Preaching is not intended to be a virtuoso solo performance. All sermons should be well populated.
I was reminded of this last weekend as a took part in the graduation and 30th Anniversary celebrations at the Latvian Biblical Centre. It was great to see so many people who in one way or another had been part of the LBC story.
There were students who had taken on board lessons learned in the classroom and are now sharing the gospel, preaching the word, offering wise counsel, and leading and serving churches. There were interpreters who skilfully turned my English into Latvian and Russian. It took me a while to realise that the point of connection with most of the students came not when I was speaking but when the interpreter carried my words to the hearers. After that I tried to maintain eye contact throughout the whole communication process.
It was also good to hear contributions from LBC directors, past and present, and other staff members. Creating the right environment for people to listen, learn and develop requires lots of time, planning and skill.
This graduation was the last one for our Academic Dean, Ester Petrenko. She has played such a vital role in shaping the courses at LBC and in developing good relationships with students, sending churches and their leaders. They say that “it takes a village to raise a child.”
It is difficult to separate out the individual strands that make up the strong communicational cord that links teacher and student or preacher and hearer.
The celebration day was full of stories and memories shared within a unique web of relationships.
When Paul speaks to his apprentice Timothy he urges him to carry on the task of communicating God’s word to a new generation. What strikes me is how deeply relational this exhortation is.
“You however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings — what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” (2 Timothy 3:10–11)
Paul’s communication to Timothy came through an elaborate matrix of shared memories, stories and relationships. The true Christian teacher or preacher pours out their life as they preach and interact with their congregations.
Some questions for preachers:
Are you more than an anonymous speaker who communicates at a distance?
How do you go about getting to know the people to whom you preach week by week?
Do the people in the congregation know the real you? Or do you remain a distant enigmatic mystery to them?
What is clear is that the New Testament is full of people.
Jesus draws attention to individuals in the crowd, making personal connections with them.
Paul in his letters greets dozens of people who are part of his life and ministry.
People matter to the preacher because people matter to God.
How precious it is to see the scattered words that we have spoken taking root in people’s lives. We scattered seeds and now well-rooted and abundantly fruitful trees have emerged.
This is part of the joyful romance and solemn responsibility of preaching.