Some people have to preach; they can’t last without preaching. Some leaders, when they leave the pastorate for a non-pastoral leadership role, almost feel an emptiness when they are not preaching. ~ Ed Stetzer
This quote comes from Ed Stetzer’s recent defence of David Platt’s decision to accept the role of teacher pastor at a local church while also serving as the director of the International Mission Board. I have no particular insight into Platt’s decision. It doesn’t really interest me.
But Ed’s words about preaching have stuck with me. And I don’t think Ed is alone in this view. I regularly hear people tell me they love preaching, or that they were born to preach. Or as Ed puts it, that they have to preach.
But when preachers say they have to preach, what exactly do they mean?
According to Ed, non-preaching preachers experience a kind of emptiness that literally enervates them (“they can’t last without preaching”). It seems that in some people there’s such a deep-seated need to preach that quenching it has debilitating effects.
Conversely, when these people do get to preach they feel a rejuvenating sense of deep pleasure. They come to life. Joseph Stowell, writing in the Moody Handbook of Preaching, describes this when he says,
… we should love to preach because you and I are wired for preaching. In the classic movie Chariots of Fire, the Olympic runner Eric Liddell says, ‘I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.’ My spiritual gifts are bent toward preaching, and when I preach I feel His pleasure. This should be true for you if you love Jesus and are gifted to preach.
But let’s unpack this for a minute. When some preachers stop preaching they feel a deathly emptiness, but when they get to preaching again they sense God’s pleasure. Isn’t that a red flag right there? Whose need are these preachers actually meeting?
It sounds like some preachers can have a codependent relationship with the pulpit.
I have always found it jarring when ministers talk about loving preaching. If preaching is a means to a greater end, shouldn’t we love that greater end rather than the means of achieving it? Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with enjoying the process of preaching, but needing it? Yeah, I’m not so sure.
Invariably, those preachers who love preaching will quote the Apostle Paul’s solemn charge to Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2Tim 4:2).
Get that? Preach. The. Word. That’s our solemn charge.
But wait a second. Isn’t Paul’s solemn charge to Timothy that he reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction? In other words, isn’t preaching the means to the greater end of shaping of Christian disciples? Is that what we’re meant to love?
Earlier in his letter to Timothy, Paul refers to himself being “appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher” (2Tim1:11), indicating that there’s a subtle difference between preaching (kerussõn) and teaching (didaskó). Preaching is heralding or announcing the truth, while teaching involves explaining and applying the truth.
Or as John Piper defines it, expository exultation. The exposition (teaching) enlarges our understanding, while the exultation (preaching) expands our heart.
As I said, there’s a subtle distinction there. But both are ultimately concerned with shaping a community of disciples with the truth of the gospel.
And when you think about it, this is exactly what Jesus was doing. But note how rarely he preaches. He tells stories. He explains stuff along the road. He corrects and rebukes. He questions. He models life under the reign of God. But he hardly ever preaches. It’s as if forming disciples is his goal and he’ll use whatever means – having a conversation by a well, meeting a Pharisee at night, preaching on a hillside – to achieve that goal.
Preaching is a tool. Use it. Enjoy it. Be good at it. But hold it loosely. There might be better tools to achieve your calling.
In saying all this, I’m not casting any aspersions on Ed Stetzer (who I know and like a lot) or David Platt (who I’ve never met). Ed’s recent blog about David Platt’s new appointment wasn’t so much a deep piece about homiletics as a practical defence of the ability of some people to juggle various roles. But it did get me thinking about how some ministers seem to treat preaching as a repetitive stress disorder, as if their very identities are bound up in the pulpit (I’m not saying this is about Ed or David Platt). But our identities should be found in Christ, not in the activity of ministry.
When Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, was informed that Pope Paul IV was considering suppressing his order, he was asked how he would feel if his beloved society was disbanded. This was Ignatius’ life’s work, after all. He thought about this for a while. How would you feel if the thing you had spent your whole ministry building was disbanded in the blink of an eye?
Ignatius’ response was, “I think I should need a good half day of prayer.”
It would take him just half a day of prayer to get over the loss of his life’s work! That’s a deeply centered man whose identity is in Christ, not the work to which Christ calls him. We should treat preaching that way too, I think. Our calling is to glorify God, to serve Christ’s church, to make disciples. And to use preaching if necessary.
7 thoughts on “The danger in loving preaching too much”
In my context the senior pastor gets concerned if he is not preaching for a few weeks in a row. He says the congregation would notice and potentially question him about it but I wonder if it is a bit of what you talk about here as well… Either way the angst confuses me and I certainly don’t share the concern for myself preaching.
What might it look like to lead a collective of Christians without preaching?
What do we do if someone is called into pastoral ministry but does not love preaching or maybe just shouldn’t?
Yeah, preaching should be a joy and a privilege, not something that justifies our role as pastors. I think this is one of the reasons why I’m so committed to a community of leaders in every church: so we’re not reliant on one voice in our pulpits.
I often get concerned when some members of the church I go to complain because the Senior Pastor hasn’t preached for (insert random amount of time here – often 2-3 weeks).
I’d love to see him do all sorts of things in leadership of the church and only one of them is preaching
Given that the average sermon takes some 6-8 hours to prepare, whatsmore, it strikes me that the more often he preaches the less time he has to do the other parts of his role.
I’m glad that he’s not so committed to preaching that it stops him doing all those other important things because reality is there’s plenty of competent preachers out there but not so many gifted Senior Pastors.
(Replying to my own comment because I forgot to add something!!)
I was recently troubled when a church I know of had one opportunity to interact with a Senior Pastoral candidate for their church, and the only interaction they had with him (literally) was him preaching. I know it’s common practice but it’s both dangerous and limiting to essentially say that someone would be a great Pastor because they can preach.
Their are two men in my small Baptist congregation that are potential pastors. They lead well, along with me and other leaders. But I can see their gifting for teaching / preaching. I made it a point to have the pulpit at our church open to whoever comes our way. So I give these men opportunities to preach often. I don’t want our people to see me as the preacher and nothing else. I am an under shepherd of the Great Shepherd. It’s His spotlight and I pray I stay in the shadows of His glory!
Very helpful, Mike. Thank you.
I’m happy you wrote this. I just started preaching this year – it’s been a surprisingly lifegiving process, and a bit addictive. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.