How My Pastoral Ministry Shapes My Pulpit Ministry
Resurgence Conference | Seattle, Washington
The following is an outline with texts and notes, not a complete manuscript.
The way I approach this will tip you off where the emphasis falls in my ministry. I think preaching is shaped by God’s being and God’s purposes and God’s word, on the one hand, and that it is shaped by our context or pastoral life in the church and the world on the other hand. It would be misleading of me if I simply launched into all the ways that my pastoral life shaped my preaching without telling you the real truth, namely, that I find the greatest energy of my life going in another direction. Namely, to shape my preaching by the nature and truth and ways of God revealed in the Bible.
As I look at my own soul and my own weaknesses and my own culture and my own time the greatest danger I feel is not to misunderstand my context but to misunderstand my God. The whole world clamors for my conformity, and indwelling sin makes it attractive, but thousands of messages do not come my way to sway my conformity to the word of God. That is war. Bringing my mind and my heart and my preaching into conformity to the word of God is war.
So I am going to begin with a list of foundational convictions without which my vision for preaching would simply be unintelligible. And then we will come to the influence of my pastoral ministry on my pulpit ministry.
Sixteen Foundational Convictions that Shape How I Preach
1. God predestined us and created us for the praise of the glory of his grace.
He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. . . . [He] works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:5–6, 11–14)
2. No one by nature wants to live for the praise of the glory of God’s grace.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18–23)
3. Therefore every person is accountable to God and guilty with no excuse and is under his just and holy wrath.
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. (Romans 3:19)
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)
4. The final expression of that wrath is an eternal hell of torment cut off from the presence of God and all that is good.
The Lord Jesus [will be] revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thessalonians 1:7–9)
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9–11)
Words from Jesus:
It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. (Matthew 18:8)
The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:41)
And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:47)
5. The plight of all men on the way to that punishment is that they are spiritually dead and blind and morally unable to see Christ as true and beautiful.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1–3)
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7)
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
6. People are rescued from this deadness and this destiny of destruction by the death and resurrection of Christ in their place.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1 Timothy 1:15)
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9)
7. This atonement is applied to specific people in the new birth through the preaching of the word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23–25)
Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:18)
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:12–14)
8. Preaching the word of God continues in the life of the believer and the life of the church as a God-designed means (along with other means) of bringing about the reason for our creation—the praise of the glory God’s grace.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 3:16–4:4) This text is addressed to a pastor about what he should do with his sheep, not to an evangelist about what he should do with unbelievers. Preach the word. I love teaching, but that is not the word here. Teaching is part of it, but he says preach, that is: Herald! Announce! And the Word is “All the Scriptures” and “the truth.”
Therefore, Paul thought of preaching as part of the life of the church.
9. Preaching is more than teaching; it is the rising of the preacher’s heart to exult over the exposition of truth. It is both exposition of biblical texts and exultation over the reality in those texts.
This is implied in the vocabulary of preaching: heralding and proclaiming and announcing Good news
10. This form of speech — preaching — is designed by God to correspond to his aim in creation and redemption to be glorified by his creatures; namely, his aim to be known and enjoyed.
God glorifies himself towards the creatures also [in] two ways: (1) by appearing to them, being manifested to their understanding; (2) in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself. . . . God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. . . . [W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it; his glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.
Hence, expository exultation!
11. Therefore preaching is worship, it does not follow worship.
If it isn’t worship, it isn’t preaching. We are exulting over the truth and beauty and worth of what we see in texts.
James Stewart, the great Scottish preacher, has a section on this in his book, Heralds of God where he says,
If in a congregation one soul here and another there may be receiving, as the sermon proceeds, some vision of the majesty of God, some glimpse of the loveliness of Christ, some revelation of personal need beneath the searchlight of the Spirit, is the ministry of the Word to be minimized, or regarded as less divine . . . than other parts of the service? Is not such preaching worship? (73)
12. Therefore preaching corresponds to the design of God to be worshiped in spirit and truth.
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (John 4:23) The content of preaching is the truth of God’s word and that truth moves the spirit so that preaching expresses the value of what is being heralded.
13. Therefore preaching is always more but never less than the exposition of Scripture.
By exposition I mean exactly what John Stott means in his book Between Two Worlds,
It is my contention that all true Christian preaching is expository preaching. Of course, if by an “expository” sermon is meant a verse-by-verse explanation of a lengthy passage of Scripture, then indeed it is only on possible way of preaching, but this would be a misuse of the word. Properly speaking, “exposition” has a much broader meaning. It refers to the content of the sermon (biblical truth) rather than its style (a running commentary). To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view. The expositor pries open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed. The opposite of exposition is “imposition”, which is to impose on the text what is not there. But the “text” in question could be a verse, or a sentence, or even a single word. It could equally be a paragraph, or a chapter, or a whole book. The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it. Whether it is long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly. . . . (125–6)
14. People are changed into God-glorifying lovers of Christ by seeing Jesus Christ in the fullness of his biblical beauty through Spirit-anointed expository exultation.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord. (1 Samuel 3:21)
15. The glories of God in Jesus Christ are not meant to be the foundation that we stand on while preaching about other things. They are meant to be the main thing we preach about and to which all other things are leading.
Our aim is to awaken people to think and feel and live in ways that display the worth of God in Christ. We will do that when we stop treating God and his word as an out-of-sight foundation for all the other things we like to talk about; and instead start talking about the glories—plural, glories—of God himself and his Son Jesus.
- His value and worth;
- His triumphs past, present, and future, over sin and death and hell and Satan;
- His knowledge, that makes the library of Congress look like a matchbox, and quantum physics like a first grade reader;
- His wisdom that has never been and never can be counseled by men;
- His authority over heaven and earth, without whose permission no demon can move an inch;
- His providence, without which not bird falls to the ground or a single hair turns gray;
- His word, that upholds the universe, and keeps all the atoms and molecules together;
- His power to walk on water, and cleanse lepers, and heal the lame, and open the eyes of the blind, and cause the deaf to hear, and still storms with a word, and raise the dead;
- His purity never to sin;
- His trustworthiness never to break his word or let one promise fall to the ground;
- His justice, to render all accounts settled either in hell or on the cross;
- His patience, to endure our dullness for decades;
- His endurance, to embrace the excruciating pain of the cross willingly;
- His wrath, that will one day cause people to call out for the rocks and the mountains to fall on them;
- His grace, that justifies the ungodly;
- His love, that dies for us even while we were sinners.
These things are not the foundation of preaching, but the glorious content over which we exult in preaching.
16. In preaching I am jealous to show my people the very words in the Bible in which I see the glories of God and the path of Christ-exalting joy.
I must show them how I saw what I saw. It is the word that has the authority, not me. The degree to which they don’t see what I say in the Bible to that degree I am weakening their reliance on God’s word and increasing their reliance on me. I want my church to be strong when I am dead.
My people are priests. I am not their priest. They are each other’s priests (Rev. 5:9; 1 Peter 2:9). My role is to handle the world in a way that they will absorb it Sunday after Sunday so that they will be able to function as priests to each other.
They are priests and have no warrant to believe what I say except as they see it from the Scriptures. Otherwise I am putting my authority in the place of God’s.
Sixteen Examples of How My Pastoral Ministry Shapes My Preaching.
1. Two pastoral experiences confirmed deeply in me in the early years of my ministry that the sheer greatness and holiness and glory of the sovereignty of God unfolded with rich biblical explanation and illustration and minimal personal application can have powerful personal, pastoral effect for good.
One was New Year’s 1984 and I preached on Isaiah 6:1–8 with the resolve to have no personal application to a contemporary situation but to spend the entire time talking about God and his greatness with as much richness as I could. In the audience was man and his wife who had just discovered that their three little girls were being molested by a relative for some years past. A couple months later the dad came to me when it all came out and said: What got us through those days was the majesty of God’s holiness that you held up on New Year’s.
The other was in October 1987. I was just beginning a series on Malachi. During the first morning service, if I have my facts right, a man in our church collapsed. His wife rode with him to the hospital. I found out about it between services and then just before I entered the second service I found out he had died of a heart attack. I told the people, we prayed for his wife and the service went forward under an amazing seriousness. Just before I was to preach I saw his wife come through the balcony doors and sit down to hear me preach. The text was “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated” (Malachi 1:2–3). I wondered what I should do. I prayed for God to use it and went ahead. She came to me afterward and thanked me for the word and said she just needed to have a clear vision of God at this time.
2. I find that in talking to people that many do not have a heart relationship with Christ but only a head knowledge. They tell me that over time my passion has awakened theirs.
This confirms my conviction that preaching is expository exultation and that the exultation has that kind of effect because God intends it to. That is what preaching by real human beings is for — to inform and awaken. To instruct and inspire. To show people, not just tell them, what relationship of joy and faith in Christ looks like.
3. I am aware in my pastoral life that we are surrounded by a sea of postmodern relativism that belittles propositional truth and justifies it by pointing to dead churches that love their propositions. The effect this has on me is to confirm my commitment to be alive and passionate in my use of propositions.
When propositions go as the arbiter of truth and right, the only alternative to fill the void is power. If truth doesn’t make right, might makes right. I believe that even for those who do not recognize what I am doing in preaching the way I do, I am sparing them and their grandchildren many sorrows simply by preserving and biblical worldview concerning truth and objectivity on fire with love and joy.
4. How my pastoral ministry affected my commitment to Bible memorization.
I made a hospital call without my Bible to an emergency because of Rollin Erickson’s wife’s heart attack, and I was almost speechless when he said, “Pastor John, give us a word from the Word.”
I went home and knelt down and confessed and said to the Lord: That will never happen again, and I memorized Psalm 46 — “God is our refuge . . .”
Fill your mind with this infinitely holy book.
5. My awareness of the context of American wealth has moved me to return fairly often to the New Testament emphasis on a wartime lifestyle that highlights radical generosity for the sake of the kingdom’s advance and for the sake of your own soul.
A decisive turn happened in redemptive history with the coming of Jesus that makes it invalid to use the lavish temple of the Old Testament as a model for contemporary church buildings. The Old Testament was, by and large, a “come-and-see” religion, while the New Testament is largely a “go-and-tell” religion. This revolutionizes the way we look at the use of our resources. Maximizing our giving to finish the Great Commission and to evangelize Minneapolis and to show love to our neighbors should thus govern our lifestyle and our church building and its appearance and expense.
The New Testament is relentless in pushing us toward simplicity and economy for the kingdom and away from luxury and affluence and finery. Here are some of the passages that reveal this thrust.
Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven . . . Woe to you rich, for you have received your consolation. (Luke 6:20)
They are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life. (Luke 8:14)
The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. (Luke 9:58) (Jesus was poor from start to finish. His life was totally streamlined for the work of the kingdom.)
A person’s life does not consist in the possessions that he has. (Luke 12:15)
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19–20)
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25)
Seek his kingdom and these other things (the basics of life) will be yours as well. (Luke 12:31)
But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:20-21)
Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with purses in heaven. (Luke 12:33)
Whoever does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)
How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Luke 18:24)
They sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all as any had need. (Acts 2:45)
No one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. (Acts 4:32)
In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. (2 Corinthians 8:2)
We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all evil. (1 Timothy 6:7–10)
You had compassion on the prisoners and joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Hebrews 10:34)
If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)
6. The suffering of my people has a huge impact on my preaching. It has driven me to think and pray and write and preach about the sovereignty of God in suffering over and over again for the past 28 years.
When I was a new pastor, there was a funeral every three weeks for over a year. I preached a sermon “Christ and Cancer” from Romans 8:20–23 in my first year so that my people would know where I stood when I came to them in the hospital.
When the Oakland freeway collapsed in October, 1989, in an earthquake we broke into our series and preached a sermon from Hebrews 12:25–29 “A Kingdom that Cannot Be Shaken.”
When the Twin Towers fell on 9-11-01, we had multiple services, and I preached a sermon called: “A Service of Sorrow, Self-Humbling, and Steady Hope in Our Savior and King, Jesus Christ” from Romans 8:35–39.
Four years later when the anniversary fell on Sunday for the first time we tackled that topic again with the message “Where Is God? The Supremacy of Christ in an Age of Terror.”
I just finished a series “Spectacular Sins and their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ.”
I preached at a tragic suicide funeral last year and spoke at my granddaughter’s funeral. I am surrounded by pain. And the effect on my preaching and my thinking is huge.
Bart Ehrman’s new book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer, shows how urgent this issue is and every one of us will suffer and die.
Let this truth shape your ministry deeply. The world has no answer to this at all.
7. Two weeks ago I was preaching on the role of the word in the new birth from 1 Peter 1:23 and that week had two encounters with the issue of Yoga and Mantra. Those encounters totally shaped how I approached that sermon.
I made the meaning of repetitive mind-emptying mantra the contrast to show how the gospel actually works as God’s agent in bringing about the miracle of the new birth. “Born again through the living and abiding word of God.”
8. I live in a state where about 40% have a Roman Catholic background and about 40% have a Lutheran background. So Garrison Keillor is totally intelligible. The effect on my preaching is that I am keenly aware as I talk about some things I want to make clear, especially as regards the sacraments, and the nature of the new birth.
I have stressed the relationship between the word and the new birth more heavily in this setting than I might have elsewhere: James 1:18 “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” 1 Peter 1:23 “Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”
9. There is a synergy between pulpit and people when it comes to global, cross-cultural, frontier missions. The effect goes both ways.
Early on there was one young couple in particular who was so radically committed to the unreached Gola people in Liberia. I could not be indifferent. They stirred up my study and passion for world evangelization. They opened my eyes to texts and to the peoples of the world and to global implications of my own theology. They went, and in 1985 Noël and I visited them in Liberia, going to the most primitive place I had ever been. It was the radical devotion of this family that shaped my preaching.
Since then I have tried to preach in such a way that BBC become a launching pad for hundreds of missionaries to unreached peoples. Now I stir them up and they stir me up.
10. Listening to feedback from the sheep will keep you from mistakes and make you more discerning.
I referred to gluttony and obesity as virtually synonymous. One of your young women who was profoundly overweight wrote and said they were not the same and pointed out the variety of reasons for obesity that might not include gluttony. Preach against the sin, and don’t assume all the symptoms you think are attached to it are in fact attached to it.
11. Listening to people talk about their fathers who are unbelievers or absent or abusive or unemotional or drunk or unfaithful has had a significant effect on how I talk about the fatherhood of God.
It has caused me not to assume that people easily rejoice in God as their father in heaven. So instead of starting there, I have to help them get there. That may mean drawing out the implication that cycles of generational sin stop somewhere, or there wouldn’t be any Christians.
One elder whose father called him crude names all his life showed me how Hebrews 12 rebuilt his father image. That is now one of my goals, to be and to preach in such a way as to rebuild father images for those who never had strong and loving father.
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:4–11)
12. When I was shepherding the people through the worship wars in the mid-nineties, I found that the way the pulpit served best was by lifting up the great things we held to and not emphasize one side or the other.
God-centeredness — A high priority on the vertical focus of our Sunday morning service. The ultimate aim is to so experience God that he is glorified in our affections.
Expecting the powerful presence of God — We do not just direct ourselves toward him. We earnestly seek his drawing near according to the promise of James 4:8. We believe that in worship God draws near to us in power, and makes himself known and felt for our good and for the salvation of unbelievers in the midst.
Bible-based and Bible-saturated — The content of our singing and praying and welcoming and preaching and poetry will always conform to the truth of Scripture. The content of God’s Word will be woven through all we do in worship will be the ground of all our appeal to authority.
Head and heart — Worship that aims at kindling and carrying deep, strong, real emotions toward God, but not does not manipulate people’s emotions by failing to appeal to clear thinking about spiritual things based on shareable evidences outside ourselves.
Earnestness and intensity — Avoiding a trite, flippant, superficial, frivolous atmosphere, but instead setting an example of reverence and passion and wonder.
Authentic communication — The utter renunciation of all sham and deceit and hypocrisy and pretense and affectation and posturing. Not the atmosphere of artistic or oratorical performance but the atmosphere of a radically personal encounter with God and truth.
The manifestation of God and the common good — We expect and hope and pray (according to 1 Corinthians 12:7) that our focus on the manifesting of God is good for people and that therefore a spirit of love for each other is not incompatible with, but necessary to authentic worship.
Undistracting excellence — We will try to sing and play and pray and preach in such a way that people’s attention will not be diverted from the substance by shoddy ministry nor by excessive finesse, elegance or refinement. Natural, undistracting excellence will let the truth and beauty of God shine through.
The mingling of historic and contemporary music. — And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52)
13. The pastoral need to raise money for budgets and missions and buildings makes its way into preaching from time to time and my aim is always to put such immediate needs in the larger context of the greatness of God and show how the main issue is whether Christ is your treasure.
Tithing is a middle class way of robbing God. The aim is not tithing, but radical, risk-taking love for the advance of the kingdom.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints — and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you — see that you excel in this act of grace also.
I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness. (2 Corinthians 8:1–13)
14. The pursuit of racial diversity and racial harmony is a pastoral commitment in the church and in my life. Therefore it has made its way into the preaching with a regular commitment to address the issue directly at least once a year on Martin Luther King weekend, and with frequent allusions in other sermons.
Listening to the church and the culture on this issue has led to sermons on (1) interracial marriage (settle this biblically in your church); (2) Reformed theology and racism and whether the five points of Calvinism help or hurt; (3) whether racism is a social issue distracting from the gospel or a blood issue on the basis of Revelation 5:9.
15. Closely related is the pastoral passion for the weakest members of our society, namely, the unborn, and the fact that a million of them are killed every year legally in our land. This shapes the preaching in a direct way at least once a year.
There are six abortion clinics in the Twin Cities: Meadowbrook, Midwest, Mildred Hanson, Robbinsdale, Planned Parenthood, and Regions Hospital. Three of those are within walking distance of our church. One of them is in the same building where my daughter goes to school. Many of our people are engaged in various ways in the cause of life, from picketing, to sidewalk counseling to educating, to volunteering at two local crisis pregnancy clinics, to developing websites and materials. I consider it my job to encourage and give biblical guidance to this personally and from the pulpit.
16. In my pastoral interactions with my people I hear how difficult prayer is for most of them and the few surveys we have done over the years has shown how little time our people spend praying and meditating on the Word. So I devote two messages at the beginning of every year to this.
People need constant reminders and encouragements that prayer is an extraordinary thing and time invested in it is not wasted but of tremendous power.
I try to shock people with the glorious absurdity of prayer. “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send our laborers (Matthew 9:38) — surely the owner of the farm knows what is needed without being told by his farm hands.
And I try to provoke casual Calvinists with James 4:2, “You have not because you ask not.” Things have not happened that would have happened if you had prayed. People are not saved that might have been saved if you had prayed! That does fit with election.
I try to show why God’s sovereignty over the human will does not make prayer superfluous but makes it hopeful.
In all this I am responding to obstacles to prayer that my pastoral ministry turns up.
In the end I commend prayer because God’s glory and our joy are at stake.
Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:24)
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:13)
Prayer is a good place to end because in this matter of shaping our pulpit ministry we should be utterly dependent on the Spirit’s help. And I would stress that the shaping power of the word of God is primary, because it even shapes the way you assess your context. God’s perspective revealed in his word is the ultimate context for judging all other contexts. Love the word. Stand on the word. Be saturated with the word. Live in the word. Feed your people with the Word of God. See everything through the word of God and help your people to do the same.
The aims of our preaching are impossible for humans to achieve, “With man it is impossible.” But with God all things are possible. What he does he does by his word. If you would have lasting fruitfulness build by the word of God. And keep your eyes and ears open to what is happening around you.