Is Preaching Headless?

I wrote an article on preaching the other day. After finishing the last sentence I did what most of us bloggers do—I went searching for a picture to attach to the article. I went to my Google machine and searched the images for preaching. Though I’ve done this search numerous times, I noticed something on this I’d never noticed before. Most of the pictures were headless. Just a few arms holding a book and gesturing with their hands.

I thought to myself, “Wow, Google gets something that we preachers often fail to recognize—preaching isn’t about the preacher it’s about the book he is holding in his hands.” But then I paused for a moment and wondered whether or not this is actually a biblical concept. Is preaching headless?

Is Preaching Headless?

My mind immediately went to Paul’s discussion of his ministry in his various letters. He didn’t seem to be headless. On more than one occasion he encouraged his readers to imitate him. That isn’t . To the Thessalonians he said, “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves…” That certainly isn’t without a face. Furthermore, Paul told his young protégés Timothy and Titus to not only watch out for their doctrine but also their lifestyle. If the preacher is just a headless entity expositing a book then his lifestyle doesn’t matter. The preacher is more than a mouthpiece.

There is also something to be said about personality and giftedness. There is a reason why in the qualifications for elders we read “able to teach”. Some aren’t gifted for standing in front of a congregation and expositing God’s Word. You need to be called by God and gifted for that work. There really is a personality to preaching. When I go to Together for the Gospel most of the guys on the stage belief about the same exact thing about the text—but their delivery is wildly different. Piper isn’t MacArthur. In one sense it is absolutely impossible for preaching to be faceless.

But…

I’m convinced James Denney was also correct when he said, “No man can give at one and the same time the impression that he himself is clever and that Jesus Christ is mighty to save.” We don’t need more personality and celebrity in the pulpit we need less. The best ministries are the ones in which the word of God is the only celebrity. Pastors are mere men, disciples like the rest of the congregation. The sooner we realize this the better.

I say something every Sunday as a reminder to myself and to the congregation. I spend a bit of time introducing the scripture passage and then I encourage the congregation to stand. As they stand I explain the reason. And I end by saying something like, “because we believe this is God’s infallible word spoken to us these will be the most important words you hear out of my mouth this morning”. My job is to exposit that word and to say, “Thus says the Lord…” That is where every ounce of my authority comes from. So in that regard preaching is indeed headless.

We do best when we follow in the footsteps of those like Robert Murray McCheyne who said, “perish my honor”. Or to heed the counsel of Martin Lloyd-Jones:

‘What is the rule then? It is: be natural; forget yourself; be so absorbed in what you are doing and in the realisation of the presence of God … that you forget yourself completely. That is the right condition. That is the only place of safety. That is the only way in which you can honour God. Self is the greatest enemy of the preacher, more so than in the case of any other man in society. And the only way to deal with self is to be so taken up with, and so enraptured by the glory of what you are doing, that you forget yourself altogether.’  (Preaching and Preachers, 264)

I realize the irony in quoting men to make the point that preaching is headless. That really shows the difficulty of this whole thing. In one sense we’re absolute fools to not pursue being headless preachers, but in another sense we’re foolish if we think that we can and should be headless. So what’s my answer?

Conclusion:

We should be mostly headless preachers but not headless pastors. The pastor steps into the pulpit and somewhere along the way there is a moment when he exponentially decreases while the Word increases. It’s those sweet moments when not only the preacher forgets himself but so does the congregation. In those moments the headless pastor gets replaced by the churches true Head.

This isn’t perfect, because the Word is always the celebrity whether in the pulpit or not. But it serves as a reminder to me that the most public moment of my ministry is meant to be headless, the whole time I’m meant to be pointing to another. And it also serves to remind me that even though my task is still the same (pointing to another) our people don’t need an unknown preacher-dude theologizing over their dead family member. They need a face.

It’s maybe a bit overly simplistic but for the most part preaching should be headless but pastoring shouldn’t. (And if you do a google image search for pastor I think you’ll see that Google agrees). 

Photo source: here

Pray With Your Spouse-Day Thirty-One

Day Thirty-One: Endurance

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, –Romans 15:5

This is our prayer for you. I pray that you would continue to pray together as a couple. Furthermore, I pray that you would encourage other couples to take this challenge and pray with their spouse. As you do this I pray that the God of endurance and encouragement would cause you to endure in your relationship with one another. I hope that you have grown in the Lord this month and that you have been encouraged. May Christ be glorified as you continue to love your spouse through praying together.

Lord, thank you for all those that have prayed with their spouse. I pray that they would continue. Help us continue praying together as well. Cause us to endure in this great endeavor. May Christ be glorified through us. Transform our marriages for His name. Use us as living examples of your love for your church. Amen.

Pray With Your spouse: Day Thirty

Day 30: Grow in Grace

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. –2 Peter 3:18

The alternative to the but in this verse is found in 2 Peter 3:17. There we are encouraged to not listen to the Scripture twisters who will carry us into error. This will cause us to lose our stability. Rightly handling God’s word is the way that we “grow in grace and knowledge of Christ”. This in turn will give us homes of stability. But God’s Word is sometimes difficult to understand, so we have to pray for the Spirit to illumine God’s Word to us. Our home will either be saturated by grace or filled with error. With the internet, social media, television, and endless streaming we have many avenues within our own homes to saturate us with error. Let us pray today that God will give us the grace to sift through the smut and to be anchored in His Word.

Father, we are desperate for you to keep us from the error we are so prone to follow. You have given us hearts which long for the truth, help us listen to you and trust your ways over our own wisdom. Give us the strength to turn off sources of error that permeate our home. Give us homes saturated with grace and growing in the knowledge of Christ. Amen.

Read This! 03.28.17

Resist the Internet

Ross Douthat makes a compelling case for a sort of internet temperance movement.

How Steven Curtis Chapman Played ‘Cinderella’ Again

Oh wow, powerful and painful stuff.

Is It True That Jesus Wasn’t Political?

I like how Bruce Ashford answers this one.

9 Things Great About Facebook

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Making a Pastoral Apology

This is short, sweet, and helpful.

Moral Relativism is Dead

An interesting take on the ‘good news’ of our outrage culture.

The Gathering Storm

When Dr. Mohler writes on this topic we do well to listen.

8 Ways God Turns Temptations into Blessings

We don’t usually think this way, I appreciate this.

I love Rhett and Link, I’m happy to hear that Ear Biscuits is back (and in video form):