“At the point of divergence the difference between right and wrong, between truth and falsehood, is not a chasm but a razor’s edge” (John Murray – from Chapter VI of his book, Principles of Conduct, 1957).
The absence of expository preaching is directly related to an erosion of confidence in the authority of and sufficiency of Scripture. At the beginning of the nineteenth the battle lines were drawn against the forces of liberalism. Liberals were challenging the miraculous, questioning the divine, and opposing the historicity of the New Testament documents. Evangelicals weathered that storm, and empty liberal churches testify to the futility of the liberal quest for a demythologized Christ. But today the battle is more subtle. The Scriptures are neglected and debased and are used only as a springboard for all kinds of “talks” that are far removed from genuine biblical exposition…There is little, if any, sense of either the preacher or the congregation bowing under the majestic authority of God’s written Word.
As a minister of the gospel, there is no subject that interests me more than the preaching. I am not just interested in a “fanciful” manner, but I am captivated by this subject because it sums up God’s call upon my life this side of heaven. But it’s not just preaching in general that interests me. Rather it is Christ who is to be the Grand Theme and Subject of all faithful preaching! I am not only called to preach. I am called to “preach Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). “…We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…” 2 Cor. 4:5). All true preaching is Christ-centered, and all Christ-centered preaching is true preaching. There are no two ways about it! Those who are committed to the faithful exposition of Scripture will necessarily preach Christ because all of the Scriptures testify about Him (
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Isaiah 49:15-16: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
What a great comfort and encouragement it is to know that although the LORD God is so great and magnificent in His Being, He takes notice of His children because He cares for His own! If you are a child of God, know this: you are not just a number in the system! You are special in God’s eyes! Continue reading
Here is what Dr. David Martyn Lloyd Jones said about preaching – all of the quotes below are from “the Doctor’s” book entitled, Preaching & Preachers.
“What is the chief end of preaching?” I like to think it is this. It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence (p. 97).
For a period of about four months, “the Doctor” while ill was unable to preach at the Westminster Chapel. In the providence of God, this afforded him “the opportunity, and the privilege, of listening to others” instead of preaching himself. This is what he wrote as he reflected on that experience: Continue reading
- I Can’t Handle It
In all honesty, I don’t think that I could handle the hand-shaking at the door week by week after I have just finished preaching. Not because I am too exhausted. I am usually (though not always) bubbling with a lot of emotional excitement and thankfulness for the wonderful privilege of being a conduit of God’s Word to God’s people. There are times when I feel terrible because in my own estimation, I did not preach the Word as faithfully as I could have – either because I was not thoroughly prepared or because I just had a bad day and the sermon didn’t come out as I expected it to. But that’s beside the point. There are two reasons why I feel that I cannot handle this practice. My personality is such that I cannot handle too much praise or too much criticism right after the service. Thus, I need to guard my heart from inordinate pride and unnecessary despondency. Too much praise right after I have just preached would make me very proud. I am concerned about this because more often than not, to be polite, people say nice things to you as they shake your hand at the door whether they mean them or not. If I heard these nice things like that every Sunday, I would begin to believe them and thus my already restless ego would grow way out of proportion. So, I must guard myself from that by not providing the occasion for that temptation. That’s my concern on that front. On the other hand, I know that too much criticism right after I have just preached, would crush me. The reason is that for the first few minutes, right after each service, I am emotionally raw and vulnerable. Metaphorically speaking, my skin is not as tough (it becomes so soft) after I have just delivered a sermon as it is at other times during the week. Thus, I prefer that any comments (praise or criticism) regarding the sermons on Sunday should be reserved for later when I (and those making the comments) have had time to process everything prayerfully before the Lord. I am and they are more likely to be objective that way.
- It Tends to Put Pressure on the Congregation to Say Something Nice to the Preacher
Whether we want to admit this or not, this hand-shaking practice after every service, has the potential of putting undue pressure on the congregation to say nice things to the pastor as they try to quickly find their way past the pastor who is standing at the door – sometimes only shaking his hands with one of their fingers. I have experiences this – not in the congregation where I serve as pastor – but as I have traveled around preaching elsewhere. It’s uncomfortable and awkward both for the people and pastor! You often hear people saying “Good Evening” to you after the morning service and “Good Morning” after the evening service or something worse. On the rare occasionally, you get those honest souls who are simply unrestrained and unafraid to let you know how lousy or how long your sermon was – but that’s rare. For the most part, people want to be courteous, which is what puts the pressure on them to come up with something nice to say and say it with a smile. I am not sure we have the right to put that pressure on anyone especially the people we have been called to serve through prayer and the ministry of the Word.
- It Tends to Distract People from the Message that They Have Just Heard
Sometimes, a very powerful, soul-stirring message is preached and the Word comes down so heavily upon an individual with its two-edged sharpness, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, dissecting and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the listener’s heart (see Hebrew 4:12). Because I usually don’t know when that happens, my normal practice is to disappear (at least for a few minutes – sometimes completely) as soon as the service is over so as not to be a distraction to the people as they are trying to process and wrestle with the Word which they have just heard – whether it had to do with conviction of sin or encouraging them in some other aspect of their lives or both. On occasions, I have found that I can help people process what they heard and perhaps clarify some things that weren’t clear to them in the sermon. But that is the exception not the rule. More often than not, I find that it’s very easy for a careless word to slip off my tongue and completely ruin the good Word that was preached by diluting it if not completely washing it off an individual’s conscience. Sometimes, this can happen not so much through a slip of the tongue, but simply through aimless chatter (or small talk) with members of the congregation right after the service – which often happens because either the people or the pastor want to be nice and polite to the other. I think that’s dangerous and must be avoided at all costs.
- It Tends to Rob God of His Glory by Putting Undue Focus/Praise on the Pastor or the Sermon Preached
As fallen human beings, we all have a sinful bent towards self (not towards God) – self gratification, self promotion, self service, self x, y and z, (you fill in the blanks). Therefore, we must take whatever precautionary measures necessary to ensure that we are not (intentionally or unintentionally) feeding that sinful bent towards self. Many times, I find it hard to respond to comments which “praise” me or the sermon preached. If I say “Thank you,” I feel that I am taking the credit that does not really belong to me. If I say “Praise the Lord,” it feels like I am just trying to sound “pious” or “spiritual” and that I am really not acknowledging the words praise or appreciation being directed towards me from a congregant. It’s a real dilemma for me and I suppose it is for other pastors as well.
But what concern me and even scares me most is that I am too quick to draw attention to myself – that’s very natural for me. I find that I can enjoy people’s praise so much so that I can become larger and larger in my own eyes and perhaps in the eyes of others even as God becomes smaller and smaller. I believe every pastor and every church member wants to say with the Apostle John, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). In principle, we all affirm that. But in practice, we do the opposite. In the end, we and our sermons are the ones that end up increasing while God on the other hand is decreasing and being relegated to the side while we, our sermons and pastoral hand-shakes take center stage – effectively obstructing people from squarely focusing on God and giving Him the glory that is due His Name.
For these reasons, I have made it my practice to go into “seclusion” right after the service (even for a few minutes in cases where I can’t afford to do this for longer periods). I usually go somewhere quite where I can hide and be alone with God. Sometimes, it means that I have to lock myself in a toilet for a few minutes to check in with the Lord and report back to Him. He sends me into the pulpit each week. I ask for His help and blessing before I step into the pulpit each week. So, the first thing that I want to do as soon as the service is over, is to go back and report to Him that I have done what He had sent me to do; to thank Him for giving me His grace and strength which saw me through the service; to ask Him for forgiveness for any sins that I may have committed while preaching or while leading the service. And to ask for His blessing upon His Word and the people who heard it that they would be given the grace to lay it up on their hearts and practice it in their lives.
So What Are We to Do?
I have already shared what I believe to be the biblical alternative to the “pastoral ministry of shaking hands.” I have called it, the pastoral ministry of shaking hearts. Let me share an example of how other churches and their pastors conduct their business on Sundays in this regard. It’s Sunday morning. Let’s say the church service starts at 10:00 am. The pastor, church elders and deacons make their way to the church at 9:30 am or thereabouts. They gather in the vestry as people are coming into the sanctuary for worship. While they are in the vestry, one or two deacons on “greeting duty” for that particular Sunday are standing at the main doors into the sanctuary – greeting people and directing them to their seats until the church fills up. Back in the vestry, the other men update one another on congregational life. Praise items and prayer concerns are shared. Together, they pray (usually led by one person – the pastor, an elder or one of the deacons). They pray for the service as well, everything, the singing, the reading of the Word, the preaching, the offering, visitors, everything. After prayer (it’s not 10:00 am), the all file into the main sanctuary for the service. The pastor is the last person to enter the sanctuary. Upon entering the sanctuary, he goes directly to the pulpit and leads the entire service. After the service, the deacons on “greeting duty” that Sunday are busy guiding the people out of the sanctuary – and greeting them as before. The pastor is the first one to exist the sanctuary followed by the elders straight back to the vestry where they all take their seats (sometimes they stand if they do not have enough seats for everybody). The pastor asks one of the men to pray – sometimes he prays himself. Together, led by this one man, they pray and dedicate everything that has just happened to the Lord – have a few discussions – sometimes not – and off they go each to his home.
You may wonder, “When does the pastor make contact with the people?” Well, during the week, the pastor and the elders are usually busy visiting the members of their congregation – and also during their mid-week services. I will admit that it’s easier to do this in a small congregation, but perhaps that it only an argument for smaller not bigger churches.
In any case, I pray that this article will be of some spiritual benefit to one or two pastors out there and their congregations. Ultimately, I pray that the Lord may use it to raise up more pastors who will devote themselves to the pastoral ministry of shaking hearts on their knees in prayer and on their feet in preaching. To Him be all the praise, glory and honor – now and forevermore! Amen!
First, let me say this. I am not a pessimist, a fatalist or a racist. I am just an honest guy. I care about Africa as I do the rest of the world. Being a Christian, I cannot reconcile these things with the Christian faith. I raise this issue to provoke us Africans (particularly African Christians) and the rest of the world to think about some of the deep underlying issues which might help explain why Africa hasn’t developed – and why it really doesn’t seem to be developing at a rate proportional to all the aid and investment that has been made in Africa since the end of colonialism. Continue reading
Is there any difference between faith and hope? At first glance, this question looks like a no-brainer. But when you stop and think about it, you begin scratching your head and you go “Hmm, yes and no?” Well, let’s let Martin Luther help us out here. Here is what he had to say in response to this question in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians:
The question occurs to us, What difference is there between faith and hope? We find it difficult to see any difference. Faith and hope are so closely linked that they cannot be separated. Still there is a difference between them.
First, hope and faith differ in regard to their sources. Faith originates in the understanding, while hope rises in the will.
Secondly, they differ in regard to their functions. Faith says what is to be done. Faith teaches, describes, directs. Hope exhorts the mind to be strong and courageous.
Thirdly, they differ in regard to their objectives. Faith concentrates on the truth. Hope looks to the goodness of God.
Fourthly, they differ in sequence. Faith is the beginning of life before tribulation. (Hebrews 11.) Hope comes later and is born of tribulation. (Romans 5.)
Fifthly, they differ in regard to their effects. Faith is a judge. It judges errors. Hope is a soldier. It fights against tribulations, the Cross, despondency, despair, and waits for better things to come in the midst of evil.
Without hope, faith cannot endure. On the other hand, hope without faith is blind rashness and arrogance because it lacks knowledge. Before anything else a Christian must have the insight of faith, so that the intellect may know its directions in the day of trouble and the heart may hope for better things. By faith we begin, by hope we continue.
Would you like to interact with Martin Luther? Please post your comments below. Blessings in Christ!