|Meanwhile, Tim Suffield shares an honest reflection from a conference he's been to. I've felt this way, not recently, but it was something that besetted me for a while. I'm sure Tim and I are not the only ones to think like this...(are we?)|
Basically I continually found myself thinking ‘I could answer that question better’ or ‘I could explain this more simply’ or even ‘that’s just plain wrong.’ Now, if you know me at all the last one won’t surprise you, although the previous two are perhaps newer. This bothers me. It frankly reduces me to fear and trembling. I shouldn’t be able to communicate theology better than these big famous speaker types, should I? I shouldn’t think that I can, especially if I can’t, should I? How do I act within myself if my aim is to gentley, graciously, lovingly, without self-importance and arrogance, and in fear of being wrong explain and exposit the scripture and point out what I perceive to be errors in others thought. How do I stop myself from denouncing people as ‘egalitarian synergists’ or whatever within my own mind?
One thought I have is that discernment is probably as much about discerning evidences of grace as evidence of error or poor communication.
This should lead us to be generous with preachers. There might only be something really small to remember, apply, live and delight in. But that's better than nothing. We should expect a lot, but also recognise that we all deliver real stinkers of talks from time to time . Our motives might be good but we just get it wrong. Sometimes that's because of lack of time, or lack of sleep. Perhaps because of something else going on in their lives this week. Sometimes because the preacher just couldn't figure it... desperate hours seeking the Lord in the study and still it just didn't come clearly. Any concern for good preaching surely has to be tempered by this - preachers are still sinners - aim for the best, but be generous, at least as generous as you'd want someone to be with you if you were in their shoes... that and a bit more.
Also charging up to the preacher just after a bad sermon is v.bad. It fails to fix anything, the preacher may be aware of his failings, and when you've just spend x minutes pouring your heart into serving God's people you're probably not able to objectively consider someone's rant against you. It'd be soul-destroying to recieve.
Secondly, I think we have to ask "what is the goal of preaching?"
Cotton Mather said it is about enthroning Christ in the hearts of God's people. That is best achieved by a preacher exulting over the text, proclaiming what it says with power and conviction. If someone's preaching of a passage brings to mind a clearer understanding of the same passage/topic then I need to apply it. I remember hearing my Father-in-law preach, about three years ago, a sermon that was true - he preached from somewhere in John's gospel but I reckoned he actually preached the point of something in 2 Corinthians. That's not ideal for the long-term equipping of God's people and the anchoring of truth in them... but it was still "true".
We should pray for ourselves and for our preachers that when preaching happens we would listen well and they would teach us well.
Thirdly, we do need to test what preachers say.
It's not enough for me to just accept that a preacher said something and swallow it. I should reject error in preaching - I can't apply error about God and be glorifying God. But, in the process of spotting error I must be calling to mind the truth - or recalling it, or searching for it. That truth is something I can apply to see Christ enthroned again in my heart.
There is a challenge for every preacher to be accurate and clear in our communication. The task we're engaged in should be enough to makes us tremble. Teaching God's word is a high calling with high standards of accountability to God. We shouldn't let ourselves get away with poor communication, nor with error. I find myself thinking that I probably preach too often - not leaving myself enough time for careful, prayerful preparation - not just to understand the passage, but to surgical application, and the kind of communication that will make the Word stick - its a tragedy that most of us can't remember a sermon soon after it's happened. And that often includes the preacher.
Fourthly, a technically good exposition of a passage is not sufficient.
A couple of years ago in my arrogance I found myself sitting in church writing my own notes on whatever passage the preacher was preaching. Smuggly I thought my notes better than his sermon. He'd of course spent hours in his study, on his knees over the text but I figured my cursory glance saturated with unteachable arrogance was better. On occasions I may have found a better angle - but I know I rarely allowed it to search my heart or be applied. When Paul tells Timothy to be an unashamed worker who handles the text rightly I don't think he has historical-grammatical method in view, but a character that does not gossip, quarrel or engage in godless chatter... the kind of thing that destroys God's people. My arrogance failed to show respect for my pastor, it failed to listen carefully, it failed to be humle, it failed to apply God's word well.
So, Tim, you're not alone. How you're feeling probably isn't good. Repent, pray that God helps you to love his Teachers more and listen to them humbly.