“No pastor lives up to what he preaches. If he does, he is preaching too low.” You wrote that on Twitter a few years back, Pastor John. How does a pastor think through this? Talk to the pastor who is preaching high and feels overwhelmed and burdened because of it. Is this a healthy tension for him to feel?
Yeah. Well, I sure don’t want to solve the problem of the gap between the height of our message and the depth of our failure by lowering the heights. I am not going to solve the problem that way. We are called to preach the word (2 Timothy 2:4), preach the whole counsel of God, preach the glory of God as the goal of all things.
And so we preach a great salvation and the unsearchable riches of Christ and the pathway to pleasures forever more and rejoicing always and the aim of our charge is love from a pure heart and we have peace and don’t be anxious for anything and don’t grumble and love your wives like Christ loved the Church and love your enemies and be perfect for I am perfect. It is overwhelming, right?
“No pastor lives up to what he preaches. If he does, he is preaching too low.”
And that is the message. I mean the message is as high as it can possibly be with the focus on God and the gospel and our salvation, our eternal hope and the glories of knowing Jesus and all the radical, ethical callings that Jesus gives us.
And so the effect, if we are faithfully lifting this up, is that we are not going to be like the lawyers in the gospel of Luke: “You load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46). So that is not what I am calling for. Like dump the burden of be perfect on your people and then go home and watch basketball games. That is not going to be helpful.
Model the Gospel for Your People
We are preaching the gospel and at this point in this question, I think, we need to model the gospel. That is, praying like crazy that God would have mercy upon us sinful pastors and work these things into us. We are putting them to death by the power of the Spirit (Romans 8:13). We are pummeling our bodies lest we be a castaway and be found unworthy (1 Corinthians 9:27). We are striving to enter by the narrow gate and we are doing all that by trusting the gospel. And we are, therefore, always repenting.
I am almost done as the pastor here at Bethlehem as we make this recording, and a man came up to me last Sunday, and he said, “Pastor, you know what has been especially meaningful to me in your ministry is how vulnerable you have been in the pulpit, how vulnerable you have been with your own sins and your own marriage and your own parenting and your own sense of failure about things.” He said, “I just want you to know how encouraging that has been.”
Aim High, Fall Short, Hold Tight
So I would say to pastors: Don’t be afraid every time you preach on something to draw attention to the fact that you don't get it right usually, you don’t measure up to it. Model for your people how to constantly confess your sins to the people that you love and aim high, fall short, hold tight to Jesus.
Piper: “Model how to constantly confess your sins to your people and aim high, fall short, hold tight to Jesus.”
Those are my three. That is the way I kind of sum it up. Go ahead and aim high in your preaching knowing that in this age while sin indwells you are going to fall short and teach the people what gutsy guilt is. That is, we go ahead and we assert the truth and we get in the devil’s face and we say, “We are not going to let go of Jesus, because he is our vindication. He is our righteousness, not our pastoral accomplishments and not our husbanding and our parenting, but Christ is our all.”
And then if you model that for your people, I think, it both rescues you from despair as you preach high, but it shows them how to stretch and go for broke without being undone by their failures.