Why Preachers Preach: The Calling of a Pulpit Minister

The Official Publication of the Church of God of Prophecy


Brian Sutton,
Cleveland, Tennessee

To discover the role of the preacher in contemporary society is to discover God’s call on the life of preachers, both corporately (all Christian preachers) and individually (as it relates to specific callings and ministries of individuals).

We may begin by supposing that there are at least two conceptions of the role of preachers. There is society’s conception of the preacher’s role and God’s conception of the preacher’s role. I will only address what God may expect with regard to preachers in contemporary society, rather than attempt to define the societal expectations that are placed upon this ministry. Admittedly, even within the framework of what God expects of preachers, there may be roles that all preachers are required to fill and others that God may require only some tofulfill. We will walk through the discovery of the preacher’s role, considering some of the biblical and practical applications associated with this calling.

“I was called to preach at age 15!” For those who were not “called to preach” this statement may seem odd. They might first ask, “What do you mean by called?”I’ve often defined a calling on someone’s life as something that God requires hem to do, without option, in order to accomplish His will for their life.Therefore, when I say that I am called to preach, I am saying that God has commissioned me to be a part of what He is doing in the “preaching” ministry of the church. While I may be nervous, apprehensive, feel ill-qualified, inconvenienced,or even displaced to follow His command, since He has called me to preach, I must be submissive to His request and faithfully minister in “the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.”[1] I may also rest assured that in this calling, God provides the means for me to be successful as I share His Word.[2] Discovering if I am in fact, called to preach is of great importance, since the ministry of preaching calls for the cooperation of the vessel, Word, and Spirit.

Conversely, not every ministry that I may participate in is because of a calling on my life to participate in that ministry. In some areas of ministry (areas of Christian work), God may give me the freedom to decide how to proceed or even if I will participate. A good example of this might be that God may not necessarily call me to work in the nursery of my church (although God does call some people to work with young children, just like He calls some to preach), but if I see a need for volunteers, I may take the job to be a blessing to others. If, in the course of my work in the nursery, I decide that I am not “cut out” to change all of those diapers, and I choose to work in men’s ministry instead, God is not necessarily displeased with me, since I have not received a calling to the nursery. Discovering what God has called me to do is very important, especially in the ministry and role of the preacher. It has been my personal experience that on my darkest days as a preacher/pastor, I would have been unable to operate in the role that God was requiring of me if I was not assured that He had called me to the preaching ministry. Many times I have simply had to say,“I have no choice but to proceed because I am called.”

If preaching requires a calling, and if we are attempting to discover the role of the preacher in today’s contemporary society, we might define the word “role”as the vocation of the preacher. An additional definition of the word role could be, “What God desires for the preacher to accomplish when He calls them.”After twenty-two years of pastoral ministry, I admit that the lens through which I view preachers and preaching is tinted toward “pastoral” preaching and ministry. I see pastoral preaching as almost always different from any other type of preaching, since that is the overwhelming bulk of my life in preaching ministry. Therefore, when I attempt to define the role of the preacher in our current culture, I am thinking in terms of pastoral preaching, which may not be all-inclusive to every type of preaching. I will attempt to define the preacher’s role in three parts:

1) Relating the truth of God’s Word to the church and the world today, applying its truths to our everyday life
2) Preaching what God has given for a specific time and a specific place
3) Moving beyond being a “voice” only and moving into being a “witness” by/through the life of the preacher; therefore, confirming the Word that has been and is being delivered

Relating the Truth of God’s Word to the Church and the World Today

God has called preachers to speak His Word in such a way that its truths can be understood as applicable and essential in the lives of all people. A preacher is a witness of not only their own message (personal and corporate experience of serving God), but the message that God desires to share with the world through His written Word. The Word of God (our cannon of Scripture) was written over a large span of time and it is full of truths which may seem complex to apply and difficult to understand. In contemporary society there are a myriad of factors that may affect how people view the message of God’s Word.Education, economics, vocation, geography, rearing, and spiritual maturity are only some of the elements in the lives of people which may affect the understanding of the message of God’s Word. Preachers are called to bring God’sWord to the hearer, as instruments of the Holy Spirit, presenting God’s truths in the clearest way possible.

A wonderful example of God’s Word being clearly shared by preachers, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, is found in the book of Nehemiah. Scripture records that the decaying walls around Jerusalem had been rebuilt and many exiles had returned to the city. Ezra the priest was requested to “bring out the book of the Law of Moses”[3] before the people and read it to them. Scripture further records that when Ezra, “opened the book, all the people could see him because he was standing above them; as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God;and all the people lifted up their hands and responded, Amen! Amen!”[4] Wouldn’t all preachers love to preach a Sunday morning message with that typeof response! Nehemiah then chronicles a beautiful instance of God enabling preachers to share the word of the Lord in a way in which the people found it applicable and essential to the lives. Nehemiah 8:7, 8 records, “The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub,Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan andPelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.”[5] These Levites accomplished one of the tasks that preachers of contemporary society are called to do, deliver God’s Word in a way that is clear and understandable. After all, how could God’s Word be considered applicable and essential if it is not made understandable?

To Preach What God Has Given You Related To a Specific Time and Place

God has called preachers to be true ‘prophetic voices’ that He may use to speak His will and His truth relating to specific times and in specific situations. In Scripture,there are numerous examples of God calling a specific person (often preachers)to accomplish a specific role in ministry. The prophet Jonah is an apposite example of God calling someone to preach in a specific place, during a specific situation. Jonah 1:1 records, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’”[6] This was certainly more than a general call that God was placing onJonah. It was a specific call to a specific role of ministry. Of course, if we know the story of Jonah, we know that he chose to not obey the direction of theLord to preach in the city of Nineveh. As he ran away from God’s purpose, God pursued him even with the wind, sea, and a great fish to swallow him. After the“catch and release” of the prophet Jonah, Scripture further notes, “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time:  ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’”[7] Scripture is revealing a great truth. God uses specific voices(preachers) for specific times and situations, to share specific truths by HisSpirit and His Word. When preachers receive that charge from the Lord, they are obligated to deliver God’s word as directed, knowing it is, “Like fire . . . and a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.”[8]

Moving Beyond the Voice and into the Witness of the Life of the Preacher

God has called preachers to “make full proof”[9] of their preaching ministry, not only by preaching from His Word but by living a life that is being transformed by His Word. We might call this the “living proof” text from the apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:5). Most people have seen numerous advertisements for weight loss plans and products designed to help people shed unwanted pounds. Almost all of those commercials employ what I call the “living proof” strategy, as they attempt to convince people to purchase their products. You may also know this as the “before and after”strategy. Consumers are shown two pictures of the same person, taken at two different times. The picture of the person on the right was taken “before” they began using the advertised weight loss plan. The picture shown on the left is a picture of that same person, who now weighs noticeably less (the “after”),since they have used the advertised weight loss plan. Therefore, this living proof strategy makes customers say, “If it worked for them, maybe it can work for me!” Preachers in contemporary society must fulfill the role of being living proof of a life that is being transformed into the likeness of Christ, through His Spirit and His Word.

The preaching of God’s Word is a ponderous responsibility. When we speak from God’s Word, as His representatives, we may open ourselves up to what some may say is unfair scrutiny. Hebrews 4:12 declares, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”[10] When God’s word is preached, it will work in such a way that the hearer may be convicted for their actions, lifestyle, or lack of relationship with God. When, after hearing God’s Word preached, the hearer witnesses that God’s Word has had no discernible transformational effect on the preacher, they may dismiss the Spirit and the Word as no more than an emotion, or possibly even a fable. However, when the preacher of God’s Word demonstrates the same Holy Spirit anointing to live a life that is being transformed by the Spirit and the Word as they did while they were in the pulpit, then the hearers may be enlivened to desire to experience God’s transformational grace for themselves. Essentially, preachers are called to do more than simply sell a product, they are charged with being living proof of that product, which is the transformational power of God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

Every preacher’s success hinges on God’s grace to equip, and the Holy Spirit’s power to anoint, as each one endeavors to, “Preach the word;be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”[11] To discover God’s role for the preacher is to also discover God’s calling for the preacher. We may identify that there are at least three roles of the preacher in contemporary society:

1) To relate the truth of God’s Word to the church and world today, and help mankind apply its truths to our everyday life
2) To preach what God has given for a specific time and a specific place
3) To preach beyond their voice and into the witness of their lives, confirming the Word that has been and is being delivered

May every preacher of God’s Word wield the “Sword of the Spirit” with tremendous humility and boundless anointing to fulfill God’s unmitigated purposes!

—Brian Sutton
Cleveland, Tennessee

This article appears in the November 2013 issue of the White Wing Messenger. To subscribe to the magazine, visit http://cogop.org/ministries/messenger/wwmsubscriptions.html 

[1] Titus 1:3 NIV

[2] Isaiah 55:10, 11NIV

[3] Nehemiah 8:1 NIV

[4] Nehemiah 8:5, 6 NIV

[5] Nehemiah 8:7, 8 NIV

[6] Jonah 1:1, 2 NIV

[7] Jonah 3:1,2 NIV

[8] Jeremiah 23:29 NIV

[9] 2 Timothy 4:5 KJV

[10] Hebrews 4:12 NIV

[11] 2 Timothy4:2 NIV