(The previous post in this series may be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/encouragements-of-the-christian-ministry-bridges-1/)
The pastor of a congregation can hinder and even hurt his congregation by too small a store from which to feed the people. A fault all too common in many congregations is that the preacher is a man who knows how to point people to do the entrance of the Lord’s pasture; but, he cannot lead in his Master’s ways after they come to the pasture:
Yet the Scripture, in its comprehensive extent, is given for a variety of important purposes, and for this express intent; “that the man,” or the Minister, “of God” (who seems to be chiefly meant) “might be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” The solid establishment of the people may be materially hindered by the minister’s contracted statement, confined interpretations, or misdirected application of Scripture. His furniture for his work must therefore include a store of knowledge far beyond a bare sufficiency for personal salvation. “The priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for He is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.” He must be the ” householder—instructed unto the kingdom of heaven — which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.”
Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry. Such men can be recognized both from the content of their sermons and life of the congregation.
In terms of teaching, such men have a bag of Christian propositions which they have gathered. They read the text, pick out a word which has some correlation to their bag of propositions and then batter the text in a shotgun wedding to the proposition.
A second sort, more sophisticated, if you will; but no more helpful than the first have gathered a bag of “points” from a commentary or two — perhaps from another’s sermons. They spill these points out onto the table and call it a sermon. I heard Paul Tripp recently warn “preachers” against trying to pass such a mess off as a sermon. He used the illustration of ingredients and a meal. You would not think well of a host who gave you a stick of butter, a spoonful of salt and a pile of cornmeal — but you would be pleased with a piece of cornbread.
Both sorts of men wound the congregation by passing off their sermons as the pure spiritual milk (1 Peter 2:2) when it reality then are feeding them more on the illusion than the substance. The first sort of sermons are pure junkfood. The second sort of sermons are those junk food snacks which are packaged as “healthy” but when you read the label you realize your “health chips” are as useless as “junk chips”.
You see the effects of such sermons on the people: few show any spiritual growth — and they don’t know better. Those who perhaps have grown further find themselves looking to other pastures for food.
What then is the remedy for such poor shepherds? Bridges explains that a helpful minister will known the Scripture, will know human beings, and will know how the Scripture helpfully and truly intersects with the human heart. This will first require the pastor to have been transformed by the text he will teach. He must study, meditate and pray over his text until he is deeply worked up by the Word and Spirit. Thereafter, he must consider carefully how this would do good to others.
The preacher must not only know human beings as a whole, but he must know the particular persons in his own congregation. He must fit his text to all the persons who will hear his sermon. I recall my professors showing how Shakespeare matched his plays for the groundlings and the Cambridge graduates who came to the same play.
Thus, as “Stewards of the mysteries, and rulers over the household,” of God, we distribute the stores of provision to every member of the household, suited to their several wants, and answering to their Master’s wise and gracious will. Thus we take account of their individual state—the strength and exercise of their spiritual capacities—the kind of food, which they severally require for the nourishment of the Divine life, according to their infantine, growing, or adult state—their special hindrances or advantages—their advance, apparently stationary condition, or visible decay in the ways of God. The treatment of these several individualities demands a deep and well-digested acquaintance with the methods of Divine grace, in order to administer a seasonable and effective distribution of the word.
Now if my professors from 30 years past and Shakespeare from hundreds can still teach and charm me, shouldn’t a pastor who claims to unfold the oracles of the true God be willing and able to affect me far more profoundly?