To the preachers who are out there, I want to start off by saying one thing…your job is tough. I do not preach for a living, so I don’t know everything that you go through. All I know about the life of a preacher is from what I see in the life of friends of mine that are preachers. I may preach 7-8 sermons a year just filling in places when needed. A few months ago, several congregations were needing someone to fill in while their preachers were either on vacation or holding gospel meetings somewhere else. I preached five sermons in that one month at various congregations. I learned very quickly that there is no way I could preach fulltime for a congregation while still working my secular job. That was a LOT of time spent in preparation, yet it was still only about half of what a full-time preacher does on a monthly basis.
All that is my way of saying…thank you. You pour your heart and soul into what you do. You agonize over trying to find ways to reach the depths of the hearts of those sitting in the pews. You try to be at every funeral and every surgery. You spend time counseling and simply talking with those who are looking for someone to listen. Then most of you still go home to a wife and kids who want your attention. Regardless of how some people may joke, we know your job is more than just four hours of work a week.
Most of the time, when we talk about passages of scripture that talk about a preacher and his work, we often point to the two letters that Paul wrote to Timothy. Sure enough, those have a lot of great information that is very useful and encouraging. But have you ever turned to the book of I Corinthians to find comfort and instructions as a preacher? I know that seems somewhat weird. I mean, it’s a letter that Paul wrote basically chastising the Corinthian congregation for divisions and losing focus on what really mattered instead of focusing on Christ. That’s true, but buried within those passages are words that I would find encouraging if I were a preacher. Let’s take a look at a few.
Despite your best efforts, people will sometimes go astray. And it’s not your fault.
Often times when a congregation begins to veer off in a direction they shouldn’t go, many people will automatically point at the preacher and assume that he is not preaching truth. That may be the culprit at times, but it’s not always. Granted, when Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth, it’s believed he had been gone from them for about three years. However, he had spent one and a half years with them (Acts 18:11) teaching them the fundamentals of what they needed as a budding congregation (I Corinthians 3:2). He lived among these people. He befriended them (Acts 18:1-3). He labored with them. Then, not long after leaving, he hears through the grapevine of Chloe’s people (I Corinthians 1:11) that things are all messed up. They stopped focusing on Christ and focused instead on which preacher they liked best. They quickly fell back into their secular ways of placing their loyalty in a person and arguing over who was the best. They left the wisdom of God and chose instead to again follow the wisdom of the world (I Corinthians 1:18-20, 2:14-3:1). Even Paul felt the frustration of having to go back and re-teach something that should have been so fundamental.
Don’t be afraid to preach the hard sermons. Even if you think your words are falling on deaf ears, people are listening.
The congregation in Corinth had a lot of problems, that much is clear. They were divided over who they claimed to be disciples of. They cared more about the notoriety their spiritual gifts could bring than the souls they could save. They were taking each other to court. They had a lot messed up. That’s a lot of problems to pop up in the short amount of time that Paul had been gone. I can only imagine the frustration he felt. Is it the same frustration that you feel when you continually preach on a subject, but you see that same sin in the lives of those you stand before? Preach the hard sermons. Don’t sugar-coat the truth. If I’m completely messing up my life, let me know. Sometimes we need a good dose of reality to wake us up.
You may be thinking, “It won’t do any good, Jonathan. All that will do is make people irritated at me, and then they’ll never listen to me.” That’s possible to happen. Paul may have thought the same thing as he was writing the first letter to the Corinthians. He may have thought that he was burning a bridge that couldn’t be repaired…but he wrote it anyway. And you know what? They listened. They took it to heart, and they repented (II Corinthians 7:8-9). This wasn’t the kind of repentance where you feel bad for a day or two and then you get right back into the same sin. It changed them. It created a zeal and a fire in that congregation that they so badly needed (II Corinthians 7:11). All of that came about because Paul plainly told them what they needed to hear.
Don’t worry if you aren’t the best speaker. It’s not about you anyway.
So many men have said they could never get in front of a congregation and preach because they just aren’t that good at talking in front of others. If you seem to struggle to find the right words to get across what you are wanting to say, don’t worry. Paul wasn’t the best either (II Corinthians 10:10, 11:6). And you want to know what else? He didn’t care. Not even a little. And you want to know why? He knew that bringing the message of Christ to the Corinthian church (or anyone else, for that matter) using eloquent words and fancy speech would have only brought himself more into the spotlight and pushed Christ into the shadows (I Corinthians 1:17, 2:1, 2:4-5). That was the last thing he wanted. He didn’t want the attention on himself (Philippians 3:8-9). He knew that everything had to be centered on Christ and Him crucified (I Corinthians 2:2). That is the foundation of the Church (I Corinthians 3:11). If the focus is ever moved from the cross and instead put on anything else (such as the preacher’s speaking ability), then it’s all for nothing.
Preachers…don’t get discouraged when you preach. Will it always be perfect? No. Will you ever falter? Of course. You’re part of a sinful race, just like the rest of us. However, know that your preaching is having an impact. Know that you are part of the builders that is building on the foundation laid by Paul (I Corinthians 3:10). Be a wise builder. Don’t try to lay a new foundation. The foundation is already there, and it’s perfect. Trust that foundation.
We love you for what you do, and God loves you for what you do. Keep preaching His word.