by Jeff A. Jenkins
The questions are forever present in the mind and heart of every preacher. Is anyone listening? Are the people paying attention? Are the sermons effective? Are lives being changed by the messages being delivered? Do what I say and do really matter?
If you have struggled or are struggling with these questions, you need to know that you are not the first preacher. As we study the sacred text, we see that many of the great men of God struggled with the effectiveness of their work. We see questions in the lives of Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, and others.
Every honest preacher wrestles with these and numerous other questions on a regular basis. We constantly pray that our work is fulfilling God’s purpose and that it is making a difference in the life of someone.
Many men of God have spent hours in diligent study only to have some well meaning Christian walk out and say, “I think you were talking about v. 23 and you said v. 22!” How many men of God have driven hours to preach, without his family, to preach every night while sleeping in less than desirable quarters, only to have no one respond to the preaching of the Gospel?
We know in our heads that we are involved in the greatest work in the world, however we question it in our hearts. We know that Scripture teaches that the power is in the Good News (Rom. 1:15-16). We know that we are simply God’s vessels (2 Cor. 4:7) to dispense the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:7-8). We understand that it is through the task of preaching that our Father has chosen to save the world (1 Cor. 1:21).
Yet, because of our human frailties and because of our experiences the questions remain. In a recent article by Thom Rainer, a student of church growth, he cites some interesting research that should encourage us. This research suggests that once an unchurched person becomes interested in spiritual issues, preaching is a decisive factor in bringing him or her into a specific church.
Rainer writes, “When my research team and I interviewed the formerly unchurched, we asked two questions that engendered significant responses about preachers. The first of the questions was a straightforward query directly about preachers that could be answered with a simple yes or no: ‘Did the preacher and his preaching play a part in your coming to the church?’ Nearly all of the respondents (more than 97 percent) said yes.
“The second question required a more subjective response: ‘What factors led you to choose this church?’ The responses show that facts relating to the preacher and preaching were the most-often mentioned answers. Without any prompting from our interviewers, the formerly unchurched told us nine out of 10 times the preacher was key in their entering the ranks of the churched.
“The formerly unchurched were unequivocal in their beliefs that preaching was pivotal to bringing them to Christ…When the believer began to seek religious truth, the sermons had some meaning. By the time the nonbeliever was an active seeker, attending church on a regular basis, the nonbeliever tended to hang on every word of the sermon.”
Did you catch that? The preacher was key in bringing nonbelievers to Christ and to church. Nonbelievers hanging “on every word of the sermon!” It sounds as though preaching is important, doesn’t it? If your experiences are like mine, you know that not everyone will agree with or even like everything you say. But, brother, you can be sure that people are listening. I have had parents tell me with amazement that their children have repeated something I said in a sermon. I’ve seen people put quotes from sermons they’ve heard as their status on Facebook! People will talk about the sermons with their families, co-workers, and friends.
If our preaching is important it naturally follows that we need to give it our best. Please allow me to make just a few suggestions on how we can make sure that our preaching will always make a difference.
Speak the Word
Every preacher reading this article is very familiar with Paul’s serious charge to his young protégé, but we need to read these words often. “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:1-3).
Preach with humility. Our Savior coming to earth in and of itself was an act of humility (Phil. 2:5-8). Christ exemplified humility in every thing He did. If we wish to be like Christ and show Him to the world we must develop this wonderful characteristics.
There are way to many arrogant preachers in the world. If the sermons we preach, the ministries we are involved in, the articles we write are all about self-promotion we have a gross misunderstanding of our task.
Our task is to proclaim the Gospel, not promote our own agendas or us. Our task is to share the Good news with everyone we can. Our task is to show Christ to as many people as we possibly can. People everywhere are crying, “Sirs, we would see Jesus” (John 12:20-21). How dare we show the world our ability, our strength, our power, when they desperately need to see His?
Speak with boldness. Preaching with humility does not preclude preaching with boldness. As long as we understand that the power is not in who we are, rather it is in the Gospel (Rom. 1:16), we can powerfully proclaim His Word.
Even after Peter and John were told by the authorities that they could know longer preach Christ Acts 4:31 says, “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Speak with love. It is of paramount importance when we preach that our motivation is love. Paul said, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). He also commanded us to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:13). Some preachers seem to think that these two requirements are mutually exclusive. Some speak truth, but it appears that they do so with the wrong motivation. Others are loving in their presentations, but they omit the truth. Preachers who want to be pleasing to our Lord must include both.
Study, Study, Study
Because of the importance of preaching it is mandatory that we spend a great deal of time in the study of God’s Word. When it comes to preaching there is no substitute for study. Is it possible that some of us are spending more time on our PowerPoint presentations than we are in actual study of the text? We need to stop listening to the call of men for shorter sermons and listen to the call of God to proclaim the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
Spend Time with the Brethren
There is an old saying that people “will not care how much we know, until they know how much we care.” For us to be able to equip the church for service (Eph. 4:11-13), we must know the church. We will do well to get involved in the lives of the people who hear us preach every week. We need to rejoice with them when they rejoice and weep with them when they weep (Rom. 12:15). We must get to know them.
Share Your Enthusiasm with the Church
A Christian said to me one time, “Our preacher always seems like he is angry and mad at the world when he preaches!” How sad. All of us have down days and we won’t hit a home run every Sunday, but we need generally to have a positive attitude about the work of the church. After all, we are preaching the Good News (Rom. 1:16)! The opportunity to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ is a tremendous blessing. We should share our joy with everyone who hears us.
Stand Ready to Discuss the Lessons You Present
Peter said, that we should always be ready to give an answer of the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15). This would include those of us who preach! We should not be smug if people question something we say. I know that there are some people who are always going to be a thorn in our flesh, however there are some who are genuine with our questions. It is important that we be approachable when people want to discuss what we preach.
Solidly Live What You Preach
It is true that our walk should match our talk. It is true that some people will stop listening to what we say because “what we are keeps ringing in their ears.” It is true that many would just as soon see as sermon as hear one.
If our preaching doesn’t line up with our life we lose credibility and we lose the power of influence. When people are convinced by our lives that we have pure hearts, pure motives, and lives that are devoted to Jesus they will want to hear more.
When our lives can be characterized in this way it will be said of us, as it was said of Elijah long ago, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth” (1 Kings 17:24).
Jeff Jenkins preaches for the Lewisville Church of Christ in Lewisville, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.