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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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The Ministry

Charles SpurgeonThe ministry is a very serious business. Preaching is not about a speaker talking to an audience as if it were a motivational seminar. It is not about making people feel better as they walk out of the church. The ministry is preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Charles Spurgeon had this to say about the ministry:

A sermon often does a man most good when it makes him most angry. Those people who walk down the aisles and say, “I will never hear that man again,” very often have an arrow rankling in their breast.

He that can toy with his ministry and count it to be like a trade, or like any other profession, was never called of God. But he that has a charge pressing on his heart, and a woe ringing in his ear, and preaches as though he heard the cried of hell behind him, and saw his God looking down on him–oh, how that man entreats the Lord that his hearers may not hear in vain!

I always say to young fellows who consult me about the ministry, “Don’t be a minister if you can help it,” because if the man can help it, God never called him. But if he cannot help it, and he must preach or die, then he is the man.

If any man will preach as he should preach, his work will take more out of him than any other labor under heaven.

If I only had one more sermon to preach before I died, it would be about my Lord Jesus Christ. And I think that when we get to the end of our ministry, one of our regrets will be that we did not preach more of Him. I am sure no minister will ever repent of having preached Him too much. (Sermon 54.149)

The Preacher Under Fire!

John Wilbur Chapman

Criticism of your life’s work is not often easy to listen to. The Minister of the Gospel is no different in this than any other man. Yet, there are judgments made which we all would do well to pause and consider. The following is an excerpt from a message by J. Wilbur Chapman (1859-1917) delivered to preachers at the beginning of the 20th century:

This is a day when the minister is under sharpest fire. By some his motives are questioned, his spirit is censured, and his failure to secure such results as came in days gone by, when the gospel was preached, is used as an argument against him. However, in the midst of such criticism it should not be forgotten that it is, by no means, as easy to preach today as in the olden times. The minister formerly was recognized as a man under authority; his words were generally received as the truth; now the genuineness of his message is sharply questioned, and even his authority is subject to criticism. . . . [O]ne must not only preach his sermon, but he must prove his authority and be ready to substantiate the integrity and genuineness of the Book on the basis of which his message is delivered. But a brighter day will come for the minister, and it is only necessary that he should be watchful in these troublesome times, have the approval of his own conscience in the matter of preaching, and also be sure that he has His approval in whose name he speaks and from whom he has received his call to preach.

As an illustration of the sharpness of the criticism it may be well to note the words spoken by a professor of law, in an Eastern university, in an address before a ministers’ conference:

“The waning power of the pulpit is one of the most lamentable signs of the times. The intellectual pre-eminence of the preacher has passed and gone. The pulpit no longer attracts the brightest minds, and theological seminaries swarm with intellectual weaklings. Pulpit deliverances of our day often lack every element of real oratory; they are largely dreary monologues and complacent soliloquy. The speaker’s wits, instead of being sharpened by adversity and defeat, are blunted by his unvaried weekly duel with an imaginary foe. Our present-day divines are not deficient in the arts of finished elocution, but they have dropped the old theme of salvation from an inherited curse of sin. But when the pulpit has moral earnestness, it rises to the loftiest elevation of eloquent expression. It was homely language of a country deacon speaking to a person who had prayed long and loudly for power…”

This opinion may or may not be correct; the one who gave it evidently thinks it is, and unquestionably he represents a certain element in the Church. Whether true or not, it is the sort of criticism facing the preacher today. It is claimed that we have failed to give sufficient emphasis to the importance of prayer, and we read that this was the secret of true greatness in the pulpit of other days. It is said we have lost our power because we have not given sufficient attention to Bible study; not Bible study in the preparation of sermons, but Bible study in the development of our own spiritual life. Unquestionably the secret of Spurgeon’s power was found just here. During the days of the week we must become saturated with the Scriptures so that on Sunday the message comes flowing forth like the current of a mighty river. Men tell us we have lost this, that we preach about God’s Word, but not the Word itself. (“The Waning Pulpit”)

“Welcome Our New Pastor” And Be Comfortable!

Imagine: Your church has selected or been assigned a new pastor. As part of your church’s community outreach, you want people living in the area to know that you have a new pastor. After all, they may have visited your church before and did not like your old pastor.

As one way to communicate with the local community, you decide to put a message on the marquee in front of the church so that people driving by will read about your new pastor. Now, one very important question is going to be: “What do you say about your new pastor in such a limited space?”

Would you describe him as – “a mighty man of God?” How about describing him as “a man of God”, or “a biblical preacher”, perhaps even “a man who loves God”, or “a man who demonstrates God’s love for His people”? Of course, your imagination is the limit – as long as you are truthful and concise.

If you were called to be the pastor, what would you want the few words on the sign to say about you? If I were called to be a pastor, I would be greatly honored to be called “God’s man” or “a man who has experienced the grace of God.” Whatever is said, I would hope that the words would convey that this church and this minister are all about God, Jesus Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and God’s mercy and grace toward us who are sinners.

While driving home during the past couple of weeks I have noticed a marquee announcing a new pastor at a neighborhood church. The sign reads:

WELCOME OUR NEW PASTOR!

DR. JOHN SMITH (name changed)

“HE’S A CASUAL DRESSER!”

What would you assume is important to this church?

Do You Expect – A Sermon Or A Motivational Speech?

One of the big problems with modern preaching is that many, if not most who go to church, have begun to think of the sermon as a motivational speech. The people in the pews want to be given “Three Steps To Financial Success” or that “You Can Have Your Best Life Now.” Many sermons are sounding more and more like pop-psychology while talking less and less about our need for God.

Psychology and philosophy are often the foundation for the preacher’s message. Biblical illustrations are only used to maintain Christian credibility. The focus of the message is the hearer rather than the glory of God. Undiscerning pew sitters are easy prey to popular topics. These sermons fail to teach doctrine because the minister and congregation have become more interested in having emotional experiences.

Sound doctrinal teaching is put on the back-burner in order to please the audience and “tickle” ears. The culture of such churches is focused on “filling me up” rather than offering true worship to God. Such an environment hinders the growth of true Christians and gives comfort to “cultural Christians” who do not yet know Christ.

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