Redundancy is, as defined by Dictionary.com, “superfluous repetition or overlapping, especially of words.”
Honest preaching, is, well, redundant. Aren’t we, as preachers, supposed to be honest? Isn’t truth-telling inherent within the very nature of Biblical proclamation? Can you stay in ministry and be effective long term and not tell the truth?
As a local church pastor, I found myself in a ministerial dilemma. One of my long time parishioners met a nice guy, and they were quickly engaged. We immediately set up premarital counseling. Through our time together, I realized that they were cohabitating. I recommended physical separation until marriage, which was not well received by one of the partners. They continued to live together right up to their wedding day. During their engagement period, I preached on marriage and specifically addressed cohabitation. I distinctly remember that Sunday. I had secretly hoped they would be absent. However, they were fully present. In the moment, I had these thoughts run through my head. “Maybe I should cut out the portion on cohabitating altogether.” “Should I really speak out?” “I could ‘beat around the bush’ and the point will still be clear, right?”
When preaching on more sensitive cultural and social issues, I have learned a few key lessons during my decade or so in full time, pastoral ministry.
- Higher Authority – As pastors, if we don’t preach truth as found in Scripture, we are held accountable by more than our local board of administration (James 3:1). God has called us to deliver His message to His people. We must be obedient, as eternity hangs in the balance for so many. Cognitively, I would rather hear “well done my good and faithful servant” from God rather than from humans. However, I frequently find myself marching to the beat of another’s drum. What might our preaching look like if we focused more on God’s opinion and less on the opinion of others? God is our ultimate judge. As we seek to share truth with others on a weekly basis, we also need someone to share truth with us. Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently stated, “When you’re in a position of authority, you need truth-tellers around you” (Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit 2014). Christ is our higher authority. He seeks for us to honest, just as He was honest.
- Wrestling is Vital – Do you wrestle with your message in the days leading up to delivery? I don’t mean wrestle so much with your title, or a particular illustration, or even what joke to share. Instead, do you wrestle with the impact upon your people? Will the Spirit use this message to enact life change? Am I being too blunt, or not real enough? Am I really living out the message in my own personal life? As Jacob wrestled with God (Gen. 32) for his blessing, we must also grapple with our sermons. Time is precious, and a commodity in short supply. We have our people’s attention for 30 minutes a week. What will we share that will influence them in the here and now, and have an impact in the life to come? When we have genuinely struggled with the sermon, we can be confident as we step behind the pulpit.
- Have Mercy – Not all pastors have the spiritual gift of mercy, but we are still called to preach with compassion. Special speakers are in and out. By nature, they can speak truth and drive off after service. The local pastor is charged with the spiritual next steps. When preaching truth, we must remember that our churches are full of people. These people have real struggles, real hearts, and real dreams. The next time you preach on generosity, remember the single mom on the back row who gives sacrificially. The next time you share on rest, remember the night shift security guard. He is physically present, but his closed eyes communicate more about his reality than your speaking ability. Honest preaching must always be saddled upon the horse of mercy.
- Pray Always – No substitute exists for prayer. God guides us through prayer. He humbles us, and He reminds us of His love and grace. Isaiah 6 records the prophet’s call to ministry. He found himself in the very presence of God, which in turn produced radical change. He was now willing to go and do whatever God commanded (6:8). Because of Isaiah’s time spent in the presence of the King, he was all the more willing to wholly do the King’s bidding. If you find yourself lacking for honest preaching, increase your time spent with God and watch how God changes you…and your church.
- Preparation is your best friend – Some parts of ministry are more flexible and fluid than others. When pastors are called upon to pray off the cuff, most of us can handle the challenge. However, solid preaching requires adequate preparation. This reality is even more important when addressing sensitive issues. Write out exactly what you want to say, and then practice verbally the delivery. Be clear and concise. Avoid rabbit trails and speaking whatever pops into your head in the moment. Prepare well, and your congregation will be grateful for the clear articulation of a tough issue.
- Practice at home – Do you have hard conversations with your family and close friends? Are you an avoider of conflict with those you love the most? Like me, many pastors are people pleasers. We do not like to rock the boat too much. Many of us erroneously believe that, if we only work hard and pray fervently, everyone will simply get along. The hardest place to have the tough conversations is at home. Why? At the end of every day, we must have dinner with those we love. We have to look them in the eye. Our congregations become our families over the years. Your bond with your church grows exponentially as your tenure increases. Tough talks should become easier. However, they actually become harder. You know them so well, and they know you so well. You know their faults, but they also know yours. So…what should become easier can actually become tougher. Ask yourself this question. Am I willing to address hard topics at home with my family and those closest to me? If so, you will likely be willing to do the same with your church.
The local church is indeed the great crucible of all pastors. Don’t get me wrong. I love the local church. There is nothing like it. As Pastor Bill Hybels consistently states: “The local church is the hope of the world.” Coming out of seminary, I thought preaching would be the easiest part of my job. I loved the art of crafting, shaping, and delivering a timely message from God’s Word. Preaching was always “easy” when doing evangelistic work at camps, retreats, and even congregations where I served short term. However, the longer I stay at my current church (5+ years now), the more God shapes me. Just like he uses our spouse to shape us more into His image, I firmly believe He uses our church to make us better “truth-tellers” on Sunday mornings.
So, what did I do with my sermon on marriage and cohabitation? Did I shrink back from full, biblical disclosure? I must confess. Although I did challenge my congregation to steer clear of cohabitating, I did not speak as clearly as possible to the issue. Looking back, I wish I possessed more courage. Like Joshua, I should have been “strong, and very courageous.”
The next time God calls you to speak directly to an issue in your congregation, and you know and love the people struggling with that very issue, what will you do? How will you handle the challenge? Will you shrink back, easing up on all God has laid on your heart? Or will you share the full message from the King? Until then, may you forge ahead, leading with Scripture as your foundation and the Holy Spirit as your guide.
Preach on, preacher, and be honest in your proclamation!
Article by Dr. Brian Bradford, pastor of Horizons (Wesleyan) Church, The Colony, TX, © 2014
Brian Bradford is the lead pastor of Horizons Church. He is married to Shannon, and they have 2 beautiful girls, Halle (7 years) and Lily (4)! Pastor Brian was born in Alexandria, LA and spent the early years of his life in Rockwall, TX. He has an undergraduate degree in Religion and Political Science from Indiana Wesleyan University, a Master’s of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate of Ministry degree with the Beeson Pastor Program from ATS as well.