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Patient Preaching

Entrusted with the high privilege of preaching Jesus as Lord, all preachers are nevertheless faced with their own shortcomings, Sunday after Sunday.

Probably every pastor is familiar with the unpleasant condition called the “Monday morning blues.” When he goes back into his study on Monday, a pastor can feel mildly depressed. He is mulling over how he could have said so many things better, or how he forgot this or that key point, or how he surely failed to connect with his people—in short, he is thinking that perhaps he is just not up to the job. As Paul agonizes to the Corinthians, reflecting on his own preaching ministry, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor 2:16).

During the week, the pastor might have spent ten or twenty hours in sermon preparation, but all that time and effort evaporate in one tension-filled hour on Sunday.

So was it worth it? Did he accomplish anything at all?

Who is equal to such a task, indeed?

Even when a preacher is resolutely and faithfully preaching from week to week, at times it can seem like God’s people are not listening. They might all sit quietly on Sunday morning and appear to be paying attention, but they don’t ever seem to change. Everything stays just as it was before.

A preacher can become frustrated when he does not see the progress that he envisioned when he first started in this congregation.

After three years, he knows that there are still judgmental attitudes among the members. There is still a reluctance to share the gospel with their neighbors. He fears that there is still a neglect of the personal study of Scripture. Last Sunday the pastor preached (what he considered) an almost flawless sermon, but still he wonders if it made any difference. Did anyone even hear what he said?

It is true that the “outcomes” of gospel preaching are hard to define and even more difficult to see. After years of preaching ministry, has there been a demonstrable life change among the hearers? Can you really measure an increase in holy learning? How do you quantify a congregation’s growth in faith?

While he certainly felt his own inadequacy for the task, elsewhere Paul reminds us that the activity of preaching the Word calls for long-suffering and patience (2 Tim. 4:2). He means that a preacher should keep bringing the Word, week after week, year after year, in season and out of season, knowing that this is exactly what Christ’s people need. When the Word is faithfully preached, even in weakness, the Holy Spirit will take care of changing and growing the believers.

Besides everything else that will receive a pastor’s attention in a given week or year of ministry, it remains true that the pulpit is the most important place for his work. God here allows a pastor the opportunity to simultaneously and with divine authority address the entire congregation—including any visitors and seekers—and to address them all about matters that are eternally significant.

Preaching is a unique opportunity to unfold the riches and beauty of God’s Word, and to do so in a clear, accessible, and personal way. With Scripture open, and pointing the congregation to God’s truth without apology, a pastor must make each sermon a faithful and Christ-centered exposition of God’s Word.

Thinking of the widely varied congregation in front of him—old and young, female and male, well-informed and simple, strong and weak—the pastor seeks to teach, correct, rebuke, and exhort each one.

A sermon might only be half an hour or forty-five minutes in length, but this is the pastor’s auspicious opportunity to impart sound instruction and encouragement for the six days that lie ahead, and hopefully for some time to come. He is weak, but his message is strong.

So he is compelled to preach his heart out every Sunday, exulting in Christ crucified and celebrating God’s unchanging truth in the Scriptures. Then the pastor stands back and prays fervently as the congregation departs into another week.

And next Sunday, he’ll do it again.


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