Even though it was almost 40 years ago, I still remember it clearly. I was assembled with the other graduates of my Bible college. I was about to march in and receive my baccalaureate degree. The chairman of my college’s Board of Trustees asked for our attention. He then said these parting words, “God did not call you to be successful; He called you to be faithful.”
At that moment, the words surprised me. For four years, we had studied how to be successful in evangelizing, preaching, and building a church! But as time went on, I came to understand the wisdom of these words. I have found these words to be true for every part of ministry, and certainly for preaching.
These words are biblical in nature and orientation. I Corinthians 3 makes it clear that you and I as preachers are to be faithful “planters” and “waterers” but that God is the one giving the “increase.” Paul would go on in I Corinthians 4:2 to define the very nature of ministerial stewardship (and by extension, preaching stewardship) as faithfulness.
We can thus say that a key ingredient in what we would call right preaching or biblical preaching is the assumption that our preaching will be consistent and faithful to the Word of God over the course of time. In other words, an expectation for right preaching is that it will be “in season and out of season…with great patience.” (II Tim 4:2, NASB) The HCSB translation is even more helpful: “Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.” The best preaching is, in the words of the HCSB, “persistent” preaching.
In that sense, preaching is a matter of understanding one’s role. Our job as preachers is to keep planting and watering faithfully (persistently) from the pulpit. That’s our part, and if we do our part, then we can certainly trust God to do His part.
Here’s the interesting thing—it is not necessary for faithful and persistent preaching that every sermon be an extraordinary “winner.” Why? Because the One giving the “increase” is working through His Spirit to bless and honor His Word that is consistently preached. Isaiah 55:11 reminds us that God blesses His Word so that it will accomplish what He pleases.
And that Word, according to Hebrews 4:12, is impressive. The opening line of that verse says the Word is “quick and powerful.” These words mean “living” and “energetically effective (powerful).”
So, years later, I heartily agree with my former Board Chairman who said that God is looking for faithful and persistent servants (and preachers). It makes sense. I just do my part. He gives the increase. He blesses the Word. I can’t make any improvements on His Word, but I can give testimony to the reality of His Word by being a consistent, persistent, faithful preacher of His Word.
Brian Croft put it this way on Twitter (January 30, 2020): “The key to a faithful preaching ministry is not a couple dozen home run sermons over the course of a few years. It is a few thousand first and second base sermons with a few triples and home run sermons sprinkled in over the course of several decades.” https://twitter.com/PastorCroft/status/1223037181486338048
Jared Baker agreed on Twitter (March 21, 2020): “Revivals make headlines, but when the books are added up at the last day, it will be found that the main work was done by the faithful preaching of ordinary pastors, the daily witnessing of ordinary Christians, and soul-winning in home and church.” https://twitter.com/Brojbaker/status/1241392255040139264
If you want to take this biblical mandate for consistent, persistent, faithful preaching seriously, then you should do at least the following two things.
- Without question, feed your soul. Failure to stay close to God will result in a lack of pulpit power that you will need for the long run of a preaching life. In his book, Power in the Pulpit, Jerry Vines emphasized the need to develop definite habits to stay close to God. Vines said, “Daily time for personal worship is foundational for all believers. This reality makes it paramount for preachers….”Vines, Power in the Pulpit, 61. What habits? Vines suggested five: 1) seek the inspiration of great Christians who have written great devotional guides, 2) calendar God—if you don’t make personal worship a priority, your calendar will overwhelm you, 3) read intentionally—read the Bible in a systematic, intentional way, 4) let nature take its course—don’t allow the absence of excitement in one day’s personal worship to keep you from coming back the next day, 5) practice high-yield praying—follow a God-honoring pattern of prayer. Speak to Him as a close friend but avoid unjustified familiarity.Vines, Power in the Pulpit, 62-63. For my money, these two pages are worth the price of the book, so I hope it is in your library!
- To the extent possible, plan your preaching. Make sure you don’t repeat the same passages and themes to the exclusion of the rest of Scripture. To preach biblically, we must remember that “all” Scripture is inspired. In his book, Planning Your Preaching, Stephen Rummage gave multiple reasons for planning your preaching beyond the next Sunday or two, but one in particular fed my soul. There will be times, he said, when you are enthusiastic about your sermon preparation—everything will seem to click. But there will be other times when your preparation work is difficult, whether it is because of physical, spiritual, or schedule issues. In those times, Rummage said, planning your preaching will aid you the most.Rummage, Planning Your Preaching, 19. You will at least have a direction; you will have a handle; you will have a place to start.
Finally, this. This article was written while most of us were preaching to webcams and empty rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic. My church used Facebook Live, which allowed comments. I learned this—people want to hear the Word of God preached, so preach it, consistently, persistently, and faithfully.
Ed Scott is Professor of Christian Studies and Accreditation Liaison at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida.
|↑3||Vines, Power in the Pulpit, 61.|
|↑4||Vines, Power in the Pulpit, 62-63.|
|↑5||Rummage, Planning Your Preaching, 19.|