Lord and his people by a brave and tested loyalty. We battle through difficulties and temptations. We stand our ground, making preaching the priority of our lives because the Lord is honored through it, as the lost are won to Christ and Christians are built up. The holy ground of the pulpit is not a stepping stone to something greater. This Sunday’s ministry to this Sunday’s people demands a preacher whose heart is loyal to them, and to their Lord, above all else.
Every preacher shows his love for the Lord and his people by a brave and tested loyalty.
3. Preaching is a calling wrapped up in failure.
The Apostle Paul was misunderstood, mocked, insulted, beaten, and imprisoned for his ministry. At times, his best sermons produced the least effect. He endured intense loneliness and was deserted by some of his most trusted friends. He knew the costliness and the difficulty of preaching. “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16) is not an invitation to despair but a jolting call to gritty realism. Your preaching will fail at times . . . and so will you. And yet, in the midst of all of your triumphs and your tragedies, the Lord is at work for the good of hearers and preachers alike.
4. Preachers need encouragement, perhaps more than even they realize.
Discouragement in preaching ministry is a slow-burner. Preaching is pressure. True, people don't often throw things at you. True, few preachers get vicious emails or hostile letters (though some have indeed suffered such abuse). And yet, ongoing work of preaching puts a great strain on even the most gifted and fruitful preachers.
Paul needed friends and valued them highly. Jesus sent laborers out in pairs. The plan for the local church is a plurality of elders, not one man getting crushed under the weight of ministry. Encouragement is essential. Above all, the preacher needs the active support and encouragement of the church family, with their prayers and expressions of love and help. If a church claims to love God’s Word preached but expresses little love for its preachers, something is very wrong.
5. The congregation follows the best preachers home.
Every true preacher lives to serve the needs of those to whom he preaches, carrying them in his heart. Preaching is never a duty to dispense with and then leave at the church building; his people will be on his mind and in his heart throughout the week. Preaching is not a job but a calling to love people in season and out of season, in the pulpit, as well as out of it.
6. There’s nothing wrong with a little anonymity.
You may be called to enter a pulpit but you are not called to build a platform for yourself. Seeking to gain a reputation for yourself in preaching ministry may have a biblical precedent (Phil. 1:17), but it is not a noble one. If preaching excites you because of the attention you think you can gain for it, watch out for the Lord’s disapproval—he will not share his glory with you (Is. 42:8).
We preachers could (should?) instead aim for anonymity. Does it actually matter if we’re unknown in the short-term . . . or the long-run? Glory belongs to Jesus, and the only glory he works for us to have is to share in his in the world to come.
7. No one in the church—perhaps not even fellow leaders—knows how difficult it is to preach every week.
Preachers love to preach. Opening the Bible to start work on a fresh passage or two every week has a thrill which is hard to convey to others. Then again, standing up before a Sunday crowd with a “thus says the Lord” is far harder and more draining than we preachers want to admit (and can probably communicate to others).
This is not a counsel of self-pity. We are deeply privileged men and most of us love to preach. But if you underestimate the demands which preaching puts on you, you’ll be surprised to the point of despair. Don’t expect others to understand your burden—they won’t. But that’s okay; the Lord does.
8. Be diligent in prayer.
The preacher needs to pray and needs the prayers of others. Preachers are in the Devil’s firing-line, and he loves to pick them off with a sniper’s efficient cunning. Without the shield of faith and continual prayer in the Spirit (Eph. 6:16-18), which of us can stand?
And who can expect to be fruitful in pulpit work without pleading for the Spirit’s work through the preached Word? When training preachers, Patrick Fairbairn once said, “There is a close connection between the measure in which the Spirit is given, and the degree of desire and faithfulness with which he is sought.”1 Does our generation believe this? Will we humble ourselves to seek more of the Spirit’s power? With him, all things are possible.
9. Preachers are in the family.
Preachers are not hired workers, paid to dispense wisdom and then to depart. Preachers are called to be fellow-sharers and enjoyers of grace with those they serve. They are no less in need of that grace than anyone else in church, and often far more so.
Do we preachers always recognize this? We need the family of the church. We need to be invited into the hearts and homes of those we serve. We need to open our lives and homes to them, too. We need fellowship—the sharing of laughter, tears, meals,and support. If we fail to be part of the church family, we are refusing to be honest about our needs as ordinary people. Worse still, we are missing out on the delights of true, soul-refreshing fellowship. The preacher takes his place as a full member of his church family—certainly never above it, and never apart from it.
10. Preachers love Jesus, even when they get it wrong.
We love Jesus. Even when our sermons are clumsy or dull, we are by grace trying to work out our love for the Lord to those we preach to. Preachers preach forgiveness, and they must expect forgiveness for their own failures. Ministry is hard and we fail.
We must not fail in our calling to love Jesus, though. He is the reason why we prepare and proclaim. He is the pearl of great price to our hearts. As Jesus’s Spirit works in us, we long to know him more deeply and to proclaim all that he means to us with fresh conviction. Love for Jesus—and then a deepening love for people—must be the hallmark of our ministry. If our hearers can discern that, they will discover Christ in our preaching and their delight (and ours) will continue through the years.
- Patrick Fairbairn, Pastoral Theology: A Treatise on the Office and Duties of the Christian Pastor (Old Paths Publications: 1992), 89