Pride and the Preacher

One of the greatest problems for preachers is pride.  It is an insidious and relentless foe that will look to creep in at every stage of a life spent in ministry.  What might we be proud about?

1. Knowledge.  The preacher is a public speaker who is seen as an expert.  Whether you have a PhD in theology or have simply studied a couple of resources, your listeners will tend to perceive you as an expert.  And while knowledge is not a bad thing, what does knowledge do?  It puffs up.

2. Ability.  Whether it is spiritual gifting, or natural charisma, or learned skill, preaching involves some ability in public speaking – something many people dread deeply.  Thus, there will be countless opportunities for pride as we speak to others.

3. Position.  It may be elevation on a 12-inch podium before less than a dozen listeners, or it may be a prized pulpit for years on end, but pride in position is always knocking at the door of our hearts.  Society may not revere the Reverend anymore, but many in our churches will certainly reinforce the honour of being a guest speaker, or a pastor, or a leader, etc.

4. Influence.  Whether there is position or not, preaching implies influence.  Preachers can influence lives and how they are lived.  Preachers can influence emotions and create all sorts of churning in the hearts of our listeners.  There are guilty folks convicted, there are vulnerable folks attracted, there is plenty of potential influence, both for good or for bad.  Pride seems to be a lingering smell where influence is involved.

As well as what might be a source of pride, there are also some occasions that may provoke it:

A. When preparing.  Do I need to invest the time in textual study?  Do I need to invest the time in preparation of the sermon?  Do I need to invest the time in prayer?  Maybe old notes, or old knowledge, will see me through?  Preparation should be a season of humble study and personal application, but it can easily drift into prideful self-trust instead.

B. When criticized.  How do you feel when someone pokes a hole in your message?  What if they aren’t particularly educated?  What if they are a younger believer than you?  What if their criticism is wrong?  What if they are right?

C. When praised.  This can be worse than criticism.  The best message they’ve ever heard?  Knowledge may puff up, but what then can praise do?  Just as we need to have a plan for criticism, we also need a plan for handling praise.  Both can stir profound pride problems within the preacher.

D. When ignored.  What if your listeners sit through your message and then don’t even begin to apply it?  What if their lives continue as normal?  What if your careful study and exegesis is considered merely your opinion?  What if the follow up conversation is still just about the weather or a TV show when you have poured your life out for their benefit?

What else may stir pride in the preacher?  When else might we be vulnerable to this great enemy?

Warning! Danger Lurking Nearby!

All sin is dangerous.  We should never be complacent about any sin or the risk it poses.  But surely the sin of pride should be top of our danger list as preachers.  Pride, a sense of independence, not needing God or others, is a strangely familiar companion to pulpit ministry.  Perhaps it is something about the stepping out from the crowd in order to speak to the crowd.  Perhaps it is a fruit of the respect many show toward those with up-front ministry.  Perhaps it is the result of the higher level learning that is expected of those who speak.  Perhaps the enemy turns up the pressure looking for a high profile casualty.  There are many perhaps-es, but one certainty – pride is a serious danger for every preacher.

Watch out for the warning signs.  A lack of prayer in preparation or following ministry.  An attitude of complacency and a sense of being capable in your own strength.  A yearning to get the microphone, then a resistance to giving it up.  A yielding to the temptation to say what you know will receive praise from the hand-shakers after the meeting.  An excessive appreciation of positive comments from listeners, and maybe an over-reaction to any who would dare to question or critique.  A resistance to sharing the pulpit with appropriate others.

Pride is always lurking nearby.  At the slightest hint of its presence, let us be diligent to humble ourselves at the foot of the cross again.  In our brokenness, perhaps God will lift us up and use us as preachers again, but let’s lose the notion that this is guaranteed.  He doesn’t need us.  Yet He chooses to use us – a fact that borders on a miracle if we really look in the mirror!

Have Times Changed?

Times have changed.  The New Testament was written in a time when the primary form of public entertainment, at least in the Greek context, was the oratory of the travelling rhetoricians.  Today we live in a time of complex and numerous forms of entertainment, a time when oratory is frowned upon by many.  Times have changed.  In those days the “speaker” was one who spoke with a motivation to look good, to make money and to gain the applause of the audience.  Times have changed, or have they?

If there is a sphere where the potential dangers of oratorical pride persist, it is in the church.  It is so easy to preach in such a way as to look good before others, to pump up your own hype.  It is a constant danger that money becomes a motivating factor in ministry decisions (both individual invitations as a guest speaker, or moving church for a better pay package).  It is a lurking temptation to preach for applause (not typically the theatrical ovation, but the post-sermon feedback, the cloud of affirmation).  These dangers are before us whether we are guest preachers, or local pastors.  But we must fight every temptation to tickle ears, line our pockets or only ever look good.

Here are some basic starting points:

Honor God’s Word – Preach the Word.  If it might make people uncomfortable, preach the Word.  If people’s ears won’t feel tickled, preach the Word.  Obviously be gracious and careful, but don’t preach always living in fear of offending someone.

Honor God’s People – It is tempting to tickle ears and promote good feelings all round, but people need more than that.  Love them enough to communicate the text relevantly, even if somewhat uncomfortably.  Love them enough to challenge errant thinking, dangerous tendencies, etc.  But don’t take this as an excuse for laying on guilt trips all the time – remember that our people need a lot of encouragement too!

Process Personal Pride Promptings – Pride is a temptation for all of us.  It may manifest in different forms, but we must all be aware of it.  Let’s always process any pride promptings before God.  Take the positive comments, the whispering voice of affirmation, the feelings of accomplishment, and bring them back to Calvary.

Times have changed, but not completely.