I have been reading two classic books this month. One is D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers, the other, John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. Both are having a profound affect on my thinking about pastoral ministry. My thoughts below were inspired by these two books.
I could have chosen any number of pastoral giants for the title of this post. The truth is, many pastors attempt to imitate the pulpits of their favorite preachers. Such behavior is far from new. It has thwarted the power and passion of pulpits for centuries.
There is nothing wrong with learning from and deeply respecting preachers or other ministry leaders. In fact, much can be gained from reading about the lives of brothers and sisters who have gone before us. Furthermore, and perhaps more specifically, befriending local preachers and learning from their experience and techniques can greatly increase our ability to present the truth to our own listeners. Yet, when we seek to emulate the temperaments, preaching styles, and personalities of these preachers, problems arise.
First, if we attempt to use the style of our favorite preacher, our congregation will pick up on our lack of genuineness. Not only will they spot our contrived message, such an approach will distract them from coming to a knowledge of the truth. Lloyd-Jones has said, “People do not want to listen to a string of quotations of what other people have thought and said. They have come to listen to you; you are the man of God, you have been called to the ministry, you have been ordained; and they want to hear this great truth as it comes through you, through the whole of your being.”
Second, if we’re gentle and gracious during the week yet browbeat and awkwardly shout during our sermon, people may wonder if we’re living a life of hypocrisy. They’ll think we’re being dishonest and will rightfully question our motives. There should be no lapse in our demeanor whether we’re preaching from the pulpit or praying for a prisoner. In other words, we can’t be a saint in public and a jerk in the pulpit.
Lastly, if we preach in the language of our favorite Puritan, the message will confuse our hearers as they try to make sense of words and phrases no longer in common use. I’m not suggesting we give up on great biblically derived words such as justification, sanctification, and glorification; we must, however, avoid using phrases and terms common only to a 16th century hearer. Truth doesn’t change, but our presentation of truth can be ineffective if we use outdated language.
God Has Gifted and Called Each of Us
The temptation to be your favorite preacher can be deadly to your life and ministry. I am by no means immune to such temptation. To various degrees, my calling to church plant has been stalled on numerous occasions by the pressure to be someone I am not. Oftentimes, it’s easier to spot covetousness in our worldly pleasures than it is in our service to the Lord.
When we are called to lead a church in a poor pocket of a small town, we convince ourselves that doing so is far inferior to leading a congregation in London or some other metropolitan area. We reason with ourselves instead of calling our bluff. We fail to recognize our coveting heart. Furthermore, we neglect to realize God can use small acts of obedience in major ways.
The desire to “look over the fence” is always lurking at our doors. Instead of chasing ministry fads, church growth techniques, or the talents of spiritual giants, we must remain faithful to the call God has given each one of us. He has uniquely gifted and wired us for His glory. We will only produce fruit in our ministries if we stay connected to the vine (John 15:5).
We should praise God for the spiritual giants of our faith. We should praise Him for the lessons and wisdom gleaned from such ministries. However, we must remain mindful of the road before us. We must remain faithful to our call. God has placed particular people with particular needs under our care. We are called to shepherd our flock. No, brothers, we are not Charles Spurgeon. God has not asked us to be.