Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Secret Handbook for Pastors (and Their Spouses)

Recently I posted a response to the pastor’s wife who wrote me to say, “I can understand why pastors and wives aren’t given a secret handbook when ordained, but I really wish we got one.”

My first post in response to this was directed to pastors. This one is takes into consideration their spouses, which in my context where only men are pastors, means their wives. I’m sure it applies in both directions.

This was written for and printed in Florida’s The Bradenton Herald, at a time when the Gulf oil spill dominated the news.

A friend who speaks at conferences in all kinds of churches used to tell me that pastoring the local church was the hardest job in the world. I don’t know. Those trying to contain the Gulf oil spill might put up a good counter-argument, as might many others.

Recently he told me that he had changed his mind and elevated single motherhood to the top spot. This is a wise adjustment.

Married male pastors, however, know they can’t lay claim to second place. That ‘honor’ belongs to the often thankless role assumed by their wives.
The ‘job’ of pastor’s wife comes with no job description, no pay, and plenty of unwritten expectations from church and husband. She is to lead, teach, and be outgoing. She is to do anything and be at everything. And she is to have perfect children.

Some avoid these expectations, but there is a weight she carries that cannot be avoided.

When pastors struggle with pastoral issues, it is the wife who watches, often helplessly. When he comes home enveloped in the dark cloud of concern for the flock, she sees. Concern for confidentiality prevents his letting her in. She can do nothing.

When others aim criticism at her husband, the arrows strike her heart, too. Other wives might find comfort in the body of the church, a balm often denied the pastor’s wife, who cannot share with other women her concern for her husband.

When someone leaves a church, the pastor is often the focus of that decision. Though those leaving may maintain relationships with others in the church, the pastor is often cut off. The wife becomes collateral damage and can grow fearful of pouring her heart into the next relationship for fear of it being crushed all over again. Many minister out of a broken heart.

Her role is not all heartache. There is much joy. Even those capping oil wells get to go for a swim in exotic waters. Most pastor’s wives would not change ‘jobs’ for another. So don’t cry for her. Pray for her. Love her. Encourage her.

This may not be the hardest job in the world, or even the second. But if there is a list of unseen and under-appreciated jobs, “pastor’s wife” will certainly lurk about the top.

Secret Handbook for Pastors

The wife of a pastor wrote me recently, “I can understand why pastors and wives aren’t given a secret handbook when ordained, but I really wish we got one.”

It’s an intriguing idea: an initiatory book of secrets and rules and rituals to keep us sane in the ministry. There are a number of good resources out there, but I decided to bite and offer my own modest contribution in that direction. Here and in a subsequent post, I will reprint two articles written years ago for Florida’s The Bradenton Herald. The first, which was never published, is a ‘open letter’ to a new pastor and the second, which I’ll post here later, is a word for their spouses.

None of this is secret, but I hope it is suggestive and helpful.

Dear __,

By your ordination you join in a great line of those who, like Mr. Greatheart in Pilgrim’s Progress, seek to lead pilgrims on the perilous journey to the Celestial City. God has uniquely gifted you for this calling and will use you greatly.

I am excited for you but want you to enter ministry with your eyes open. Ministry attracts idealists who can be shattered by its harsh reality. Instead of undoing you, these realities will, if you let them, enable you to see how quickly and personally Christ comes to encourage and support us all.

I trust then you’ll take the following to heart, as I must do daily.

1) You cannot fix everything.

Congregations expect their pastor to ‘fix’ them and to ‘fix’ their situations. You will be tempted to think you can. You can’t. Only Christ can. If you try, everything in your life will pay a price.

2) People will disappoint you.

Precious people will encourage you, care for you, support you, and love you. Others, just as beloved by Christ, will fall short of your best expectations and betray your most heartfelt commitments. They, too, are Christ’s gift to you. You will grow because of them to place your hope in Christ alone. The pain of the process will be real, but so is the gain.

3) You will disappoint people.

You are weak and you will fail. You will say unkind things and you will sin before those who look up to you. You will forget appointments and blame others for doing the same. You will change where people don’t want you to change and be unable to change where you should. Your grief over these things will again drive you to Jesus to experience his love even when we fail.

4) You will experience more deeply the pain of your sin.

People will call you ‘reverend’ and shush their cursing when you come into the room. They will think you holy. But in reality, you will come to see more clearly your own sin. You will begin to see it through the eyes of the sheep you have been called to shepherd. As the painfulness of this knowledge increases, you will need even more to know the refreshing grace of the gospel as a daily reality. As you preach grace to yourself, you will learn to preach it to others.

5) You will wrestle with the idol of success

You will not escape the expectations people (and you) place upon you. By whatever standard you and those you care about measure success, you will fall short. Such knowledge can destroy you. Remember, though, that Christ has already given to you every blessing you need for happiness and contentment in himself. His reward is far greater than the idol of success.

The calling of the pastor is noble but not easy. Find others in whom you can confide and work through the struggles. Most importantly, retreat frequently to the gospel of God’s grace so that it and it alone will be that which defines your ministry.

You will then do well and be of great usefulness.


A Plea for Reasonableness

We will never know what it is like to live in a society where someone can seem to act wrongly and not have it become lifted out of context and made a matter of public knowledge and scrutiny almost immediately. As I type much is being made regarding a confrontation in D. C. between teenagers and a Native American. Many will be the theories about what did and did not happen. It is not here the facts of the event that concern me, but the response given to it.

The whole matter makes me think that it is worthwhile to post a mildly edited portion of a sermon I preached in December on Philippians 4:4-9.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. (Philippians 4:5)

Something about Christians, is to be so well known to everyone that it is second nature to think of them in this way. Christians are to be known as ‘reasonable’ ones.

This does not mean ‘rational’ or ‘given to deep logical arguments.’ Rather, to be known as reasonable in this way is to be known as the one who is gentle and who shows mercy in verbal interactions. To be reasonable is to give others the benefit of the doubt. It is to not insist on our own rights or even our own rightness, but tempering our self-interest and our own causes for the sake of others. Paul is concerned with how we are known, for how WE are known will be how JESUS is known.

However, in this American moment, it is too often not our reasonableness that is known to all but our anger and our intolerance. And that should grieve us.

Paul, no stranger to controversy, instructed his protege Timothy to be reasonable. He, and we, are to be known as those who are

…kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting…opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:23-25)

Such may appear to some as a wimpy Christianity. If it is, so be it. It is this to which we are called: to patiently endure evil, and when necessary, correct it – but always with gentleness, with reasonableness.

As Christians we give up our right to win an argument with the hope of winning a person. We embrace what appears to be weakness because that is the way of the cross. We temper that zealous, argumentative streak in us with gentleness, that all might see we serve a reasonable, merciful savior.

Be zealous, yes. Be deeply committed to Jesus. As Peter reminds us,

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 

But how you manage that zeal matters:

…yet do it with gentleness and respect. (2 Peter 3:15)

From whom are we taking our cues? Every time I’m tempted to call someone in idiot or worse, I wonder about that. Are we taking our cues from our movies? From our sports figures? Perhaps from our President? It is well known that in response to some issue, he is prone to attack the person and not the issue, to call someone stupid or weak, or dumb as a rock.

He will be what he is. But Christian, be what you are. You are a follower of Jesus Christ.

Our interactions must be tempered by the stunning truth that the Lord who is near is coming to take us to be with him, we who were his enemies, who were perhaps zealous against him. He has loved us and given himself for us nonetheless. He looked upon us as people worthy of kindness. How can we do less for others?

If we are to reflect him, as we must, then we must let others see him in our reasonableness. We are not to let our cleverness be known to all, or our rhetorical wizardry, but our reasonableness.

Consider therefore before you speak, before you post, before you send,

  • Does this build up?
  • Does this need to be said?
  • Does this communicate a proper reasonableness? Gentleness?
  • Am I speaking what is aimed to help others, or to simply exalt my own standing in my tribe or in my heart?

The Lord’s nearness gives us hearts that are tolerant, hearts willing to let gentleness temper our zeal, for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.

Lest any think that by this I am positioning myself to throw stones, I should say that I intended this to be edited and posted long before current events hit our devices. I post it because I see the tendency of my own heart to demand my rights and argue my cases and exercise my zeal and to do so with innocent restaurant servers and unsuspecting grocery store clerks. If stones are being thrown, I am feeling their sting. May we all.

To Desire Another’s Happiness

[These are continuing reflections on the familiar (to some) benediction from Numbers 6. For other posts in this series, click here.]

Since childhood I’ve known the story of the friends who so loved their crippled companion that they brought him to Jesus for healing. Confounded by the crowds they resourcefully cut a hole in the roof of the building where Jesus was teaching and lowered their friend through it and in front of Jesus.

Artwork from Jessie Lee Thetford, used with permission. https://www.jessieleethetford.com/

Jesus, unperturbed, looked at him and pronounced his sins forgiven. At this point, I can imagine the lame man saying to Jesus, “Dude, sin is not my problem here! Can’t you see that I can’t walk? That’s what I really need.”

But he didn’t. With Jesus’ pronouncement I think something was set free inside of him that day, something more important to him than mobility. To bless the man, Jesus gave him what he needed most for his happiness. For that, the man needed more than new legs. He needed a conscience set free from guilt.

Wonderfully Jesus went on to give what the man and his friends wanted. But Jesus first gave him what was necessary for his happiness.

To desire our happiness, this deep expression of love, has always been the way of God with his people. It just doesn’t always feel that way.

The benediction God gave Israel in Numbers 6 is an expression of this happiness desiring love. When these words are pronounced over us we should hear them as God announcing his desire that we be happy.

And yet we aren’t happy.

The man in the story walked away forgiven. We may be forgiven, and that is not without meaning, but we aren’t all yet walking. Disease persists, dreams die, relationships rupture, and the broken things don’t get fixed. Where is the happiness in this?

It has to be in the knowing that it will yet be given. God will not fail in his promises.

To know God’s desire for our happiness, and to have that given shape and form in a benediction repeatedly spoken over us builds for us an assurance that begins to affect our present state of mind. To know a gift that is promised (that all will be all right) will in fact be given can make the present shine with something of the reflected joy of the future. To know there are gifts yet to be given keeps our hearts fixed on that which is certain and wonderful, though future, and prevents us from turning aside to insufficient and inadequate substitutes in the present.

But we need a reminder. And so God gives to the church these words that we might repeatedly hear and believe them.

The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

(Numbers 6:24-26)

Because our God desires our happiness it will come.

The Five (S1:E1)

Some things that have caught my eye over the past few weeks.


I believe this whole article is behind a paywall, but James Howell in reviewing a couple of recent translations of the Old Testament made this observation about the value of a stable translation for the whole church:

“It’s not as if we, now, today, finally ‘get’ the Bible after centuries of misconstrual.…At funerals, I watch my congregation recite Psalm 23 in the King James Version without ever looking at the words. While my parishioners never resort to 17th-century English in daily living, the deep resonance of this psalm’s words arouse some memory and hopefulness. They know the words by heart, in the sense that the words are inscribed deeply in their hearts. I worry that with a broad smattering of translations we’re losing the shared phrasings and terminology we deploy to encourage one another and profess our deepest commitments (with verses like John 3:16, Jer. 29:11, and Gal. 5:22). Bray and Hobbins feel the translator has a burden ‘to hold together a community of readers over time.’”


2. Poised as we are between the looming end of the NFL season and the dawning of ‘March Madness,’ may I direct baseball fans to two wonderful documentaries.

On one side of the spectrum is “Fastball.” With interviews of Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan, of Hank Aaron and Johny Bench, and of many more power pitchers and hitters, interspersed with the science of pitching and the physics of speed, this captivated me.

On the other side is “Knuckleball!” There are pitchers who are never going to hit 100 mph on the radar gun, and so they resort to a pitch that most just cannot hit. Rare is the pitcher who can get it over the plate, and rare the catcher who can catch it. Many knuckleballers are profiled, but the focus is on a failing outfielder turned pitcher named Tim Wakefield. A fascinating story.

Both are available on Amazon Prime Video (not on Netflix).

3. Speaking of entertainment, my wife and I were surprised to watch John Krasinski morph into an action hero in Amazon’s “Jack Ryan.” Very well done, as this assessment so ably conveys.

4. My nurse daughter attended a conference in which Hospitalist Dr. Zubin Damania was one of the keynote speakers. When he is not saving peoples lives or speaking on the subject of improving health care (“Health 3.0”), he is rapping and creating music videos under the name ZDoggMD.

His take on making end of life preparations is powerful. Watch “Ain’t the Way to Die” and then, after making sure your living will and advance care directives and such are in order, sit back and enjoy some more of his more lighthearted productions. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Sepsis” tickled our funny bone.

5. Finally, I stumbled across a thoughtful essay about Fred Rogers in the Dordt College faculty journal Pro Rege (edited by an old friend, Dr. Mary Dengler). The author, Dr. Joshua Matthews, discusses Mr. Rogers and the recent documentary about him (Won’t You Be My Neighbor) with a critical eye that I’ve not seen elsewhere. It’s worth a read. Here is a taste:

“I couldn’t help thinking about Mr. Rogers the character in today’s terms. If he were on TV here in 2018, would he talk about today’s hard issues on his show? What would Mr. Rogers say to his young viewers about predatory Catholic priests?Would he be so open as to talk about pedophilic school teachers on his show?

“Let’s soften the topics a bit. Would he talk about gay marriage? About what to do if you see a man dressed as a woman in a women’s bathroom?About what it feels like to be called a girl but to feel like a boy?

“The documentary doesn’t address these questions. It remains a mere nostalgic glance back at a more innocent time, one that I think the viewers who have rated it so highly pine for. It offers hope only in a past that is not and may never again be,without the sufficient insight needed to confront the present spirits of our age.”

Everything Is Going to Be Okay

In many movies someone beloved of the hero is attacked or kidnapped or stricken with an illness or marred in an accident. The hero fights his way to the side of this loved one and says to him something akin to, “Everything is going to be alright. I promise.”

The stricken one is comforted by the presence of the hero, and the added promise and assurance allows him to close his eyes and rest.

And I cringe. How is it in the power of the hero to make such a promise?

It’s not and everyone knows it. But the wounded one accepts it, and in fact we accept it for him. We do so because at the deepest part of our being we too want that assurance that everything is going to be all right, and we will accept that assurance however tenuously it comes.

Sometimes we look at our hands, our talents, and our training and we say to them, “Bless me!” We ask them to assure us that by hard work and diligent effort we might craft a guaranteed future. We look to these for blessing, but they can’t give it.

Or we turn our eyes upon our land or our resources, our bank accounts or our retirement fund, and we say, “Bless me!” We ask them to assure us that they will always be there to provide all the pleasure and comfort we crave. We ask them for blessing, but they can’t give it.

Sometimes we look to others – to a loved one, a spouse, or our children, and ask them to always be around and stand with us and hold us up. We say to them, “Bless me!” But they can only care for us so far. They can’t do much when our health fails or age overtakes us. We ask them for blessing, but we ask for more than they can give.

We cast our eyes into the future trying desperately to find some measure by which we can assure that everything will be okay. What we want is for a hero to come alongside us who will say, unbidden, “Everything is going to be alright. I promise.”

God knows this. And through Moses and Aaron, he heaps words one upon another to assure us that blessing is what he intends.

“Thus you shall bless the people of Israel…‘The Lord bless you….’…and I will bless them.”

Number 6:22-27

I cringe at the movies because the one who says everything is going to be okay has no power or position to insure what he has promised. By contrast, when speaking for God a minister speaks to us,

“The Lord bless you and keep you….”

There is no need to cringe, only to close our eyes and rest.

A Lament for Good Pastors

Another pastor friend called me a few months ago to tell me that he was done with being a pastor. He is one of the wisest, gentlest shepherds I know and he is done. The job had taken its toll.

I’m currently aware of three other men, stellar pastors as well, who have no desire to pastor again. All have gladly served churches, loved the people, and faithfully preached God’s word. They would still if they could. But they are weary and they are done.

Something is very wrong with this.

Lynn Johnston

These are good, qualified, called and gifted men. Though like all of us they could do a better job at self care, they all have friends, engage in hobbies, and have sought counseling. Something else is at play. The church itself is driving them away. And that is to be lamented.

President George H. W. Bush was eulogized recently as being both humble and imperfect. As a eulogy that was sweet. But in office, neither attribute was well received. Something similar is true for pastors, and it is crushing. To be humble is great, but one had better be good.

But the pastor can’t be good. Not in everything, which often is the expectation. The pastor is a generalist in the same way that a family doctor is a generalist. No one expects his family doctor to be able to execute a heart transplant or to be able to distinguish a skin cancer from a simple mole. For these things one goes to a specialist. And yet pastors, every one of them, is expected to specialize in preaching, counseling, evangelism, organizational management, conflict resolution, pastoral care, apologetics, hospitality, small group dynamics, financial management and development, and more.

There is room for humility here, but precious little space for imperfection.

Churches alone are not to blame. We pastors are co-conspirators. We tolerate no imperfection in ourselves. An article tells us that we need to be our church’s chief evangelist and we believe it. A speaker challenges us to better management and we embrace the duty. A book says that our people need to see us as their primary counselors, and we set out to fill the role. And on it goes. If we do not live up the bar we or others have set in any one of these areas, we wear heavily the mantle of failure. If our churches don’t grow, if the money does not come in, if the leaders don’t buy into our vision, if we don’t have a list of evangelistic successes, we blame ourselves. We let people down, and we suffer under that realization.

In this culture those sensitive and gentle ones who make the best pastors are often crushed under the pressure and will, if they can, bail.

I have persevered not because I’m better at this job. I have felt the pressure. But I have been blessed to serve two wonderfully patient and accommodating congregations. Too many others not so blessed grow weary and walk away. The church is the poorer as a result.

I was angry at the church when my friend called. Now I’m simply sad, hoping that others will join in my lamentation. Perhaps this will create, in time, the soil out of which a newer and gentler church culture will sprout.

The Sky Is (Always) Falling!

The fearful cries are all around us. “The end of Christianity is imminent! Soon the American church will survive only underground!” “Moral degradation is eroding all decency!” “American freedom will soon be no more than a distant memory.”

Chicken Little
[uncredited image from http://www.terryburnham.com/2016/01/chicken-little-portfolio-performance_29.html]

Or, more succinctly, “The sky is falling.”

The sky, it seems, is always falling. Fear is such a powerful, and useful, motivator.

According to historian John Fea, evangelicals cast their votes in recent elections motivated by fear. More broadly, it is fear that has lead some Christians to make rules (such as “Don’t dance!”) to protect against the possibility of sin. It is fear that leads some to create fortresses or to demonize their neighbors. Fear leads some to be intolerant of those different lest they or their children or their churches be corrupted by those differences. Fear of losing otherwise good things like freedom and money turns these things into idols to be protected at all costs. Fear becomes the leash that a charismatic leader uses to retain access to the contributions and devotion of his followers.

Fear is powerful and ubiquitous. And though it is effectively used by all sides in social and political disputes, I’m concerned most when it is used so effectively among those who have the least cause to fear. And Christians, we have the least cause to fear.

I was reminded that the sky is always falling when I read this paragraph a few months ago.

“America and the rest of Western culture now seem to be more on the edge of dissolution than on the point of renewal.… The situation in this country seems to call for a jeremiad, not a celebration.… Race prejudice, latent under the surface of political campaigns, seems intensified by our very efforts to correct it. The crime rate is outstripping police restraint and turning private surveillance into a growth sector. Pornography and violence fill the media, and a host of other social problems run in counterpoint with an uncertain economy.”

That which could have been written yesterday was actually written in 1975 (by Richard Lovelace in his Dynamics of Spiritual Life.) Lovelace was not panicked or seeking to induce panic. But his observation simply illustrates that the sky that is falling now was falling 40 years ago (and centuries before that as well, in different ways).

To know that the culture can always seem to be in some ways on the verge of collapse should temper our response to the news of the day. Problems have been met before. They will be met again. Fear should not be our guide nor should we follow a leader just because he/she promises to keep the falling sky at bay. Our response to issues, which certainly should be vigorous and based upon an accurate assessment of reality, can afford to be thoughtful because the difficulties are not really new. Panic leads us to be hasty. Christians should not be hasty.

Christians can afford to be un-hasty because they know the one who upholds that falling sky. It is not inconsequential that ‘Do not fear’ is one of the most repeated refrains of the Bible. Preachers should make more of this, and of the power and ways and faithfulness of God, and less of the symptoms of the falling sky. Fear drives us into the arms of the demagogue and the false messiah. Eyes cast upon the living God, on the other hand, grow in confidence and perspective. And courage.

Yes, the sky is probably always falling. But those who “…believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible….” should be the last to be motivated by fear.

To Be Blessed

My cardiologist told me the other day, “It is a privilege to spend time with those who are dying.”

I didn’t think my heart was that bad.

Turns out it isn’t. She was speaking generally about the privilege that she, along with others like nurses and pastors, have in walking with people through some of their darkest times.

It is a privilege. But I get to do more. I get to bless.

At the end of every worship service, I stand in some liturgically significant place and with hands lifted over the congregation, speak words, frequently these:

Artwork by Mary Ann Porter. Used by permission.

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

If we are lucky, we’ve heard these words (taken from Numbers 6) so often that they are like warm bread to us: comforting, familiar, and certain. They have become a part of who we are.

God gave these words to Aaron to be spoken over his people. “Thus you shall bless the people of Israel,” God said. This people, weary of traveling and not yet receiving the things promised them, needed assurances. And so God gave them words of blessing.

But they are not mere words. All the goodness and intention of God lies behind them. When spoken from God to us we are drawn into a reality that is not yet but is nevertheless certain. Our impatience with life invites despair. Things are not the way we long for them to be. We long for life to get better, for the pain to disappear, for the conflict to pass. We grow desperate, perhaps despondent.

And then I or some other pastor stands and speaks these words into our darkness because God blesses his people.

Years ago my wife and I, with a toddler and an infant, sat in a state of desperation. We had moved everything to St. Louis to follow our sense of God’s call to seminary. But I had no job, and we were out of money. We put the kids to bed, sat on the edge of the bed in our apartment and sang a hymn.

“Jesus, I am resting, resting in the joy of what thou art….”

With this hymn we affirmed that we knew

“…thy certainty of promise and have made it mine.”

And we wept.

Yes, we knew the promise, and we wanted to believe its certainty, but we were having trouble making it our own.

Words of blessing like the ones we are here considering are necessary in such times. They serve as a bridge between what we know and yet struggle to make our own. They take the certainty of God’s promise and declare it to be real that we may rest now in what is yet future.

There is power in these words when spoken over the people of God gathered in worship that cannot be fully appreciated in a blog post, or twenty. Nevertheless, I’d like to spend some time teasing out some of this particular benediction’s richness in posts that will appear here every other week so that we might better know the certainty of his promise and make it our own.

Especially in those dark times through which we are each called to walk.

To Paint or Not To Paint, That Is the (Preacher’s) Question

On a recent Monday, several church members were at the church painting the nursery. When I went to get my lunch from the kitchen, one spied me and said, “Hey! Are you coming to join us?”

I mumbled some kind of answer, appealing to being busy, and the like. The essence of my answer was clear: “No.”

He accepted my answer.

“That’s okay,” he said. “I was half-joking.”


I will begin preaching through the book of Ephesians in January. To prepare for this, I’ve spent the past few Monday mornings coming to know Ephesians as best I can. It’s been a rich time in which I easily lose myself.

But some could easily argue that spending time with church members and youth slopping paint around the nursery might be time better spent. It makes sense. There is no better way to build relationships than working side by side with others. And yet, I spent the day in Ephesians. Why?

First, I genuinely believe there is power in the preached word. When Paul in Romans says that “…faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17) he is not suggesting that the Romans download a Bible app that will read the word to them on their daily commute. The word of Christ read and explained in worship promises faith to its hearers. The power is not in me or in any skill I might claim or possess. There is power in the Spirit of God taking the word and doing his work with it. That is not something to trifle with.

But if that is true, then, I must make sure that it is in fact the word of Christ that I preach. I fear, as I think I ought, the prospect of preaching untruth. I approach preaching with James’ caution in mind, that “Not many of you should become teachers…for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1)

It is annoying to think that people don’t listen to my preaching. But it is frightening to think that they do.

To work carefully to ensure that the sermons I preach conform to the word I’m seeking to expound takes time and care. I’ll stumble and I’ll fall and I’ll say foolish and ill-advised things. But I labor against that to speak what is the word of God.

These things together give me hope that the word preached might effect change. John Stott, a British pastor and theologian of the last century, was moved deeply by the powerful picture of a united Christian community that he found in the book of Ephesians. “At the same time,” he lamented, “the realities of lovelessness and sin in so many churches are enough to make one weep, for they dishonour Christ, contradict the nature of the church, and deprive the Christian witness of integrity.” (God’s New Society1979, page 10)

It was by preaching that he hoped to bring to pass the lofty vision of the Bible among a weak and struggling humanity. The word preached has the power to accomplish the change we hope to see in the lives of God’s people.

I believe these things. And so I and many others study when we could paint.

Whether my friend was ‘half’ or ‘fully’ joking, I can’t say. I think it is the latter.

Regardless, I can say with certainty that he and those like him are generally unaware of the important contribution they make to the preaching of the word. When they take up the brush, their pastors can study. And that promises blessing beyond measure.

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