By Dr. Donald J. Roth
After leaving a growing and a busy suburban church ministry just outside Vancouver, my wife and I committed ourselves to Transitional Ministry and to coaching and mentoring younger Pastors. Years of ministry as a Senior Pastor helped in the preparation for this ministry, however specific training in Transitional Ministry was provided through Transitional Ministry Institute, a division of Outreach Canada.
The Transitional Minister does not assume a diminished role in the Church. He is a Pastor, and a Preacher. Peter Marshal, in his memorable sermon The Tap on the Shoulder, said,“God calls men to preach. How did preaching arise in the first place? By what right does a man stand before his fellows, Bible in hand, and claim their attention? Not because he is better than they are…not because he has attended a theological seminary and studied Hebrew…Greek…and Theology…primarily because God has whispered to him in the ear and conscripted him for the glorious company of those voices crying in the wilderness of life.”
The Transitional Minister has a unique role in the church and preaching is still the vehicle that God has chosen to water the parched human wilderness of post modern life.
THE TASK OF PREACHING
Often when a preacher is asked to speak or write on preaching, he addresses methodology and the techniques of creating a sermon. Unless I am mistaken, the readers of this article are mature ministers of the Gospel who have mastered the art of preaching, at least to some degree. Perhaps an encouragement to continue Biblical preaching addresses more the need of our day.
The mood of our day is expressed by a preacher, who has aimed his ministry to the baby boomer demographic, when he says:
-“Limit your preaching to roughly 20 minutes…and don’t forget to keep your messages light and informal, liberally sprinkling them with humor and personal anecdotes”.
The comments on a Church web site chat room called Living Room – A Space for Life, reveals the level to which preaching has fallen by some congregants,
-“We don’t do preaching although we have a key leader prepare and facilitate a discussion or lead a meditation or whatever.”
-“We have hardly had any preaching at Grace for the last 3 years – haven’t missed it!”
Others are challenging the continuation of a preaching medium which has been in their opinion, antiquated by television and a visual agenda of drama, seeker sensitive entertainment, and emotionally oriented sermonettes.
It is clear that with these sentiments the historical biblical mandate found in Acts 2:42 is no longer considered the final authority for what the church should do when it meets: namely, teaching the apostles’ doctrine, enjoying fellowship together, prayer and celebrating the Lord’s Table.
Since the time of the Reformation the Protestant Church has placed a high premium on preaching. Not so in many churches today. Biblical Preaching is under fire in many churches that call themselves evangelical. The Transitional Preacher is going to minister in some of these churches with people and even church leadership, who prefer to hear a humorous story – laden anecdotal talk, or preaching “McLite” as someone has called them.
The role of the Transitional Pastor precludes making any major changes in the church. This should be left to the new Pastor. However when it comes to the preaching ministry, the ball stops with him, as to what happens in the pulpit while he is there. In some cases it may be his preaching that God uses to gather and perfect His elect (I Thessalonians 2:13; I Corinthians 1:2). However the church can not respond without hearing doctrinal messages of repentance and grace, and they can not hear it without a (Transition) Preacher (Romans 10:14&15).
A BIBLICAL RATIONALE FOR PREACHING
Preaching is politically incorrect in our secular egalitarian culture. But preaching was difficult in Paul’s day as well. Paul foresaw a time when bold preaching would not be tolerated and when people would deliberately turn away from the truth (II Timothy 4:3-4). The advice he gave to Timothy he gives to the Transition Pastor:
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (II Timothy 4: 1-5)
In these five verses Paul gives Timothy and the Transition Preacher advice for his preaching ministry.
PREACH TO AN AUDIENCE OF ONE (II Tim. 4:1)
Paul simply states that the preacher is to remember that he is preaching in the presence of God – to an audience of one. The Transition Preacher will be called to give account before God. At the time of his eternal judgment, he will not be judged by the church congregation who endorsed a “sermon lite” approach to ministry, he will be judged by God for his faithful proclamation of the Word.
PREACH THE WORD (II Tim. 41a)
The Transition Preacher should not look for accolades. Paul instructed Timothy that he was to preach only one message: the Word – Scripture. He also told him that his faithful preaching of the Word would bring persecution (3:12). It is a reminder that preaching a Biblical message from the pulpit each Sunday is no place for a man who is fearful of hostility, criticism or rejection.
KEEP PREACHING AS THE FADS CHANGE (II Tim. 4: 2a)
We live in a day when large powerful secular publishers control what is marketed to the church in North America. The growing Christian entertainment and publishing industry is a 3 billion dollar market and the ring of cash registers is so loud that major secular companies such as Warner Books, Sony and Universal have started church related divisions. If you don’t think this reality doesn’t affect the biblical mandate for the Church, think again! Conferences and seminars abound showcasing the changing fads on how to market the Gospel and “do Church”. Paul instructed Timothy to preach the Word whether preaching was popular or not – in season and out of season. Preaching is out of season today, but it is still the chief means of grace and should occupy the central place in the Transitional Preacher’s ministry.
KEEP THE PREACHING BALANCED (II Tim. 4:2b)
The Transitional Preacher must seek to include these elements: reproof, rebuke, and exhortation. Notice the balance, correction of wrong behavior (the first two) and by contrast, exhortation, (the last one) which is positive and encouraging. His ultimate aim must be the balance of edification, encouragement and correction “with great patience and instruction” and might I also say with Pastoral love.
PREACH THE WORD EVEN IN DIFFICULT TIMES (II Tim. 4:3&4)
Paul says the time will come when the church will turn away from sound doctrine and embrace man centered doctrines. Elmer Towns has written:
“Formerly, a doctrinal statement represented the reason for a denomination’s existence. Today, methodology is the glue that holds churches together. A statement of ministry defines them and their denominational existence.”
The Transitional Preacher must help ground the church in Biblical doctrine by preaching solid doctrinal messages and avoiding the temptation to tickle the pallets of those who prefer a methodology that feeds on spiritual junk food.
A FEW LAST WORDS (II Tim. 4:5)
Here Paul was encouraging Timothy to “be sober in all things”. He was urging him to mature into a steady, grounded and serious – minded minister of the Gospel. He also identified “hardship” as an inevitable consequence of being a faithful Preacher of the Gospel. The stress of the preaching ministry must be endured and embraced as part of the call to ministry, as is the work of evangelism. Paul concludes with a charge to “Fulfill your ministry” meaning “to carry it out fully”
The same challenge confronts the Transitional Preacher today. He must demonstrate maturity, endure hardship and fulfill his ministry by faithfully and boldly bringing to the pulpit the Word of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I conclude with part of a note I wrote to a young pastor I am presently mentoring:
…”you are entering an era when preaching has turned into little more than gentle little homilies that benefit no one and make no difference to eternity. You have a whole life of ministry ahead of you. If you decide to preach the whole counsel of God, you will be unique and God will bless you”.
Transitional Preacher you have a whole Transitional Ministry ahead of you. It has the potential to make a difference for eternity - how will you preach?
Upon graduation from Dallas Seminary, Don was called to be the Senior Pastor at Langley Evangelical Free Church, in Langley, British Columbia. He served there for more than thirteen years, and during that time the church had continued growth and the church staff grew to eight people. God blessed in many ways. After his time at Langley was completed, Don began a coaching and mentoring ministry at Tri-Cities International Community Church in Coquitlam, British Columbia and then began a similar ministry at Global Community Church, a multi – cultural church in Vancouver, B.C. He presently serves there as the Transitional Pastor.
Don has served for many years on the Advisory Board of Cedar Springs Christian retreat center in Sumas, Washington which ministers to Christian leadership and pastors. He also serves on the Advisory Board of Transitional Leadership Ministries, a division of Outreach Canada
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