I was going through some old papers yesterday and found this quote that I had written down a while back:
“There may well be many in the congregation whose faith is richer, more mature, and more tested than the preacher’s. In addition, there will probably be people in the congregation who have more education or more common sense, who have a firmer grasp of human nature, or maybe even know more Bible and theology than does the preacher. To call the preacher an authority does not mean that the preacher is wiser than others. What it does mean is that the preacher is the one whom the congregation sends on their behalf, week after week to the scripture.” (The Witness Of Preaching by Thomas J. Long)
What a great reminder to those who preach and those who listen! Too often, we assume that to preach, a person must be the smartest, wisest, most theologically advanced person in the room. The problem with that point of view is that it is often not true and can lead to arrogance on both the part of the preacher and of the listener. Arrogance in the preacher, if he assumes that this is true; arrogance in the listener, when he feels that he has a deeper understanding of a passage or is more theologically advanced than the preacher.
I once heard Steven Furtick say “How you perceive someone determines how you receive them.” He was talking about our attitude toward people in general, but that statement is true of the preacher/listener dynamic as well. When a preacher gets up to preach, we tend to make certain assumptions based on how he is dressed, how he speaks, and what we think we know about him. The problem with this is that our preconceived notions about a person can often prevent us from hearing from God. What we think about a person does not limit their ability to effectively communicate spiritual truth to people – it limits our ability to receive and understand spiritual truths from God.
How many times have we missed out on something that God was trying to say to us because of our attitude toward or false assumptions about the person God was using to communicate that message? Who are we to say who God can or can’t use to speak through? Often times, we miss what God is trying to tell us because we think too much of ourselves or too little of the person God is speaking through.
Instead of judging what a person says based on who we think they are and what we think we know about them, remember that because of who He is and what He knows about a person, God will use anyone he sees fit to communicate the message that He wants people to hear. If you believe that God can use you and speak through you…He can use anyone. You and I are no better and no more worthy of being used by God than anyone else. We are all broken, sinful, messed up people who God uses not because of who we are or what we’ve done, but in spite of who we are and what we’ve done.
If you are the one preaching, this should be especially encouraging for you. Forget about how much you think you don’t know. Stop focusing on how many people you are speaking to that are smarter, deeper, or more spiritual than you are. It’s not that there aren’t people in the crowd that are smarter or deeper than you are – it’s that there are almost always going to be people in the crowd that are smarter or deeper than you. But they are not the one that God is using to speak through…YOU ARE. Sure, God can use those people to reach who he wants them to reach, but you are the one He has chosen to speak through to the church you are leading. And you are the one your church has chosen to represent them before God in study and to communicate the message that God wants your church to hear.
Whether you are speaking or listening, don’t let what you think you know about other people be a hindrance to the effective communication or reception of God’s message to His people – the message is more important than the messenger.