By Erik Raymond
I love preaching. I love to preach myself and I love to hear others preach. Preaching is a God-ordained means of grace (1 & 2 Timothy). It is a good gift of God given for our blessing and benefit. But like so many blessings from God we can elevate them to become a distraction or even an idol.
In my young pastoral career (7 years) I have seen some unintended consequences of my love for preaching. I have observed a few ways in which my love for preaching has hurt our church. These observations do not diminish my love, appreciation, or priority of preaching. Instead, they helped me to regain pastoral balance and focus.
Here then are a few ways in which the idolatry of preaching can hurt your church:
1. You neglect shepherding. Pastors are called to shepherd (1 Pet. 5.1ff). Shepherd is both a noun and a verb; it characterizes who we are and what we do. The Great Shepherd knows his sheep (John 10.14) and therefore we as undershepherds must know the sheep. If we are holed up in a study for countless hours with little to no contact with the general sheep population then we are not much of a shepherd. In fact we would look a lot more like a pulpit supply guy than a local church pastor. An unbalanced love for preaching could actually cause you to abrogate your responsibility as a shepherd. This is something that we as pastors will answer for; and a good excuse is not, “But Lord, I was reading commentaries!” We are called to be shepherds. Shepherds are those who preach to and actually know their sheep.
2. You neglect evangelism. I would spend so much time prepping that my mind was mush. I’d drive home or go to meetings in something of a sermon fog. The last thing I was thinking about was evangelism. After all, I have to think up illustrations, propositions, introductions, and conclusions. I have worked so hard in my prep that I deserve time to shut off and get some coveted “me” time (whatever that is). Trouble is, I am to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4.5). This is part of my job as a pastor. I can’t neglect this for anything, regardless of how noble it is. Also, if I neglect missions in my life then I will neglect it in my sermons. This also is catchy. Crazy to think about how what we emphasize in life echoes in the lives of our people.
3. You neglect discipleship. Akin to #1 above guys who spend an inordante time with their preaching will feel like they do not have time to disciple other guys. This is deadly. It is deadly because it puts a stick in the spokes of the Great Commission that tells us all to make disciples (Matt. 28.19-20). It also undermines any attempt that we would have to tell others to do this. Who is going to train the people to disciple? Are you just going to hire that out? And when people see you not doing it then are they to stop following your example as an elder at that point? (1 Pet. 5.1-4) It all unravels pretty quick. As pastors, we of all people need to be actively making and training disciples. Preaching is a part of this but it is not all there is.
4. You neglect leadership. I found myself steadily watching the weekly preaching time increase. Just like a a snowball rolling down a big hill my time in the study was increasing rapidly. Since I know that I cannot regress on my preaching then I must toss some other things out. What then goes? Well, leadership of overall direction and rythem. We can once again get disconnected, just like in the situations above. However noble preaching is (and it is) it does not remove pastors from being leaders in their church.
5. You neglect community. One rut I found myself in was my prep time increased to an unreasonable level to compensate for this my sleep time also joined it. As a result whenever we’d have people over or visit with others I’d be losing focus, dreaming of sleep, and not paying real good attention to people’s needs. Not only does this rob others of fellowship with their brother and pastor but it sets a lousy example to my wife, kids and church. And frankly, I need community. I need to hear fresh stories of God’s triumphant grace over sin, I need to hear of how prayer is answered, I need to hear of people’s struggles, I need to hear stories of how people can’t housebreak their dog, I need to hear stories of workplace conflict, and I need to hear stories about visits to Mom and Dad’s house. This is the sharing of life together. Sadly my preaching idol was blocking my view of this.
I know someone is going to ask how many hours I was spending in my sermon prep. The time is not the big issue–it is the imbalance. In my view I was not effectively doing these other items because of my emphasis on preaching. If you must know the time, it was between 20-30 hours a week in sermon prep. I am now down to about 10-15 and it has helped in so far as it has also allowed me to focus on these items above (and some other things).
Pastors have a huge weekly burden; every week we walk up to the pulpit and that 168 hour clock starts ticking down again. There is work to be done. At the same time there is more to it than that. The pastoral ministry is more than just a sermon each week. It is an idolatry of preaching that was preventing me from seeing it.