At the very outset, I must admit that today’s thoughts were spurred by my own musings after reading the very humble article written this morning by a preacher friend of mine that can be found here. It caused me to evaluate my own work and also the things I have seen in many of the preachers that I have observed and to which I have talked over the years. Consider 5 of the greatest dangers preachers face in their everyday work.
Pride. If you have preached for very long you have felt the heightened sense of worth that comes when everyone is talking about how good the sermon was that you preached last Sunday, or you get rave reviews for the article you posted last week. Every preacher likes having people appreciate his work. Every preacher likes to know that the things he is presenting are useful and are impacting the lives of others. However, there is always the danger present that preachers will begin preaching and writing so that they will receive those accolades. It is sometimes easy to forget we are simply hired hands on the farm of the Lord (Luke 8:4-15; 1 Cor. 3:6-9), not the sole proprietors of our own fields. Therefore, when all is going well: when people are being converted, returning to the Lord, and lauding us for our efforts, we must remain rooted in the understanding of who and what we are. Lest we begin to preach and teach with those reactions as our focus and fail to preach the whole counsel of God.
Frustration. On the opposite end of the spectrum from pride is this great danger. As great of a danger as the high side of preaching is, the low side can be equally as deadly. Just about every preacher I know has admitted, at one time or another, to having felt the Elijah complex (1 Kin. 19:10). It is easy to feel that way when one has spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how to help people and guide them into truth by the preaching and teaching of the Gospel, only to have them wholly reject it. Often those rejections come with false statements about the preacher’s love, care, concern, or others aspects of his life personally or professionally. It is in these moments when some preachers give up, deciding they cannot wage the battles and looking elsewhere. However, an analysis of the prophets reminds us that, though most men may turn from truth, God’s preachers are never alone. He is always with them, and there are always others that are striving for the same thing and struggling through the same issues. Preachers must remember that our job is always to be consistent in preaching the Word (2 Tim. 4:2). The highs and lows will come and we must be prepared to deal with them (Mat. 10:11-14).
Laziness. Preachers have often been told (sometimes with sincerity, other times in jest) that the preacher only works one day per week. Anyone who has lived the life of a preacher or has spent time close to a preacher of the Gospel knows how fallacious that statement is. In fact, it is probably a good thing for most congregations that preachers do not get paid by the hour, because the clock never stops at 40. Even so, laziness is a great danger for preachers. Not a laziness born of not putting in the hours, but of not utilizing the hours well. It can be very tempting for preachers who have 4, 5, or 6 teaching and preaching engagements each week to begin to rely on the work of others instead of their own studies. With the volume of commentaries out there, some preachers take the easy road and simply quote from one after another. Never actually taking the time to do the work to make the knowledge their own, but rehashing what another has said. This is highly dangerous when said commentators take positions indefensible by Scripture, but the unprepared preacher has presented said teaching without a second thought.
An additional danger in this realm is the laziness of staying within the congregation. The complacency of having a good dispersal of members in all age groups, and trying to fulfill expectations within the congregation, keeps some preachers from ever truly venturing out with the Gospel to those in the community. If we are not careful, we can spend all our time preaching to those who already believe the truth and fail to put the Gospel in the hands of the lost.
Always talking and never listening. When someone makes their living speaking to others, sometimes it is difficult to be the one to do the listening. Preachers have to be careful not to jump to conclusions when someone comes to them with a problem, or to automatically lump people into categories because they have “one size fits all” answers to many issues. Every person is different, with different styles of learning, life histories, and needs of understanding and help. The only way the preacher can truly assist anyone is by learning how to actually listen to what is being said, not what they thought they were going to hear.
This also holds true in the realm of listening to others preach or teach. It is easy for preachers to sit and listen to another, spending the whole time thinking about what they would say, how they would approach the topic, or what verses they would utilize in making a point. In doing so, they never learn anything new, but only reiterate in their own minds what they already feel they know or those things in which they already feel competent. This keeps the preacher from growing and can lead to his spiritual demise if it is not remedied.
Arrogance. Sometimes it is easy for us as preachers to get into the mode of preaching to “you sinners” and leaving ourselves out of the equation. As preachers, we are not greater than those around us. We are flawed, face temptations and struggles, and need help on a regular basis. Additionally, there are sometimes things that, with all of our studies and efforts, we have overlooked; and some kind brother or sister makes a statement or asks a question that brings that to light. When we should be honest and grateful, sometimes we can arrogantly look down on others, their knowledge and their flaws, while we try to keep ours in the shadows. The condescension that breeds is ungodly and sinful. As preachers of the Gospel, we are to be humble and willing to confess our faults (Jam. 5:16). If I struggle in an area, I need to be honest enough to help the congregation see that these things affect all of us, not just them. It does not mean I need to present a personal saga before the congregation, but I should never be excluding myself from the application of principles of Scripture either. The congregation knows and sees my flaws and short-comings, it goes a long way toward my reputation with them, and my relationship with God, if they see that I know it and am working on it as well.
These things are not written to bash preachers, but to remind us to be aware of the dangers we face and to be cautious of our actions and responses; for above all we answer to God for all that we do (2 Cor. 5:10; Jam. 3:1). I also recognize that many who will read this are not preachers, but are ones who have family and close friends that do take on that noble task. I want you to know the challenges they face; be there to help, encourage, and strengthen them; and sometimes give them the proverbial swift kick in the pants. May God bless you as you proclaim his word, and hold up the hands of those that do the same.