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Mohler to pastors: Preach rather than ‘wait on tables’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Pastors are pressured on all sides to more effectively “wait on tables” when they should be preaching, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told students and about 200 pastors attending Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s second annual Pastor Appreciation Day Oct. 15, in Louisville, Ky.
“One of our central concerns as a seminary is the condition of the pulpit in America today,” Mohler said. “Our concern is that preaching itself is being relegated to a marginal activity in many churches. … What is lacking is the ministry of the Word.”
Referring to Acts 6 — where the apostles refused to trade the teaching of the Word for the distribution of food — Mohler said the passage should forcefully remind pastors of the centrality of the Bible in their ministries. The care for the widows was itself a “tangible manifestation of the preaching of the Word,” but the apostles understood that “waiting tables” was not their ultimate priority.
Mohler lamented the amount of materials directed to pastors today is all too often about “how to wait on tables: how to wait on tables faster; how to wait on even more tables; what to put on the table; how to arrange how the table should be set; how to have a seeker-sensitive table. It is all about table after table after table.”
Confusion also reigns in some circles as to what preaching actually is, Mohler continued. He pointed to those who argue that the preacher is to gauge the needs of the congregation and then “hopefully we can find something in Scripture that we can paste on as an answer to that.”
The denigration of preaching can be seen also in the reclassification of the pastor’s role: from biblical expositor to organization manager. This perspective has infected both the pulpit and the pews. “It is indeed administrative technique that is the measure of many ministers today,” he said. If you do not believe that, “just talk to a pulpit committee.”
This perspective results in pastors who have keenly honed managerial and relational skills but who do not understand they have been called, ultimately, to preach the Bible. “The inevitable result is that preaching takes a very low priority,” Mohler said. “And that is demonstrated in the theological immaturity, in the biblical illiteracy, in the spiritual weakness of Christians today and of our churches at large.”
Preachers must reclaim the idea that to step into the pulpit is to speak the very revelation of God. “How dare we speak on God’s behalf a word he has not spoken?” Mohler asked.
Saying that statistical growth is not a valid measure of a church’s spiritual health, Mohler asserted, “We seem at the end of the 20th century to have lost the distinction between a crowd and a church. If the preaching of the Word does not take place, call it what you will, name it what you may, put whatever symbol on the top; it is not a church.”
Preachers must avoid repackaging worldly wisdom in the guise of religious speech, he said. “Our preaching must begin with the fundamental confession that we have nothing to say except what God has revealed.
“If it is not biblical preaching,” he concluded, “it is not Christian preaching. … We dare not preach Christ as the answer to our perceived needs for a friend, for comfort, for self-esteem, as the answer to our problem of anxiety.
“How dare we think that merely preaching the Word is going to address this generation?” he asked. “Well, brothers, how dare we think anything else would?”

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  • Russell D. Moore