I know this will not go over well in our hyper-egalitarian society, but there is no greater privilege for a man other than to stand in the pulpit and declare God’s truth to God’s people. To do so faithfully is to imitate Christ to the utmost, for in doing so, the faithful preacher is allowing the people of Christ to hear from Him in a spiritual sense. The faithful preacher who declares the full counsel of God’s word is feeding the flock. He is building them up, encouraging them, and allowing God’s word to work in their lives toward sanctification.
In view of that, here are five things that every pastor must remember when he steps into the pulpit to preach God’s word:
- You are not there because you deserve to be there. A true pastor will always have a real sense of his own sin and need for the gospel, so much so that when he steps into the pulpit he appeals to the power of the Spirit and God’s mercy and grace to carry out the task. The pastor who thinks he deserves to be there is trapped by his own pride and needs to repent immediately. In other words, as a man approaches the pulpit, he should humble himself before our Holy and Righteous God and ask for His blessings while he stands in the pulpit.
- The people in your congregation do not deserve to be there. Just as you are in the pulpit by God’s grace, so too are they in the pews by God’s grace. Therefore, the most loving thing that you can do is preach His word faithfully. In other words, get out of the way. Preach Christ crucified, not yourself. They are there by God’s sovereign hand. They need His mercy and grace in their lives. They need the gospel of Christ, which is the power unto salvation (Romans 1:16-17). They don’t need marriage counseling, a life coach, or a friend. They do need someone who loves them enough to preach God’s word, all of God’s word, to them. That is why He has brought them to your congregation. They may think they are there because of you, and the LORD help them if they do, but they are not there because of you. They are there because of Him.
- Preach as the Spirit leads you, rabbit trails and all. This one is a bit tricky because a man must be discerning enough to know whether or not he is being led by the Spirit or by his pet-hobby horse. But we must trust, pray, and look for the Spirit to lead us while we are in the pulpit. This may mean, at times, that the sermon we prepared throughout the week may not end up being the sermon we preach.
- Prepare to be in the pulpit. Yes, that means you need to be working on the text throughout the week as you approach the LORD’s day. The Spirit needs to work upon you through the week, through the text you are planning on preaching, in order to get you ready to preach that text to God’s people. In fact, sometimes, the text we choose is often more for our own benefit than it is for the congregation’s benefit. This doesn’t mean that God cannot use that text in the lives of others, but we must be humble enough to realize that God needs to be working in our lives throughout the week to prepare us to proclaim His word. (Remember Peter had to be rebuked for his earthly thoughts, and restored from his rejection of Christ, before preaching the greatest fruit-bearing sermon of all time.)
- Preach the truth with conviction. This means at times, you will have to attack error from the pulpit. You need to be clear that there are wolves in the body of Christ. You need to call heresy for what it is. I take this one personally because much of my family was trapped in the cult of Christian Science for so many years. My mother’s family, being Methodist, never dared criticize the religion of my father’s family, because they were so afraid of being judgmental. Be judgmental! A cult is a cult is a cult and the shepherds need to declare error from the pulpit. Jesus did. Paul did. Titus did. Peter did. James did. John did. Why not you? Why not the man who is to shepherd the flock of God? I don’t think you should exclusively focus on such things, but you need to have the conviction that there is black and white, light and darkness, sin and righteousness. Pastors need to be willing to say things that our culture rejects because the Bible declares them. Just the fact that you are called a shepherd assumes the fact that you are going to protect the flock from the wolves. Yes, that means calling out the heretical books they read like Jesus Calling, The Shack, and A Thousand Gifts, as heresy. Yes, they still have the freedom to read such trash, but it remains your duty to warn them.
Well, these are just a few thoughts for men who enter the pulpit week after week. It is a privilege only given to a few and those of us called to do so, need to approach the pulpit with reverence, fear, and humility. Hopefully, these five reminders will help us do just that.