TOKYO AIRPORT—Preaching the gospel is a privilege. It is also a burden. And a calling. I have been a preacher since 1982. I love my job. I love to read, study, teach, and preach. Every day I am thankful that I get to do what I love. I am not a natural communicator. I have had to work hard to develop whatever teaching and preaching skills I have.
Over the years my preaching style has changed a few times. Originally I was a topical list preacher. I would find random verses about grace, faith, or whatever the topic, and preach away. After about ten years of that, I started exegetical teaching/preaching. I spent two years preaching my way through the Book of Mark on Sunday mornings. I spent a year on Acts, six months on 1 Corinthians. Then I taught my way through shorter books like Jonah, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, and James. For the past ten years, I have done team prep and team preaching. Hopefully, each change has been an upgrade. If you are a teacher or preacher I hope you are constantly upgrading your craft.
Before getting on my Manila to Tokyo to Minneapolis to Nashville flight, I met with some of our best Filipino preachers to discuss concerns and pitfalls of preachers and preaching. Here are some of the questions we asked ourselves.
1. ARE OUR PREACHERS MAKING DISCIPLES? Are preachers doing the work of the ministry? Are they ministering to people and making disciples in small groups? Or are they spending all week in their study with a pile of books? I am not suggesting that study is unimportant. Quite the contrary, but we must study people as well as the Bible. The more we connect with people and their pain, the better preachers we will become. The goal is to make disciples. Preaching is an important part of the disciple-making process, but it is only a part, not the whole.
2. ARE OUR PREACHERS CARRYING THE BURDEN? Are preachers carrying the weight of the ministry? Are they shouldering the pressure of the budget, the vision, the values, the mission? Or are they simply communicating pre-packaged points? Last Sunday while preaching at Victory Makati, I felt an overwhelming burden that I had thirty-five minutes to connect with those in the congregation. I had a heavy burden because the topic was so important. I was not just communicating information, I was preaching a sermon that had the potential to shape, redirect, and change lives. That is a heavy burden.
3. ARE OUR PREACHERS PREPARING THEIR OWN HEARTS? Preparing a sermon to preach is the easy part. Preparing our hearts to preach is difficult and often painful. I sometimes wonder if the time preachers spend working on slick Powerpoint and Keynote presentations, would be better spent on their faces before God. I also wonder if modern preachers spend too much time researching illustrations to make people laugh, rather than time searching the scriptures for the original meaning of the text. Powerpoint pictures and funny stories do not change lives. God’s word brings change because it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
I get to work in Nashville, Manila, and around the world with some really great preachers. The reason they are so good is because they constantly ask themselves the hard questions.
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 ESV
It pleased God through the folly of what we preached to save those who believe. 1 Corinthians 1:21