[Note: this article by professor Jim Shaddix is the third in a semester-long series on Mondays describing various ways we at SEBTS seek to equip pastors for local churches. Dr. Shaddix serves as Professor of Preaching at SEBTS]
One morning during my first pastorate I decided to break my sacred routine of sermon preparation and make a hospital visit. A close friend and church leader was having surgery, so I thought I’d pop in and pray with the family. When I walked into the waiting room, I was pleased to find other church members already present. But my joy quickly faded as one of our deacons approached me with a stern countenance. He got in my face and said, “What are you doing here?” My first thought was, I’m the pastor, and pastors do things like this. But before I could respond, he continued: “We’ve got plenty of people to handle this. You’re supposed to be praying and preparing to bring us God’s Word on Sunday!”
On that day, a hospital waiting room was transformed into a classroom for this young pastor. There, I was reminded of an important lesson: While being a pastor involves many responsibilities, his first and primary responsibility as a shepherd is to feed and protect his sheep! And both of these responsibilities are carried out in the same activities—the preaching and teaching of God’s Word (see 1 Tim. 1:3–4; 3:1; 4:6–7,13–16; 5:17–18; 6:1–5,20–21; 2 Tim. 1:6–8,13–14; 2:1–2,8–9,14–16; 3:14–17; 4:1–5; Titus 1:7–14; 2:1,15). The pastor is—above all else—a preacher! So how does the pastor preach in order to feed and protect his people well? The Apostle Paul provides some help in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. He identifies at least five directives for the pastor as preacher.
The pastor preaches for the glory of God alone. At the foot of the cross, there is no room for pride in the church—including in the pulpit. 1 Corinthians 1 says the message of the cross is the power of God for salvation. And that message is ridiculously foolish and offensive to the world! God chose a foolish message of atonement (the cross), a foolish method to advance that message (preaching), and foolish people to carry that message (us). Why?—“so that no human being might boast in the presence of God…‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor. 1:29,31). God rigged this whole deal for one reason—His glory. When He releases His power to transform lives through the preaching of the gospel, people can draw only one conclusion: “Only God could have done that!” So beginning in chapter 2, Paul says that’s the reason pastors preach, and the reason they preach the way they preach—so that God alone gets the glory!
The pastor preaches messages from God. Paul arrived in Corinth already having determined his message: “the testimony” or “the mystery” of God (1 Cor. 2:1). That’s just another description of the gospel. And the little preposition “of” indicates that Paul’s message was from God, not just about God. Rather than meaningless posts on his cosmic Facebook page or random terrestrial tweets from heaven, the gospel is a direct message from God to His people. That means there’s a big difference between sermons about God and sermons from God. Furthermore, understanding that difference has huge implications for the way pastors handle the Bible when they preach. If this is a message that God wrote down for his people, then it must be delivered as close to the way it was received as possible. This task compels pastors to expository preaching—exposing, explaining and applying what God intended in every passage.
The pastor preaches the cross and the crucified life. Paul’s message was “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The words indicate that Christ’s death still has bearing on every person today. The cross defines what it means to follow Christ: to die to self and be re-created in his likeness (e.g., Lk. 9:23-24; 2 Cor. 4:10; Phil. 3:10-11). Pastoral preaching should call people to be conformed to Christ’s death. Much of the ‘felt needs’ and ‘life application’ preaching today runs contrary to such a theme. Claiming to have Christ as the theme, many sermons offer practical help for dealing with the human situation without demanding that we crucify our flesh. They address felt needs without appealing for people to die to worldly desires. They offer practical help for life situations, but make no call for people to forsake this world for Christ. Pastors must compel their sheep to run hard after the crucified life.
The pastor preaches from weakness to strength. Paul showed up in Corinth with “weakness…fear and much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Although his language and delivery weren’t very enticing and persuasive by cultural standards, his preaching somehow was a “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4)! Paul knew that God uses weak people as conduits of his power (see 1 Sam. 16:7; Pr. 31:30; Zech. 4:6; 2 Cor. 4:7; 12:9-10). Why? So nobody steals his glory. So he changes all the price tags! You have to be last to be first; you have to be a servant to be a master; you have to be humbled to be exalted; you have to lose life to gain it. The world says that’s messed up! God says it’s the way he protects his glory. This truth should give encouragement and rest to pastors who often feel inadequate for the task of preaching. God transforms our weakness, suffering and inability into displays of his power for his glory!
The pastor preaches for faith in God. Paul finishes by summarizing the intent of all he’s said and done: “that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5). People always will put their faith in something when a pastor preaches, and usually it will be in whatever features in the sermon. If the gospel features, they’ll put their confidence in it. But if the preacher features, they likely will put their confidence in him. Preaching that magnifies rhetorical skill, philosophical thinking, delivery style or attractive personality above the message of the gospel ultimately produces confidence in the preacher. But preaching that exalts the crucified Christ—in complete dependence on God’s Spirit—is preaching that will issue forth in a faith that is wholly and totally in God. That’s the only kind of faith that’s real—faith that will last. And that’s the faith for which the pastor must preach.
At Southeastern Seminary we don’t believe that preaching is the only thing a pastor does, but we think it’s the first thing he does. So we take very seriously the challenge to equip men to preach God’s Word with power and integrity. This is why expositional preaching marks our approach, to help men of God declare the Word of God to the people of God for the glory of God.