As of this fall, I have been working as a preacher in the pulpit nearly every Sunday for the last decade. While I know that is not a lot of time for some people, there are many things that come to light in a decade’s worth of experience. Many things have changed for me over that time, some things have stayed the same. Allow me to take a moment to tell you about the three biggest things I’ve learned in the last 10 years as a preacher.
Everyone is different. “Oh come on, everyone knows that,” is the most frequent reply. However, for a preacher this is a very important consideration and one that impacts everything that we do. While intuitively we understand that each person is different, people don’t always anticipate just how deep those differences can go and just how much it requires flexibility as a preacher.
Because everyone is different, I cannot work at just one level. I preach and teach every Sunday to some people who know a great deal about the Bible and some who know very little. Therefore, the preacher cannot assume that the audience knows and understands all of the basics and fundamentals and only speak to the higher levels of understanding; nor can he only preach fundamentals and never get into the meat of the word. Finding that balance is tricky, but absolutely essential to fulfilling our responsibilities.
Equally important in this area is the recognition that every Bible study will be different. I don’t think I have ever had two Bible studies that started in exactly the same place. I have studied with people who are highly educated and adults who could barely read. I have studied with people who believe they know everything the Bible has to say and people who will readily admit they know very little, if anything, about it. I could not tell you that I “always” start a Bible study a certain way, because I have found that to be impossible. Everyone is different, and each person has a different starting point. The preacher must be flexible to that.
Humility is essential to effectiveness. There are two areas in which this understanding is the most important. The first is in preaching and teaching. As a preacher, you may have gone to preaching school, college, or the school of hard knocks, but rest assured you don’t know everything. Every member in the congregation has the ability to teach you something, whether it be from life or Scripture. I never understood the intricacies of Jesus’ interaction with the fig tree (Mat. 21) until a member who had one in his yard explained some of the nuances of how they work. There are many areas of wisdom and understanding that the preacher can and should learn from those around him (older and younger); but he must be humble enough to see them, desire them, and grasp them.
The other area is in the realm of church problems. The preacher has to be humble and self-aware enough to recognize his own strengths and weaknesses. When members have problems with you (and they will), the wise preacher will not assume they are simply blowing smoke. Sometimes it is because they want you to be a carbon copy of some other preacher (which you cannot be), sometimes it is because you stand for truth they don’t like (something you cannot change), but sometimes it is because you are falling short in an area where you are weak. Do not respond by saying: “That’s just the way I am, they can take me or leave me.” They’ll leave you and you will have failed in your work because of your own pride. Instead, be humble enough to admit your mistakes and shortcomings, then honestly and genuinely strive to improve them. They may never become strengths, but your honesty and hard work will be noticed and it will be respected.
God answers prayers. Again, some would consider this a “duh” statement, but the reality is that this full conviction and realization is vital to the preacher’s mental and spiritual health and determination. My wife and I have always prayed that God would help us to be placed where we are needed and can be of the most use. I fully believe God has answered that prayer. While that has not meant working with a large salary and the amenities some preachers have, it has given a confidence that we are where we need to be, doing what we need to be doing. That is a great blessing and gives great peace of mind.
Understanding this point is also vital in other areas. It is my firm conviction that a man should never enter a teaching situation without prayer (and I’m not talking about a public assembly prayer). The last person you talk to before addressing others (publicly or privately) should be the Lord. It is important for your mindset, your emotional balance, and your relationship with him as his servant. It is also important when seeking to reach out to others. Prayers to God for open doors never fail to be answered positively if we are diligent in watching for them. Sometimes they come to us, other times they require us to go to them. Without a doubt, prayer is one of the most vital components to effectively working as a preacher.
Maybe these are all things you knew, maybe these are a given for some, but for most (myself included) they are lessons that are easily communicated but much more difficult to fully learn and appreciate. As a preacher, these things must be remembered and utilized every day as we seek to serve God. For those who are not preachers: encourage your preachers with all your might. Pray for them, love them, help them wherever you can, and thank God for them.