The Jeremiah Institute is committed to provide materials to improve the preaching and ministry of those engaged in the great work of preaching. God’s Son was a preacher (Mark 1:38). We will cover preaching and the preacher’s work from A to Z. Make this one of your regular stops for enriching your preaching and adding fuel to your desire.
In a recent conversation with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years, he asked, “Are you still preaching?” When I answered yes, he wanted to know why because in his estimation preaching was an antique practice that no longer communicated in the twenty-first century. Obviously I was a bit taken back by his honest remark, because I believe in the power of preaching.
I preached my first sermon in 1963 and haven’t stopped, having spoken more that 10,000 times in 40 states and 23 countries, and been a trainer of preacher of over 30 years. I still preach every Sunday as a local preacher. My belief in the power of preaching is stronger today than ever because I can look back and see the power and influence of preaching, but also because of what the Bible teaches.
In a day of declining church attendance there is an urgency to turn the tide. Sadly, in many congregations the power of preaching as set forth in the Bible is set aside in preference to self-help, feel-good, let’s keep everybody happy talks. The Jeremiah fire is missing; the voice of God calling for repentance is silent. The “whole counsel” of God remains a mystery within the covers of the Bible.
The clarion voice of the preacher with a “thus saith the Lord” is needed today more than ever. Hell is still hot and eternity is without an end. The Gospel is still the only power of God unto salvation (cf. Romans 1:14-16). An entertaining message void of the Gospel, no matter how many laughs it receives, will not save one soul or snatch a backslider out of the fire (Jude 22, 23). That’s one reason Paul told Timothy to “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:1-7).
What gives preaching its power? It is not the rhetoric ability, charm, or academic standing of the preacher; he is no more than a “cheap clay pot” who has been entrusted by God with the Gospel power (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7). God, not man, gives preaching its power. Here are a few reasons why this is true.
There are additional reasons why preaching is powerful. Hopefully these ten have called our attention to the need to restore this power in our pulpits. I need to make it clean also that I am not trying to limit preaching to a pulpit in a building. Philip preached in a chariot (Acts 8:29-40). Paul preached in the open air on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31). Peter preached in a house (Acts 10:34-48). Preaching is as powerful as it has always been, and needed more than ever. The lost and saved are waiting to hear a “cheap clay pot” preach the word (2 Corinthians 4:7).
J. J. Turner, Ph.D. is the author of three new books on preaching: How to Preach Like Jesus, Preaching Partners With God, and 77 Tips for Improving Your Preaching. They may be purchased by clicking on the links on this page.
God had only “one begotten Son.” He was a preacher. “But He said to them,’ Let us go into the next towns, that I may PREACH there also, because for this PURPOSE I have come forth’” (Mark 1:38). While some, even in the church, take preaching lightly and some take it seriously, God sent His Son on the longest missionary journey—from heaven to earth—in order to preach, train preacher, and command preaching. Preaching is God’s idea.
Preaching is not something that evolved out of a speech or communication class or the bright idea of a group of Bible students or worship committee. It is not something that is one of the choices at a job fair for students who are trying to decide on a vocation or college major. Preaching is an imperative framed in what we call the Great Commission: “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world AND PREACH the gospel to every creature’” (Mark 16:15). Preaching originated in eternity.
When I resigned as a Detective with a big city police department to go and start my journey to train as a preacher, I received some interesting comments. “Why would you give up your career to do something as foolish as preaching?” “Have you lost your mind?” “You’ll be sorry…church members will use you and beat you down”, etc.
I am honored to say I have been in training as a preacher for over 50 years. I have been tasking myself to be the best preacher I am capable of being for over 50 years. I have, by God’s grace, been given the blessing and privilege to preach and teach over 10,000 times during these 50-plus years. I have had the joy, heartache, and enjoyment of teaching and training want-to-be preacher for over 40 years.
Preaching is a commission given by Christ—it is a divine charge. Each week I am challenged to take a fresh look at preaching. I never take for granted the opportunity God and my brethren are giving me to “Preach the word!” (2 Timothy 4:2). What an honor to follow in my feeble way in the footsteps of Jesus, the preacher.
The sermon is not just a routine to fill time or an attempt to entertain those who come to hear a word from God. Paul was a master preacher and a trainer of preachers. He reminded us of the scope of preaching: “… Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Regardless of the number of persons who assemble to hear preaching nor if it is the same faces week after week, the audience’s needs are never the same. It is amazing what can happen during the 168 hours in a week. Thus the challenge to stay sensitive, relevant, and fresh in sermons.
When Paul commanded “Preach the Word!” he was commanding preaching “about the word”, “around the word”, “hinting at the word”, but preach the word. Why? Peter tells us why. “…His divine power has given us ALL THINGS that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).
The place and power of preaching begin with acknowledging and believing in the power and sufficiency of the Gospel—the only message ordained by God which is able to save a lost person. Paul wrote: “So much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:15, 16).
While there may be a place for appropriate illustrations and humor, none of these have the power to save a person. After a sinner has been “entertained” and had a laugh or two and was impressed by the preacher’s rhetoric skills, without the Gospel he is still lost. I once saw a cartoon panel that illustrates this point. Two older men were pictured having a conversation as they were leaving church services:
“Charlies, things sure have changed at church.”
“What do you mean?” Wilbur asked.
“Well, remember when we used to have to bring our Bibles to church; now we need to bring a dictionary.”
In my humble opinion which is based on experience and observations about the current state of preaching, we need to take a fresh look at preaching. The status of Christianity both locally and globally rests on the mission of the church to preach the word, the whole word, and nothing else but the word.
We need a brigade of preachers, soldiers of the cross (cf. 2 Timothy 2:1-3), (not pulpiteers) like we have never needed them before. Paul speaks about this honor of engaging in the “foolishness of preaching”. “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
The church rises, stagnates, or fails relative to the preaching of the word. We are slipping, if we haven’t already, into the state described by Hosea hundreds of years ago: “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priests for Me” (Hosea 4:6).
On a technical note, the basis Greek form of the word “preach” (kerusso) declares the rooting in the kerygma—The Gospel. When the word is preached the preacher is speaking on God’s behalf. He is announcing God’s love and grace through the redemption which is only in Christ (cf. Acts 4:10-12).
Biblical preaching cannot be reduced to an outline, a set of points and well-rehearsed illustrations presented in colorful power point presentations. Bible preaching first centers in the contextually exegeted Scriptures, flowing from a heart of fire that is seeking to snatch the lost out of the fire (cf. Jeremiah 20: 9; Jude 20-23).
Biblical preaching does not center in what the hearers’ declare what they wish to hear, would like to hear, or some self-felt need. Preaching declares what God sees as the needs of the soul, and meets these needs through the Gospel of Christ and the supporting Epistles.
In biblical preaching, the redeemed, frail, sinful, and at best, needy preacher stands and dares to speak for God. He speaks not because it is his “job” or because he doesn’t have anything else to do on Sunday. His daily memory reminder, as well as written on numerous pieces of paper and visible plaques are the words of Paul: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid on me; yes, WOE is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
Let’s be open-minded and unafraid to take a fresh look at the preaching of today. Let’s return to a biblical evaluation of the preacher and preaching. Maybe the church needs today more pulpits with blood, sweat, and tears instead of polish.
In training hundreds of preachers and preachers’ wives, and being married to a preacher’s wife, I have seen firsthand during 50-plus years of full-time ministry the toll ministry takes on the preacher and his family.
I have had letters, phone calls, and face-to-face visits with numerous wives of preachers lamenting their lives as wives of preachers. I have also visited with children of preachers who felt neglected and even abused because of their fathers’ ministry. A teenager said relative to her father’s behavior, “Oh if the church only knew what went on behind closed doors in our home they would fire my father.”
Every preacher, at one time or another, has heard the statement, and even made it, “How sad for the preacher to save the world and lose his family.” It is not minimizing the importance of “saving the world”, it is shining the spotlight on the preacher’s in-house mission field—his family.
Preaching is like no other job, and make no mistake, you may call it whatever you wish, but it is a job, work, and none-ending day after day demands. The preacher is like a volunteer fireman in a neighborhood, on call 24-hours a day. The preachers’ job is one overseen and supervised by every member of the congregation who is expecting an endless list of demands to be fulfilled with little time off, limited vacation time, etc.
In researching and writing Preventing Ministry Burnout, as well as honestly evaluating my own life and ministry, I found some very disturbing truths about preachers and burnout. One amazing discovery was when I lectured on burnout at various places, preachers were reluctant to attend. One preacher asked to visit with me in secret because he didn’t want his elders to see him talking with me about burnout. On one occasion I sent out 100 invitations to attend a seminar, only two responded.
Not only do preachers have family issues they also have numerous personal issues. Many are overweight, suffering depression, low energy, high blood pressure, and other health related issues. In my book, I discuss these and other personal issues related to ministry and burnout.
Preaching is not a nine-to-five job, where he punches an end and out time clock. He is on call 24-hours a day, 365 days each year. He doesn’t have “no” in his vocabulary. One preacher said in a proud voice tone, “I’ll rest in heaven; there is too much work to do to spend time resting or taking it easy.”
The preacher spends hours listening to others and their problems but doesn’t have time or energy to listen to his wife, much less his children. He knows what’s going on in some members’ lives more than he knows what’s going on in his family members lives. A teen boy said, “Daddy visits others more than he visits with me.”
One preacher confessed that his wife was his “dumping ground” relative sharing all the challenges and problems in his ministry. She is the only “safe person” he can share his personal disappointments, setbacks, hurts, conflicts, and frustrations with. She watches her husband deal with criticism, misunderstandings, and endless conflicts. The children watch and absorb the pain without being able to share in the solutions. On the other side of the coin is the preacher who involves his family in all the issues, but solutions never go beyond the four walls; the only resentment goes out the door.
It is easier to talk about this problem than to implement a solution. How can we address and dialogue about these issues faced by most preachers in full-time ministry? Here are some suggestions:
The first step to solutions is an honest admittance of the problem. The second is a documentation of all the issues related to “neglecting the family.” The third step is for husband and wife to openly and honestly discuss the need for more balance. The fourth step is to pray for wisdom relative how to share the issues with church leadership. The fifth step in to make out a family time together schedule. The sixth step is to have a family conference where you share your new plans with the family. Adjustments will be made after input. The seventh step should be a sharing with the church leadership your need and plans to lead a more balanced life as their preacher. Be positive and seek their guidance. Don’t try to jump the Grand Canyon in one leap. Eighth, study the balanced life of Christ.
Hopefully, this brief article has opened the door for serious discussion relative to the preacher and his family. You want to save the word AND your family. I suggest you get a copy of my book Preventing Ministry Burnout (www.amazon.com).
I once heard a chapel speaker tell an audience of preacher students that if they didn’t conduct themselves in a Christ-like manner, the brethren would give them a gift certificate to U-Haul; a nice way of saying “It is time for you to move!” This bit of humor has become synonymous with preacher discouragement, firing, and choosing to move.
Check it out. Most preachers resign on Monday. This day is called “Blue Monday” by some preachers. Have you ever wondered why? As a preacher for more that 50-plus years, associating with preachers, as well as training preachers, I know one major reason. They are drained from Sunday’s activities. Most preachers have three major lessons they must present on Sunday: (1) a Bible class, (2) a sermon, and (3) an evening class or sermon. This doesn’t include the visiting, meetings, and other ministry involvement. Discouragement is a major reason!
Those who study the physical and emotional drain on the preacher after three 20 to 45 minute lessons on Sunday, conclude the drain is equivalent to eight to twelve hours of the energy drain of digging ditches or engaging in some other strenuous physical activity. The preacher is tired. He is emotionally drained. He has a “downer hangover” from Sunday. He is discouraged. Why? There may be several reasons for the preacher being discouraged on Monday (Or on other days):
A very discouraged and overworked preacher went every day to the railroad tracks to watch an express train streak by. An observer asked, “Preacher, why do you come here every day to see the Dixie Flyer go by?” The preacher responded, “Well, I do like to see something I don’t have to push!” Does that get you discouraged? You are not alone (Knights’ Treasury of Illustrations).
Discouragement is the occupational hazard of preaching. Read my book Preventing Ministry Burnout for additional information and helps on this subject (amazon. com).
As the times continue to change more and more pressure and demands are placed on the preacher’s shoulders. Members, who are becoming less and less involved in church activities, are having higher and higher expectations of the full-time preacher. Some think of him as a “hireling” who is employed to “do ministry for them.” He has “a hundred bosses.”
It is easy to find reasons to resign but it takes courage, openness, and commitment to keep the preaching fires burning bright hot (cf. Jeremiah 20:8, 9). During my 50-plus years of preaching I have thought about resigning many times; many of the reasons are in the previous 20 causes of discouragement. I have even written letters of resignation but never turned them in. But like Jeremiah, the fire was still in my bones and I couldn’t quit (Jeremiah 20:8, 9). Thank God.
In my reasons for not resigning I am talking about what is normally called “Full-time ministry” with a congregation; not quitting preaching in a free-lance context.
Yes! Yes I have thought many times in the 50-pluss years of full-time preaching that I wanted to resign. But thanks be to God, it was only a temporary laps. Discouragement is real; it is not bad unless we allow it to cause us to “neglect the gift” that is in us. God’s only “Begotten Son” was a preacher. I am following in the “steps of my elder brother”—Jesus Christ. “I must go into the next towns that I may preach there also, because that is why I have come forth” (Mark 1:38).
Instead of resigning— I choose to REIGNITE! Oh yes. I’ll use the gift certificate to U-Haul to get a trailer to haul away some trash.
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country” (President John Kennedy)
“Render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and render unto God the things that belong to God” (Jesus Christ).
This week our nation celebrates on the 4th of July our freedom and independence from tyranny, oppression, over taxation, etc.
“America was founded by people who believed that God was their rock of safety. I recognize we must be cautious in claiming that God is on our side, but I think it’s all right to keep asking if we’re on His side” (President Ronald Reagan).
Our NATION (USA) is facing the threat of being placed in bondage by the continual loss of the freedoms our Founders—the 56 courageous men who signed the Declaration of Independence—sacrificed, fought and died to achieve.
Our CHURCH (The Body of Christ) is facing the continual threat of losing the freedoms our Founders—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—made possible by the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ.
As Christians we hold dual citizenship. Both carry major responsibilities.
7 POSITIVE THINGS CHRISTIANS CAN DO FOR AMERICA
Pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-6)
Pay our taxes (Romans 13:6-8)
Do not take justice into your own hands (Romans 12:18-21)
Obey the laws of the land (Romans 13:1-5)
Speak-up in the spirit of love and conviction (Acts 5:27-29; Ephesians 4:15).
Daily live the attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:4-9; 1 Peter 4:14-16).
Exercise freedom to vote (Acts 1:24-26).
WHAT WILL YOU INTENTIONALLY DO FOR AMERICA? FOR THE CHURCH?
FREEDOM IS NEVER FREE!
“In order for evil to triumph all it takes is for good men to do NOTHING”
(Sir Edmund Burke).
There used to be a popular put-down relative to the education standards, and no ordination requirements, required of church of Christ preachers. The put-down went something like this, “In order to preach for the church of Christ all you need is a King James Bible and know what the church is against.” In my early days of preaching, over 50-years ago, there was some measure of truth in that insult. Once the doctrinal litmus test was passed and you affirmed that you used only the King James Bible you were allowed to preach.
Well things have changed. Since the church moved from the caves to the cathedrals; from across the tracks to the better side of town, the academic requirements for a preacher have taken on new meaning and power. Thus, qualifications for a man to preach have been adjusted to include academia; to mirror the professional standards of the world. Preaching is a business.
Many of our early Christian colleges were two year programs started with the goal of preparing preachers. Bible courses were taught by men who had been on the front lines of preaching and working with churches. Few had graduate degrees and some had no degrees. Students were taught the Bible as the inherent, confluent, full and plenary word of God (i.e. 2 Timothy 3:15-17). The Great Commission was burning in the hearts of teacher which inspired students to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15, 16).
Teachers were men who had real world and real church experience; they weren’t just passing on notes they had gained in a seminary or Bible college. They weren’t using liberal and secular principles by tacking on a few Bible verses. They didn’t teach theory or create doubt and confusion in the minds of students. Churches were growing as these prepared men went forth preaching the word, which they believed they had been commanded to do (cf. 2 Timothy 4:1-6).
Well folks all of that has changed. The model of Jesus calling mature men with experience in the real world to preach has changed. Christ’s three year school of ministry for the “common disciple” has evolved to an academic echelon few choose to go through. We still refuse to use the word seminary because of a prejudice toward denominational churches; yet many of our preachers attend and get degrees from conservative to liberal seminaries.
We have a “seminary curricula” under school and program names deemed more appropriate. Accreditation has become the Holy Grail all colleges and graduate schools are trying to satisfy. Before secular thinking guided what qualified a preacher to preach and a teacher to teach a preacher, the word of God was the accreditation standard. It was the A.U.G degree based in 2 Timothy 2:15, Study to Show Thyself approved Unto God” (KJV).
In my opinion every preacher God uses in ministry must first be prepared to function in that ministry. For example Jesus warned that “if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a ditch”(John 15:12-14). The act of preparation is the equipping and making ready for the task ahead or at hand; to get ready to function properly. As never before the church needs qualified teachers of preachers and preacher who are biblically prepared to preach. Sadly, I know of cases where so-called teachers of preachers have had little or no preaching experience in the day to day work of church work. They use the textbooks written by those who have had real church experience; thus they are teaching theory. This isn’t a sound Bible model.
As a turtle slowly out runs the rabbit, so the church has managed to move slowly from a biblical model of training preachers to an academic model which believes that scholars are the best prepared men to preach and lead the church. As the church has moved slowly from the first century to the 21st century, she has become more and more identified with the political and non-Christian world in which she has been sent to “convert.” The church has become subject to the same educational and professional standards of the world; a world that lies in wickedness (cf. 1 John 5:19). Caesar tells the church schools what to do, if they wants to be accredited.
The first colleges founded in America were committed to training men to preach the gospel. The first was Harvard College, then Yale, Princeton, etc. A casual reading of these schools catalogues reveal how far, far away they have gone from their original purpose. The degree designations sound biblical: The Master of Divinity, The Master of Theological Studies, Doctor of Ministry, Doctor of Theology, etc. The courses are more secular than biblical.
Most of these programs recommend in order for a student to get in, a strong background in history, philosophy, literature, social studies, fine arts, psychology, etc. In some advanced degree programs an applicant is expected to have an elementary knowledge in languages: Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German or French.
I trained, or tried to train, preacher students for over 30-years. Looking back I see a number of mistakes I made, as well as blind spots in my philosophy of preacher training. I am not opposed to a preacher having a balanced education. This used to be guaranteed by a high school diploma, but this is no longer true as some graduates can’t read the text on their diplomas. I even venture to say that some college graduates are not very literate. I’ve seen it firsthand.
When we look through the pages of Scripture we don’t find one bound model or example of how to prepare a man to be a spokesman or preacher. When Israel was trying to find a replacement for King Saul, Samuel offered a candidate. Here is how God replied to Samuel’s suggestion: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for men look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the HEART” (1 Samuel 16:1-7). One credential—HEART!
The preparation of a preacher starts with the HEART—the inner man.. A man may have academic degrees, be handsome and well groomed, be an orator with a golden tongue, be a good people person, and has offers from large congregations, but if his heart isn’t right, God doesn’t approve of him. A preacher may have great homiletic skills, be a great students of hermeneutics, know theology, and doctrine, and is a great organizer, but what about his heart?
Therefore, the training of a preacher must begin, continue, and always involve his heart. I confess that during my years of training preachers there wasn’t a course or major emphasis placed on preparing the student’s heart. I guess we assumed it would happen automatically by studying the Bible and ministry courses. Not so!
The word HEART is mentioned approximately 1000 times in the 66 books of the Bible. This makes it obvious that God is very, very interested in the attitudes, actions, and dispositions of the heart. Here are just a few of the verses where God tells us about heart:
These are only a few of the heart verses that should be taught, learned and applied in the life of a man preparing to preach. It all starts with the heart. The challenge is to intentionally work on applying these verses in the will, intellect, conscious, emotions and mind. A preacher may be prepared in 101 things but if his heart is not prepared he is not pleasing to God; no matter how great the brethren think he is.
PREACH THE WORD! Not about, around, under or close to the word—THE WORD! This can only flow from a PURE HEART.