Are you preaching for you? For them? Or for Him?
It’s both a tragedy and a challenge! You and I are called to preach in an era in which entertainment replaces biblical worship in many settings. Inherent within a time like this is an opportunity to refocus. Are we preaching for ourselves? Are we preaching for our audience? Or are we preaching for Jesus?
A popular praise song repeats, “It’s all about you, Jesus.” Recently, someone told me the story behind that song. Matt Redman started leading worship in his local church, the Soul Survivor Church, when he was just 13. With his guitar and singing skills, he led the people in their singing. Matt’s was not a big talent initially. However, under the tutelage of his pastor and others, it greatly improved. Along the way, Matt and the Soul Survivor Praise Band became more and more popular with members of the congregation.
Call it too much of a good thing! Maybe it was that their popularity went to their heads. Whatever it was, after a while the spiritual spark seemed to slip away and what had been worship became pure entertainment; it was the name of Jesus wrapped in Las Vegas flamboyance and puffery. Theism became Me-ism! The parishioners realized that what began as worship had become pure showbiz. The messengers got in the way of the message. Not good!
Matt’s pastor apparently realized this, too, and decided he needed to do something. In an effort to correct this loss of focus, he met with the band members and told them that while their music was good, it was no longer worshipful. That was more than some members of the band could deal with. Taking the pastor’s words personally, they left the church. Matt didn’t leave, however. Instead, he stayed around and reevaluated his relationship with Christ. As he searched his heart, he came to a new depth of discipleship and wrote his worship song, “The Heart of Worship.” The first line begins, “I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you, Jesus.”
Be honest with yourself, now. As you prepare to preach each week, what is uppermost in your thoughts? Are you thinking about how good you are going to sound? Are you thinking about how your message will please the right people in your congregation, or at least not offend the wrong ones? Are you looking for shortcuts to presenting the cross and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus? Is your preaching for you? For them? Or, for Him? If our “preaching” is not first and always about Jesus and His blood and righteousness, it may not be preaching at all. It may be good oratory. It may be well organized. It may be instructional; or, maybe even cute. But it is not and never will be worthy of the name preaching unless it is about Jesus.
True preaching is always a matter of the heart; it’s our heart after His. Jeremiah writes, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15).
Vance Havner once defined a preacher as someone with a magnet in his heart and a compass in his head. He is right. With our hearts, we are drawn back to Calvary week after week and with our heads, we are planning how we might bring our people with us on that journey to the cross. We can never do that – no matter how talented we are – when our primary goal is to sound good. And we can never do that when our one desire is to be popular. Imagine! Had Moses tried to please his audience, Israel’s children might still be brick makers in Egypt. Preaching has to be more than them or us. It has to be about Jesus.
When we preach, let’s make it a matter of the heart or, more accurately, the hearts. It’s His heart reaching out through us for their hearts. It’s not about us. It’s not about them. It’s all about Jesus!
Robert Leslie Holmes, pastor of Pittsburgh’s First Presbyterian Church, is a contributing editor to Preaching. He is the author of a number of books. The latest, The Creed: Life Principles for Today (Ambassador-Emerald Int’l), examines the Apostles’ Creed in the light of post-modernism. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.