Preacher to Preacher: Why Do We Do It?
Whether we preach from a manuscript, a 3×5 card, an iPad, or without notes, preaching is still the primary means through which God hooks a human soul for salvation?
If you have been to seminary, you’ve most likely gone through a three-year, graduate-level course of studies with at least two unfamiliar languages, history, philosophy, hermeneutics, homiletics, counseling, and much more. Have you ever thought you could have given the same period of time and almost certainly multiplied your earnings, had more control over your personal life, taken less abuse and probably had more professional respect as a lawyer, physical therapist, dentist, or as another type of professional?
In fact, in almost any other course of study, after three years on top of four years of college, you would have come out with the title Doctor rather than a master’s degree in a field the value of which is not widely recognized or appreciated beyond the church world. Have you, as have many others, ever stopped to ask yourself, “Why did I do that?” If red blood flows through your veins, you know you have! I am persuaded that all of us have at some point asked ourselves if it is all worthwhile. After all, they beat up the best preacher who ever lived and killed Him on a cross.
If you are like me, you have ended up concluding that while there may be many other things you could have done, you give your life to preaching the gospel because for you it is a thing called “God’s call on my life,” which, let’s face it, a whole lot of people don’t understand. Sure, we all could make more money and have more control of the daily events of our lives, but there is an impelling force inside us that simply will not let go.
The mighty Paul, no slouch when it comes to scholarship, phrased it this way: “Necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).As I write these words, the nightly news about a capsized fishing boat and resultant loss of life off the coast of Mexico brings back memories of a motion picture I saw recently. The inherent dangers of the fishing industry, as seen through a crew’s eyes, are described in detail in that movie, The Perfect Storm. Out of their need to bring home the best possible catch, the captain and crew of the Andrea Gail determine to risk everything and travel to a remote but fertile fishing ground called the Flemish Cap. On their way back to port in Gloucester, Mass., they encounter the perfect storm. Set in 1991, while many improvements in shipbuilding, navigational instruments, and rescue support have improved the lot of boating for most people in this age, the lives of people who make their living fishing are still at risk. In fact, more fishing crew members lose their lives per capita than in any other occupation in America.Some things are better than they used to be, but for the crew of far off-shore fishing vessels, going to sea for extended periods of time is not much safer than it was a century ago. Out there (and I have been on a vessel out there) you are on your own. Most days, there is nobody else near enough to help. Lack of fear and an abundance of courage are two lines near the top of a fishing boat crew member’s unwritten job description.
The same is true for those of us who have felt Paul’s necessity of fishing for souls. Technology has improved, electronics have lightened our load; but the fact is that neither our call has changed nor has our message. Some of my students come to class with all their books downloaded on their iPads! I have more than 5,000 books in my library. These books have become my masters. If I stop preaching, what will I do with them? Just think, if my seminary students quit, they will not have to stress about what to do with their library as it all will be on one device about the size of a single book! Many years ago, William Sangster, at the time among Britain’s leading preachers, confessed before a preaching conference gathered in his church, “I long to go into every manse and vicarage in the land and confront the men who live there with this question: Do you truly believe in preaching as the primary means by which God brings men to salvation, and therefore as your primary task, to the accomplishment of which you will devote your best hours and greatest energies?”
Fifty years after his death, William Sangster’s question still has validity, and every assertion he made is even more urgent in our iPad world. Whether we preach from a manuscript, a 3×5 card, an iPad, or without notes, preaching is still the primary means through which God hooks a human soul for salvation. It is always our primary task, and we still need to devote to it our best hours and greatest energies. We never can forget God had but one true Son, and He sent Him to Earth to be a preacher. He was unwelcome in many places, given a hard time and beaten. Yet, “for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). If we would sit there among those who are seated beside Him, so must we. That is why we do it! Isn’t that why you do it?
The Rev. Dr. Leslie Holmes is professor of ministry and preaching at Erskine Theological Seminary in Columbia and Due West, SC. A Presbyterian minister, he was most recently senior pastor of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA.