Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Fruitful Preacher

I read a post about preaching on someone’s blog this morning that in many ways was quite good. He defined a good sermon as ‘text sourced, Christ exalting, gospel centered, and audience focused’. I think that I define a good sermon similarly. But as the blogger explained each of those qualities he wrote something that stood out to me. ‘Not every sermon needs to be a home run. Just be consistent and over time you will see a lot of fruit from your preaching.’ I can remember using the baseball analogy on myself. I have literally told myself just to try to get to first base. Bunt if you have to. And while I haven’t used the same language, I have told myself, in essence, that if I preach well there will be fruit. There will be a growing love for Jesus and all that goes with that. In light of more recent thoughts, however, I am now wondering about that. The assumption is that faithful preaching will necessarily result in growth. I no longer think that’s true. There will, necessarily, be an effect. Jesus’ word will not return to Him void. But the effect may not always be growth. This way of thinking has been stirred up by my reading about Jonathan Edwards who was ultimately fired by his congregation. But it was also true of Isaiah. Jesus told him that his preaching would result in a growing hardness – that is, hatred for Jesus and not love – among the people to whom he preached and that there would only be a tiny remnant. And isn’t this reflected in Jesus’ own experience of itinerant ministry? Paul sums it up in this way. ‘But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?’ [2 Corinthians 2.14ff.] The results of faithful preaching are not always pleasant.

In writing this I am not discouraged or anything like that. I am working through a new thought that will affect my expectations. I am seeing more clearly what Jesus has called me to. I am learning what it means to be a pastor. And that is very good. I will still pray for a growing love for Jesus among those whom I pastor. But I will pray with a more mature understanding of what is going on. The fruit of a growing love for Jesus is much more difficult to cultivate than I once thought.

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