It’s a bad fault of mine, but I suspect you suffer from it as well. My fault is that I assume that others have the same faults I do. If I struggle with pride, my guess is that those to whom I am speaking, or writing, also have a problem with pride. My problems, more often than not, are not RC Sproul Jr. problems so much as human being problems.
Let me confess one. When I am given an opportunity to preach, opportunities I covet and hoard, I walk into the pulpit with this shameful desire. It is my hope that somewhere along the way in the preaching of the sermon the flock who are there will respond in the quiet of their own minds, “Wow, I never thought of that before.” I know. It’s awful. It’s embarrassing. And it is true.
Which is why I suspect it is true of many preachers. We’re all sinners. We all have egos. These come out to play when pastors get together. We compete with each other, in the most silly ways. “How long do you typically preach?” preacher A asks preacher B. Preacher B hikes up his pants and proudly declares, “Oh, I’d say about 45 to 55 minutes. How about you?” Preacher A, who had the diabolical wisdom to ask first, simply adds ten minutes or so, and wins. The point here is this. The longer you preach the better you are, for one of two reasons. Either your delivery is so powerful the congregation pleads with you to preach so long. Or, even if your delivery is poor, you can at least brag at the power you have over the congregation. Yup, we reason, they hate every minute of it, but I’ve got them under my thumb.
There is a slightly more pious version of this kind of, uh, match. Here the issue isn’t sermon time, but sermon prep. Preacher B asks, “How long do you take to prepare your sermons?” Pastor A, realizing he should have asked both questions first so he could answer them both second, says, “In a given week, if the flock leaves me free enough, I’ll put in 25 to 30 hours of sermon prep time.” Pastor B, taking the consolation prize says, “Well, I typically put in about forty hours.”
Now I’m going to assume that these men are not liars. They’re just fools. They are pretending to be scholars, while failing to be shepherds. They see the pulpit as an opportunity to demonstrate their research skills rather than their shepherding skills. They, like me, want the people to go away thinking, “Wow, I never thought of that.”
There is a critical difference between preaching the Word and dissecting it. With the latter we slice the Word up, put it on a slide and slide it under the microscope. We stand above the Word and deliver what we have discovered about it to the waiting masses. With the former we proclaim the Word, get underneath it, and let its light show us our sin, and God’s promise. With the former we proclaim, “Thus saith the Lord.” With the latter we proclaim, “Thus saith me.” The latter is the power of self gratification. The former is the power of salvation. The calling of the preacher is to call the congregation to believe the Word of God. We speak His Words, and what we bring to the table is this insightful prophetic message, “Believe it.” This is the power of the foolishness of preaching, lest any man should boast.