(This was originally published as an article in our church magazine "The Grapevine")
Don’t be put off by the title, this article is not just relevant to those who enter the pulpit, it’s a challenge to every Christian.
I read a blog post a few years ago by a pastor called Thabiti Anyabwile that included the quote below. His post was mainly a challenge to preachers, but I thought it would be worth expanding a little.
Throughout church history there have been many challenges from outside and from within. That is no different today.
There are lots of old confessions of faith, creeds, and doctrinal statements designed to define and defend the true Biblical doctrine. One such series of statements is the Second Helvetic Confession and it states the following:
“THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.”
Let me explain what I think this means for two groups of people:
1. Preachers, do we really believe this as we prepare and stand up to speak?
2. Christians, do we really expect this when we go to church on a Sunday?
Let’s deal with preachers first.
If preachers really believed this, that in preaching they are transmitting the word of God, they would do one of two things. They would either give up preaching because they would know they were not gifted to take on such a weighty task. Or, they would constantly seek to improve their ability by listening to others preach and reading books about preaching, because they want to honour God’s word as highly as possible.
I say this to myself as much as to anyone else; a preacher should feel the awesome responsibility as he prepares his sermon. He should feel that weight as he steps into the pulpit to speak to God’s people gathered in front of him.
The task of preaching is not to be taken lightly. The task of preaching is a wonderful privilege. It is through the preaching of the word of God that God changes lives by the Holy Spirit.
The temptation for the preacher is to just get a sermon prepared. Once he has his preparation method or routine, it is very easy to go through the motions to produce a sermon.
But, if the preaching of the word of God, is the word of God, then it needs to have gripped the heart of the preacher first, not just be the product of his study and writing ability.
What about the average Christian in the congregation?
As well as the great responsibility that the preacher has, each Christian must ask themselves if they believe this statement to be true.
If they do, then they will prepare their own hearts to hear the word of God preached whenever that opportunity arises, because they know that they are about to hear a life-changing message.
That might mean they pray for God to enable them to be sensitive to what is the Spirit will lay upon their heart. It might mean asking God to help them be ready to change, even if that change is going to difficult. It might mean repenting of sin. It might be approaching a brother or sister and asking for forgiveness.
The Christian who believes that they are hearing the very word of God when a preacher begins his message must be expectant that God will speak to them right there and then. They will expect to be encouraged, challenged, taught, rebuked, corrected, cut to the heart and changed in the most profound ways.
But they will also expect that this will not be done in isolation, God will speak to all who are present and therefore, there will be others to pray with, share with, delight with, cry with, repent with and speak with as the Spirit takes the word and applies it.
The temptation for the average church member is to go through the motions, or to be focused on the tasks they have to do or the people they feel they need to speak to that morning. Or maybe just think that church is activity, something to be done like the shopping or watching a tv series.
A Christian should never view church as mundane or comfortable because the word of God will be spoken there, and it is anything but those things.
And just in case there was any doubt let me close by saying this; this is why preaching of the word of God must be central in churches, because it communicates the very word of God.