Piper on Preaching
Preaching is defined not by those who listen, but by the One who calls us to preach. Eugene Peterson said in an interview the following:
You have to go back a step and ask, “Why am I a pastor? What is my primary responsibility to this congregation?”The most important thing a pastor does is stand in a pulpit every Sunday and say, “Let us worship God.” If that ceases to be the primary thing I do in terms of my energy, my imagination, and the way I structure my life, then I no longer function as a pastor. I pick up some other identity. I cannot fail to call the congregation to worship God, to listen to his Word, to offer themselves to God. Worship becomes a place where we have our lives redefined for us. If we’re no longer operating out of that redefinition, the pastoral job is hopeless. Or if not hopeless, it becomes a defection. We join the enemy. We’ve quit our basic work.
Peterson goes on to say: (The questions in boldface are asked by the interviewer. Part 2.)
Most pastors I know would say that worship is critical and Sunday is very important to them. How could they begin to move away from that?
The defection starts subtly in what you do when people are not asking you to do anything. After three or four years in ministry, you realize that nobody is asking you to pray, and they are asking you to do a lot of other things, so prayer starts to erode.
Then study starts to erode. You cannot go to a pulpit week after week and preach truth accurately without constant study. Our minds blur on us, and we need that constant sharpening of our minds. And without study, without the use of our mind in a disciplined way, we are sitting ducks for the culture. This culture is an evil culture. This culture is the enemy. Through the media, through friends, through conversations we’re constantly fed lies, and like most lies, they’re 90 percent the truth. So you swallow the lie, and subtly, the edge of the gospel is blunted; you think you’re preaching the gospel, and you’re not. You don’t even know it.
So the first task in providing pastoral care is to pray and to study the Word
Who’s going to do that except the pastor? People in the congregation are busy in their jobs, reading their periodicals and attending their conferences. It’s my job to be suspicious of the culture. I’m not a culture critic, but to be a pastor, I cannot be seduced by the world. This becomes increasingly difficult in this so-called postmodern time. If you’re not sharp, you’re on the Devil’s side without knowing it.
A student was telling me he saw a video on Michael Jordan. He said, “Michael Jordan looks so lazy. He looks like he’s not doing anything. Then suddenly, he’s through three people, and he’s slam-dunking the ball.” As a pastor, how do you slip through the opposition and make your point? You do it by being lazy—or what looks like being lazy—sitting in your study for half a day reading a book that doesn’t have anything to do with your sermon. As a pastor I’ve got a responsibility to be alert to my culture so that my congregation is not seduced. If I don’t do it, nobody will.
Most congregations don’t think they’re paying pastors to do that.
That’s true. But they’re not the ones who give me my job description. I get my job description from the Scriptures, from my ordination vows. If I let the congregation decide what I’m going to do, I’m as bad as a doctor who prescribes drugs on request. Medical societies throw out doctors for doing that kind of thing; we need theological societies to throw out pastors for doing the same thing. And if you give up prayer and study, you will soon give up the third area: people.
Now here is Piper on that subject of preaching and the church.
Here’s the written version of Piper’s words in part:
Preaching is not the totality of the church. And if all you have is preaching, you don’t have the church. A church is a body of people who minister to each other.
One of the purposes of preaching is to equip us for that and inspire us to love each other better.
But God has created the church so that she flourishes through preaching. That’s why Paul gave young pastor Timothy one of the most serious, exalted charges in all the Bible in 2 Timothy 4:1-2:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word.
That’s the call. That is preaching.