Friday, June 26, 2015

Shepherding Christ's Church Involves Excelling in Preaching - 1 Timothy 4:11-15

1 Timothy 4:11 "Prescribe and teach these things."
I begin today's post with this quote from author Marshall Shelly: "Farmers plow their lands, plant their seed, and then go home to bed, awaiting God’s germinating laws to work. Surgeons only cut; God heals. I must give my full energy to doing my part in the pulpit, but the ultimate success of my preaching rests in God." The past few days have been devoted to posts featuring what it takes to shepherd the church of Christ. That-is-to-say, what responsibilities does a pastor have to his congregation? Paul lays out certain responsibilities in 1 Timothy 4, with three of them having been already covered:

1. Exposing error. 1 Timothy 4:1-3
2. Emphasizing doctrine. 1 Timothy 4:4-6
3. Exemplifying godliness. 1 Timothy 4:7-10

Today's post deals with the fourth major responsibility of a pastor aiming to shepherd Christ's flock, namely the need to excel in preaching.

Pastor's need to excel in their preaching. 1 Timothy 4:11-15
In this 21st century church-world, the concern for preaching, and good preaching at that, seems so often relegated to a "secondary" place in the life of the church. Other types of ministries and programs are touted as the cure-alls to preventing the church from dwindling and sagging. Certainly reaching out to people in the church and in the community is necessary for the local church and emphasizes the reason for her place in this world. However God has ordained that preaching of the Word be ever-central to the Word-ministry of the local church. Pastors wear many hats. They are expected to juggle numbers, organize committees and have know-how on everything from buildings to counseling. However, the pastor's two chief tasks in his tenure at any church are loving the people and preaching the Word.

Paul makes several statements that suggest the need for the effective undershepherd to excel in his preaching. When I say "excel in one's preaching", I'm not saying to excel for the preacher's sake, or the people's sake, but for the sake and glory of God. Improving in one's preaching is described in these verses as a mark of maturity and growth. Notice what Paul states in 1 Timothy 4:15 "Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all." We can break down this verse into three clauses that reinforce to preachers and churches to excel and encourage their pastors to grow in the preaching of the Word.

a. "Take pains with these things.."
The underlined words "take pains" is translated the following ways in other English versions: 
"Practice" ESV, LEB, RSV
"Meditate upon" KJV 1900, AV 1873
"Be diligent" in NIV
"Give your complete attention" NLT
"Meditate" NKJV
"Put ... into practice" NRSV
"Take pains with" NASB95

The priority of improving in one's preaching and taking the opportunity to preach whenever one can is the point of this first part of the text. This author sees the move towards preachers preaching once a week or in one service a week more of a liability than a benefit. Some readers may disagree with me on this point. Whatever reasons may be presented for lessening the amount of preaching that goes on in a local church in favor of other formats, the difficulty lies in ignoring what we see in 1 Timothy 4:15. Preachers need to be preaching multiple times in order to improve in their delivery and for their people to get nourished and molded by the Spirit of God into the image of Christ.  

b. "be absorbed in them". 
This phrase in the original language could just as easily be translated "be in these things". Preaching is not what I do, preaching is what I am. Any preacher will tell you that what he does is not a job, not a duty, not a "check-off list" item. Preaching is the calling to which he was born-again to do. Where the sermon begins and the preacher ends no one can tell. If the preacher is as "absorbed" in the preaching as the texts commands, he will be living what he preaches. Meditating on whatever text the sermon is to be based causes the preacher and the sermon to be one. Though I as a preacher can never reach the level of flawless delivery, should I not aim for it nonetheless? When I preach, I preach for the King. His glory, His audience consistitutes this holy mandate to be absorbed in the process of preparation for preaching and the delivery and application of every sermon. 

c. "so that your progress will be evident to all."
Again we are looking at 1 Timothy 4:15 to understand the necessity for preachers to excel in their preaching. Progress in one's preaching ought to be measurable. The "progress" or "advancement" being touted in this part of the verse speaks not only to sermon delivery, but quality of godliness, pastoral care and level of devotion to Christ. Out of all the people that ought to be changed by the preaching of the Word is the preacher himself. Daily, week, monthly and yearly time spent in the field of God's Word ought to produce fruit. I would hope that anyone who has been listening to me preach for a period of time could honestly say that things have improved. 

Is there always room for growth? Absolutely! Which is why preaching is a thrilling desparation. Preaching is a thrilling event in that the God of glory sees fit to broadcast His voice through His Words by means of preaching. The Divine visitation of Christ by His Spirit in preaching is the epicenter of true Christian devotion. However, for the preacher, preaching is desparate in the sense that lest the Spirit attend the exposition and lest the preacher lean on the scriptures, no power, no transformation and no salvations will occur. This phrase "thrilling desparation" is for me the closest way I can describe what it is like when I preach, teach a lesson or do a devotional. 

Closing thoughts
Today we considered how shepherding Chris's church involves exceling in one's preaching. As we close, let me suggest five ways in which a pastor or preacher of the Word can practically excel in their preaching:

1. Listen to other preachers. When listen to other preachers, you can learn a lot. Listening improves your ability to communicate.

2. Read sermons. Websites such as "" contain all the sermons preached by one of the best living preachers today, Dr. John MacArthur. Transcripts of all his sermons are available. I would encourage anyone to start there to see how a master preacher articulates his sermons.

3. Pray about your preaching. Pray before, during and after your sermons

4. Listen to your sermons. This may be painful and ackward, but hearing yourself gives you the opportunity to figure out how you can do it better the next time.

5. Get feedback from others. This is perhaps the most difficult method of exceling in our preaching, since we fear what others say about it. Nonetheless, a trusted person can give you invaluable feedback. Don't solicit feedback to make yourself feel better nor to measure how successful you are. Rather, use feedback to do as the text says, "to make your progress evident to all.

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