A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about preaching and some interesting things came out of the conversation that seemed they may have value to share more broadly. We were talking about message preparation and growing as a preacher and I found myself expressing a thought I’ve had for a while but haven’t had the ability to articulate until now.
Ministries & Methods
Personally, I wish people would stop talking about preaching as if preaching is nearly synonymous with communication. I think when we talk about preaching as if preaching is primarily about communicating, we are confusing the point of preaching with the vehicle of preaching. Yes, you have to communicate to preach, but communication is the method, not the ministry. Communication is to preaching what playing an instrument or singing is to worship leading: a necessary skill, but not the ministry itself.
It seems to me that every ministry has this distinction; every ministry comes with a vehicle of expression that is required, but not necessarily the ministry itself. Confusing one with the other will result in the wrong focus for growth in that ministry:
- The ministry of worship leading requires musical ability.
- The ministry of giving requires the ability to generate resources.
- The ministry of healing requires the ability to pray for the sick.
- The ministry of preaching requires the ability to communicate.
Why do I highlight this? Because with any of these ministries, usually, the first developmental step is to grow in competency in the required ability. When people begin to grow in healing ministry, they get trained to pray, when people begin to grow in worship leading, they often begin to invest in their musical abilities (unless they’d previously developed them). This is good; without this competency, the ministry will be limited by the lack of ability. This investment is exactly as it should be.
As this competency is developed, however, to continue to grow in the ministry requires investing in other areas as well: more specifically in areas that fill the vehicle of expression with spiritual authority. The purpose of all ministry is spiritual; it is to facilitate spiritual transactions that release different facets of God’s grace to one another:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 1 Peter 4:10
It seems to me if that is true, then effective ministry happens as we develop competency in the vehicle of the ministry, but also as we grow in spiritual authority. The vehicle provides the context for God’s grace to flow; the spiritual authority we walk in determines to what extent that vehicle will facilitate spiritual activity. The two chain together to produce true change. The mark of Jesus’ teaching wasn’t his effective communication (though it’s clear he was very intentional as a communicator and was good at that as well), but the spiritual authority that flowed through his words:
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28–29
So anyone who is a preacher: by all means, invest in your communication capabilities, just don’t confuse that with the ministry of preaching. To fulfill the ministry of preaching, you need to be able to take that vehicle of communication and infuse it with spiritual authority that God cultivates on your life. I would believe that in time you’ll also find that of the two, the spiritual authority is far more significant. If you have ten hours a week to invest, put eight of them into cultivating spiritual authority and two into communication techniques. It is far better to hear the feedback “that preaching changed my life” than it is to hear, “you’re such a good communicator”.
Cultivating Spiritual Authority
The next natural question is probably clear: How do I cultivate spiritual authority? What does the journey of growth in that area look like?
To be sure, there are many layers to the answer to this question. The following words in the 1 Peter passage above continue with:
whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; 1 Peter 4:11a
Notice this perspective: not that whoever speaks should do so as an excellent communicator, but as one who speaks oracles of God. As a preacher, it is easy to spend a lot of time focusing on what I should say, and not enough on what it means to be God’s mouthpiece. Preacher, when you step up to speak, your expectation should be to be a living oracle of God himself. What does it look like to be an oracle of the Lord? David highlights this with his last words before he passes away:
The oracle of David, the son of Jesse,
the oracle of the man who was raised on high,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
the sweet psalmist of Israel:
“The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me;
his word is on my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken;
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
When one rules justly over men,
ruling in the fear of God,
he dawns on them like the morning light,
like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,
like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.
“For does not my house stand so with God?
For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
ordered in all things and secure.
For will he not cause to prosper
all my help and my desire?
But worthless men are all like thorns that are thrown away,
for they cannot be taken with the hand;
but the man who touches them
arms himself with iron and the shaft of a spear,
and they are utterly consumed with fire.” 2 Samuel 23:1–7
David confidently delivers an oracle as he passes away. What does he highlight?
- I have been lifted up and anointed by God… Are we aware of God’s anointing resting upon us? As we grow in preaching, we should be able to be in touch with God’s anointing upon us and we should steward our lives to preserve that anointing.
- The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me… Are we aware of God’s words flowing through us? Do we sense times when the Spirit of the Lord takes over and his words flow through our mouth?
- The God of Israel has spoken to me… Have we heard the word of the Lord for what we are about to say, or has this come as we have fit together our own thoughts and ideas?
- I rule (act) in justice and the fear of God… Has this been our walk? In my experience, this is often tested before I am to speak. Have I walked with the Lord through the tests of this particular message/oracle?
- For does not my house stand so with God?.. Am I confident that my life has been aligned with the Lord? This isn’t just about sharing words, it is about incarnating God and his kingdom in my whole life.
In my experience, these have all been areas that I have had the Lord work with me on, and I have seen the spiritual authority that rests upon my preaching grow commensurately. When I am walking in these dimensions in my being, the doing of my preaching produces a lot more kingdom fruit.
I don’t want to settle for information exchange; I want to see lives changed by the Word of God. I want the Word of the Kingdom to grow up and bear fruit in people’s lives. I would imagine you are the same – and to that end, I invite you to not only invest in your communication technique but your journey with God that produces the spiritual authority meant to flow through your preaching.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Putty Putman