Book Review: Between Two Worlds

My introduction to preaching was a slow one. I began ministry in a volunteer capacity working with military brats whose parents were stationed on our base for varying amounts of time. I certainly did my fair share of preparing lessons to teach, but I rarely called what I was doing preaching. Over the years that followed, my responsibilities expanded, as well as my involvement in the local church, and in time a part time salary. Still, I was not in the habit of preaching. Later, after receiving a bachelor's degree I began vocational ministry with the title: Minister of Worship and Outreach. Here I sparingly began receiving requests to preach from time to time. I was asked to preach in Romania while on a mission trip, asked to preach at a workshop on the topic of “worship wars,” and asked to preach to middle school students meeting on a weekly basis through a program called “Released Time.”

After serving in some ministry capacity in four different churches over thirteen years, I felt God calling me to step out in 2013 and plant a new church in the Buffalo Northtowns called Renewal Church. Things were going well in our pre-launch phase, and I felt quite good about many aspects of the church we were birthing. We seemed to be matching up with a real need in our community, and God seemed to be organizing an ideal core team to fulfill His mission for the zip code. Then we launched.

For launch day, I crafted and preached the very best sermon I possibly could. I worked months on articulating the mission and vision of our church clearly, and did the very best I could to support everything we were doing with substantive scripture, calling the audience to see that we would firmly base each and every move we would make as a leadership team on the authority of God’s Word. I delivered the sermon with all the passion that months, and even years of preparation for that day could muster, and people responded! But then it was over. And it was then that I realized that I would need to deliver another message in just seven days. I was in trouble. You see, up to this point I was communicating publicly to a congregation at best three or four times a year. Now I would be responsible for preaching forty to fifty times a year. The weight of it all was overwhelming. It simply stunned me.

“Preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ is the highest, holiest activity to which a man can give himself: a task which angels might envy and for which archangels might forsake the court of Heaven.” says John Stott in his book Between Two Words: The Challenge of Preaching Today. He quotes Andrew Blackwood saying, “preaching should rank as the noblest work on earth.” As I read these words, I’m reminded of the solemn responsibility it is to step in front of a congregation and proclaim to them the very Word of God. This is tough for me to keep in mind, because much of the hours of the week can be gobbled up by the many other hats a pastor ends up putting on in the days between Sunday gatherings. The leadership hat, the counseling hat, the facilities management hat, the coaching hat, the boss hat, and the musicians hat all find their place on my head from time to time. Yet, there is only one thing I do that separates me from every other organizational leader in my community. As a preacher I have the responsibility, in the present day, to speak for God. John Stott puts it this way: “The Word of God is fundamental to the Christian religion. This emphasis is, moreover, unique to Christianity. Every other religion has accredited teachers, whether Hindu gurus or Jewish rabbis or Muslim mullahs. Yet these instructors in Religion and Ethics, even if endowed with official authority and personal charisma, are essentially the expositors of an ancient tradition. Only Christian preachers claim to be the Heralds of Good News from God, and dare to think of themselves as his ambassadors or representatives to actually utter the Oracles of God.” I’ve learned that preaching is central and distinct to Christianity.

While I have gradually grown more accustomed to the grind of preparing a new sermon every week, I’m reminded by how much time and value in my schedule I should really be putting into meditating on Scripture and praying over every word I share with God’s people. If I am really going to Herald the Good News I must be certain that I am choosing the right text. Then, it is made evident to me that I should be diligent to take great care in how I craft a message. Stott gives a great word picture to describe a sermon’s structure when he says “Just as bones without flesh make a skeleton, so flesh without bones makes a jellyfish. And neither bony skeletons nor jellyfish make good sermons.” To be completely honest and vulnerable, I’m fairly certain many of my sermons could be considered “bony” at times.

When preaching I genuinely love the process of illustrating a text through a personal story, or relevant culture to connect the sermon passage to “real” life. The author puts it this way: “In order to see, we need light. And the world illustrate means to illumine, to throw light or luster on an otherwise dark object.” Practically speaking, this volume on preaching did a great job of casting light on a number of areas I need to improve upon. Namely, being certain that what I have to say each week from the pulpit is exactly what God intends for me to say at that very moment in time. John Stott summed it up for me when he quotes Spurgeon saying: “It were better to speak six words in the power of the Holy Ghost, than to preach seventy years of sermons without the Spirit.” I pray that when I take the pulpit this Sunday I would have more than six words to say… don’t you?


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