Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Hunger for the Word

During my travels over the last few months I preached at a church of maybe 200 people who really appreciated my ministry. I was happy of course. It is always heartening when people come up to you afterwards and share how much they learned from the message. But what I learned afterwards shocked me. I had a hint of it beforehand when I was told that the people would appreciate a message from the Bible. Afterwards I was informed that the pastor hardly uses the Bible at all! He gets his material from the internet. Things had got so bad that the church committee (in effect, the deacons) had even approached the pastor to ask him to ‘refer to the Bible more’. Now if the regular church members are having to ask the pastor to refer to the Bible more things have got pretty bad. Of course, it would be worse, wouldn’t it, if no one noticed how bad things had got, if nobody cared about the weekly ministry from the pulpit? But this is a church of committed believers who desire to meet together for worship and edification. So how does it get like this?

How can we stop this sort of thing from happening? Firstly, churches, you need to make your expectations clear from the outset. A prospective pastor may be a wonderful chap, a great people person and a wise counsellor, but what is his preaching like when he visits? If he really wants to be the man who is called to your church he will do his best to preach well on his visits. He will use his well-worn illustrations that are guaranteed to get a laugh or a tear. The message may be carefully crafted according to some trusted homiletic method. But how much are you fed by the ministry? Is the Bible being explained and applied to your conscience? Is it the Bible that moves your affections or an anecdote of the Chicken Soup for the Soul variety? Do you feel that you are better equipped to read the Bible for yourself? If not, think again. He may be a really nice guy, but he shouldn’t be called to your church. Hang in there and don’t settle for second best.

Secondly, Bible colleges, seminaries, and schools of theology, you need to check your curriculum. Are your students getting equipped for a lifetime of ministry? Does what they learn at the seminary merely give them the ability to teach the same books of the Bible that they learn in class? Or, even worse, does it equip them merely to be great communicators with nothing to communicate? In some countries the turnover of pastors is ridiculous. But it is no wonder is it if they rely on a stock of sermons for their pulpit ministry? They have not been equipped for lifetime of learning and teaching.

Thirdly, preachers, you must read, read, read. Listening to a dynamic preacher on the internet may be a real blessing. But how much will that enable you to mine the Scriptures yourself? Isn’t it just a little too easy to copy down the points he makes and the illustrations he uses and refashion them for your people? I once heard a shocking statistic that suggested that a large percentage of preachers never read a book once they leave seminary. If that is you, then repent. You need to be feeding your own soul. That means that you must be a voracious reader. Only then can you feed others. And it is not enough to read the easy books, the best sellers that everyone is reading. You need to be stretching yourself, reading the challenging books that will broaden your mind, open up new vistas onto the Word and enable you to dig out of that Word the truth that your people desperately want.

I have been heartened on my travels to experience a real hunger for the Word, especially among young people. Let’s not let them down with the spiritual equivalent of Happy Meals. 

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