I have a lot of sympathy for Pastors who are intimidated to avoid preaching the hard stuff. The Hard Stuff includes exposing errant belief, sinful attitudes and ungodly behaviour. The Hard stuff is calling people to sacrificial living, giving their whole life to God to use.
This must be difficult. As a lay preacher it can be hard enough speaking uncomfortable truths to friends. But throw into the mix the added complications of preaching to people who in effect ‘pay your wages’, or may leave your church for a more “comfortable one”…or at the very least, you will have to speak to over coffee face to face straight after.
And yet, we know that true unity, harmony and joy is not achieved by avoiding the hard stuff.
The apostle Paul, knew that challenging people was hard and so he encouraged the young leader Timothy in this area. The message of 1 Timothy 4 could be read: “convince, rebuke, exhort, correct, don’t let older people intimidate you or tick you off. Don’t be timid, guard your gospel carefully, don’t compromise and don’t let anyone whittle you down.”
But how, how can we be steadfast in our preaching:
- Be informed (spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and physically). Have you done your homework?
- With love. When we preach with love, this will produce in us a desire to be informed. When Paul wrote a challenging letter to the Corinthian Church he said: “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you” (2 Cor 2:4). In fact, in 1 Corinthians 8, Paul emphasises the dangers of teaching with knowledge alone, and without love.
- Find confidence in the solid ground of scripture. I remember a time when I had been asked to preach on suffering, using Psalm 139. I remember feeling very inadequate as my life at that point, had had relatively little levels of suffering. I knew that many in the Church had faced intense trial and hardship, and here was a young 20-something, with very little life experience, teaching on suffering. I felt unqualified to say the least. What God taught me, was that my confidence in preaching, should never come from my own life experience, knowledge, education or anything else! Rather it must come in the steadfast truthfulness of Scripture. Again, Paul wrote to Timothy, that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness. When we preach the hard stuff, we must lean upon the power and authority of Scripture. It truly is a solid rock upon which to build our house.
- With a deep and searching prayer life. Not just for our congregation, this goes without saying. We need to be addressing issues that God places on our hearts for the Church, not just the latest trendy call to radical discipleship etc. But we must also have a deep and searching prayer life for our own hearts. Coming to God with questions like: why do I want to preach this, where am I in these lessons, where do I still fall short. Not only will these prayers promote in us a loving compassion on those we speak to, but they will also provide the crucial integrity check of our hearts. Many times we will need to preach a hard message, and confess that we are still struggling to apply the message ourselves.
- With vulnerability. After writing a challenging letter to one Church, Paul ended with the words: ‘not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I do not consider myself to have already taken hold of it, but one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” This will dismantle pride in us. This will provide hope for those who hear us. This will demonstrate that our need of God’s grace is just as great as theirs is. This will glorify God, for His power is [shown to be] perfect in our weaknesses.