By J. Kent Edwards
Theology is more important than methodology. There will be times in your ministry when you will be tempted to give up on preaching. Seasons of blessing come and go and are often as unpredictable as the weather. The one predictable thing is that sooner or later you will experience times of drought in your preaching. For weeks or months you will open the Scriptures and preach with passion and fidelity, and yet, little or nothing will seem to happen in the lives of your listeners. There will be no rain of blessing. No spiritual fruit bursting forth in the lives of your listeners. No observable results. During these times you will, as I have done, begin to think about investing your energy in other things. “If this is not working,” we say to ourselves, “I am better off to do something else.” But what?
The secret to preaching perseverance—and eventual excellence in preaching—lies in knowing why you preach. You will continue preaching in season and out of season if you understand the theological imperative of biblical proclamation. The techniques of rhetorical flourish will not sustain you through your ministerial dry spells. Gimmicks won’t work. Theology will.
1. Because God Exists
To be ignorant of God’s existence is like residents of Vancouver Island being ignorant that they live surrounded by water. It is impossible to live successfully on an island without a conscious awareness that you are bounded by water. Ignorance is not bliss. It is the precursor to catastrophe. Without a knowledge of the water that surrounds them, it’s only a matter of time until an unknowing resident will blissfully drive their car into the Pacific Ocean and drown. The undeniable existence of the ocean demands that the island residents modify their lives. The existence of God demands similar life-modifying decisions. But you cannot adjust for what you do not know. Successful living begins with a knowledge of the God who surrounds and permeates every element of our lives.
I preach because knowledge of God is the most important knowledge a person can have. People cannot live without it. They must learn about God.
2. Because God Is Not Silent
God did not have to reveal Himself to us. He could have easily kept Himself hidden behind a curtain of ignorance and, if He had, we would have been lost. Our destiny would have been beyond remedy. God realizes that our need to know Him is literally a matter of life and death. That’s why He has gone to such enormous lengths to tell us about Himself. God knows that our lives depend on this information. And He has responded to our desperate need with overwhelming grace. He has communicated to us through what theologians have referred to as “general” and “special” revelation.
I have given my life to preaching because the priority that God places on self-communication demonstrates how desperately people need to hear what He has to tell them. Unless people hear from God’s special revelation they will die in their sins. I preach because I want to share God’s passion.
3. Because of the Nature of God’s Written Word
The Bible is deceptive. Because it looks like a regular book, it can easily be mistaken for one. But it isn’t. The Bible stands apart from all other books, not just because of its Amazon rankings—it is the #1 best-seller of all time—but because it is not an ordinary book. It is a supernatural book. The Bible is unique because of its authorship. God Himself wrote it. Human writers also sat down and penned the individual books of Scripture, but they did not sit alone. As they wrote, God wrote in and through them. It was a joint process that we call inspiration. “Inspiration” refers to the work of the Holy Spirit during the writing process. The Holy Spirit overshadowed and superintended the writing of each word that the human authors scratched onto parchment so that the words that were written were the words of God through human authors.
I preach because people have such a desperate need to know about God that God does everything possible to tell us about Himself. He pours out general information about Himself to all people everywhere and eternity, transforming information through a very special book—a unique book called the Bible that provides us with a completely trustworthy message to preach.
4. Because of the Value of God’s Word
Is the psalmist exaggerating when he says, “Instruction from Your lips is better for me than thousands of gold and silver pieces”? Is any book worth refinancing your house to purchase? Who needs this book? Everyone. There is no spiritual substitute for Scripture. On the dinner table you may be tempted to exchange Splenda for sugar or rice for pasta, but nothing can take the place of the Word of God. Only Scripture is capable of bringing people to maturity in Christ. This is why the apostle Paul reminded the young preacher Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Bible has what the people of God need to become the people God wants them to be. No believer will be or do all that God intends for them if they are not nourished on the words of God. They cannot do it on their own.
I choose to embrace the hard work of preaching because of its inherent value. The whole world, saved and unsaved, desperately needs to hear God’s Word. When we preach, destinies are changed. Eternity hangs in the balance. Every time the leaders of God’s people have stopped preaching, the results have been catastrophic. Every single time.
5. Because of the Power of God’s Word
If you want to make a substantive change in the lives of your people, and the world at large, I can think of no better way than to preach the words of God. My words—my little puffs of air—often accomplish nothing. But God’s puffs of air are irresistible. They have more impact than a category-5 hurricane. If my goal in ministry is to change my world for Christ, I can do no better than preach God’s omnipotent words.
I preach because the God we must know has placed the highest possible priority on revelation, including giving us a trustworthy written record of who He is and how we should live in response to Him. This written record is a book filled with words so powerful that nothing in the universe can stop them from achieving their purpose.
6. Because of the Examples in Scripture
Can you think of any preachers in the Bible? It does not take long to come up with a pretty impressive list. Names like Noah, Moses, Elijah, Jonah, Amos, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Malachi quickly spring to mind. And there are legions more. Are there preachers in the New Testament? Truckloads of them! All of the apostles were preachers. Even Jesus was a preacher. Almost everyone in the Bible who enjoyed a significant leadership role was a preacher. One of the distinguishing marks of these leaders is that they led by saying, “Thus saith the Lord.” Their authority came from the word of God. They led with the Scriptures.
When we decide to preach we choose to walk a well-worn path, one worn smooth by the giants of the faith who have trod before us. We are in good company.
7. Because of the Commands of God
I preach because God does not speak of biblical proclamation as an optional extra. It was not a temporary activity. Scripture explicitly and implicitly commands us to proclaim publicly the word of God. We cannot choose not to preach. It is clear from Scripture that pastors must give priority to preaching. Of all the many tasks that we must perform in order to collect our paychecks, none is more important than the proclamation of the word of God. How tragic it is that so many preachers seem to have forgotten their primary calling! The symbol of pastoral office has shifted away from the Bible in favor of the cell phone and BlackBerry. Pastors are busier than ever. But their priorities are pulling them farther and farther away from the pulpits. The more our priorities tilt away from “broker of truth,” the more we slide into the role of executive director of a religious nonprofit organization. We risk losing the right to be called a pastor of God’s sheep. God wants pastors to preach. It’s a matter of basic obedience.
Pastors who ignore the preaching of the Word or treat it lightly are being unfaithful to their calling.
Adapted from Deep Preaching (B&H Publishing Group, 2009)