When considering pastoral ministry I’m confident it was neither pastoral nor ministry at all I was considering. I wasn’t driven by a deep desire and compassionate love to shepherd souls through the ministry of the Word and prayer. I was driven by the egotistical desire to be heard. If you love preaching but don’t love those to whom you preach then you simply love being heard. You love people listening to you. You have little patience listening to them, but assume it’s their biblical responsibility to listen to you.
Mark Dever reminded us at a recent conference that no one is called to preach. One is called to preach the Word. In other words, there is no preaching that is not saturated in, devoted to and exposited from God’s Word. It is not our voice that we want folks to hear, but God’s voice.
I would add that one is “called” to preach God’s beloved Word to God’s beloved people. As much as preaching is a love for expounding on God’s Word it is also a love for the people who hear it. We are not disinterested shepherds who simply throw out feed and retire to more important matters while the sheep fight for the food. We must also take the food in hand and – sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully – hold it before the sheep’s mouth because we love that sheep in particular.
William Still says it much better:
“If you are not holding down a little church merely until you get a big one, but really care for people, at least as much as you care for your own wife and children, then you must convey to them a real awareness that you are interested in their problems. If you are not interested in the problems of sincere, ongoing Christians you ought not to be in the work of ministry at all.
“Of course, you have to deal faithfully with those who are attracted to you and want to be that little bit farther in with you than their sparring partners, and you will have to deal with those who like attention and who manufacture problems, or even excuses, to draw inconsiderately on your time. Some even love to see a queue waiting to speak to you after a service and maliciously drag out their story to keep others waiting. But, remember, when you are brokenhearted about the sheer cussedness of some, and bitterness, enmities, jealousies, grudges and feuds seem to rock the boat, remember that, in time – you don’t need to go out of your way to dot Mrs. Brazenface on the nose from the pulpit! – in time, it will all be dealt with by the systematic preaching of the Word. The answer to every problem, even the ones that have no full and final earthly solution, is in the Word. Pin your faith to that. Let the Word solve or settle all” (William Still, The Work of the Pastor, pp42-43).
When we hear of someone “called to preach” we must ask if they have a deep love for God’s people. If they do not demonstrate a “real awareness” of interest in the problems of people then they have little awareness of what it means to be pastor. As much as we should examine and encourage their preaching skills we should equally test their shepherding skills. How patient are they with the elderly? How compassionate are they toward the grieving? How joyful are they with growing saints? How eager are they to invest in people? How willing are they to be interrupted by souls seeking Living Water?
Imagine a young culinary upstart demanding to be your family’s personal chef. He wants your family to enjoy his finest creations. But you have a diabetic child. If that young chef has no concern for that child then you’re not to trust him, no matter how great a chef he might be. He may love to cook, but he doesn’t love you. Likewise, if one feels the “call” to preach but demonstrates no real love for God’s people then he cannot be trusted to provide decent meals that edify, encourage and equip the saints. He simply loves to preach with little regard for those to whom he preaches.
Where is one to develop this “real awareness”? It can only be developed in the life of a local church. It comes from riding in the front seat of roller coaster lives. It comes from crying with the broken-hearted and rejoicing with the glad-hearted. The finest homiletician in the finest seminary in all the world cannot teach this “real awareness.” It is born by the Spirit in the heart and cultivated by the church in loving relationships informed by Scripture.
Are you called to preach? Then make sure you’re called to love or else you will be nothing but a clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13.1).