Pitfalls for those in Ministry: The Holy Becomes Commonplace

In The Preacher, His Life and Work, John Henry Jowett warns that one of the great pitfalls of ministry is that of over familiarity. “You will not have been long in the ministry before you discover that it is possible to be fussily busy about the Holy Place and yet to lose the wondering sense of the Holy Lord.”

The fact that we have been given the privilege of dispensing God’s word week after week can result in a kind of over familiarity that causes us to take undue liberty with it. Not in doctrine so much as in our disposition. “Our share in the table provisions may be that of analysts rather than guests” Jowett warns. “We may become so absorbed in words that we forget to eat the Word.”

The responsibility of exegesis makes us especially vulnerable to this. Instead of being hearers of God’s word we easily become handlers of it. We mistakenly conclude that effectiveness in the pulpit is evidence of personal holiness. Jowett warns of the danger of assuming that “fine talk is fine living, that expository skill is piety.” A good sermon does not necessarily guarantee a good life and outward success is no sure sign of God’s favor. Mastery of the word will never make us masters over it. Those who proclaim God’s word to others must themselves remain under it.

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Published by

John Koessler

John Koessler serves as professor and chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute. His most recent book is The Radical Pursuit of Rest published by InterVarsity Press.

4 thoughts on “Pitfalls for those in Ministry: The Holy Becomes Commonplace”

  1. After graduating Moody and having opportunities to preach God’s Word, this is often a struggle for me. When I was first learning to study scriptures for exposition, it was very hard. Now the actual work of understanding what is being said isn’t as difficult. And unfortunately there is a temptation to spend an hour or two dissecting the text and assume that the work has been done. What we forget as expositors is that the Holy Spirit must work in us during this process as much as we expect Him to work during the act of preaching. We are not scientists dissecting dead amphibians, we are studying the living Word of God.

    Thanks for this great reminder that we are to remain under the Word of God.

  2. Do you have some practical suggestions for fighting this tendency? This is obviously an inward battle, because the function stays the same from week to week. Do you have any thoughts from you’re own preaching experience?

    1. Aaron:

      Well, I don’t have a magic bullet. I do think it is important not to detach yourself from the text. I think Kerwin’s analogy is a good one-one the word becomes primarily an object to us that is dissected, we cease to preach to ourselves. Find yourself in the text first and you stand a better chance of avoiding this tendency.

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