Ordinary Preaching: The food we can’t forget
This is part of a new series on the blog surrounding the ordinary faithfulness of the body of Christ and the work of the Spirit throughout it. Click here to see all of the pieces. My hope is you will be encouraged and spurred on to be faithful in the small.
Deep in my basement-beneath totes full of baby clothes, old 4-H projects, and spare light bulbs is a box of college books. An old canvas Bible cover sits amongst them, protecting its collection of church bulletins covered with ink from my own hand.
The words tell their own stories as they weave between underlines, stars, and highlighted boxes. Hastily scribbled questions squeeze near the bulleted lists and bolded words jump out as me as I gaze across the sheets filling this secret stash.
As I read the phrases of each bullet point I hear the voice of my old pastor as if he was speaking them. I hear his inflection, I hear his force, and I hear his care. His name was Don Whipple, and for four years I had the privilege of sitting under his teaching. Every Sunday I’d arrive at church, grab a seat next to a friend, and pull out my pen with my bulletin ready in hand to listen to what he had prepared.
I wonder now how many hours he put into those sermons. I wonder how much prayer, how much study, and how many emotions he laid bare in order to serve his humble flock each week. His sermons never made it on television. They never went viral, and they never headlined a radio show. Instead, his faithful Sundays of preaching came and went- remaining now as old audio files on a server or a mess of scribbles on dusty bulletins.
The Gift of the Preacher
If we’ve grown up in the American church, the role of the pastor might seem like a routine part of church life. It’s easy to forget that this role is actually a sweet gift from our loving Father. As our holy ruler who has no need of anything, God not only chose to relate to his creation, but he chose people from within us to minister to us. This is incredible. Throughout our family history, we can see how God began this- in choosing to use priests from among the Israelites to minister to the people on behalf of himself (Exodus 28:1-2).
We no longer have priests to offer sacrifices for us, and we can now approach the throne, justified through Christ as our mediator (Hebrews 4:16). But as we wait for the coming kingdom, God has chosen to work our sanctification through the simple means of ministers of his word (Acts 20:28). This is your pastor, my pastor, and all the preachers in the local body that preach Christ’s saving gospel around the world.
Sometimes we might wait for the flashy and big ways that God will reveal himself- yet in keeping with his character- he has chosen to cloak his power in the small. He imparts grace to us today in the humble service of the pastorate- weak vessels that show his mighty strength and his tender care for his people (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).
The Gift of the Preached Word
While we can see that God has chosen to work through pastors preaching his word, we must also remember that he is the one working. It is so easy to come to a sermon looking for what we can take away. What will we learn this week?
We are drawn to the pastors who seem to make this easier. While nothing is wrong with learning from others, we can often come before our own pastor disappointed with how they don’t measure up. They had more application points. Their jokes were funnier. I felt like I got more out of their sermons. But this line of thinking has overlooked that since the beginning of time, God has been speaking- and in this speaking God works- not us. God spoke, creation formed. God called, Abraham followed. God rescued, Israelites turned. Christ redeemed, and we were made new. And as the new church was formed in Acts, Christ’s word went out and the people heard (Acts 2:37).
Every Sunday, whether it’s a small country church or a building of several thousand, we sit under the ordinary preaching of the word by a pastor- and we hear. We receive what the Spirit has given us for that day- and whether we realize it or not, he works through it. Yes, we apply and respond in gratitude that seeks holiness- but we must not take in the preached word as if it’s a list of ingredients we will pick and use for our own creations. It is the meal. And amongst the mundane of Sundays, when your pastor seems off his game, or when you’re wishing he would say something different- the word he brings is the grace of God given by your Savior that feeds you, sustains you, and patiently grows you.
Those words my pastor faithfully preached year after year have gone far beyond the scribbles written on a bulletin. His words haven’t disappeared because they are on the tip of my tongue in my responses to my children even today. They are behind each blog post and every article my fingers type out. The forgotten words of my ordinary pastor have seasoned my conversations, helped guide my decisions, and have bolstered my understanding of the glory of God.
I look back through the years under the care of nobodies like Don, Bryan, Gabe, Dan, and my current faithful pastors, and I see the faithfulness of God in his patient work in my life. Their words were used to form me- not because they were theological giants, or the greatest of orators, but because each week they faithfully brought the word of God to their flock.
This next Sunday, whether you realize it or not, your pastor comes to the pulpit with a feast. He may not headline conferences or write books, but he is the shepherd God has given to feed you exactly what you need. May we receive this gift with renewed joy and gratitude.