The article I just read was filled with truth. The author spent his 1200 words convincing pastors to preach Christ instead of moralism. And he was right.
But there was something cruelly ironic about the article. It sounded like this:
“Do a better job at preaching the finished work of Jesus.”
“Don’t forget to ground your application in Jesus.”
“Try harder at showing people their need for Christ.”
“You aren’t preaching a Christian sermon if you leave people in their own hands.”
All of these things are true. Every preacher should strive to point folks to Christ instead of moralism. But did you notice something about the wording? The gospel isn’t “do better” or “try harder”, and yet the advice we tell ourselves about preaching usually falls into this category. Why do we believe that “do better” and “try harder” will motivate better preaching? If it’s powerless for the banker, it’s powerless for the preacher as well.
This is why I believe so many of us pastors battle depression and discouragement. While we strive to be gospel-centered in our proclamation to others, we often surround ourselves with Christ-less counsel.
Maybe that was too strong. It’s not as if the pastor can’t glean the gospel from “do a better job at preaching the finished work of Jesus”. And I suppose we, of all people, ought to be able to assume the gospel. But here again, we tell our people all the time that if they assume the gospel they will lose the gospel. We like that Luther quote about beating the gospel into our heads because we are so prone to forget. Perhaps when talking with our fellow pastors (and the way we talk to our own souls) we needn’t assume the gospel.
You and I are going to preach really bad sermons. This will be painful. We’ll botch Scripture at times. We’ll make a bigger deal out of things we ought to just mention in passing. We’ll preach major points as if they are minor points. Our application will be off. We’ll preach sermons that are barely Christ-centered and our people might suffer because of it.
We ought to grieve these truths. But let us not grieve as those who have no hope. The power of the gospel, thankfully, isn’t tied up in the gospel-centrality of the preacher. Nor are we justified by being good gospel preachers. Preachers are justified by the good gospel. So next time you are bumming about not being gospely enough in your preaching, remember the gospel for your own heart. May these truths be driven into our hearts as we fumble through proclaiming them to others:
Herein is the justification for the sin-prone pastor (by which I mean “pastor”): because of Christ’s perfect work on your behalf, your failure, your daily anxiety, your unwillingness, your stress, your sin, your brokenness, your ineptitude, your ignorance, your awfulness, your regrets, your pride, and your arrogance are no match for the deep and abiding grace of God given to you before time began and now and forevermore. – Jared C. Wilson, The Pastor’s Justification, (p.114)