One of the more amazing things about God’s redemptive plan for the world is that he uses human beings to further it. Even more amazing is that he uses men. And still more amazing is that he often uses young men. Truly all the applause for redemptive history rises to God.
Young men are often raised up by God to take the baton in various ways to faithfully follow previous generations. One of those ways in the privileged and sacred task of feeding Christ’s flock through biblical preaching.
However, as you read Scripture and spend time ministering to God’s people, one thing becomes clear: it is not always easy for people to readily receive the ministry of a young man. A young preacher’s hearers sometimes need help.
Why? Like a young tree, it remains to be seen if we will endure the elements. We have yet to establish the bond of trust with the congregation which often takes years. We may not have the much-needed seasoning of sanctification. Our lives lack the testing and refining brought by the sovereignty of God over time. Younger preachers often have fewer years in the necessary school of suffering. Simply because we have not lived long, we have not been as sanctified, tested, and tamed through struggle. Our doctrinal beliefs, convictions, and philosophy of ministry have been tested by little more than red ink and like-minded friends. It’s easier when we’re green to march up to the pulpit and confidently proclaim our convictions. It’s quite another thing having done so through a measure of blood, sweat, and tears. We’ve yet to personally feel the pounding resistance of the world, the flesh, and the devil against long-held biblical convictions. For those reasons, and more, there can be an understandable hesitancy towards younger pastors. And we fledgling preachers need not resent that, but humbly do our part to assist in our audience’s receptivity and help our hearers.
By “help our hearers,” I mean doing what we can, as younger and less experienced preachers, to be as useful of an instrument as possible in Christ’s hands to bring his transforming power to the congregation.
Here are a few ways that younger preachers can help their hearers:
- Younger preachers can help their hearers by laboring for personal holiness.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to young, struggling Timothy in Ephesus, he spilled much ink on the importance of a godly life in church leadership (1 Tim 1:18-19, 3:1-10, 4:6-16, 5:22, 6:11-16, 20-21). Timothy’s devotion to his personal godliness would ensure biblical impact among the congregation (1 Tim. 4:16). He said more about godliness than he did about preaching delivery. That is not to say that instruction on the latter is unimportant. But it is to say that personal holiness is foundational to a biblically qualified preacher and his preaching.
More particularly, Paul exhorted Timothy that a comprehensively exemplary life would remove the stumbling block of his youthfulness to his audience:
“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:12).
Young preachers cannot demand a hearing, and especially not respect and a following. Those are slowly earned blessings through a longer faithfulness than shorter. It’s a young man’s sacred life which renders him useful to God (2 Tim. 2:20-22). An increasingly holy life in a young preacher opens up greater avenues for God-honoring influence. Personal holiness increases the palatability of a young preacher’s preaching.
To younger guys in the ministry, Jerry Wragg writes, “Memorize…1 Timothy 4:12, and nurture each quality in your heart and conduct before you demand that older believers respect what you have to say and write.” Similarly, John Frame writes, “Cultivate an intense devotional life and ignore people who criticize this as pietistic. Pray without ceasing. Read the Bible, not just as an academic text.” The great Scottish preacher, Robert Murray Mc’Cheyne, said (in his 20’s), “The greatest need of my congregation is my own personal holiness.”
- Younger preachers can help their hearers by laboring in sermon preparation.
Paul also exhorted young Timothy to devote great time to his teaching ministry (1 Tim. 4:1, 13-16). Among other things, he wrote:
“Take pains in these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all” (1 Tim. 4:15).
Congregations will discern a young man’s progress by means of his enduring labor. To “take pains” means “to continue to perform an activity with care and concern,” and “to attend to something carefully.” And to “be absorbed” indicates that the young preacher will simply have to immerse his whole being in preaching and the preparation thereof.
Paul knew that Timothy, and all younger preachers, are not great, seasoned preachers. They simply have not been in the battle long enough. Preaching helpful sermons in a Christ-honoring way is not going to come apart from hours upon hours given to the sacred task each week. They will have to battle to serve up a palatable banquet to their hearers. Put simply, young preachers have to try as hard as they can to prepare and preach.
If you’ve worked in a fine-dining restaurant, you know that many man-hours are poured into that one plate before it is set on the table. It all starts with the preparing of the chef. Then, the discriminate gathering of the ingredients. Multiple individuals contribute, such as the saucier, the sous chef, the sauté, grill, and line chefs. There is tasting, refining, and repeating so that only the finest meal is delivered up for feasting. We younger preachers ought not expect anything less as we seek to feed Christ’s flock each week.
- Younger preachers can help their hearers by praying much for their own preaching.
More is involved in helpful preaching than physical activities; than what we can see and touch. Ministry is a spiritual endeavor. Everything that goes into preaching leans entirely on the power and will of God. Flesh and blood alone are insufficient tools for effective preaching, whether from the young or old.
I am convinced that, as a young preacher, much time needs to be given towards calling on God for help in preaching. We desperately need nothing less than the power of God for things like preparation of the heart, illumination of the text, personal surrender to God and his word, skill for homiletical mechanics, discernment, humility, and love for the hearers. Prayerless preaching is proud, presumptuous preaching.
- Younger preachers can help their hearers by praying much for them.
God-honoring sermon hearing is no less a spiritual endeavor than sermon preparation. As young preachers, we ought to understand what we are up against, in addition to our own immaturity.
People hit the pews fatigued from the previous week and dreading the one to come. Some are tired, suffering, and weary. Others are in hypocrisy, idolatry, and ignorance. Marriages are unfulfilling. Dads are worn out. Moms are anxious. Singles are struggling. Hearts are calloused by the dulling effect of worldly entertainment. Cares of the world are choking people. Some teeter on the edge of apostasy. Stony hearts are about to kill others. Still others are skeptical about a young pastor. Some hate him. Add to that Satan and his minions seeking to steal the seed of the word as it’s sown. How are we, young preachers, going to effectively face such things?
Our own strength is radically insufficient to do battle on those fronts. We simply cannot expect to face those obstacles apart from rigorous prayer before entering the pulpit.
- Younger preachers can help their hearers by getting to know them.
Like every Christian, preachers are members of the body of Christ. As such, we have a responsibility to stay meaningfully connected to those in our local church. The 40 one anothers pertain to us, too.
Time spent with, and care extended towards, the congregation will help our preaching be an act of shepherding-care. Our Lord modeled this well. Preaching was a gesture of his love for people:
“When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).
Like Christ, our teaching ought to flow out of our compassion for people. Spending time with them will go a long way here. We ought to listen to them and discover their spiritual condition, including their sufferings, struggles, joys, and idols. Our preaching will improve when we (gently) get close enough to the congregation that we can see where they are bleeding; we can observe their scars and ailments. This will not change the meaning of the text. But it will help to love them and with certain application and illustrations.
To a bunch of us young preachers, one of my heroes, Dr. Alex Montoya, once said, “If your people know that you love them, you can hardly preach a bad sermon.”
- Younger preachers can help their hearers by not thinking they are great preachers.
Few species are bent towards their own applause like young men. This can be especially dangerous for those of us who stand in the pulpit. Undealt-with pride renders us young preachers like a spring-loaded, jack-in-the-box, eager to launch ourselves out for everyone to behold.
If we find ourselves perplexed over why people don’t think we are great preachers, we need rethink things. We have to flee thinking we are great preachers, even, and especially, if we are able to draw a crowd (Rom. 12:3). Don’t think that filled pews is heaven’s applause on your preaching. Some of the worst preachers in the world are able to fill the most pews.
Especially us younger guys, we ought to always see ourselves as students, and not masters, in the sacred school preaching. We might master things like tying a windsor, changing our oil, or chopping wood. But we could hardly master something as weighty as the proclamation of holy Scripture in the name of the living God.
- Younger preachers can help their hearers by receiving feedback.
We can learn just about anything from just about anyone. Embracing criticism of our preaching flows from the heart that sees itself as a student of the task. Younger preachers can show the congregation that we are not above them as we humbly listen to sermon feedback. And let us hear it no matter the source; the younger, the older, and the in-between. We can glean much help for our preaching from people who have not spent a minute in an exposition class.
“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (Prov. 12:1).
- Younger preachers can help their hearers by seeing themselves as needing the church.
Pastors need the refinement, care, and accountability which Christ dispenses through the local church. We are not the heroes of the local church. Christ is. So, we need to see ourselves more as in need of the church and less of the church as in need of us.
Every member is to play a key part in the body of Christ. God gifts pastors for the equipping of the church for the work of the ministry. However, standing behind a pulpit and carrying the title, “pastor,” does not render an individual as indispensable. God has a two millennia-long resume demonstrating that man’s dispensable nature has not hindered Christ’s promise in Matthew 16:18. The only indispensable individuals in the church are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We play a part, not as benefactors, but the ultimate beneficiaries. The privilege of ministry is all ours. When young preachers grasp that, we will help congregations by approaching the ministry less like despots, and more like privileged servants.
More could be said about young preachers helping their hearers. As young preachers, our goal is faithfulness in the task combined with a desire for our hearers to be completed in Christ (Col. 1:28-29). For that to happen, we need to do things like focus on our own completion in Christ, work hard on our sermons, devote much time to prayer, get to know the congregation, and maintain a student’s posture towards preaching.
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