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Preaching the Word, reaching the world: pillars of ministry, Merritt declares

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–“Preaching the word and reaching the world” is “the heart and vision and desire” of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s new president, R. Philip Roberts, said Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt as he preached at the Kansas City, Mo., campus Feb. 13.

Merritt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church, Snellville, cited two pillars of ministry found in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, referring to biblical exposition and personal evangelism. Explaining how the apostle Paul’s instructions to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 apply to church leaders, Merritt urged ministerial students to preach the Word of God and not get away from exposition and personal evangelism.

“I am watching a generation of preachers who are getting away from those two things,” said Merritt, cautioning seminarians to not worry about what others say about their 21st-century ministry. “The only thing that matters is, what does God think about your ministry?” Getting back to the basics means preaching the word confidently, Merritt said, noting that Paul’s instruction to Timothy makes it very clear.

“How to preach — preach it confidently. [Paul] said to preach the Word, not book reviews, not economics, not philosophy, not the latest religious fad, … preach the word, preach the Scripture, preach the Bible, preach the whole counsel of God.”

Merritt said too often people start with the needs of man, instead of addressing the needs outlined in the first eight chapters in Romans: man as a lost sinner, repentance and receiving Jesus Christ for salvation.

“The Bible was not written primarily to address felt needs; it was written to address unfelt needs,” Merritt said. “Just preach this Book and if you do you will not only meet every felt need, you will uncover needs they didn’t know they had.”

Preaching the word expositorily, verse by verse, does not mean relegating it “to the backburner of a Wednesday night service out of deference to people who are lost.” He said the Bible “is still a fire that can melt the coldest heart, a sword that can cut the hardest soul and a lamp that can enlighten the darkest mind.”

To preach the Word compellingly, convincingly and constructively were also part of Paul’s instruction to Timothy as well, Merritt said. Just like a soldier who is ready to go into battle at a moment’s notice, a preacher should deliver his sermon with a sense of “urgency, passion and zeal.”

“Your people will not be any more excited about your sermon than you are,” Merritt said. Despite how it’s received, he said, “It is not my job to make the message acceptable, but to make the truth available.”

Not confronting people with the “fact of their sin” is “heresy,” Merritt said. If your goal in ministry is to be popular, “do yourself and God a favor — get out of the ministry.”

“Your goal in life ought to be to preach the whole counsel of God in such a way that the Word of God is magnified, the Son of God is glorified and the church of God is edified, and the spirit of God is satisfied,” he said.

Being convincing might cause a person to be ridiculed, Merritt said. “You’ll be called wonderful things like harsh, bigoted, narrow-minded, mean-spirited — you might even be called a fundamentalist,” Merritt said while many in the audience chuckled. “In this age of unbridled iniquity, and unabated immorality, and unabashed indecency, it is no time for weak men, weak messengers, or weak ministries — our calling is not to make a sick world feel better, but to make a sinful world straighten up.”

Showing people how Christ can help them live is also a part of Paul’s instruction, Merritt said. “You will not always see immediate results,” he said. “You will see ultimate results.”

Paul also warned Timothy about people who will say, “Don’t make me holy, make me happy,” Merritt said. “Every church has the itchy-ear syndrome. They are not concerned about the depth of your message, but the length. The average church member cares more about tact than they do about truth. Diplomacy is more important than doctrine; being polite is more important than being profound.

“If the solid meat of biblical exposition is not fed to your church on Sunday morning, they will go out and drink the curdled milk of political correctness, New Age theology and satanic deception,” Merritt said. “If you don’t teach your people to believe the right things, they will believe anything.”

Being alert and sober and enduring affliction also were cited by Merritt as part of Paul’s advice to Timothy. To endure affliction is just a “truism” and a part of what happens when a preacher sticks to truth, Merritt said. “I’ve learned this double-fold, being president of this convention,” he said. “When you stand up and you speak the truth on abortion or lesbianism or homosexuality — or what God’s Word even says about authority in the church — you had better duck.”

In doing the work of an evangelist, one of Paul’s final directives, Merritt said every pastor ought to take heed to this passage. “Don’t you ever get so big for your spiritual britches that you think you’re too good or too busy to go out and knock on doors and tell people how to be saved.”

On accountability, Merritt recalled the story of the conversion of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who, as a 13-year-old-boy, heard the single verse sermon of a faithful deacon who had trudged six miles in deep snow to church one Sunday. “I thank God he didn’t preach a sermon entitled, ‘Snow White and the Seven Disciples,'” Merritt mused. “Thank God he preached the Word and shared the gospel and gave a 13-year-old-boy an opportunity to be saved.

“If you have a worship service and don’t clearly present the gospel, you’ve not fulfilled your ministry,” Merritt said. “My friends, we don’t need to follow fads, flakes or fashion. We just need to keep the ship of our ministry anchored to the rock of this Book, believing it, obeying it, defending it, sharing it and preaching it until Jesus comes.”

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  • Joni B. Hannigan