Years ago I experienced a weekend of preaching that marked my own ministry for life. Our church had managed to book a very well known speaker for its annual retreat. That weekend, his preaching was a disaster. As my wife and I drove home we reflected on the weekend of ministry and I knew this was a key moment in my life and ministry. Reflecting on how he had ended up preaching like that stirred me to choose a different path.
I am convinced we all need to settle this core issue now, whatever stage of life and ministry we are at:
The John the Baptist Principle: Jesus must become greater, I must become less.
There is a fork in the road before us all. One pathway is signposted “Jesus” and the other one is signposted “me.” For all his good ministry over the years, this particular preacher seemed to have been okay with promoting himself through his preaching. It felt so uncomfortable for us who were listening. I decided that I wanted to choose the other option. What does that involve?
Instead of seeking to impress listeners, let us seek to communicate – Our flesh and ego will be tempted to bust out our lofty learned vocabulary and heavy-duty theological terminology. But if we are on the “Preach Jesus” pathway, then we will seek to be as clear and simple as possible. We will be more satisfied to hear that a twelve year old listened attentively, than we will be to be told our preaching was “deep” (i.e. over the head of the person seeking to give polite feedback).
Instead of seeking to impress listeners, let us seek to equip – Again, our fleshly tendency toward pride will naturally want to make folks want to hear us again. It is nice to think that people are dependent on you for their weekly dose of truth. But if we are on the “Preach Jesus” pathway, then that will include a desire to equip them to read the Bible for themselves, meet Jesus for themselves, feed themselves, etc. If every sermon is primarily about presenting God through an accurate, clear, engaging and relevant presentation of that text, may every sermon have a secondary goal of motivating listeners to want to engage with God in His Word during the rest of the week.
Instead of seeking to impress listeners, let us seek to introduce – Our fleshly inclination to present ourselves as the centre of the universe will nudge us toward assuming personal introductions are over as our sermon introduction begins. That is, “I am here now, and I am preaching.” This will typically be followed by an attempt to impress people with my knowledge, or my wisdom, or my suggestion for their betterment, etc. But if we are on the “Preach Jesus” pathway, then we will feel compelled to introduce the person of our God, typically by pointing to His Son, throughout the message. The personal introduction is the core of the message and the person being introduced isn’t ultimately us, but Him. And when lives aren’t transformed as we prayed they would be, then our prayer will tend to be, “Lord, please help me do a better job of introducing you . . . because I know that if they could just catch a glimpse of you, change would follow. PS Please let me know you more before next Sunday too!”