What would you say is the most important work of a pastor? Evangelizing? Counseling? Teaching? Preaching? Visiting? Coordinating programs? Officiating weddings and funerals? All of these and more are legitimate duties of pastors, but one of them stands out above them all.
John Broadus once said, “The supreme work of the Christian minister is the work of preaching.” I want to consider whether he is overstating things, or if he is right on the money.
In pastoral ministry, there are countless tasks and work that need to be done. In our culture, preaching is sidelined and belittled by those in favor of increased discussion-oriented church services or impressive performances. They say that lecture-style sermons (the way they see preaching) are ineffective and there needs to be more interaction between pastor and audience. That is why some smaller churches favor small groups over and against preaching, not as a supplement to preaching. In mega-churches, preaching is abandoned for a variety show of theatrics. John Piper refutes both of these when he writes,
“In the small church [preaching] does not become conversation or ‘sharing.’ In the mega-church it does not become hype and jingles. Preaching is worshiping over the Word of God–the text of Scripture–with explanation and exultation” (Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, p. 9).
But is preaching really superior to other pastoral duties? Pastors are expected to fulfill many duties. They are involved in countless programs, ministries, and social justices like feeding the hungry, clothing the needy, visiting the sick, counseling the hurting, along with evangelistic efforts. A pastor, biblically, is an elder or an overseer who is to oversee the local church. This is a broad way of saying that the office of pastor, elder, overseer is daunting. It would not be inappropriate to stop here and pray for your pastor (or just give him a hug).
With all of this in mind, is Broadus correct to say “the supreme work of the Christian minister is the work of preaching?” With all that a pastor does, is preaching really the supreme work? I think Broadus is correct both biblically and practically.
I must agree with John Broadus in his above statement regarding the supremacy of preaching in the work of a Christian minister and I also think Scripture supports this claim in three primary places. Though the minister has many important and vital roles to fill in order to be a faithful under-shepherd to the flock of God, I think that Broadus did not give us an overstatement here.
In Acts 6, the church faced the problem of widows being neglected when food was distributed to the needy. Seven men were chosen to take up this work so that the disciples could devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). The supremacy of preaching the word is seen most clearly in verse two, however, when the disciples based their decision to select the first deacons on the assertion that “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” Preaching took priority over service for the apostles even in these extreme circumstances. Of course, the needs of these widows were not ignored, but this role of service was given to the deacons, because these apostles were not going to abandon the ministry of the word of God. This seems to indicate that preaching is superior to the duty of caring for physical needs.
The truth in his claim can also be seen in 1 Timothy and Titus in the qualifications of elders. An elder must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2) and “able to give instruction in sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9). Only elders are given these qualifications and because of this it is the highest work of a minister to feed the flock that has been entrusted to him.
Practical and Logical Evidence
There is nothing in Broadus’ statement that belittles the other responsibilities of a pastor. He rather elevates the role of preaching and puts in it in the place the Bible seems to place it. Without the preaching of the word of God, which is God’s primary means of communicating to his people, all other ministries lose their value. Ministries of love and care of those in need as well as all evangelistic efforts result from faithful expositors preaching the glorious truth of God’s word. Saving faith and sanctification are non-existent without the preaching of God’s word.
All in all, both practically and biblically, it seems evident that John Broadus was right on the money when he placed preaching at the pinnacle of the pastor’s duties. And both pastor and congregation should be glad when this is the case.
Let Your Pastor Preach
So, how are you and I as laypeople to respond to this?
1. Rejoice in your pastor. Rejoice when your pastor puts preaching in a position of superiority. Do not grumble when your pastor cannot meet with you or serve you because he is studying the Word and preparing a sermon. Rather, rejoice that your pastor loves the glory of God and you enough to give himself to understand a text in order to expose what the biblical authors meant in their writings. Rejoice that your pastor is preparing to present a feast for your soul. Instead of grumbling, prepare your soul to come and be fed. The preaching of the word is a tremendous means of grace for your sanctification.
2. Pray for your pastor. When Charles Spurgeon visited the United States, he was asked about the secret of his ministry. Spurgeon paused and then responded, “My people pray for me.” We stated it earlier, the work of a pastor is daunting. Pray that he would cling to Christ. Pray that he would cling to Christ for help and for forgiveness. Realize that your pastor is human and at times he may emphasize certain duties over others that may have more importance. If your pastor does not agree with John Broadus’ claim that preaching is superior to all other pastoral works, do not run to him and condemn him for failing you and the church. Rather, pray for him. Pray that he would see the sufficiency of the Bible and realize its power to save sinners and sanctify saints.
More than ever I believe in preaching as a part of worship in the gathered church. Preaching is worship, and it belongs in the regular worship life of the church no matter the size of the church…People are starving for the greatness of God…Preaching that does not have the aroma of God’s greatness may entertain for a season, but it will not touch the hidden cry of the soul: ‘Show me thy glory!’ —John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, pp. 9, 13