by James Hayes
“Go up there. Now.”
I knew what my grandmother meant. Every Sunday morning between Sunday School and worship my grandmother would send me—a precious boy of four or five years of age—to talk to Ira North. The bulk of Brother North’s work was far behind him by that point in his life. “The Amazing Grace Bible Class” was on television coast to coast; the food rooms and clothing rooms were fully stocked; the Madison church of Christ was averaging over 2,000 people in Sunday morning worship. But right up until the day he died on January 15, 1984, Brother North cared about every person at Madison, even the smallest of children. I remember sheepishly approaching him while scores of adults also jockeyed for position around him. I would tug on his bright red jacket (or whatever brightly colored jacket he wore that day), and he would spin around and shout, “Hello, friend!” After a quick hug, I felt like the only person in the room.
That is just one small example of the impact preachers have had on people since the earliest days of man. Just seven generations after the life of Adam, Enoch preached about the Lord’s judgment against ungodly men (Jude 14-15). Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5). Every Old Testament prophet, although famous for predicting impending doom or foretelling the coming of the Messiah, was primarily a preacher who encouraged Israel to live for God. Some were fearful (Jonah); some doubted themselves (Jeremiah); some faced extreme discouragement (Elijah); but all fulfilled the monumental task God had given them: to preach the word of God.
Our Lord and Savior was a preacher, the best preacher. Shortly after He was tempted in the wilderness, Jesus began preaching about the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 4:17). He went throughout Galilee preaching. He preached in synagogues and on hillsides. He preached on the road. He preached to individuals and to large crowds. He preached to the poor and to the wealthy. He preached to people who hated His existence and to those who loved Him dearly. Jesus commanded His apostles to preach, and they did. Those apostles then trained godly men to carry on the centuries-old tradition of preaching. “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2 NASB).
Those of us who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ have an awesome responsibility. God, through His unfathomable wisdom and divine providence, has seen fit to communicate His message by the manner of preaching: “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21 NASB). The lost and dying world will not know about the amazing grace of Jesus unless we tell them. Christians will not know how to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ unless we teach and encourage them (2 Pet. 3:18).
Preachers in churches of Christ in America—and their styles of preaching—are as diverse as America itself. For example, some preachers confront their hearers; others are confrontational. Confrontational preachers deliberately present lessons that will create more heat than light. They take pride in being controversial and shocking. They gauge their effectiveness as a preacher by the number of people who reject the message. “I must be preaching the truth if lots of people are offended,” they think. These types of preachers can be found on the “right” and the “left” of the preaching spectrum.
Preachers who simply confront their hearers are using a method that is within the tradition of Jesus and the apostles. These preachers endeavor to present the truth with love and compassion for their listeners. When Jesus was presented with a woman who was caught in adultery, He told her simply to go and sin no more. He did not humiliate her (that had already been done by her accusers). He did not investigate her background or tell anyone who would listen about the promiscuous woman he met. He taught her and everyone else around her how to live a godly life. That’s all.
Faithful preachers in the 21st century will continue to abide in the doctrines of Jesus and the apostles. They will not use preaching to advance their personal agendas. They will not create rivalries between themselves and other preachers or churches. They will, however, endeavor to be an example of those who believe. They will pay close attention to themselves and to their teaching in order to bring salvation to themselves and for those who hear them. And they will always—no matter what—speak to all the children tugging on their coats.
James Hayes has preached for 13 years in Middle Tennessee. He is currently preaching for the Pleasant View Church of Christ. His writing has been published by several brotherhood journals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.