“Fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).
“I want to say a word to my pastor friends who say their passion is preaching. May I suggest a better way to say this is that preaching is the expression of your passion for Jesus. Keep the focus on Him.”
I posted that on Facebook earlier today and was surprised at the reaction, all of it positive. Several pastors indicated that coming to this position represented a maturing in their ministry. One said the Lord showed him that he was making preaching his idol. “He delivered me from that idolatry,” he said.
As a senior in college, majoring in history and political science and hoping to teach history on a college level one day, God called me into the ministry.
He did not call me to preach. Not specifically.
The heavenly summons that came to me that Tuesday evening in April 1961, while singing “Jesus Paid It All” with the choir during a revival invitation time, was simply “I want you in the ministry.”
When I stepped forward to acknowledge this, I told Pastor Bill Burkett, “God has called me into the ministry.” When I was ordained, 18 months later, it was to “the gospel ministry,” not to preaching as such.
Now, I’m a preacher, make no mistake about that. Preaching is an important facet of the ministry to which the Lord called me, but not its essence. (I emphasize this in response to the wife of a pastor friend who accused me half-seriously of ‘parsing words.’)
When we moved to seminary–I was 24– even though a pastorate did not open up for 10 months, I was always “in the ministry.” But I wasn’t preaching.
When I was 30, we moved from a pastorate in the Mississippi Delta to Jackson, Mississippi, where I became a staff member of a large church. For three years, I preached rarely, but regularly ministered in evangelistic visitation, discipleship/teaching, and pastoring college students. I was still in the ministry.
Then, two pastorates later, at the age of 49, I suddenly found myself without a congregation for a solid year. During that time when I was at loose ends, I was still in the ministry doing revivals, pulpit supply, writing a book (that was never published), and cartooning nonstop.
Then, when I was 64, I left a 14-year pastorate and took a denominational position Southern Baptists call “associational director of missions.” I preached as invited in various churches, but mostly I ministered to individual pastors and churches in other ways.
At the age of 69, I retired from that position and began devoting myself to all kinds of ministries: writing, preaching, drawing, cartooning, encouraging, etc. I do revivals and deacon training, banquets and senior adult weekends, block parties and a hundred other things.
Sorry for the monologue on myself. I’m attempting to make the point that to be in the ministry may involve preaching or it might not.
This is not to say everyone’s call is the same, or even similar for that matter.
The Lord called Moses with one specific task in mind: “I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring my people, the sons of Israels, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). When that task was over, Moses was called home. God’s call to him was to leadership.
The Lord called Gideon to “deliver Israel from the hand of Midian” (Judges 6:14). Nothing could be clearer. Gideon was called to military leadership.
To Jeremiah, the Lord said, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). He was a preacher.
The various calls the Lord issues may have a thousand ramifications and lead across boundaries and take a hundred shapes before the work is finished. But in the call of every follower of Jesus Christ, there is one facet all have in common. It’s mentioned regarding the Lord’s choosing of the twelve….
“And He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority….” (Mark 3:14-15).
They were called to be with Him.
That is the first and most important part of the call.
And, may we say, it’s the aspect of the call that is most in jeopardy when a minister develops a passion for preaching or any other aspect of the Lord’s work (counseling, administration, hospital work, youth, children, seniors, missions, music, etc). The danger is that the focus may shift from the Lord to that type of ministry.
I’ve known music ministers who lived for their music.
The passion should be for the Lord Jesus Christ, to know Him more fully, to serve Him more faithfully, to love Him more completely. Out of that devotion will come power in preaching and all those other aspects of serving the Lord.
“For me, to live is Christ….” (Philippians 1:21).