Monday, November 17, 2014

The importance of the pulpit

Bivocational ministers face many challenges as they try to meet the many demands that exist on their time.  In order to succeed in ministry bivocational ministers must set priorities for how they will use their time.  When it comes to ministry priorities one that must be near the top of the list is sermon preparation.

Sundays come around every seven days whether we are prepared for them or not.  We should not be surprised that we are expected to be prepared to share a message with our congregations every Sunday.  In fact, we should look forward to it.  That time on Sunday morning is the one time that we will be with the most people.  It gives us our greatest opportunity to challenge and encourage our congregation.  In my book, The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry, I write:

Nothing the bivocational minister can do has the potential to impact a church more than his or her pulpit ministry.  John A. Broadus wrote in 1870, "The record of Christian history has been that the strength of the church is directly related to the strength of the pulpit.  When the message from the pulpit has been uncertain and faltering, the church has been weak; when the pulpit has given a positive, declarative message, the church has been strong.  The need for effective preaching has never been greater."  John MacArthur agreed with Broadus when he wrote, "No man's pastoral ministry will be successful in God's sight who does not give preaching its proper place.

The apostle Paul asked, "If the trumpet makes an uncertain sound who will prepare for battle?" (1 Cor. 14:8)  Pulpit ministry enables the pastor to sound a clear message to his or her congregation.  In preaching the pastor can cast vision, teach doctrine, and challenge, inspire, and encourage the church.  The results can be a more unified church with a clear purpose. Both are essential to a successful ministry.

I believed these words when I served as a bivocational pastor.  I believed them when I wrote this book in 2004, and I continue to believe them today.  Since beginning judicatory ministry in 2001 and spending most Sundays in a different church I can say without fear of contradiction that I have never seen a strong church that had a weak pulpit, and I have never seen a weak church that had a strong pulpit.  A weak pulpit can turn a strong church into a weak one, and a strong pulpit can turn a weak church into a much healthier church.  Unfortunately, in my travels I encounter too many weak pulpits.  On the Sundays when I visit such churches I leave the service wondering what I had just experienced.  I'm sure I'm not the only one leaving a worship service that had weak preaching confused and disappointed.

Because Sundays do come around every seven days, and because bivocational ministers are often over-committed it is vital that we begin working on our sermon as early as possible.  We don't want to plan to work on our sermon on Saturday evening only to be called to the hospital that evening.  You may think you will be able to fake it this one time, but your congregation will see through your efforts.  Some will be disappointed while others will be offended that you thought so little of them that you did not take the time to prepare a message they needed to hear.  Even worse, you will have forfeited the opportunity to cast vision, challenge, encourage, and preach an evangelistic message that might bring one more person into the Kingdom of God.  You might meet with various committees throughout the week, but you will hardly ever gather as many people into one group to speak to them as you will have sitting in your congregation on Sunday morning.

Make your sermon preparation a major priority in your ministerial life.  When you have prepared properly you can go into pulpit with confidence and preach the kind of life-changing messages people need to hear.

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