I want to examine one place where there is entirely too much mediocrity in the church of Jesus Christ: preaching. For about 40 weekends each year I am with some body of Christ somewhere in the world. Often I am not able to get out on Saturday, so I will attend the service of the local congregation (when I am not scheduled to preach). What I am about to say will probably get me into trouble, but I am convinced it needs to be said. I am saddened and distressed to say it, but I am tired of hearing boring, inadequately prepared theological lectures, delivered by uninspired preachers reading manuscripts, all done in the name of biblical preaching.
I am not surprised that peoples’ minds wander. I am not surprised that people are struggling to keep attentive and awake. I am surprised that more aren’t. They are being taught by one who has not brought the proper weapons into the pulpit to fight for them and with them. Preaching is more than regurgitating your favorite exegetical commentary, recasting the sermons of your favorite preachers, or reshaping notes from one of your favorite seminary classes. It is bringing the transforming truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ from a passage that has been properly understood, cogently and practically applied, and delivered with the engaging tenderness and passion of a person who has been broken and restored by the very truths he now stands to communicate. You simply cannot do this without proper preparation, meditation, confession, and worship.
There simply is no way that you can begin to think about a passage for the first time on Saturday afternoon or evening and give it the kind of attention that it needs. You will not be able to understand the passage, be personally affected, and be prepared to give it to others in a way that ontributes to their ongoing transformation. As pastors, we have to fight for the sanctity of preaching, or no one else will. We have to demand that our job descriptions allow for the time necessary to prepare well. We have to carve out time in our schedules to do whatever necessary for each of us, given our gifts and maturity, to be ready as spokesmen for our Savior King. We cannot become comfortable with patterns that denigrate preaching and degrade our ability to represent a glorious God of glorious grace. We cannot allow ourselves to be too busy and too distracted. We cannot set low standards for ourselves and those we serve. We cannot be self-excusing and self-accommodating. We cannot allow ourselves to try to squeeze a thousand dollars worth of preparation into dime moments. We must not lose sight of the excellent One and the excellent grace we have been called to represent. We cannot, because we are unprepared, let his splendor appear boring and his amazing grace appear ordinary.
The culture and discipline that surrounds our preaching always reveals the true character of our own hearts. This is exactly where confession and repentance needs to take place. We cannot blame our job descriptions or busyness. We cannot point the finger at the unexpected things that show up on the schedule of every pastor. We cannot blame the demands of family. We have to humbly confess our preaching is mediocre, not rising to the standard to which we have been called. The problem is us. The problem is that we have lost our awe, and in losing our awe we are all too comfortable with representing God’s excellence in a way that is anything but excellent. Ministry mediocrity in any form is always an issue of the heart. If this describes you, then run in humble confession to your Savior and embrace the grace that has the power to rescue you from you, and in so doing, give you back your awe.
Paul Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries , a nonprofit organization whose mission statement is “Connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life.” Tripp is also professor of pastoral life and care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas, and executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas. Tripp has written many books on Christian living, including the forthcoming Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. He has been married for many years to Luella, and they have four grown children.