When Your Preacher Is Not John Piper

 

Many who have had the privilege of hearing John Piper preach in person would testify that it felt like a monumental event. His  preaching powerfully combines truth and passion, leading to  convicted and exhilarated listeners. After the sermon, certain hearers  might leave wondering if they were just in the presence of a figure who  will be talked about in future centuries.

Then they go back to their home church, where several things are  different, including the preaching. Thankfully, the gospel is still  proclaimed. In fact, the sermons are thoroughly biblical, but the  ability of their regular preacher simply does not measure up to the  phenomenal preaching they recently heard.

Unless you attend a church led by of one of the celebrated  preachers of our day, you most likely have faced a similar situation.  Either at a conference or on the internet, you have heard exceptional  preaching, but each Sunday you’re back in your simple little home church  that hardly anybody beyond your town knows about, with its “nobody” of a  pastor who will probably never preach to thousands.

What if your gospel-preaching pastor is not as good as one  of the great orators of our day? Is it time to sell the house, pack up  the family, and change churches? No, I don’t think so. But what should  you do?

Five Suggestions

First, rejoice that your preacher is a man who proclaims the gospel.  In some towns, finding someone who preaches the true gospel is as  difficult as locating that precious new golf ball you sliced 100 yards  into the thick woods. I once endured a 40-minute sermon that consisted  mainly of the preacher telling about his family’s vacation. Though that  might be an extreme example of non-gospel preaching, too many preachers  fail to speak of the holy God, sinful humanity, and the redeeming work  of Christ. But not your preacher. He speaks honestly about sin, boldly  proclaims “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), and then  lovingly invites listeners to repent and believe. That is a reason to  rejoice.

Second, recognize that certain men are uniquely gifted by the Lord to  have an international ministry and appeal, but this is not the norm.  The typical local church should be satisfied to appoint as pastors men  who are “above reproach” in their lives, who believe the gospel and are  able to teach God’s Word, and who have an aspiration to serve as  shepherds (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Most preachers will not be  strikingly smooth and polished. They may never be the keynote speaker at  a big conference, but this is not a tragic shortcoming in your corner  of God’s kingdom. It is precisely his design.

Third, if your pastor is (honestly) dull, but he preaches the truth  faithfully, a little statement I once heard might be helpful for you to  remember: “The mature worshiper is easily edified.” When hearing  lackluster (even if biblical) preaching, immature worshipers will typically not listen to the message because they wish the messenger was more exciting. Conversely, mature worshipers eagerly receive the truth as it is proclaimed, even if it sounds like the preacher is reading a phone book.

Fourth, listen “outwardly” to the preaching. Here’s what I mean: Sit  with your Bible open and routinely make eye contact with the preacher. An occasional nod of your head when he makes a point will  encourage him and stir up his confidence. In my experiences of both  preaching and listening to sermons, I can confirm that yawning listeners  with glazed-over eyes make mediocre preaching worse, while eager  listeners inspire better preaching.

Fifth, verbally encourage the preacher(s) in your church. Every  preacher who is not extraordinarily gifted has heard remarkable  preaching and moaned, “After listening to that, why do I even try?!”  This is a strange phenomenon, but great preaching from the renowned  teachers of our day makes many “ordinary” pastors discouraged.  Here’s a simple way you can buoy your pastor: After a sermon, instead of  just saying “Nice sermon!” as you head out the door, take a few moments  to tell him what was especially helpful and/or convicting from the  sermon. In the first church I served as a pastor, one young  couple would stay after the service, about once a month, conversing with  me about what they learned. These helpful conversations sometimes  lasted for more than an hour. Even today, I am heartened when I recall their  zeal for what was taught.

We should praise the Lord for giving us outstanding, well-known  preachers, but let us not forget Paul’s command to Timothy, who was  entrenched in a local church with pastors whose names none of us knows:  “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor,  especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17).

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