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.
Guess what? My birth certificate confirms that I am a human being, and so does yours. We are “created in the image of God.” As a preacher for 50-plus years there have been times when I forgot my humanist, and the brethren did too. This is driven home when I find myself discouraged, disappointed, and dragging doing kingdom business. During these times I am running on empty. I have a jaundiced outlook on ministry as well on life in general. The needle of desire is on red. Yet, the calls, demands, and needs keep on coming. A NASCAR driver said after his victory, “I was running on empty on the last lap.” I have had “last lap” days where I was running on empty relative to preaching and ministry. Jeremiah expressed my feelings, “I am weary with groaning and have found no rest” (Jeremiah 45:3). Jeremiah’s birth certificate affirms he is human too. Sooner or later every human being grows weary. But some will not admit it. I have found this especially true about preachers.
In conjunction with the release of my book Preventing Ministry Burnout (amazon.com) a few years ago, I spoke on several lectureships about burnout. While elders and preachers attended the sessions, there was a reluctance to engage in discussion during the presentation. Several preachers cornered me after the sessions in private, hoping they wouldn’t be seen talking with me about burnout. They were ashamed and reluctant to admit their empty tanks. I know it is not kosher for a preacher, who is viewed as a super saint and spiritual giant, to admit he has times when he is preaching and ministering on empty. I freely and unashamedly admit that there some days when I feel so discourages that I could do side-straddle hops under a carpet without touching anything. But I don’t stay there. God and His word gives me power to bounce back.
Most preacher from time-to-time ask what the Psalmist asked: “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance … O my God, my soul is cast down within me…” Psalm 42:5, 6). In this context the Psalmist affirmed how he handled his discouragement. “Hope in God, for I shall praise Him for the help of His countenance …Therefore I will remember You from the land of Jordan…”. Psalm 42:5, 6, cf. 42:9). God fills empty tanks—continually.
I have documented a number of reasons why some preachers won’t openly and honestly admit they are experiencing burnout or running on empty:
When I was writing my book Preventing Ministry Burnout I had one of those aha moments. It came out of the blue: EVEN GOD RESTED. Yes! This is documented in the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servants, nor your female servants, nor your cattle, nor your strangers who is within your gates. For six days the Lord made heaven and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and RESTED the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-12).
God, Who is Spirit, wasn’t tired from His labors. But He CEASED from His work. Therefore, this is what He wanted His people to do—to cease working so they could REST. God created us in His image. He made us flesh and bones, physical beings. Thus, He knows we need to rest and renew our physical man, which affects out spiritual man. Whatever we are going to do for the Lord we will do it in our physical bodies.
Preachers, who do we think we are? God rested but we don’t need to rest. I have heard preachers brag, in their effort to justify never taking a vacation, “I’ll rest in heaven.” Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, was a preacher (cf. Mark 1:38) but He never burned the candle at both ends. He was balanced. He knew when to take a break. In Mark 6:31, 32, we read the account of Jesus “going on a retreat” with His disciples: “And He said to them, ‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and REST a while.’ For there were many coming and going and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.”
In my book Preventing Ministry Burnout (Pages 73-76) I present the 10 Rs involved in burnout. I’ll list them here and encourage you to get the book (amazon.com):
Preventing Burnout and Running on Empty
If there was ever a spokesman for God who was challenged by burnout, it was the prophet Jeremiah. He preached to a rebellious nation for 40 years without a positive response. We read one of his rock bottom moments in Jeremiah 9:1,2: “Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain daughter of my people. Oh, that I had in the wilderness a lodging place for travelers, that I might leave my people and go far from them! For they are all adulterers, as assembly of treacherous men.” Did you notice what Jeremiah wanted to do? He wanted to go into the motel business. He wanted to be self-supporting. In the motel business he could provide a service to others and serve God without the confrontations with his brethren. Jeremiah has many successors to day—preachers who want to quit and go into the motel business. This attitude is created by burnout.
Later in his book Jeremiah gives us his solution for rebounding from burnout and refilling an empty tank: “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.’ But his word was in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding back, and I could not stop” (Jeremiah 20:9). It was God’s word that was in his heart, like the Psalmist in Psalm 119, which rekindled and fueled his discouraged heart.
Here are a few suggestions for preventing burnout and running on empty (See my book for a complete discussion of solutions):
As preachers there will be those times when we find ourselves running on empty. The key is to recognize it and take the steps to prevent it from turning into burnout. Not only preacher, but all Christians involved in ministry have times when their tanks are empty. Take time to repent, rest, renew, and redo. “I can do all things through Christ.”
TO: Dr. Paul, Rabbi of Tarsus
FM: The Believers Church
Dear Dr. Paul:
I have your application for preaching and missionary appointment before me, and will be as frank as possible concerning your qualifications for preaching and as a foreign missionary. We have to be very careful in choosing our preachers and missionaries, and our Selection Board has reviewed your application and case very thoroughly. We have decided that it would be unwise to hire you as our preacher or send you to the foreign field for the following reasons:
As you see, Sir, we feel definitely after close scrutiny of your case, that you are undoubtedly the most unqualified applicant we have ever seen, and my advice for you is to find a church where you can work in harmony, and use you past education as perhaps a Sunday school teacher. Oh yes, you are too old. We need a young man who can relate to the younger members of our church. You even admitted this in one of your writing by referring to yourself as “the aged.”
I hope I have prevented you from making a terrible mistake in your life.
Sincerely yours, for the elders,
J. Flaminius Dufious, Chairman
This satire makes a very clear point when viewed in light of how some congregations hire ministers today. By today’s standards, which are not found in the Scripture, the apostle Paul would not be selected as a preacher, missionary, or teacher in one of our schools.
Ads today for preachers stress that he must be under age 50 with 15 years of experience. Neither Paul, Peter nor John would get past this litmus as their resumes would be tossed in the trash can because of their age. Jesus would be turned down because he wasn’t married. And poor Timothy had two strikes against him: young and not married.
There is an urgent and biblical need to get back to the Word of God relative to who is qualified to preach and how do we select him.
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One bit of humor I have enjoyed at the expense of my wife, which she now enjoys too, is when I introduce her I say, “This is my wife, Isabel, she is married to a preacher.” The expressions on the faces of those to whom I introduce her are always interesting; sometimes for a moment with a puzzled look. It would be an understatement to say this is the most folly from me she has had to put up with in our 50-plus years of full-time ministry.
King Solomon was right when he wrote, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). Whoever coined, “Behind every good man is a great women” was right. Whatever I have been able to do in the ministry is because of the support, encouragement, and help of my wife. During all these ministry years together, “she had stood beside her man.” She has never flinched in the good or bad times.
My wife didn’t marry a preacher; she married a sailor in the US Navy, who later became a machinist and was a policeman when we obeyed the Gospel together. As we studied the Bible my burden and desire to share God’s word grew and grew. I couldn’t get enough of God’s word. My mind was on the Word constantly. The thoughts of learning more about the Bible started to include studying to preach the Word. I knew absolutely zero about what being a preacher involved other than preaching.
I remember the evening I shared my desire to preach with Isabel. She listened, asked a few questions, and we prayed. Almost every day I would bring up the subject, until finally she encouraged me to stop talking about it and do something about it. I did. I went and shared my desire with the preacher who had baptized us into Christ. I didn’t know it at the time but in his wisdom he tried to “discourage” me by assuring me I could learn the Bible and share in in the church. It was a spiritual litmus test, i.e. the “new convert zeal” that usually passed in time.
I couldn’t be deterred from my desire. I resigned as a Detective; we sold our furniture and moved to Texas to study to become a preacher. From that day to this, I haven’t looked back or had any regrets. My wife also grew in Bible knowledge as she attended special classes and college; her burden, along with mine, grew with the desire to share the Good News.
During these 50-plus years my wife has been just outside the spotlight. As I have been on the stage receiving the compliments, awards, accolades, etc. she has smiled, rejoiced and understood the role that has been assigned to the preacher’s wife. During those times, and there have been those times, when I was discouraged, feeling like Jeremiah, she has always been there to pray and encourage; believing “This too shall pass.” And it did and still does.
We have spent 30-plus years of our ministry training preachers, teachers, and missionaries. Isabel, my wife, has taught future preachers wives; served as Dean of women, and made major contributions to the lives of young women, some reluctant, so excited, in becoming preachers wives.
During all these years of ministry we have been a team; each doing his or her part to glorify God though being faithful to the “calling of the Gospel” (2 Thessalonians 2:14). My wife has sacrificed the most, without complaining, as she stayed at home as I travelled the world preaching and teaching. While I was out late at night helping others with problems, she was at home helping our children with their problems. While I was eating in a restaurant with brethren, she was at home making ends meet; serving a casserole. While I had the latest suits, she wore dated dresses; even made her own clothes. I can honestly say she is the Proverbs 31 women—my wife.
Sadly, during our 50-plus years of ministry we have witnessed scores of preachers leaving the ministry because their wives didn’t support them. In her book, Private Lives of Pastor’s Wives, Ruth A. Tucker, wrote this about the challenges faced by some minister’s wives: “Pastors’ wives in every generation have had widely varying views of their station in life. Some have resented the intrusion of the parishioners into their lives and have been exasperated by the long hours required of their husbands. This position was expressed by an Anglican vicar’s wife: ‘Clergy ought to be celibate … because no decent, right-minded man ought to have the effrontery to ask any woman to take on such a lousy job! It is thoroughly unchristian….I myself am happy, basically, because I love my husband—but I am afraid it is often in spite of the church’”. (p. 10, 1988, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Mich.).
I believe many of the negative attitudes preacher’s wives develop is because of their husbands. I have known of cases where preachers made demands of their wives that were not only unreasonable but sinful. These range from never being able to express their opinion to demanding they be involved in every activity of the congregations. Some wives resent being made to feel like they have “been hired too”, as congregations expect more from them than they do the other women in the church. This is commonly referred to as the “Glasshouse Syndrome.”
My wife has helped me in more ways than I could every express. She has had the nerve and love to challenge me on some point or attitude I had in a sermon. After I tried to justify my action, because of male ego, I had to admit she was right. She has made leadership suggestions that were so very wise. Asked questions that I’d never thought about. She has had insights into problems that only a woman can have. She has supported me when others complained about something I did or didn’t do. No, I am not perfect and she knows it too.
I believe my wife, as a preacher’s wife, is described by the Psalmist in these words, “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house” (Psalm 128:3). This is true because she is an extension of Christ; He is the vine and she is a branch (cf. John 15:1-8). What flows through Him flows through her. First and foremost as a Christian women, she is committed to “Bearing the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26).
I have no doubt that if I had chosen to be a ditch digger, my wife would have been loving and supportive of me, encouraging me to be the best ditch digger I could be. Isabel is a gift from God: “Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord” (Proverbs 19:14).
It is a blessing and privilege to honor all wives of preachers by asking them to step out of the shadows and let the spotlight of love, appreciation, and thanksgiving shine on them. As you hold your husband’s hand remember, “The best is yet to be.”
Ryan had an accounting degree he had earned in the 60s; had worked with several firms in the 70s but had left to go into sales. He recently applied for a job with an accounting firm, desiring to return to the field he was degreed in. He was turned down because he lacked expertise in the maze of new technology being used in accounting firms today. While he had the basic knowledge of mathematics and other facts about basic accounting, he lacked the skills to translate them into today’s methodologies required in accounting. He was a dinosaur relative accounting expertise needed today.
Ministers are faced with this same challenge. There is a difference between core, fundamental and eternal Bible truths, which never change, and the expertise required in application to today’s ministry. While we grow deeper in understanding Bible truths, which is a form of change; the methodologies required for ministry today, unless continually updated, soon expire. Ministers can become dinosaurs relative to methodologies.
Because you were successful yesterday, and maybe even today, it doesn’t mean that complacency and obsoleteness isn’t setting in. A visiting missionary wanted to show his work to a congregation, when inquiring about a slide projector, he was told they hadn’t had one in ten years—power point is now the thing. Don’t fool yourself by thinking you and your present expertise (i.e. methods) will survive and flourish in a world that is changing faster that the speed of light—you will become an antique.
Here is the question for minister-leaders who plan to stay ahead of the status quo or obsolete curve: Am I still relevant in my ministry methodologies? Relevant minister-leaders keep growing in (1) knowledge, (2) skills, and (3) character.
There are some minister-leaders who represent themselves as knowledgeable and experts; or let others assume they are experts. Some are considered experts because of their “fame”, title, or position. Just because someone researches a few lessons on leadership, or other subjects, and delivers them, doesn’t mean he is an expert relative to practicing. I know preachers who travel across the brotherhood teaching “church growth” who have never lived in the trenches and grown a church. Likewise, some are teaching leadership who have never had an original leadership thought or experience.
What is expertise? Expertise (n) “1 expert skill or knowledge; know-how; expert opinion; 2 a person with a high degree of skill or knowledge of a certain subject; credibility of a person because of specific knowledge or skill; being the best—the opposite of unskilled.” For example an expert witness is a professional witness or judicial expert, who by virtue of education, training, experience, or skill, is believed to have expertise in a subject or area beyond that of the average person; a person who may be trusted or relied upon.
Keep in mind I am emphasizing expertise in skills—methodologies—“doing” (James 1:22-25). This kind of expertise comes through various learning experiences:
It is interesting that professions such as the medical, legal, nursing, accounting, teaching, counseling, etc. require continuing education units to keep their skills and expertise relevant, but continuing education isn’t required of minister-leaders. Why? It may be because we confuse knowing book-chapter-and-verse with knowing how to apply it—it is talk without walk. Another reason is because of the emphasis most churches place on the pulpit skills of the minister-leader. It many congregations it is the basis of being hired and keeping the job. This is ironic in light of the many ongoing needs, such as counseling, conflict management, change, marriage and family issues, in congregations not handled from the pulpit.
On a personal note, the methods I was taught over 45-years ago are antique today. This is why I am a lifelong learner; both knowledge and skills wise. There is a possibility that your expertise is expiring relative to ministry methodologies. Here is a little self-examination exercise to help you zero in on your expertise in some essential ministry areas. Using a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent and 1 being very poor, indicate where you believe you are relative to expertise in these areas
__1. Expertise in counseling.
__2. Expertise in handling congregational conflict.
__3. Expertise in exegetical skills.
__4. Expertise in communication: writing, speaking, teaching, etc.
__5. Expertise in developing leadership teams.
__6. Expertise in balancing your personal life—stress management.
__7. Expertise is developing a learning church through Bible school.
__8. Expertise is church growth through evangelism.
__9 Expertise in personal spiritual practices—“doing the word.”
__10. Expertise in managing and organizing self, others and church.
__11. Expertise in leading in change.
__12. Expertise in motivation and persuasion.
If you have any 3s or below, you need to seriously consider doing something about improving your EXPERTISE in those areas. And even the 4s and 5s will “expire” if you don’t keep them up to date. This is why I am highly recommending you investigate the Master of Biblical Studies degree through World Bible Institute: www.worldbibleinstitute.com It will help you develop new areas of expertise and will enhance those you already have.
Just when I thought I’d heard it all relative to the kinds of sermons some preachers preach, I read this headline, Why I Did a Funeral for a Dog. Tom Buck, a Baptist preacher, told why he chose to stand in his church’s worship center, filled with civilians and law enforcement officers, prepared to preach at a memorial service—for a K-9 dog named Ogar. The preacher went on in his article sharing all the reactions, emotions, and lessons he learned in accepting the challenge. (www.christianitytoday.com/Leadership Today/3/2/2016).
I am not the judge of this man’s heart, God does that (Hebrews 4:12), but I join those who question the negative light this sheds on the church, preachers, and preaching. What do you think?
Then there is the popular video on YouTube that has received over 976,201 hits. The title of the video references the preacher as “throwing a hissy fit.” In his sermon the preacher degraded members, saying about (and to) one person in the audience, “You’re one of the sorriest church members I have—you’re not worth 15 cents.” The preachers also goes back in the audience shouting “don’t go to sleep” and rebukes and shakes a member.
Another YouTube video titled, “pastor goes off on members,” has received 1,046, 913 hits. It features a preacher preaching on love. During his message a baby starts screaming and an extra loud cell phone starts ringing. The preacher goes back and grabs the cell phone and smashes it on the floor and returns to preaching on live. No joke!
In Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica (1914-2002), we read this dynamic quote that rebukes the above attitudes and actions by preachers while preaching: “One should preach from the heart. Only that which is from the heart can touch another heart. One must never attack or oppose anyone. If he who preaches must tell people to keep away from a certain kind of evil, he must do so meekly and humbly, with fear of God.”
I could go on and on with examples like these. Examples of preachers acting less than Christ-like and using the pulpit as a place to intimidate, embarrass, shame, and rebuke members. Sadly, preaching like this has caused people to drop out of congregations. There are other examples, not as extreme as these, which cast a negative light on preaching. No wonder preaching has fallen on hard times; no wonder fewer men desire to prepare to preach.
The question is, “What kind of preaching do we need today?” C.S. Lewis warns, “A man who first tried to guess ‘what the public wants,’ and then preached that as Christianity because the public wants it, would be a pretty mixture of fool and knave” (Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer). The kind of preaching we need today is the kind God wants, sinners need, and the church must present by “speaking as the oracles of God” (cf. 1 Peter 4:11)
Again, the kind of preaching we need today is the kind God wants. Period. Yet, this is easier said than done. This is what God told Jonah to do: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and PREACH to it the message that I tell you. So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord…” (Jonah 3:2, 3).
Paul wrote to the young preacher Timothy about what he should preach—what God wanted preached: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Prior to this admonish to preach the word, Paul reminded Timothy that inspired Scriptures were his source for preaching (cf. 2 Timothy 3:14-17).
Imagine with me for a few minutes this picture. There is a dead spiritual man (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3) lying on a gurney. The challenge is to resurrect this dead spiritual man—to bring him back to life spiritually. Efforts to resurrect and save the man begin. A psychologist comes and tells the man that his problem is conflict with his “inner child.” The man replies that he is not pregnant. A musical group comes and plays all kinds of music trying to entertain and bring the dead man back to his feet. They grow tired and walk away leaving the dead spiritual man. An investment broker comes next and assures the dead spiritual man that the answer to his condition is financial. After investing all he has, the dead spiritual man is till dead. A media preacher affirms to the dead man that if he will only follow the 10 rules he has developed, the dead man would come back to life. All these attempts to raise the spiritually dead man failed; just as pseudo preaching of less than the Gospel can’t raise a spiritually dead man today. Finally an older farmer comes forward and asks if he can try to raise the dead man. He leans over the dead man and tells him how much God loves him (John 3:16), and shares the Gospel—the only power unto salvation (Romans 1:14-16). The dead spiritual man is “buried with Christ and raise to walk in newness of life (Romans chapter 6).
In conjunction with preaching what God wants preached, here are some contributors to effective biblical preaching:
These 12 suggestions relate to the kind of preaching we need today. These have numerous subsets. Hopefully these will create an awareness and intentional commitment to preach better sermons.
NOTE: If you would like to have a textbook, Standing Before an Audience, written by Dr. Turner on the subject of preparing and preaching sermons. It is available for purchase. It is ideal for a training class on public speaking and preaching.
It can be purchased from amazon.com