“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
Preaching is hard work—or at least preaching rightly is. The NASB translates this verse, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Or the KJV (which I cut my teeth on) reads, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” I’ll take it. In fact, I’ll take any of these. Study…be diligent…do your best—all of these translations insist that preaching is hard work. Men don’t just get up in the pulpit and start preaching without preparation. Ok—that’s not phrased very accurately. Let me try that again. Men don’t just get up in the pulpit and start preaching the Bible accurately without hard work. Biblical, text-driven preaching takes hard work.
We live in a day when the clear line between preacher and prophet has been blurred. Let me try to take a bold, permanent marker and retrace that line. Prophets literally received inspired words from God Himself. Thus, they often begin their prophecies with “Thus says the Lord…”. These inspired messages from God are without error—and without the possibility of error since God cannot make a mistake. Thus, they were written down in the Bible and are considered infallible Scripture. Such prophets do not exist today. They simply are not needed. The Bible is a completed book. On the flip side, preachers (are supposed to) open up the Bible (such as the message of the prophets) and preach what God inspired to be written. And so, in writing to his young protégé Timothy, the apostle Paul declared that this is hard work. It takes diligence. It takes study. It takes doing your best.
I’ve often had church members come up to me after preaching a sermon and say something like, “I read that passage this morning and I just didn’t get all that out of it.” My immediate thought is, “Well of course you didn’t. That’s not what happened to me either.” In all actuality, I generally spend 7-8 hours preparing a sermon. Sometimes it’s less—sometimes it’s more. I recently preached Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) and actually read three books about that section in addition to my normal studies. Sometimes that’s called for. But not always. My point is though, I don’t just get into the pulpit without hours of preparation behind me—no pastor worth his salt does that. And generally speaking—if you listen closely—the ones that do that are easily recognizable. There’s a lot more of their ideas than there are actual explanations of the text of Scripture.
So, the question is, how has this line between prophet and preacher become so blurred? I could easily answer that the modern Charismatic Movement which promotes modern-day prophets that have dreams and visions are the primary problem. However, I think that’s too easy of a target. Rather, I actually think pastors in churches with historically sound theology are often the problem today. I’ve heard many sermons at Bible conferences begin with an apology—how that his message is heavy and he wishes he could preach something else—but God just gave him this sermon and he has to preach it. And more times than not, the sermon is full of extra-Biblical preferences in which no Bible verse could be referenced for support. I’ve heard it all too often.
I recently listened to a sermon in which the pastor said this: “You ever have any nighttime visions? That’s a dangerous question to ask, I know. God speaks to me a lot at night. And there are some sermons that have come from my dreams. You know, I don’t know whether to give God the glory or whatever it is. But sometimes I just gotta stop—I gotta wake up and hop out of bed and write it down before I forget it because I usually do forget my dreams.” Does that sound like something Kenneth Copeland would say? Well—it does certainly sound like it. However, that is a quote from a conservative Bible fellowship meeting in a very conservative circle of churches. It wasn’t Oral Roberts or Benny Hinn or Joyce Meyer. And because he’s “one of ours”, such things are allowed to pass. Problem is, it completely distorts what a preacher is—and erases the line between prophet and preacher. It points people to a man's experience rather than the Word of God. And, therefore, it exposes an extremely low view of Scripture no matter what may be said otherwise.
God isn’t dropping sermons into the minds of preachers at various times. And by the way—if He was—you wouldn’t have to hurry up and write it down before you forgot it. You’d vividly remember it until the day you die. But again, that’s not how preaching works. Church leaders today are to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:4). They aren’t to preach their dreams and visions. Brother pastor, you aren’t a prophet. If you’ve been gifted by God, then He has enabled you to read a text and relate that text accurately to the congregation in which you are a member. The church doesn’t need your cute stories. They need the inspired Word of God explained accurately to them—and then applied to their lives (legitimately) so that they can serve God faithfully. And I have news for you--this is going to take a lot of time and effort on your part.
Church—hold the pulpit to a high standard. If you pay close attention, you can tell when a guy is working hard at explaining the text of Scripture. If you aren’t learning more about the Bible every time your pastor preaches, you either need to find another church—or fire the pastor. There is no third option.
Todd Bryant is the Lead Elder at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Northport, AL. He has pastored there since 1998. For more more information on the church and links to audio sermons and apps for electronic devices, visit www.sovereigngrace.net