No Higher Privilege!

by D. Max Whitfield on Thursday, August 25, 2016

Preaching is the greatest honor bestowed upon a clergyperson.  It is the opportunity to proclaim the fantastic good news of salvation and new life in Jesus Christ.  Karl Barth captures the essence of preaching when he wrote that it is the preacher’s duty to proclaim to people what God has to say to the community of faith, by explaining, in the preacher’s own words, a passage from Scripture that concerns them personally.[1]  What could be more auspicious than to assert that one is proclaiming what God has to say to a community gathered for worship?  It causes faithful preachers to enter the pulpit with fear and trembling.

Ronald Sleeth often declared to his students in a preaching class, “I do not expect you to become great preachers.  I do expect you to be faithful preachers.”[2]  Sleeth advocated moving from seeking popularity, eloquence, or great oratory to a humble proclamation that flows from the heart of God.

Preaching with faithfulness requires serious pondering, if not scholarly study of the Scripture to comprehend not just the words of the Bible, but instead requires one to live with passages of scripture for many hours.  The preacher must strive to experience the Scripture as one of those receiving the message for the first time and then seeks to discover how individuals and communities heard, understood, and appropriated this message through the centuries.  This moves from the preacher seeking to interpret the Scripture to comprehending God’s message under various conditions and circumstances.  The Scripture then becomes a living document with the Eternal God continuing to speak to individuals, communities, and nations.  Scripture resonates a message from the One who not only created the world but also continues to interact with the creatures God created.

Faithful preaching delves into and recognizes the experiences of people—joys, concerns, ethical decisions, frustrations, and spiritual longings of individuals–both inside and outside the Church.  One cannot faithfully preach without deep personal relationships with people and their community.  The experiences of the community and its various members create a dialogical conversation with God when faithful preaching occurs.

Faithful preaching creates a climate that both intimidates and exhilarates the preacher.  For any preacher to proclaim, “this is the word of the Lord”, should produce a feeling of profound personal intimidation.  Only the egomaniac can make such statements without fear and trembling.  At the same time, can one imagine a more exhilarating experience than being entrusted with a message from God to the very people God created?  Therefore, the call for faithful preaching is one of the most exciting challenges one can undertake.

D. Max Whitfield

Bishop in Residence

Perkins School of Theology

Bishop Whitfield

[1] My paraphrase, Karl Barth, The Preaching of the Gospel, Philadelphia:  The Westminster Press, 1963, P. 9.

[2] My recall from being a student in his preaching classes.



Photo by Leandro Cavinatto from FreeImages

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