The Pastor’s Personal Life: A Source of Power in the Pulpit

Article
06.01.2017

“What right has he got to be standing up there preaching to us about how we ought to live when he’s shown again and again that he doesn’t live like that himself?”

The outraged church member who said those words to me was talking about a pastor whose moral life had become a scandal, to say the least. Many believers feel the same way when they find out their pastor isn’t godly after all. When that happens, the effect the pastor once had on their consciences is gone. In their hearts, they say to the preacher, “Physician, go and heal yourself first and then perhaps we’ll come and listen to you. Perhaps.”

Take it as a general rule: The day you lose your godliness is the day you lose your power in pastoral preaching. The two are inextricably connected: You lose one, you lose the other. There is no other way. Hence, it is vital for you as a pastor to be totally convinced that you must protect your walk with God and grow in godliness. In the hour of temptation, when Satan presents you with a piece of bread that’s dripping with honey, remember that just one bite may spell the end of your preaching ministry. Don’t listen when he tells you no one will know. He’s said that to many others who are now on the shelf. Don’t allow yourself to fall into his trap.

LOVING GOD WITH YOUR HEART

True godliness is a fruit of loving God with your heart. If you aim for outward godliness directly, all you end up being is a hypocritical Pharisee. Outward morality can be like sticking mangoes onto a dead mango tree using a string or a tape. But you need a truly healthy mango tree if you are to harvest good, juicy mangoes. That’s how it is with us human beings. Unless we love God and want to be like him, we won’t sustain mere forms of godliness for long. I say again, true godliness is a fruit of loving God with your heart.

Because godliness is a fruit of loving God, those who are unconverted cannot be powerful pastoral preachers. Their hearts are still dead in sin. They love sin rather than righteousness. They may be able to preach a few “powerful” sermons before their congregations really get to know them. But eventually, their true colours will be revealed. A bad smell will begin to seep through the cracks and the stench will become unbearable. The power is lost, and the sooner they leave the pulpit the better. Otherwise their churches will wilt and die. Therefore, the first issue to settle is whether you’re converted or not. You cannot be godly without first having a regenerate heart.

YOU ARE FIRST OF ALL A CHRISTIAN

It’s vital to remember that as a pastor you are first of all a Christian. You’re a sheep before you’re a shepherd. Therefore, all the pleas in Scripture for a Christian to live a godly life apply to you as well. You’re not an angel who comes down to earth to deliver pastoral sermons and then disappears to heaven again until the following weekend. You live in a fallen world and struggle with the remains of your own fallen nature, and so you must pursue holiness in the same way that every Christian is urged to do so.

The Bible speaks to you as well as to all other Christians when it says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:14–16).

YOUR PERSONAL AND DOMESTIC LIVES

The two areas people look at to see whether you really mean what you preach are your personal life and your domestic life. That’s why Paul emphasized these two areas when writing about the qualifications for pastoral work, saying “an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:2–5). A pastor can never say, “Do as I say but do not do as I do.” We must like Paul say, “Be imitators of me” (1 Cor 4:16, 11:1).

It is, therefore, vital to your pastoral preaching to ensure that there is true godliness in your personal and domestic lives. This will spill over into your social life. The people in your community or village should tell each other, “That one is a real pastor. We have related to him and his family. We want to be like him.” That’s what will attract them to your preaching, and that’s what will keep them coming to listen to you. Robert Murray M’Cheyne made a statement that has now become known all over the English-speaking world: “It is not great talents that God blesses so much as great likeness to Christ. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”

GODLY LIVING REINFORCES YOUR APPLICATIONS

What makes the godly life of pastors such a potent force when preaching? First of all, godliness enhances sermon application. Men and women will make excuses for their sin because they want to get away with the lowest level of spirituality and still go to heaven. They will enjoy a pastor’s sermons as long as they’re not expected to change. Yet true pastoral preaching must demand change by the power of the Spirit.

When the congregation doesn’t see any examples of the kind of life the pastor says God wants them to live, they’ll continue to convince themselves such a life is impossible. But when they see in the pastor the embodiment of what the Bible demands of them, their excuses are immediately silenced. They know they have no excuse.

I’ll conclude with an excellent quote from Thomas Murphy, speaking about the effect of a pastor’s godliness on his preaching. He says,

It will give such weight to the minister’s words that none of them will be lost. Coming, as they manifestly do, from an honest and earnest heart, they will be received, and weighed, and remembered. It will be seen that he holds communion with God, and so men will be induced to listen to him, as otherwise they would not. The respect that his manifest godliness inspires will compel them to honour his message. And then his preaching will inevitably be clothed with double power.

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Editor’s note: This has been adapted from Chapter 18 of Conrad Mbewe’s new book, Pastoral Preaching: Building a People for God (reviewed here).