Good morning, Pastor
Several of us enjoyed a wonderful Preacher’s Conference last week hosted by our Seminary. It was not only instructive in terms of the practice of preaching, it was also a time of spiritual renewal as the Spirit inspired the preaching to become for us good news. It got me to thinking again about the power of anointed preaching and the awesome task to which we have been called.
“We preach because God blesses faithful preaching. We preach because we continue to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in the reading, hearing, study, and proclamation of the Scriptures, pointing all in our hearing to God’s reconciling work through Jesus Christ. I have always worked in pastoral ministry from the conviction that people need not only the work of a faithful preacher; God’s people are hungry for biblical preaching. This conviction has only been deepened in my present work which places me in a different congregation each Sunday. In some places, the people are clearly being blessed by the skillful and anointed work of the preacher. The Spirit uses strong and biblical preaching to help God’s people “grow up” in Christ (Eph. 4). This is a beautiful thing when it happens and one who is able to discern these things can see quickly when a congregation is well loved through the work of pastoral preaching. Unfortunately, it also becomes painfully evident when this is missing. Where strong, biblical preaching is not happening, the sheep are scrawny and agitated and the health of the congregation is diminished. This is often the case even among people who are mature and disciplined enough to practice spiritual formation in their own lives. Nothing fully replaces the power of Spirit anointed, biblically based, and lovingly delivered preaching” (Thinking, Listening, Being, p. 109).
So, this may be a timely opportunity to ask you to reflect on your work of preaching. First, are you guarding sufficient spaces in your weekly rhythm to sit prayerfully with the text and listen for the unmistakable promptings of the Spirit? A temptation many preachers face is to rush too soon to other helpers. We can certainly find help in these resources but nothing can replace the preacher’s own engagement with the reading and study of Scripture. John Wesley practiced and taught that one should never sit down to read the Bible without first praying for the gift of illumination by the power of the Spirit who is our Guide.
Second, are you listening well to your people? The best preaching rises from pastoral love that is grounded in everyday, real life engagement with people who are walking the way of Jesus, or perhaps walking away from Jesus. Some of our best sermon preparation is in those moments when we linger with someone over coffee and prayerfully listen to the concerns and questions that come into the reality of life in this world.
I’ve said nothing of the work of hermeneutic or homiletic, which are essential components of good preaching, but these practices of prayerful immersion and prayerful pastoral listening are the works that seem most easily to become marginalized in the life of a busy pastor. May the Lord help you, Pastor, to remember the first two “core duties” given to us in our Manual: “to pray” and “to preach the Word” (Manual 514-514.2). May your preaching flow from God’s love “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5, NRSV).