What should be the highest priority in your ministry? How should you understand your ministry and the office of pastor? To what should you give the majority of your time? Maybe these are difficult questions to answer. Perhaps different responses would be given from a plethora of experts with different perspectives and areas of expertise!
However, people will place a lot of expectations on you and your time. This is well illustrated by the types of questions pastor search teams ask and the major desires that congregations have of their shepherd. For these reasons, it is a great idea to know what the Bible says and commit yourself to it’s perspective before you find yourself in one of these situations.
Preaching, both theologically and practically — biblically and historically — is paramount for pastoral ministry. In this post, I offer three reasons why this is so and therefore why you should be committed wholeheartedly to this task before you begin your pastorate.
First, The Role Is Closely Linked with the Office.
Both passages that list the qualifications for pastors in the New Testament mention the expectation of preaching and teaching as a necessary skill requirement for pastors. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul tells his young mentee that an overseer must be “able to teach.” Then in Titus 1:9, that a pastor must be one known for “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” is a clear expectation.
Teaching or preaching the Word is a “skill” that is demanded in both New Testament passages that list pastoral qualifications. As a matter of fact, depending how you understand the reference to being a good manager of his household in the 1 Timothy list, the ability to handle the Word may be the only skill that God explicitly requires of a shepherd pastor in the New Testament. Actually, I believe from an examination of these New Testament passages in context, it is hard if not impossible to separate the role or action of preaching from the office of pastor.
Second, The Voice the Church Hears the Most will be the One they Follow and Trust.
Whether it is good or bad or right or wrong — and I do not believe it is bad or wrong — the individual people see up front and hear speaking to and for them the most will be the person they identify as the primary leader. And, if this is done well and major character and content mistakes are avoided, this person will be, for most, the leader they trust and are willing to follow. This perspective is only natural and probably not unique to the church. So, from the pulpit, you must provide the biblical content that shapes the spiritual formation of individuals and families on a large scale. Also, behind the podium in your expository sermons and through biblical applications, you should remind the congregation why the church exists and where you are headed. And, through a regular platform ministry, you will gain leadership capital with your people.
Therefore, preaching is an opportunity to lead from the podium and set the overall direction of the congregation. Generally speaking, it offers you the platform to set the tone for the discipleship of your people and reinforce the mission of the church. It is a task you cannot afford to give up, approach ill-prepared for, nor perform poorly.
Third, The Importance of Preaching is a Pattern that Was Set by Jesus in His Ministry.
Jesus prioritized preaching in ministry. One place where we see this prevalently is in the Gospel of Mark. At least three places are noteworthy in the first half of the book. The first is the introduction to the Gospel and Jesus’s public ministry in chapter one. It is noteworthy that leading up to the coming of Jesus, regarding both John’s preparation ministry and the Father’s identification activity, Mark alludes to the concept of “proclamation” or “preaching.”
For John’s ministry, this Gospel account uses the term “preaching” no less than two times in the first eight verses. Then, the Father’s activity at Jesus’s baptism is displayed in what God said or “proclaimed” about the Divine Son. But finally, perhaps in the pinnacle of this introduction, verses 14 and 15 explain the inauguration of Jesus’s ministry this way: “Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” The Coming One came preaching . . . proclaiming!
The second place where we see Jesus prioritize preaching in his ministry is in the context of his “signs and wonders” activity. At the end of chapter one, we see the popularity He was gaining with people as a result of casting out a demon in the synagogue, taking care of Simon’s mother-in-law, and healing many who were physically and spiritually sick. You might even say that his ministry had been legitimized and He had gained a following, which makes what Jesus says next all the more intriguing and significant. “He said to them, ‘Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for’” (Mark 2:38). What a tremendous ministry purpose statement Jesus gives here. It was not that Jesus did not care about the people and their needs. Rather it is that He knew regardless of how many times he ministered to their physical ailments, this ultimately would not heal their souls. Jesus never sacrificed the eternal for the temporal!
The final place in this Gospel that I want to point out where we see Jesus prioritize preaching is in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. Allow me to be brief. In chapter 6, the account begins with a reference to the compassion of Jesus toward the crowd. For those of who know Jesus and have spent any amount of time reading the description of his ministry and character in the Gospels, this is not a surprising statement. This statement may even seem insignificant or mundane here. “Of course He had compassion toward them; it’s Jesus! Jesus is compassionate and he always showed compassion. Furthermore, they were hungry, and he was getting ready to feed them. In context, we can and should assume this.”
However, if we think this way we would be wrong, and we have missed the point. It is significant. And, what makes it so significant is why, or in regards to what circumstance in the crowds’s life, he felt compassion. Here’s a hint — it wasn’t their lack of food. Notice what comes next. “When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and he felt compassion for them because they were like a sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). Again, It was not that Jesus did not care about the people and their needs. Rather it is that He knew regardless of how many times he fed them, this ultimately would never clench the true hunger of their souls.
Jesus prioritized preaching in his ministry. There are many more examples, but for our purposes the three listed here will have to suffice. There were many wants and even legitimate needs that people desired for him to meet with and through his ministry. And, so it is and will be with us. However, Jesus never sacrificed the eternal for the temporal, and we must not either!
I am reminded of a statement I have often heard one of my good friends say regarding pastoral ministry: “If you take my time doing what anyone can do, it takes time away from me doing what only I can do.” I am not saying that preaching is all a pastor should do nor that others cannot preach to your people. However, I am saying not everyone can and should preach, and certainly not to your people on a regular basis. As pastors of our congregations and under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd to our flock, we must prioritize preaching and guard significant amounts of time for preparing to do so well. We must do so because it is a significant part of the pastoral ministry biblically, practically, and philosophically.
As always, I hope this brief and encouraging thought helps you in your pursuit of “Preaching the Word.”