In part One, Dr. Minnick urges on us the notion that preachers who live their message have more power for spiritual influence than men who are more gifted and skilled in speaking without the power of the devoted life. In this second part, he warns that men without spiritual power are destined to pulpit failure.
Why More Preacher?
Brethren, if we dismiss this challenge to fully acknowledge the vital contribution of our own lives—to the very act and in the very hour of preaching—we are destined to failure in the pulpit. This will be true regardless of how successful we may be as administrators or even personal counselors. In his Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching, James Stalker explained the reason for this from the psychology of the listeners’ perspective.
We are so constituted that what we hear depends very much for its effect on how we are disposed towards him who speaks. The regular hearers of a minister gradually form in their minds, almost unawares, an image of what he is, into which they put everything which they themselves remember about him and everything which they have heard of his record; and, when he rises on Sunday in the pulpit, it is not the man visible there at the moment that they listen to, but this image, which stands before them and determines the precise weight and effect of every sentence which he utters.
Putting it sharply, Stalker argued, “The hearers may not know why their minister, with all his gifts, does not make a religious impression upon them; but it is because he is not himself a spiritual power.”
Unless we’re prepared to hear them humbly, these words will offend us. Or, perhaps more likely, we may be inclined to dismiss them because in our heart of hearts we know ourselves to be backslidden—“And yet,” we rationalize, “the people I pastor do not seem to notice. Our services continue to be characterized by a good spirit, the giving is great, buildings are going up, morale is high, and people are still raising their hands and walking the aisles at invitations. So—I know I ought to be a better man—but somehow God blesses me anyway.”
I think that if this is any man’s line of reasoning it is imperative that he be summoned, before going any further, to give account of himself and his people with scrupulous honesty. Is it true that any of these appearances with which you’re consoling yourself, or all of them combined, is any commentary whatsoever on whether God is blessing your ministry? Could not all of these same things be said of any number of charismatic or compromised ministries that you denounce? Does not all of this also characterize the ecumenical evangelistic campaigns that you shun? Do not sensuous televangelists confidently assure us of the same proofs of God’s favor? But most fearfully, did not our Lord warn that unconverted ministers would mistakenly plead these very appearances as evidences of His favor (Matt. 7:21–23)? His word was “many”—many will plead these things in that day. They no doubt reassure themselves with them now.
There may be a minister who is reading this column right now who is not only self-deceived but, in addition, continually deceived by a flattering but carnal people. It seems plausible that just as a liberal denominational church may be made up of people who will praise their pastor for doing nothing more than holding one brief, placid service a week, marrying their children, and burying their dead, so a fundamental church may include a great number of people who are quite willing to flatter a pastor for doing little more than occupying them with a great many busy things. The bustling responsiveness of such a people to such a pastor says very little, if anything, about the presence of God in that ministry.
That is the really telling issue for any church or any Christian school. It’s not the numbers that tell. It’s not the bulging church calendar that tells. Nor is it the razor sharp line of separation, the huge Christian school, the strict standards, or the traditional hymns and shouting condemnation of the world’s many sins. It is this, and this alone—when those people gather, are their gatherings characterized by an inescapable sense of the presence of God? Is there, in the very hour of their worship, the telling, convincing consciousness of His reality and nearness? Does anyone ever fall down on his face and “report that God is in them of a truth” (1 Cor. 14:25)?
This is not just rhetoric. This is the consistent, joyful experience of a Spirit-filled assembly. Once a church knows it, deeply and movingly, no amount of frenetic activity will compensate for its absence. The people will mourn until it’s recovered. And therein lies the burden of this column—that the recovery must generally begin with the preacher, not his preaching.
Oh, brethren! We stand in great need! Our being stands in need! Are we aware that people are saying of some of us that they like our preaching because we are “soooo funny”? Before God, how can we hear that reported of each other and not be afraid? What was going on in a man’s own soul in the hours before he preached like that! Is that what he got from God? Is that how he knows God?
This is just one alarming example that justifies the concern that some preachers are in trouble in their own souls. (Please don’t dismiss this by exaggerating the intent of the illustration. I’m not aware that anyone decries all use of humor. It has a sparing place, but it will quickly evaporate if the atmosphere is truly holy unto the Lord.) Thank God that some are genuinely grieved and want a starting place to work their way back. Where do we begin?
To be continued…
Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.
(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)