I’VE MADE A FEW EMBARRASSING MISTAKES IN MY 22 YEARS AS A PASTOR. Two in particular cause me to get red-faced whenever I remember them:
At a Communion service several years back, when reflecting on the punishment Jesus received, I said to the congregation that “Jesus was beatilly bruten on our behalf.” I then proceeded to tell everyone to drink the cup BEFORE eating the Matzo, reversing the order of service described in the Gospels.
That was a bad day.
Even worse was the funeral I officiated after having prepared two memorial services at the same time to be given on the same day to two families I did not know. As I sincerely delivered the comforting message to the gathered aggrieved, the family sitting in the front row kept shaking their heads frantically as I solemnly eulogized their dearly departed…and used a wrong name! I had somehow gotten my notes mixed up. It was at this point a career-change to a Chick-fil-A fry cook looked pretty good.
Those are some embarrassing errors, but there is one mistake that I will never make. Ever. I will never…
I will never forsake the preaching of God’s Word on Sunday morning as some do.
Wait, you ask, doesn’t every pastor preach God’s Word? Well, yes…and no.
Most pastors preach topical sermons. While there is a place for that, and I certainly do preach topically on occasion, a steady diet of that type of teaching will not grow the soul of a believer.
When a minister expounds on various topics week after week, they are usually telling you everything they know about a passage and backing it up with Scripture to validate their own thoughts. “3 Keys to Your Best Life Now” and “7 Ways to Love Your Neighbor,” or “12 Scriptural Principles to a Thinner You” may be entertaining, even important to where you are in life, but they will not necessarily grow you into the Christian God wants you to be.
Short homilies that gloss over the life-changing nature of Biblical texts will only stunt a believer’s growth. Famous Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee said, “Sermonettes are for Christianettes.”
And what about those stand-up routines masquerading as sermons? Fuggetaboutit!
There is a better way to learn in church that doesn’t involve fog machines or explosions in the pulpit: “expositional” or “expository” preaching. The word exposition is related to the word “expose”—faithful preachers of God’s Word are called to expose the meaning and intent of the Biblical text, verse by verse, giving the context and historical setting, studying the grammar even, so that the congregation will understand the author’s intent. He is to give a comprehensive explanation of the Scripture, while providing commentary and examples to make the passage clear and understandable. Then, a current application for a Christian’s life may be drawn out. It’s not about what the pastor thinks of a passage of Scripture, but what God intended when he wrote the Bible.
The greatest benefit of this type of teaching? The pastor grows as he learns, and the congregation grows as the pastor learns.
As much as expositional preachers want to hear “What a great sermon, pastor” or “What an entertaining speaker our pastor is,” what we’d prefer to hear is: “Now I know what that passage means,” or “I better understand who God is and what He requires of me.” This exemplifies a growing Christian, one who has “ears to hear,” someone who understands what God requires of them so that they “will bear much fruit” in an increasingly anti-Christian world. It also protects the believer from the thousands of false doctrines out there.
Expository preaching demands that these questions be asked of the hearer and of the preacher:
• Will I obey the Word of God?
• How must my thinking be realigned by Scripture?
• How will I change my behavior to be fully obedient to the Word?
These questions reveal submission to the authority of God and reverence for the Bible as his Word.
I was complaining to a Baptist friend that our church was not growing in numbers fast enough for my liking (I came to our Johnson City fellowship from a mega-church in California). He said to me, “Well Steve, I know a few pastors whom God has called to a small work. Perhaps God has called you to be faithful in that type of work.”
My own pastor, with whom I am still accountable and speak to regularly, gave a more precise explanation: “You don’t tickle ears. Jesus said that the narrow road leads to life, and only a few find it.”
At Community Church of the Hills, we have a high regard for the Word of God and couldn’t care less about itching ears. We may not have huge crowds, but we have a faithful fellowship who loves the Lord and who are growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ daily.
May God grant you and your fellowship the same blessings. We pray every week for that to happen to all the churches in Johnson City. God bless you!
* Acknowledgements to Dr. Albert Mohler for his contributions to this article.