New Book: The Heart of the Preacher

Heart of the PreacherThis October, I (Rick) have a book being published by Lexham Press (the company that produces Logos Bible Software).  The book is called The Heart of the Preacher because it deals with some of the heart-level tests experienced by those who preach and teach God’s Word.  Tests like insecurity, ambition, boasting, and failure.  My prayer is that it proves helpful to all of us who have the privilege and responsibility to communicate God’s Word to others.

Here’s the introduction for the book:

Introduction

Preaching is hard work. Anyone who tells you otherwise either has the gifting of Charles Spurgeon (highly unlikely) or is not doing biblical preaching. Practically everyone who takes up the joyful burden of preaching God’s Word discovers that effective sermons don’t come about easily or automatically.

When I was getting started as a preacher, the fact that preaching requires hard work didn’t come as a major shock. My big surprise came when I realized the hardest work a preacher must do happens within the preacher’s own heart. Over time, I’ve found the most challenging part of a sustained preaching ministry is not the rigor required to exegete a text, the thinking needed to discern the main message, the skill involved in crafting a clear and compelling outline, or even the energy necessary to communicate with authentic passion. My biggest challenge is keeping my heart in good order week in and week out. Preaching is not just hard work; it’s heart work.

In speaking of preaching as heart work, I’m using the term heart as understood in Scripture. While current cultural usage treats heart as a synonym for emotions, the Bible presents a far more robust, holistic viewpoint. In Scripture, heart refers to “the center or focus of man’s inner personal life.”[1] As Tim Keller points out, while the heart produces emotions, it also thinks, wills, plans, decides, and trusts.[2] Preaching has a way of testing this part of those who engage in it regularly.

Tests of the Heart

I had the privilege of attending a seminary with a history of training excellent expositors. My professors taught me the importance of exegesis, hermeneutics, big ideas, clarity, and application. What was harder to learn in a homiletics class was how life and ministry would test my heart.

When I started in pastoral ministry, its pressures and demands tempted me to skim the text, rather than soak in it, as I prepared to preach. Prioritizing and protecting time for sermon preparation turned out to be less of a time-management problem and more of a self-control challenge.

I would carve out time to prepare my sermons, but I inevitably faced another test: would I allow the text to determine the substance of my sermon, or would I use the text to support my thoughts? Would I follow the terrain of the text wherever it led, or would I chart my own sermonic path, making the text head in a direction of my choosing?

Beyond these challenges, though, a host of unseen battles began to wage war inside my heart. On Sundays when the sermon went well, my heart overflowed with relief, gratitude, and joy. Then, without warning, pride would start to seep in and muddy the waters of my heart. On the Sundays when my sermon fell flat, I too felt flattened. I had to fight the urge to withdraw and become self-focused. In the lobby after the service or on the drive home, I fished for words of affirmation to bolster my sagging spirit.

The tests didn’t stop there. Attending a gathering of pastors or hearing of friends serving in high-profile ministries often triggered competitive urges, unwanted feelings of comparison, or a deflating sense of insignificance.

Ministry turbulence and relational tensions brought still more tests for my heart. How do you speak with confidence when you’ve been shaken by conflict? How do you preach well when all is not well with your own soul? How do you proclaim the goodness of God when you are not in a good place? Who can you even talk to about these matters?

The way we handle these tests of the heart will affect how we hold up in ministry. Most preachers have friends from seminary who did not last in ministry in spite of being unusually bright students, incredibly insightful exegetes, and remarkably gifted communicators. They didn’t lack aptitude or ability; they had a heart problem. In some cases, their hearts gave way to sinful attitudes and actions. In other cases, their hearts gave up from being worn down and hardened by the sins of others. It’s too tragic.

The Heart of a Preacher

These challenges launched me on a journey into the heart of the preacher. I went back to God’s Word for correction and direction; I also listened to wise counsel from seasoned, godly preachers—some I knew personally and others I only knew through their writings.

In this book, I seek to pass along the heart-level lessons God has been teaching me over the past thirty-plus years of preaching. I’ve had the chance to test these findings with other pastors and with the students I teach in homiletics courses at Heritage College and Seminary. My heart in writing is to help your heart as a preacher.

The book is organized into two parts. In the first, The Testing of a Preacher’s Heart, I highlight fifteen heart-level tests preachers often experience as they seek to preach God’s Word. These tests—such as dealing with ambition, comparison, or insignificance—are commonly faced but not commonly addressed in preaching books or at pastoral gatherings.

Part 2, The Strengthening of a Preacher’s Heart, provides practical guidance intended to help preachers prepare their hearts to face these heart tests in God-honoring, soul-stabilizing ways. While we cannot keep our hearts from being tested, we can take intentional steps to get ready for the tests. Each of the final ten chapters deals with a habit God has used to strengthen my soul to better proclaim his Word.

The hardest part of preaching is the heart work it requires. If you have a passion to preach and teach God’s Word, I invite you to join me on this journey into the heart of a preacher.

_______________________

[1] O. R. Brandon, “Heart,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 499.

[2] Timothy Keller, Preaching (New York: Penguin Random House, 2015), 158.

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Prayer and Praise Update (September 13, 2019)

hes 1Yesterday was one of my (Rick) favourite days of the year at Heritage.  As we’ve done for the past several years, we took all the first-year students down to the village of Hespeler (about a twenty-minute walk from campus).

One of the Big Five Themes at the college is to “Live on Mission.”  We want students to be engaged in sharing the love and message of Christ while they are doing their studies at Heritage.

That’s why we partner with several local churches in an initiative we call “Love Hespeler.”  Students work in groups to serve people who live in Hespeler; they pray for them, rake leaves (for free), collect food for the food bank, and find other ways to be a blessing to the community.  Our hope is that our deeds of kindness open opportunities to tell the reason we serve–because of what Christ has done for us.

So yesterday was the start of Love Hespeler for this year’s incoming students.  They heard about the history of the village from a local business leader.  Hespeler has a rather glorious past–it produced uniforms for Canadian forces in the early 20th century and was also the home of Hespeler Hockey Sticks (used by Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky and other hockey legends).  However, in more recent decades the village has struggled.  The good news is that things are changing for the better and our students get to be part of it.

hes 2After hearing about the history of the village, each student was given $5.00 and told to walk through the village and buy a coffee or ice cream cone.  It was a fun way to introduce them to Hespeler village.

Prayer Requests

Please pray for our first-year students as they become part of our Love Hespeler Initiative.  Pray they will serve the people of the village well.  Ask God to give them opportunities to explain the reason for the hope they have inside them (1 Peter 3:15).

Pray for the ESL classes that Linda leads in the Hespeler Library.  These English conversation classes for new Canadians begin today (Friday).  Ask the Lord to help our students serve those who come by helping them with English and bringing the love and light of Christ to these new friends.

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Science and Faith (Good Question Series)

good qSome people would have us believe that scientific breakthroughs have made spiritual belief unnecessary.  This is a theory the facts won’t support.  If anything, modern science has revealed our need for something more than modern science!

For all its benefits, science has many limitations.  It can tell us how to operate on a diseased heart but not how to heal a broken one.  It has discovered ways to improve our eyesight but can’t do much for our insight.

Science has revealed life’s complexities but hasn’t removed life’s perplexities.  It simply can’t give answers to life’s most important questions:  Where did we come from?  Why are we here?  What happens after we die?

Not only does science have many limitations, it also lacks moral limits.  Science has no innate way to solve the moral and ethical dilemmas it has created.  For example, science tells us we can clone humans but can’t tell us if we should clone humans.

scieceSo instead of making religion irrelevant, science has shown it to be irreplaceable.  We need what faith brings—answers to our deepest questions and guidance for our biggest quandaries.  We need the help and hope that come from God through faith in Jesus Christ.

In many ways, modern science makes faith in God easier not harder.  Science continues to discover incredible evidence of design in our world—both on the micro-level (the cell) and macro-level (the constellations).  The intricate design we see can strengthen our faith in an unseen Intelligent Designer.

(This article by Rick Reed originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper as part of their series “Ask the Religion Experts.”)

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Praise & Prayer Update September 6, 2019

move in 1move in 2Move in 3move in 4

Labour Day Monday was a working day at Heritage.  Actually, it was “Move In Day.”  New and returning students showed up to move in and get settled in the residence halls.  The Lord provided wonderful weather and gave us much joy throughout the day.

After a BBQ on the patio, we gathered in the chapel for a service of dedication.  We sang our praise and offered up prayers for the coming year.  It was a meaningful and memorable time.

Now we are in the swing of classes.  Yesterday, I (Rick) taught a class for first-year students on the Five Big Themes we emphasize at Heritage College:  1) Learn to Know God, 2) Lead Yourself First, 3) Love Others Well, 4) Lift Up the Church and 5) Live on Mission.   In the afternoon I had the privilege of teaching a class on biblical preaching.  It is a deep passion of mine to help raise up the next wave of faithful teachers and preachers for Christ’s Church in Canada.

Next Tuesday evening, Linda begins teaching a TESOL class, training men and women to use conversational English to bring the love and light of Christ to new Canadians.

Here are some prayer requests for the coming week.

On Sunday afternoon, Linda and I host a gathering in our home for new seminary students.  Pray that new students will begin to make friendships and feel at home with us and at Heritage.

This Sunday evening, Heritage students will join with two local churches for a Love Hespeler Prayer Gathering in Forbes Park. I (Rick) will be speaking on how we impact our community through prayer.  I would welcome your prayers for me as I preach.

On Tuesday morning, we have our Convocation Service at Heritage.  This is a special chapel service where students, faculty and staff are challenged to trust the Lord to work powerfully in our lives this year.  Pray that it will be a highly-impactful service.

Thank you for being part of our prayer team!

 

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From Confusion to Clarity in the Church

At Heritage College and Seminary, we exist to see Christ’s church flourish–in Canada and around the world.  In partnership with local churches, we do our very best to equip men and women to faithfully serve Christ, His Church, and His global mission.

BibleEverything we do is based on the foundation of God’s inspired, inerrant Word.  We are convinced that only as our graduates are grounded in Scripture will they be useful in ministry.  So we constantly and consistently get our students engaged in studying, understanding and applying God’s Word.

This emphasis on the authority and priority of God’s Word is desperately needed in our day.  Many Christians are confused.  They regularly hear from Christian leaders—pastors, theologians, authors—who claim to speak for God but give conflicting and contradictory messages.

This problem of conflicting viewpoints from spiritual leaders is serious, but it’s not new.  The same problem existed 2500 years ago.  We know this from the storyline of the ancient book of Jeremiah.  In Jeremiah’s day, many claimed to speak for God but gave radically divergent messages.  The result was a deep-level, widespread spiritual confusion.

Thankfully, God stepped in to clear things up—not just for Jeremiah’s time, but for all time. He delivered a message that cuts through the spiritual chaos. That message, found in Jeremiah 23, can clear up much of our confusion and point us true north spiritually.

Reflect on these words, recorded in Jeremiah 23:28-29 “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”

These words were given when Israel was in crisis. Babylon—the super-power of the day—had recently captured Jerusalem and exiled the king and leading citizens. In the confusion that followed, a number of prophets came forward, all claiming to speak for God. Many of these prophets promised Babylon would soon be brought down and the exiles brought home. Other prophets—including Jeremiah—claimed the Babylonians would stay large and in charge for decades.  People were confused.

God spoke into the confusion to bring spiritual clarity.  He wanted His word heard above all other words: “Let him who has my word speak my word faithfully” (23:28).  Notice how the term “word” is repeated twice.  On top of that, the Hebrew verb translated “speak” also means “word.”  So you could translate verse 28:  “but let him who has my word, word my word faithfully.”  Do you get the point?  God wants His word heard above all other words.

God wanted His word to be heard, not just in Jeremiah’s time, but for all time.  So He instructed Jeremiah to write down the message (see 36:1-2).  Jeremiah’s writings eventually became part of our Scriptures—the Word of God. Now we can open the Bible and read the very words of God.

Someone could say, “The world has changed since the Bible was written.  Why elevate the Bible above all other voices?” Jeremiah 23:28-29 answers by highlighting three ways God’s Word is superior and should be our supreme authority in life.

God’s Word is like grain—it will nourish you

grainIn verse 28, God says His Word is like wheat rather than straw. Word is high-fiber nutrition.  It’s what people need to grow spiritually strong.

Several years ago, our son Michael served as a youth pastor at a church in Ottawa.  He worked hard each week to prepare biblical messages for his students.  One day he heard a radio interview that left him confused and troubled.  In the interview, a ministry specialist advised youth workers to spend less time preparing biblical messages and more time building relationships with students.  He claimed students would forget the messages but remember the one-on-one times at Tim Horton’s.

Michael wondered if he was wasting his time preparing talks from Scripture?  I responded by asking him how many meals he remembered from childhood?  He only recalled a few—Thanksgiving dinners and birthday celebrations. I reminded him that even though he had forgotten, the nutritious meals his mother regularly prepared helped him grow up healthy.  In the same way, giving his students a steady diet of God’s Word would help them grow up spiritually healthy. God’s Word is like grain—it nourishes us.

God’s Word is like fire—it will refine you

fireA second reason God’s Word needs to be heard is because it refines like fire.  A refiner’s fire purifies silver by burning away dross (Jeremiah 6:29).  All of us are a mixture of silver and dross.  So all of us need the refining fire of God’s Word to burn impurities from our lives.

Linda and I saw the refining power of God’s Word when we led a marriage seminar in Tanzania.  In the seminar, we worked through key biblical passages on marriage—Genesis 1-2, Song of Songs, Matthew 19, Ephesians 5.  At one point, a young pastor stood and recounted the first time he brought his new bride back to his family.  In his tribe’s tradition, when a woman marries a man, she becomes the servant of his siblings.  So on their first morning back home, his sisters heaped piles of laundry on his doorstep, expecting his wife to do their wash.  The young pastor scooped up the laundry, carried it back to his sisters and said, “If you do this again, I will burn your clothes.”

At this point, some in the seminar reacted with surprise. They realized he was going against tribal expectations.  Then the young pastor finished his story, explaining that he told his sisters,  “The Bible says a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.  She is now my wife and not your servant. If you need help with your laundry, come and ask me first and we will consider how we can help you.”

The people in the seminar nodded their approval.  The Word of God was doing its refining work, challenging and changing perspectives.  After the seminar, one of the participants had a question for me.  “Is it true,” he asked, “Christians in Canada often get divorced?”  I had to acknowledge this did happen.  “How can this be?” he inquired, “since the Bible says what God has joined together in marriage we are not to separate?”  It’s not just people in Tanzania who need the Word of God to refine them.

God’s Word is like a hammer—it will break you

hammerThe most striking picture of God’s Word found in verses 28-29 is that of a “hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.”  What a contrast to the false prophets whose messages were a pat on the back.  Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you . . . . They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17).

God’s Word often confronts us, hammering our hardened hearts.  A while back, I read the account of the disciples caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee.  In their panic, they wake Jesus and accuse Him of being unconcerned.  Jesus rebukes the wind and then rebukes his disciples:  “Why are you so afraid, have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

That morning, as I read Jesus’ words, I sensed God’s Word hammering my unbelieving heart.  Like the first disciples, I was giving way to fear in the storms I was facing.  Why was I so afraid?  After all I’d seen God accomplish, why was my faith so small?   Thankfully, when God’s Word comes like a hammer, it doesn’t break us to leave us shattered.  Instead, it actually rebuilds us to make us stronger. The Word that breaks also remakes.

Back to the Bible

Those of us who love Christ and His Church must listen carefully to the message of the Lord that came through Jeremiah.   In our personal and professional lives, we must continually turn to God’s Word to correct our thinking and direct our living. Only God’s Word is like grain that nourishes, a fire that refines and a hammer that breaks.  When we are confused by the cacophony of voices and viewpoints around us, we need to look to God’s Word to point us true north spiritually.

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Prayer & Praise Update (August 30, 2019)

Campus 30On this beautiful Friday morning, I’m sitting in my office, enjoying the beauty of our campus.  Through the hard work of our facilities team, the grounds and buildings look better than ever.

We are getting ready to welcome a wave of new students this coming Monday (Labour Day).  Our student leaders, who have been on campus all week for training, are ready to go.  Our profs are eager to start classes.  We are praying that God would make this a life-shaping year for our students, preparing each one to serve Christ.

Would you please pray for these important requests:

Campus10Thank the Lord for the amazing faculty and staff team He’s led to Heritage.  It’s a joy to work with men and women who are passionate about raising up faithful servants of Christ.

Pray for our student leaders as they help set the spiritual climate on campus.  Ask the Lord to empower them for their important roles.

Pray for the new students who will arrive on Monday to get settled in their residence halls.  Pray for their parents who will be adjusting to having a son or daughter away from home.  Ask the Lord to give grace for this important time of transition.

Pray for the start of classes next week.  Ask the Lord to strengthen our professors to teach biblical truth in a clear, captivating way.  Pray for life-change among our students, preparing them for life and ministry.

Thank YOU for helping us through your prayers.

 

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Seminary vs Pastoral Apprenticeship

HRecently, a young man who is considering attending Heritage Seminary sent me a good question.  He asked for my top reason why “a man called to be a pastor [should] study at a seminary, rather than just commencing pastoral apprenticeship in a congregation straight away.”

Here is the response I sent to him–a response I would give to any who are considering seminary training as part of their preparation for pastoral ministry.

_______________________

Dear Daniel,

You raise a legitimate and important question when you ask why a man called to be a pastor should “study at a seminary, rather than just commencing pastoral apprenticeship in a congregation straight away.”

My answer would be that we should not look at this as an either/or choice.   I would argue for a both/and approach.  Both seminary training and church experience.

I’m convinced that a healthy partnership between the seminary and the Church most effectively prepares pastoral leaders.  While the Church ultimately holds the responsibility for raising up pastors, a theologically-faithful seminary can be a great help to the Church.

In 2018, The Gospel Coalition published a book with the provocative title, 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me.  The contributing authors spoke of the value of their seminary training but highlighted aspects of ministry they didn’t learn in a seminary classroom.  Interestingly, the forward to the book was written by Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Seminary.  He agreed that the seminary, by itself, cannot adequately train godly pastors.  But that doesn’t mean the seminary is extraneous to the equipping process.  While it can’t do everything, it does some things quite well.

seminary 2My years in seminary provided me a sturdy, biblical foundation that has served me well for the past 35 years.  I’m particularly grateful for the way I was pushed to learn biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek), taught how to do careful, rigorous exegetical work, given a greater understanding of Church history and trained to exposit God’s Word with clarity, accuracy, and impact.  On top of all this, the godly professors I studied with shaped me by their attitudes and actions.

After the book 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me came out, The Gospel Coalition website carried a post by Greg Lanier entitled, 15 Things Seminary Teaches Me That My Busy Pastor(ate) Can’t . The pastor/professor who wrote the post came at the issue from the other angle; he highlighted things that are difficult to learn in a local church apprenticeship.

That’s why at Heritage, we see ourselves as partnering with local churches to train up godly, faithful and fruitful pastoral leaders.  That’s why we require ministry internships of our Heritage seminary students.  That’s why we want our students embedded in the life of a local church while they complete their studies.

To sum it up, it doesn’t have to be either/or when it comes to seminary or church apprenticeships.  Both/and is the best option.

Warmly,

Rick Reed

 

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