I used to say pretty seriously that one of the best things that I get from preaching is that, since I am held to a higher standard, it forces me to be a better person than I would otherwise be. See, I’ve never believed myself to be that great at facing temptation or overcoming my own weaknesses, but as a preacher, I know people are watching, and I am “called” to a higher standard.
The older I get the more I see the reality of what I just believed as a young man. God talked about this too.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). Although this does not reveal who will judge us more strictly, it is clear that we will be. Is it that God will hold us to greater accountability for it is His Word we represent and impart? Is it that the brethren will since our personal stumbles will discourage those who respect the role we hold? Or is it the world who will judge us - for no one likes a hypocrite? It’s interesting and appropriate, but rarely left in context, that the verses immediately following this warning are about stumbling in “word” or tripping over our tongues.
But James is not the only voice to call those of us who minister to a higher bar. Paul’s pleas for purity in young Timothy’s life can’t be overlooked: (1 Timothy 1:5 pure heart; 1:19 a good conscience; 2:1-2 a healthy prayer life; 2:8 holy hands; 3:15 learn how to behave as a Christian; 4:6 attain faith and good doctrine so you can proclaim it; 4:7 exercise yourself to godliness; 4:12 be an example of the believer; 4:13 give attention to the things that will make you a better person; 4:15 meditate; 5:22 keep yourself pure).
Perhaps the strongest teaching along these lines is in 1 Timothy 4:16 “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. ” As you give such attention to your ministry and to the teachings you do it will not only affect others but will also lead to making you more fit for God’s Kingdom - it will make you a better person.
And preaching should make us better. After all we get to deal with God’s Word continually and it is what is “able to build you up” (Acts 20:32). We also get to deal with God’s People regularly. Our prayer lives should be richer since we are called upon more often both publicly and by individuals to pray for them. Our lives of service should be deeper since we are “required” to be involved in most every service project.
Sadly, for many, these are the very things that often pull them away from a deep meaningful spiritual life. And instead of this role making us better we lean more toward bitter. And the bitterness takes root in our heart and gut and we feel guilt and remorse knowing what we want to be, what we planned to be and what we have become. Here’s what happens.
When our time with the Word of Life becomes more about crafting an outline for Sunday’s sermon or being creative in our presentation, the pressure takes the joy from time with The Book. When our occasions with God’s People become strained by relationship struggles or overshadowed by pains from stabs by our brethren we find ourselves wanting to hide from them more than enjoin them. Our prayer lives can become little more than another list to maintain of who is where, when and who we are to be praying for now. And, if not careful, we avoid the very Throne where we could find grace for our own struggle because we have neither time nor energy for what would otherwise be our strength. And the service that could open our eyes to the needs of others and release our abilities to exhibit the love of God become little more than housekeeping, fulfilling a calendar appointment and “making sure everything runs smoothly. ” Rather than live the moment we feel the need to manage the moment and miss out of it’s blessings.
At some point, you must step away from study purely for the sake of sermonizing. From punching a clock, to serving solely in joy. We must return to personal time and reflection on the Book of Books, prayer as talking to our Father about our lives, and serving with no “external accolades”. Then we will find the Lord anew in our ministries and He will help us to be better. And, happily when we become better, we will be Better - Better stewards of the pulpit, Better at loving God’s Family, Better at intercessory prayer, Better at being a stewart of our skills in service.
Author Note: I cannot speak about this subject without mentioning my dad who lived a life worthy to be imitated, and who was a great man made better by the self-imposed lessons he put on himself as a minister of the Gospel of Christ.
Dale Jenkins preaches for the Spring Meadows congregation in Spring Hill, Tennessee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.