(This week’s blog postings are adapted from the theme address, “Preaching Under Pressure,” presented at the EK Bailey International Conference on Expository Preaching in July.)
In his book 5 Ministry Killers, Charles Stone tells the story of a pastor named Jonathan, who spent 23 years as a pastor in New England. He “faced everything from power struggles to salary controversies to questions about his leadership. Once, he confronted some boys in the church after they had taunted several young girls with suggestive comments. His handling of the situation outraged the boys’ parents and fueled their resistance toward him.
“Another issue swirled around his visitation policy. He knew his greatest primary gifts were preaching and teaching rather than traditional pastoral ones. So in contrast to what was considered customary, he chose to make a visit only when an emergency arose. However, many members began to fault him for ‘not loving the people,’ which further [increased] church dissatisfaction.
“Fortunately, Pastor Jonathan had a friend, John, upon whom he often leaned. John’s stature in that church helped [overcome] many issues that otherwise could have derailed the ministry, and his presence also helped keep criticism at bay. Unfortunately [John died, and] after John’s death, the simmering problems floated to the surface. One particular man was so hostile to Jonathan’s leadership that he became the ringleader of a large opposition group.
“One final matter became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The previous pastor had loosely allowed unbelievers to become members, and Jonathan later became aware that several of those members had flagrantly sinned. In their small community, these sins had become quite public, and since he believed that only believers who evidenced a changed life should join the church, he began to change the policy.
“A firestorm erupted, and Jonathan knew that were he to stand firm on his convictions, he could lose his pastorate. But he stood his ground, and the inevitable occurred. They fired him, and at age forty-six he found himself unemployed. The rejection became so intense that the agricultural town forbade him even to use common grazing land for his farm animals. . . .
“Ten years later, because Jonathan had so graciously responded to his critics and his dismissal, one of his main detractors admitted that pride, self-sufficiency, ambition and vanity had caused the contention. The pastor’s handling of his ministry crisis left such an impression that eventually the church publicly repented of their actions, exactly 150 years after they sent him packing.”
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, that pastor who was so maligned and misused was Jonathan Edwards, one of the pivotal figures in the First Great Awakening, and likely America’s greatest theologian. Preaching under pressure is not new, and it is not unique to you and your church. So hang in there, trust the Lord you preach, and stay faithful to the call He placed on your life.
Dr. Sam Totman currently serves as the Director of External Relations in the College of Christian Studies and Clamp Divinity School. Before joining Anderson University, Sam served in several churches as a youth pastor as well as an education pastor. He earned his Ed.D. at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with a research emphasis on Technology Integration in Ministry. He teaches in the area of youth ministry and media ministry to help the next generation of ministers meet the challenges of the 21st-century ministry.