Gifting, Character, Encouragement, OpportunityDecember 7, 2007
“About eleven years ago in my former church an elderly gentleman tapped me on the shoulder after a service. He began a discussion on preaching and, to my suprise, suggested that I might have the gift for it. Weeks later I was given the opportunity to actually preach. While this was no doubt painful for the congregation I was ‘inflicted’ upon, it nevertheless began a confirmation process that eventually resulted in the recognition of a spiritual gift… I’ve come to believe that many younger, middle aged and even older men are spending their lifetimes in the pew, when they could be preaching in the pulpit, for the simple reason that no-one has ever tapped them on the shoulder.”
So began The Preaching Course yesterday evening during our social get-together before Christmas. Let me expand on my opening gambit a bit further and suggest that prospective preachers may actually require four things to get going.
One criteria we had for attendees of The Preaching Course is that they be relatively mature Christians. Someone who might otherwise be gifted for the task might still be precluded from consideration (temporarily or permanently) because of a lack of godliness in their lives. While no expositor is perfect, preaching especially requires a ‘blameless’ character to underpin its credibility. This was confirmed powerfully last evening when our group answered a question about their ‘most influential preacher.’ Though household names were mentioned, a great many godly and relatively unknown pastors were also touted. These faithful men had deeply impressed their congregations with a combination of careful preaching and careful living.
Clearly pastor-teachers are a ‘gift’ to the church (Eph 4) and therefore they do require divine ‘gifting’ for the task. The level of gifting will vary from person to person, however, though I suspect that we can readily set the bar too high as well as too low. Lets face it, not all of us can be Don Carson. A great many of us, though, could be faithful, clear communicators of God’s Word. But how will such a gifting be evaluated without prospective preachers being tried, tested and encouraged? This leads us to the last two points.
Often we make the category mistake of assuming that because God calls preachers (and he does) we humans should not meddle in someone’s rise to the pulpit. As a result, we may do little to encourage nervous young men to take their first steps up those intimidating steps. When we consider Jesus ‘hands on training’ of his disciples, however, as well as Paul’s patient nurturing of Timothy, it seems that there was much by way of human involvement in the development of these preachers. Do we need to get better at finding ways of ‘tapping men on the shoulder’?
Let me state the obvious: prospective preachers need pulpits to preach from. This need not involve proclaiming God’s Word before 1000 people on attempt number one; in fact this would be positively unhelpful! However, it could mean preaching to 30 or 50 people in a smaller congregation. In our little course, therefore, apprentices will preach in a ‘live-setting’ in within smaller churches within a reasonable radius of Edinburgh. Whatever way we do it – whether during a less formal evening service, other midweek church activities, or with assistance from smaller churches – we need to find opportunities for testing the gift.