Those of you under 40 may find it difficult to imagine that when I was a student minister, we had to go to a place called a ‘library’ to find information in ‘books’. Occasionally, we were also able to get things called ‘cassettes’. Since cassettes were (a) expensive, and (b) hard to get, they were passed around, used, re-used and abused. (In fact, I would still love to hear the end of the Martyn Lloyd-Jones talk on Romans 11 that someone recorded ABBA’s Greatest Hits over!) Contrast that with today—a quick glance at The Gospel Coalition website gives instant access to thousands of excellent expository sermons. The issue today isn’t lack of resources, but rather how ‘ordinary’ pastors compete for the listening ears of their congregations with the ‘big guns’, whose sermons are available live (or at least later on the same day they were preached).
There are, of course, many ways in which this is a good thing—I mean, seriously, can we ever have too much good teaching? And yet there are dangers.
- One of these is that teaching the Bible becomes completely detached from loving relationship.1
- Another danger stems from the fact that people place far too much emphasis on the preacher as ‘performer’ (or even ‘personality’). And when that happens, it effectively removes the need for prayer.
In the local church, if we are regularly rubbing shoulders with those who preach, we know that there are weeks when they are under huge pressure to carve out enough time to prepare properly; we know that there are weeks when they just can’t nail their sermon; we know that there are weeks when their kids are playing up, or they are working through marital issues, or they are feeling under the weather.
And so we pray.
We know that our friends—those who have just received crushing health news, who have recently been bereaved, who are struggling with anger, who are trying to deal with pride, who have sinned sexually—will be listening to this sermon. We know how much we need God. And so we pray (or so we know we should). But if we are sitting in front of a screen watching or listening to an old sermon preached by a guy we don’t know, in a place we’ve never been, to people we’ve never met, it isn’t quite the same. To put it bluntly, it doesn’t really matter to us if God showed up and addressed his people through his word that day. It doesn’t really matter what was going on in that church. So why should we pray? The connection between our prayers and the sermon is broken—and when that happens, it isn’t easily fixed.
I could be wrong, but I strongly suspect that preachers are praying less today too. They (we) are certainly talking less about prayer than, say, 20 years ago. And while it’s true that there has been a significant resurgence of biblical preaching, I’m not sure this has been accompanied by a resurgence in praying—and especially not prayer about preaching. Gradually, we seem to be losing sight of the fact that God uses weak and sinful people, and that he uses them only by grace. Yes, we may sow, plant and water—but only God gives growth. That’s true in your local church and mine. It’s also true of every podcast and ebook and conference address under the sun.
God doesn’t use people because they are gifted. He uses people (even preachers) because he is gracious. Do we actually believe that? If we do believe it, then we will pray—we will pray before we speak, and we will pray for others before they speak. It’s that simple.
—Gary Millar is Principal of Queensland Theological College (QTC), Brisbane, Australia.
This post was written by Gary Millar in Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s word and keep people awake and has been used with permission. Paragraphs and bullet points have been changed.
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1Bullet points are original