Earlier this year, a grandmother and her daughter (Jane) were watching an Adventist preacher online. A backsliding Adventist, Jane nevertheless felt drawn to the preacher’s words. As the sermon came to a climax, the preacher urged the audience to take a stand for truth, to choose the resurrection of the righteous over the resurrection of the wicked, to accept God’s gift of grace and be entered into the Lamb’s Book of Life. At that moment, Jane fell forward, weeping, and confessed to a heinous crime. That afternoon, she drove with her mother to the local police station, confessed to the crime, and now awaits sentencing. Despite facing life in prison, Jane has accepted the gospel, and her soul is free from the burden of guilt that had been tormenting her.
Preaching in 2023 within one’s own culture, let alone cross-culturally, is a challenge. With so many demands on their time, preachers find it difficult to invest the time necessary for sermon preparation. Resources such as concordances are not cheap. The lack of a suitably peaceful location can hamper prayerful preparation. The average congregation includes spiritual ‘novices’ and ‘old timers.’ Some seek comfort, others entertainment and yet others serious spiritual food. Preaching is increasingly perceived as boring, time-consuming, irrelevant, something to be endured or out of touch with our visual media culture.
As a district pastor with 300 members in three congregations, I assumed that as each member consumes on average four hours daily (outside of Sabbaths) of secular influence (e.g., NPR, YouTube, social media, Hollywood, secular media), that means that on an annual basis, there were approximately 375,600 hours of God-rejecting, secular and atheist material shaping how my three congregations think. Of the 52 annual Sabbaths, we eliminate two for vacations, one for camp-meeting, one for conference workers’ meetings, four for Lord’s Suppers, and one for an out-of-district speaking engagement, and we are left with 43 Sabbaths. Divided by three congregations in a rural district, I was left with 14 Sabbaths per congregation where I could preach as the Spirit led. Assuming 40 minutes per sermon, I had approximately 10 hours per year per congregation to mitigate the tidal onslaught of secular influence upon their minds and hearts. Therefore, I needed to prayerfully prepare every sermon with no extraneous words, seeking to hit the mark and lead people to conviction, conversion, and continued growth in Christlikeness.
Preaching matters, for God uses preaching to change lives, teach and feed the faithful, and comfort, encourage and strengthen the saints. Lives are changed forever through preaching and the accompanying presence of the Holy Spirit, convicting and converting. As such, preaching deserves our very best because it bears such potential as an instrument of God.
Paul explained God’s expectations of a preacher to Timothy thusly: “If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed” (1 Timothy 4:6). A preacher is, therefore, to remind people of God and His word, to relay God’s message to His people. This calls for personal consecration, for to be credible in the pulpit on Sabbath, a preacher is called to a life of holiness throughout the entire week. Yet, we have the promise that “There is no limit to the usefulness of one who, putting self aside, makes room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart, and lives a life wholly consecrated to God” (DA 250).
Please remember our AFM missionaries as they live, teach and preach the gospel among the unreached. Theirs is a work of profound importance, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16, NRSV).