Too many pastors are textual acrobats, contorting their preaching to avoid Scripture’s sharper edges. Such preachers have become adept at explaining away angular texts and dodging confrontational verses. On the contrary, the preacher’s charge is clear: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort with great patience and instruction.”
A generation ago, “surrendering to ministry” was common parlance in Baptist churches. In fact, hardly an invitation was extended in my home church that did not include a call to surrender to ministry, immediately after an appeal to follow Christ, be baptized, or join the church.
As a boy, the phrase “surrender to ministry” both mystified and unnerved me. It sounded as though one was embracing an unwanted life, a call to a distant land to engage in an undesired work. It seemed like a call one intuitively resisted—as long as possible—until finally buckling under the Spirit’s pressure and embarking on a life of ministry that, albeit noble, would be marked by sacrifice and hardship.
In hindsight, I do not think that is what my pastor meant, nor do I think that is what the New Testament implies. As I found in my own life, surrendering to ministry is not caving to an unwanted vocation; it is embracing what becomes increasingly irresistible—the gospel ministry.
“Surrendering to ministry” is a phrase the church needs to recover and a ministry-posture the church needs to cultivate. Every faithful ministry begins with a surrendered life, and that submissiveness shapes every aspect of one’s ministry, including why, where, and what one preaches.
Why You Preach
First, “surrendering to ministry” rightly establishes the preacher’s motivation. After all, the preacher’s incentive should not be filthy lucre, the applause of men, or any other earthly enticement. Rather, the preacher should, like the Apostle Paul, know in his heart, “If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”[i]
Surrendering to preach is to be so gripped by God’s call and so moved for his glory that one knows Jeremiah’s burden: “If I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.”[ii]
The urgency with which one preaches may ebb and flow based on a multitude of factors including: the receptivity of the congregation, the preacher’s spiritual vitality, and the tenor of the text itself. But, for the preacher rightly surrendered to ministry, the “why” of the ministry is settled—it is for Christ and his glory.