Faint Not: The Discouraged Preacher

Charles Spurgeon wrote about the minister’s “fainting fits” in his first series of lectures to his students.  He wrote, “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others, that they may learn sympathy with the Lord’s suffering people, and so may be fitting shepherds for an ailing flock.”

The ministry of preaching seems to be fertile ground for discouragement.  It is so easy to feel deterred, disheartened or hindered in some way.  Sometimes it is only a feeling, but this doesn’t change its influence on us.

The New Testament has a lot to say about not fainting, growing weary or losing heart.  Paul writes of the perishing state of our outward man, while at the same time the inward man is being renewed.  But what about times when that doesn’t feel like the reality we are living in?

Tomorrow I’d like to ponder several factors that may be leading to discouragement.  Then by the end of the week we’ll ponder some pathways forward.

According to John Stott, “Discouragement is the occupational hazard of Christian ministry.”  

Let’s throw in a bit of Luther too, who apparently stated, “If I should write of the heavy burden of a godly preacher, which he must carry and endure, as I know from my own experience, I would scare every man from the office of preaching.”

Our experience agrees that these great preachers knew what they were talking about.  Let’s ponder together what the contributing factors may be, and what might be done about it.

And let’s pray for others too.  Perhaps you know a preacher who is facing discouragement in some form.  Maybe one who is unwell, or who’s context is particularly challenging.  Why not pray for their hearts to be encouraged this week? Maybe link to this post and tell them you prayed for them?  The battle we are in is too much for any of us to go on alone.

Impositional Preaching

Some of the greatest preachers of recent history have built sermons on single verses.  I tend not to do that.  Am I saying I know better than them?

Dr Lloyd-Jones, not to mention Spurgeon, and others, have demonstrated extended sermon series that essentially preach a single text at a time.  Surely if we were to be preachers after their kind today, then we should pursue the same kind of ministry?  Actually, I think not.

First, let’s recognize what these men did. Spurgeon sometimes resorted to an allegorical exegesis of the text, but not always.  Lloyd-Jones tended to preach the Bible’s theology radiating from the impact point of a single verse.  That is, since the word “justified” is in this verse, what all could be said from the whole canon on that theme (perhaps in this message, perhaps over several).

Second, let’s recognize what wannabe’s often do. Today when I hear people building messages from single texts I tend not to hear people with the pedigree of Spurgeon or Lloyd-Jones.  I do hear some allegorical, not to mention fanciful, interpretations.  These lack credibility and authority.  I also hear some waffling messages padded with poor cross-referencing that shows neither theological acumen, nor precision in respect to recognition of biblical connections (nor genuine understanding of the theological needs of the listener).  In an era where listeners will look at the text and dismiss apparently unfounded sermonizing, we would do well to reevaluate the efficacy of many “single verse” approaches to preaching.

Third, let’s realize that imposition is not exposition. Too often the preacher has the mindset of seeking to utilize the text as a series of pegs on which to hang their thoughts.  All too often those pegs are not divinely intended to hold the weight placed on them.  The Bible is an intricate and powerful construct of divine design.  Sadly, all too often preachers take a twig from the oak tree and assume it will bear the same weight as the oak was designed to hold.  Impositional preaching is not exposition, it is a pale imitation of what some greats from church history did.

Fourth, let’s realise that exposition is about honouring God, not historical figures. I deeply respect Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones, as well as many other preachers through church history that I do not seek to emulate every week.  My view of expository preaching is built on my understanding of the nature of God’s Word.  As I seek to explain it, to demonstrate its relevance, to say what it says and seek to somehow make the message do what it does, I am pursuing a contemporary ministry of expository preaching.  I may fall short of historical models, and yet at the same time I may at times get closer to honouring the intent of the text.  I pray that God will enable me to have a fraction of the impact of these great men.  I pray that God will equip me to be a preacher of His Word, rather than one who seeks to reproduce a historically bound model of ministry.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Single Verse Sermons

The site received this comment from Peter D:

I have been studying Charles Spurgeon’s sermons. He would often take one scripture and expound on it from every direction he could, would that be thin blooded? I’m preparing a message for later this month and want to focus on one verse within Psalm 63 – it sticks out to me and brings the whole psalm to life, for me at least. In your opinion is it best when dealing with psalms to preach the whole psalm in it’s entirety or can focusing on one part bring it to life for the members?

This is a good question.  Regarding the Psalms I would suggest it is always important to study a Psalm in its entirety, but it may be effective to focus on one part if that seems appropriate for the situation (i.e. when covering the full text in a longer psalm would prove overwhelming or unachievable). 

But what about single verse sermons? Certainly in the past there were many more preachers who preached on single texts, often going from those texts to a sometimes comprehensive canon-wide presentation of the pertinent doctrines suggested (or sometime not suggested) in that text.  Sadly there are many who try to copy the approach of a Spurgeon without achieving a comparable level of personal spirituality and biblical maturity.  There is certainly a place for doctrinal preaching, as well as better and worse ways to do it.  Perhaps there should be a post on that subject sometime . . .

But what can we say about single-verse sermons?

1. If a single verse is a complete unit of thought, great!  For instance, many proverbs stand alone as a complete unit of thought and can be profitably preached as such.

2. If a single verse conveys the main idea of the unit of thought, great!  In some passages there is a single thought that encapsulates the main idea of the passage and it might be effective to preach the verse, while choosing how much of the context to refer to at the same time (depending on situation of sermon, listeners, etc.)

3. If a single verse conveys a significant proportion of the main idea of the text, this might be effective.  As above, the surrounding context will need to be brought into the message in some way or other, but appearing to preach a single verse may work well.  In Peter’s comment above, I noticed how he still tied the single verse to the message of the Psalm as a whole, which makes me think it might be very effective.

4. In a topical message, a single verse may act as sectional manager for that section of the message, but that manager must not act autonomously from the influence of the full unit of thought.  That is, the verse must be understood in its context.

5. If a single verse is used without awareness of context, or to preach a point it wouldn’t give if understood in context, or if preached without studying the context . . . well, please don’t.