What does a preacher exist for? Why are preachers needed? I believe a preacher’s calling is to boldly declare God’s Word, and how God’s Word intersects with the challenges of our lives in the present time. This means, by definition, that a preacher is always preaching partly God’s Word and partly his/her own opinion. Does this seem upsetting in some way? The fact is it cannot be any other way most of the time.
For example, Jesus said we are to love our enemies. This is not a matter of opinion, it’s what Jesus clearly said. The question is, what does that mean for us today? That’s where opinion comes in. How are we to love our enemies? Who are our enemies? More directly, what would it mean for me as an individual Christian to decide to love Muslim extremists, who have stated clearly that their goal is to see me (and you) dead? How would that affect my decisions about whether or not to join the military, to support my country in war, etc.? (Because clearly it should, the question is how). What about the church’s mandate to love its enemies? As a church, should we make statements about war and peace, about politics, etc.? Is it possible to separate the words of scripture from real-life application? I don’t believe so. Understand, I’m not answering these questions right now, just asking them. And I intentionally chose a divisive topic to illustrate my point.
If in preaching the Word of God we always find personal applications that align perfectly with the values we already have, we are not digging deeply enough. Jesus’ Words were, if anything, offensive. He offended practically everyone at some point. This did not come from his strong pro-Republican or pro-Democratic political standpoint. It came from a “Kingdom of God” standpoint. He was not sold out to any political agenda because he was able to clearly discern the limitations of politics in bringing what is most needed — change to the hearts of individual men and women. Heart-change often begins with ideas that intrude upon the mind as foreign and basically unwelcome. For example, “Repent, for you are a sinner and lost without Christ.” Very difficult to hear and take to heart.
My goal in preaching is to increasingly challenge the hearer where they live, to shake people up a little bit, but I will never shake them in ways that I have not first shaken myself. I want to hear and apply the gospel to my life in the 21st century. I want to allow its sting to revive places of apathy, fear, and stubbornness in me. I want the fact that I’m a Christ-follower to have an impact on the way I think of war and peace, of sexual politics, of educational policies, of environmental issues. I want it to pervade my whole life. I have a long way to go. The easiest thing to do is “pick a position” and cling to it no matter what. It’s much harder to remain open to the Holy Spirit and carry a commitment to living out gospel principles in every way we can. That is what Christ calls us to do, and what I am committed to asking my people to reach for.