Monday, September 28, 2009

The Pastor's Heart and Sermon Applications

There were a number of things that freshly impacted my heart and mind through the preaching at the God Exposed conference last week. One thing I've continued to roll over in my head is C.J.'s wise exhortation to be patient with our people's growth in knowledge and sanctification. He put it something like this: "Sanctification is not an event but a process. If it takes you (pastor) months or years of study to arrive at some growth, why do you think your people will "get it" with one sermon from you?"

To which my mind says to me: Duh. You do-do. Of course. You don't get things overnight, why act like your preaching can produce things overnight! That was helpful.

And as I've continued to ponder this "obvious" point, other things have come into view.

For example, if the pastor carries this kind of impatience in his heart, isn't that impatience likely to affect his sermon applications? Won't his applications tend toward a lot of prescriptive and perhaps moralistic commands? I know there is a place for prescription and a place for insisting on certain things (1 Thes. 2:11-12), but the impatience will tend to make most all the applications a kind of self-righteous insistence on this or that immediate change. And won't the change tend to be things we deem important rather than changes God works by His word? With our limited perspectives and impatient hearts, we'll look for a behavioral (that is, outward) improvement that satisfies our sense of what spiritual growth looks like rather than look for genuine "evidences of grace" (as C.J. puts it). We'll tend to beat the sheep rather than feed the sheep. We'll drive the sheep rather than encourage them.

And what happens when our applications and instamatic sermons don't produce what we want to see overnight? (and they won't) If it's really impatience at work, we'll begin to despair of seeing growth and change. If it's a certain lack of grace in our outlook, we'll miss the gracious hand of God already at work in His people by His word independent of us (listen to Mark's sermon from the conference for more on this). If it's self-righteousness, we'll love our people less as we grow intolerant of weakness. And we'll likely mistake weakness for wickedness. All because what took us months and years to arrive at, we want to see in our people yesterday.

Thus the pastor finds himself in a downward spiral. Once we're dispirited, there are two basic options left to us. The really disciplined and stony-faced heaps up another round of overly prescriptive and moralistic applications, divorced from gospel indicatives. Meanwhile, the less self-willed fall deeper into despair and maybe leave the ministry discouraged and distressed.

How do we climb out of this pit? As is the case with most everything, we come to the gospel afresh. For that grace of God that patiently conforms the pastor to the likeness of Christ, is the same grace that's at work conforming the people to Christ as they hope for His coming (Titus 2:11-13). We remember that Christ is their wisdom from God... righteousness, holiness and redemption. So, our boast needs to be in the Lord, not our progress (1 Cor. 1:30-31). And we renew our trust in God's word to build God's people and kingdom--while we sleep and to inevitably glorious fullness (Mark 4:26-34).

We must depend upon God's grace and God's word, or we'll ruin ourselves and our people.


Chris Roberts said...

Preaching is a constant drip. Keep it up faithfully and eventually you will drill into your people.

Karin said...

The same principles apply to me at work. I'm retired, but returned to work part-time. I have such impatience with some of the younger generation - who just don't get it, who don't work nearly as hard as we ever did, who need an attitude adjustment, who.....(add your own). Wow!!I felt convicted and asked the Lord's forgiveness.

Anonymous said...

Christ in you the hope of glory!

We are in a " post fallen, pre-glorified state. This is a divine tension: wherein grace alone, can comfort the believer, who has seen perfection in His substitute, hungers and thirst for it, but cannot attain it in this life.

The preaching must constantly set forth Jesus Christ, as the souls surety, and accomplsihment, as well as it's pursuit and desire.

Reminding the saints, that faith, which manifest itself in obedience, nevertheless worketh only by love!

A heart that longs after righteousness, has the root in it already, and is delcared blessed by the Savior!

All fruit is by his tender hand!

Paul C said...

Thanks for this insightful commentary on patience. Having just started in the ministry, this is very sound advice for me. I remember hearing someone say that you never realize how hard it is to change - until you try to change yourself first.