A Priority to Preach

This is my final article for the church magazine before I leave Blackburn for Rochdale.  It's a reflection on the priorities of a church minister.

 “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2 NIV)

This is my final month as curate before we move to Rochdale and so I have the opportunity to write this article for the final time. The verses above are the apostle Paul's charge to his young trainee Timothy on doing his ministry. They are good words for any minister to have in front of them perhaps especially a young(-ish) trainee leaving one post to start a new one.

For a minister, they are solemn words. They remind us that what we do is in the presence of God and Jesus who will come again to judge. A minister's work has eternal consequences and God is watching for our faithfulness. It's easy and often tempting for both ministers and church members to think that the audience for our ministry is primarily the people in the church, or the people in the community. But our ministers are not there primarily to please us. Their goal is to please a watching God.

The task of the minister is clear. Ministers are to preach the Word (the Bible), which involves correction, rebuke and encouragement (see also 2 Timothy 3:15-17). There are all kinds of things to be done in a church: meetings, music, finances and so on. But Paul is always keen to hold up preaching and teaching as the centre of what the minister should do. It's easy and often tempting for both minister and church members to want other things to take centre stage: perhaps more visiting, or more community involvement. But the motivation of the watching God will keep the minister devoting time to studying and preaching the Word.

The context of this preaching ministry is also clear. It is to be in season and out. Vv.3-4 describe the situation where people won't want to listen to the Word, they will want people to teach them what they want to hear. I think Paul is warning Timothy that preaching the Bible won't always be popular or fashionable. There are lots of things in the Bible that people don't really want to hear and, if I'm honest, as a preacher, I often don't want to say them. It'd be easier not to mention hell or sin, for example. It's unpopular to talk about what the Bible says are differences between men and women, or about what is right and wrong in sexual practice. But preachers need to preach the Word in season and out.

Finally Paul tells ministers what their approach to preaching the Word should be. They are to be patient, not pushy. They are to be careful, not slapdash.

I know I've often not lived up to this charge and I know I will fail in the future (it's good that our message if one of the grace and mercy of God in forgiving our sins). But I hope that to some degree I've been able to fulfill it here in Blackburn and I hope to seek to do so in the future in Rochdale.

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