The longer I am in pastoral ministry, the more I grow in my conviction that expositional, shepherd-preaching truly is God’s primary, ordained method to feed and nurture his people. As a preaching pastor in Christ's Church, I have grown in my desire above all else to be faithful to the Word of God in every aspect of my shepherding ministry, particularly the preaching of God’s Word. Let me share five thoughts and personal convictions that the Lord continues to grow in me that I pray you will consider for your own life and preaching ministry.
Conviction #1: Every preacher should be humbled at the calling God has placed on our lives to preach his Word.
Perhaps more than any other time in my life, I feel the weight of preaching God's Word. While this is a fearful thing, it is at the same time a very good thing. I need to fear the Lord as I seek to feed his people from his Word. I need to always feel the weight of the responsibility I have as a shepherd-preacher, as do you. I pray that the Lord will use each of us to faithfully proclaim his Word, that his people might know the love, grace, and joy of Jesus as they live to glorify the King. Moreover, I pray that the Lord would continually humble me as I approach the text week in and week out. I pray that he would be the center of all my preaching and that the fame of Jesus would be the end goal of all that I say from the pulpit. I pray the same for you.
Conviction #2: We need more shepherd-preachers who are willing to serve the same congregation for the long haul.
In studying the likes of Charles Simeon, Cotton Mather, John Stott, and John Piper, among others, I am reminded of the absolute importance and blessing of long haul pastoral commitment to a local church body. In a time when many pastors rarely stick at one particular church for more than three to five years, it is always refreshing to read of so many pastors who remained in the same location for 30, 40, even 50 or more years!
Reading about the many ways the Lord uses the same congregation to mature men as both pastors and followers of Christ as a result of staying with one congregation for years, is inspiring and convicting. Reading of the various struggles and joys that come with this kind of pastoral commitment is both encouraging and challenging to think about for my own ministry context and the work God might do in my life and the lives of others over the long haul.
Conviction #3: There is great power in living a life of genuine love as a preacher.
I am convinced that the most vital and potent aspect to a preacher’s effective pulpit ministry is living a life of genuine love amongst their flock on a daily basis.
We were created to be people who love others sacrificially. To do unto others as we would have them do unto us. To love our neighbors as ourselves. Surely, this is true for those of us called to give our lives away in pastoral ministry. The most explicit way Jesus demonstrated this kind of love throughout his earthly ministry was in humbly and sacrificially serving others. Jesus did not come to be served (though he could have), but instead he came to serve.
There is no other time when you and I are more like Jesus Christ than when we love and serve others in our congregation sacrificially. To love people sacrificially means loving others until it hurts. To love those no one else loves, helping those in our churches no one else wants to help.
It is not enough for you and I as shepherds of God’s people to simply see the needs of the flock. Many people see the needs. We must take action and serve willingly and joyfully as representatives of Jesus to our people.
I pray, by God’s grace, that the Lord will help us to more consistently demonstrate Christ’s love through humble service of the leaders, members, and visitors within our congregation. I pray that God would help us to be known, not simply as “the guy who preaches each week,” but as the chief servant and lover of our people! I believe this kind of authentic, joyful, Christ-like love for others will glorify the Lord and cause others to seek to love people with radical, sacrificial, Christ-like love.
Moreover, it will be this love that brings credibility and power as we stand up to preach to the flock each weekend.
Conviction #4: We need to humbly seek more of the Holy Spirit’s power for our individual lives and our congregationsas a whole.
The work of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, among others, has opened my eyes to the great need we as Christians and congregations have for the ongoing, indwelling work of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of sanctification and renewal. Let me give an example of one of the specific ways my study of the Holy Spirit has challenged me regarding my own life and ministry.
I have been greatly challenged to think through the importance of helping our congregation, through the preaching of the Word, grow in their pursuit of biblical, Spirit-empowered discernment. In ministry, it seems that I am constantly having conversations with folks who are asking questions such as: “How do I know right from wrong?” “How do I walk in line with what God wants for me and not what the world wants for me?” “How do I listen to and discern the voice of God?”
The Lord continues to grow me in my thinking of ways in which I can, as a pastor and preacher, help our people live their lives humbly submitting themselves daily to the illuminating presence and power of the Holy Spirit, seeking to know and obey the truth of God’s will revealed through his perfect, inspired, authoritative Word. This is the heart of biblical discernment.
However, in order to live lives characterized by this kind of spiritual discernment, it is absolutely essential that Christians surround themselves with other believers from whom they can receive insight, rebuke, and encouragement. Sadly, I have been part of several churches, perhaps you have too, that have failed in equipping their people to practice biblical discernment. I pray that we can help our churches grow as a community of faith that helps one another, by the power of the Holy Spirit, rightly discern the voice of truth in a world of deceit; helping them to ultimately mature into Christ-likeness for God’s glory.
Conviction #5: We must aim to preach the Gospel of grace for transformation.
When I came to my present church over ten years ago now, I encountered many sweet, kind, devoted Christians who struggled to understand the role of grace in their sanctification. Our church was filled with folks who were committed to Christ and his teachings, but some struggled with the concept of grace-empowered, Gospel-infused spiritual growth. Studying the ways in which preachers and theologians like Thomas Watson, J.I. Packer, Alistair Begg, Dan Doriani and Bryan Chapel seek to preach truly Christ-centered, Gospel-saturated sermons, has been incredibly helpful as I attempt to shepherd our church toward true, grace-filled, Gospel transformation and sanctification.
I don’t know about you, but one of my challenges in pastoring our congregation has been helping folks who come from legalistic backgrounds understand that God’s approval of us, his acceptance of us, is not dependent on whether we are “good” Christians or whether we follow all the right rules, say all the right things, and do the right “stuff.” I believe more strongly than ever that this kind of thinking will steal our life and our joy in the Lord as this kind of thinking is at the heart of what legalistic religion is all about.
Bryan Chapell in particular has reminded me of the importance as a pastor of helping our church continually wrestle with the radical difference between religion and the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our sanctification. I have been challenged to regularly and intentionally help our people see the emptiness of dead religion that says, “I must do this and not do that” in order to earn God’s approval and acceptance. In contrast, I must constantly communicate through my preaching, leading, and counseling the good news of the Gospel that says, “because of what Jesus did on the cross, I am accepted by God and therefore I will seek to joyfully pursue holiness and obedience to Christ.”
People in our congregation need to be reminded every week of how the Gospel sets us free to live life the way God intended. You and I need to be reminded too! We need to hear how the Gospel sets us free to pursue Godliness and holiness in a way that isn’t filled with guilt because of how often we fail and mess up. We need to hear how the Gospel allows us to love God and others with all that we are, because we understand that it is by his love and grace alone that we are saved! We need to hear that it is only through the Gospel that we continue to grow in Christ-like maturity.
The shepherd-preacher will be a passionate follower of Christ. He will faithfully preach God’s Word. He will live a Holy Spirit empowered life. And perhaps most importantly, he will lead with humility and grace. Glory to God!