The Pastor And His Preaching | Sermon by Dr. O. S. Hawkins
High on the list of things that please God is the issue Paul mentions in the Corinthian letter when he says, “It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). Gospel preaching pleases God. It is the highest calling one can have. There is a dynamic that takes place in the preaching experience when God and man connect that cannot be found in any other type of oratory. Yes, Pastor, the preaching of the gospel is your highest calling and most important task.
In interviews with 353 formerly unchurched people, Dr. Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, indicated that in response to the question, “Did the pastor and his preaching play a part in your coming to the church?” 97% of the respondents answered in the affirmative. When asked, “What factors led you to choose this church?” 90% said, “the pastor and his preaching.” While the pastor has voluminous duties and multitudinous tasks, nothing should be of higher priority than the assignment to preach the gospel and “rightly divide the word of truth” to the people to whom God has assigned him.
It has been my privilege as a pastor to be God’s undershepherd in four different churches across the years. In my last pastorate, it was my challenge and joy to preach each Sunday behind one of the most influential, if not the most influential, twentieth-century pulpits in the Western world. For forty-seven years the incomparable Dr. George W. Truett thundered the gospel message from that sacred desk. Then, for almost fifty years Dr. W. A. Criswell, the true prince of preachers, expounded “the unsearchable riches” with conviction, clarity, and compassion from the same pulpit.
That pulpit, like most pulpits in evangelical life, stands in the middle of the building, on center stage so to speak. It is there to make a statement that central to worship is the preaching of the book of God to the people of God. One can walk into the worship center of a church in virtually any place in the world and the pulpit stands as an object lesson to signify the centrality of gospel preaching.
Proclamation, the preaching of the gospel, should be central to Christian worship. The sermon is the central dynamic in the worship experience. It is the fulcrum upon which the entire service of worship hinges. Everything that comes before it should point to it, and everything that comes after it should issue out of it. Because of this, the pastor is the worship leader of the church.
In too many places and in too many circumstances, worship is only identified with something we do before the sermon. That is, we think the worship leader is one who leads choruses or spiritual songs. The dynamic of the worship experience is a complete package and it is the sermon, the preaching of the gospel, that must be central to it.
It is the pastor himself who sets the tone for worship. If he is aloof and unengaged, the people will not have a tendency to follow him. If he is flippant and carefree before his people, they will not take it seriously. If he is reverent and worshipful in his demeanor, the people will follow suit.
This is not to say the pastor should not emit an attitude of joy and gladness before the people. The psalmist said to “serve the LORD with gladness” (Ps. 100:2), and he said, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the LORD’” (Ps. 122:1).
Preaching is the pastor’s highest calling and most important task. As I write these words, I am recalling my first sermon as a young preacher. On a hot summer evening in June, I stood at the Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth, Texas, and preached to a collection of homeless and hopeless people who gathered for worship, followed by a hot meal.
The thrill in my heart, the humbleness of my calling, the dynamic I sensed as God took His word and sent it forth through my feeble and trembling mouth, the sheer rush of spiritual energy and, yes, the nervousness of the moment have never left me. The preacher should preach every sermon as though it were his first and as if it might be his last. I have sought to bring that thought with me to each and every one of the thousands of preaching experiences I have had since that sultry summer evening.
In the front of my Bible are three verses that I have memorized and which I look at on the platform before I preach each message. One is found in Paul’s final epistle, his second recorded letter to Timothy, where he says, “The Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me” (2 Tim. 4:17). What a comfort it is to be assured that when I stand to preach, the Lord Himself is standing with me and empowering me supernaturally to preach.
Another verse I read before I preach and ask the Lord to incarnate into my preaching is His promise to Jeremiah, “I will make My words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them” (Jer. 5:14). This dynamic word picture encourages me more than words can say to know that God can take the words of my mouth and set people on fire with them in such a way that the word of God begins to consume them.
Finally, I read Paul’s prayer in Ephesians before every preaching opportunity. I join him in praying “that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19). In other words, that as I preach, I might exhibit freedom, fearlessness, and faithfulness.
Pastor, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Preaching is the passion of every God-anointed and appointed pastor. It is our high calling and great privilege.
O. S. Hawkins is President and Chief Executive Officer of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is also a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Master of Divinity) and Luther Rice Seminary (Doctor of Ministry).