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First Things First!

Over the past two months I have been leading a training session for some pastors in Uganda. I have enjoyed this for a variety of reasons.

I love their enthusiasm. It is lovely to hear them greet me and each other with the words: “Praise the Lord!” I don’t think I have had such a lively chat feed on Zoom calls before.

I also appreciate their seriousness. They are honest about their concern that much of the teaching they hear is based on substitute for the gospel. They are concerned about false teaching and are keen to focus of true truth.

I admire their persistence. Getting connected to the internet can be a problem in the UK (think of the existential crisis last week when Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram were simultaneously offline for several hours). I saw someone post on Twitter than they had be driven to reading a book!), it is even more of a problem in Africa, where even heavy rain can disrupt the internet connection.

We have been looking at the task of preaching from 2 Timothy. Each of its four chapters contains directions on preaching.

2 Timothy is one of the three Pastoral Letters, the others being 1 Timothy and Titus.

These represent Paul’s final message of wisdom to the second generation of gospel ministers.

That famous African preacher, Augustine, in one of the first, and possibly the best manuals on preaching, describes the importance of these Pastoral Letters:

“…three letters of the apostle… which everyone charged with the role of teacher in the church ought always to have before his eyes.”

(Augustine in De Doctrina Christiana/On Christian Teaching).

As a teacher of preachers, I find myself drawn back again and again to the wisdom contained in these letters.

2 Timothy contains, what I regard as the seminal statement about preaching:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2).

One commentator on this passage writes:

“Preaching is the central and most important single act of ministry, and it governs everything else. If it is weak, the church is weak. If it is marginalized, the church suffers the consequences. There is no substitute for it, and nothing must be allowed to upstage it.” (Gerald Bray)

This are bold claims, but I think that they are right on the money. Throughout the centuries perhaps more has been achieved through faithful, imaginative sermons than anything else that we do in corporate worship. Sermons do not stand on their own. They are jewels that shine best when set in the context of a worshipping community, praising with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, praying bolding and living out what is heard.

Whatever our view of the place of the sermon, I think we can all agree that no one benefits from weak preaching, apart from Satan who laughs when the word is marginalised.

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