It's always been tough to be a preacher. Today it's tougher than ever. Preachers are expected to lead when all leadership is suspect, to communicate with the skill of Ronald Reagan, to be as familiar with the opinions of the day as George Barna, to manage the members with the diplomacy of Henry Kissinger and the church business like a Harvard M.B.A. And if he doesn't measure up? Well, we all know what happens when he doesn't measure up! It's moving time again.
While some moves have assuredly been a blessing for both the preacher and the congregation, most moves have been no more than a shifting of problems -- the congregation gets another preacher who can't measure up; the preacher gets a new congregation with unreasonably high expectations. Only the moving company benefits.
This column's purpose is to help both the preacher and the congregation. Congregations need to learn that no preacher is (or can be) perfect; preachers need to learn that necessary imperfection is no excuse for persistent mediocrity.
Like husband and wife, congregation and preacher are one. Their aspirations and aims, promises and prospects are the same. In congregational life, as in marriage, for harmony to prevail, mutual respect and cooperation must abound. An irenic rather than a polemic attitude is essential for a successful relationship between the preacher and the pew. While no honeymoon lasts forever, divorce court is to be assiduously avoided. Only greater animosity can result if pertinent parts of a column addressing preachers is appropriately underlined and mailed anonymously to the underliner's preacher. Only greater distrust can result if pertinent parts of a column addressing congregations is inserted into a sermon outline and used to "whip the brethren into line." This column will fail if it produces no more than hand grenades to lob in personal battles.
There is a delicate balance between "Be not many of you teachers" and "Take heed how you hear." The time is past (if it ever existed) when poorly prepared sermons could edify the pew. The time never existed when poorly prepared listeners could be edified even by a masterpiece. While there may be a shortage of preachers, especially good preachers, there is an even greater shortage (at least percentage wise) of good listeners. The listeners deserve to be helped by fresh, timely, sermons germane to 21st century life. The preachers deserve to be helped by attentive, Bible-loving, God-fearing and worshiping hearers whose delight is in the law of the Lord. Both require hard work. Neither preaching nor listening is a passive activity.
One disclaimer -- that which you read in this column is intended to bear no resemblance to persons living or dead. That being the case, no names will need to be changed to protect either the innocent or the guilty. We may all see ourselves in this column on occasion. In fact, if we don't the column will have failed. If through seeing ourselves, we can become better proclaimers and better listeners, to God be the glory.
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)