Book Review: The Heart of the Preacher, by Rick Reed
Rick Reed, The Heart of the Preacher: Preparing Your Soul to Proclaim the Word. Lexham Press, 2019. 160 pages.
I love preaching.
It’s genuinely a privilege to open up God’s Word and teach it to his people. It’s a privilege to proclaim the gospel to those who don’t know it. I’m truly blessed to be able to work for a church that sets aside a large part of my work week to prepare for that task. Translating, exegeting, applying, language-crafting—most weeks, I relish every part of the preaching task.
But preaching is also hard work. In seminary, my preaching professor warned us repeatedly, “Sunday is always coming.” Especially for young preachers still gaining their pulpit legs, Sunday can be full of devilish attacks aiming to discourage you from trusting God’s Word even as you preach it.
These attacks may come through small things, like when I had to preach with construction level drilling on the other side of a wall or when I couldn’t take my eyes off the guy nodding off in the front row. More often it has to do with the fear of man that rears up when I’m about to preach a passage that directly addresses something a church member disagreed with me on earlier that week. Or the sense of inadequacy I feel when I met a new visitor just before the service who has never heard a sermon before, then I have to ascend the pulpit to expound the destruction of Ai. Most often these demonic attacks come in the form of discouragement that make it hard to get back up and do it all over again.
While my ‘professional development’ in the technical skills of preaching are important, they are far less important than my ongoing spiritual maturation.
GENUINE HELP FOR THE PREACHER’S SOUL
As Rick Reed says in his introduction to The Heart of the Preacher, “The hardest part of preaching is the heart work it requires” (xix).
The Heart of the Preacher is a devotional book for preachers. Reed meditates on the many different temptations and challenges a preacher will face. He provides clear, biblical prescriptions for guarding and building up your heart to serve God’s people.
Almost all of this book is excellent. As I read through the chapters describing the testing of a preacher’s heart, I kept expecting a “break chapter” that wouldn’t apply to me quite as much. Alas, Reed gave me no escape. He exposed and confronted ambition (ch. 1), laziness (ch. 5), boasting (ch. 3), failure (ch. 13), stagnation (ch. 6), and pain (ch. 14) like a faithful friend. Like a good shepherd who guides his sheep away from danger and toward good, his warnings are hard but they are couched in words of affection.
Reed also provides good practical wisdom for your spiritual health—whether in preaching the gospel to yourself regularly (ch. 16), in praying on Saturday night in preparation for Sunday (ch. 22), or simply developing healthy patterns of rest (ch. 24). He also shows an awareness that even the mechanics of preaching, whether it be your tone or your use of notes, can be tied to spiritual realities. That results in practical counsel firmly grounded in and aiming at faithful proclamation, not just technically proficient delivery.
ONE THING I’D CHANGE
I could go on and on about all of the wonderful things in Reed’s book. Yet, one thing noticeably absent from Reed’s picture of a preacher’s discipleship is the local church itself. Though Reed affirms the importance of trusting and relying on allies—especially your wife (ch. 21)—and seeking feedback on your preaching from other preachers (47-49), his assumption is that after five years, no one will be left in your church “able or willing to give a constructive critique of your preaching” (170). That assumption runs counter to the ministries I’ve grown up under, and I’m dedicated to proving it wrong in my own ministry (though I’m only in year 2 myself). The best feedback I’ve received, and the most useful feedback I’ve seen other pastors receive has nearly always been from loving, godly church members able to give godly encouragement and godly critique. Outsiders—even more experienced preachers—rarely hear enough of my preaching to spot patterns. The members of my church—and especially my fellow elders—give me the best feedback. They need practice and encouragement to do so, but by God’s grace, they’re getting better at it.
I’m wary here of sounding as though I’m criticizing the church-life of a man whose life I don’t actually know. I don’t mean to imply those sorts of relationships are absent in Reed’s life. I simply mean to say, their absence is notable in this book. That absence might lead readers to view a preaching ministry as more lonely than it needs to be.
PREACHER, ATTEND YOUR HEART
I wish this book had been around when I was considering pastoral ministry. If you are a man considering full time ministry, or preaching regularly, read this book, and then ask an older preacher to talk with you about it and to help you pay attention to the challenges that are coming your way.
I’m glad it’s around now. I plan to reread it regularly every few years. If you’re in the middle of ministry and feeling the grind, I think you’ll find a kind and encouraging friend within these pages—one who will help rebuke, comfort, and reorient your priorities towards faithfulness and hope in God.
If you’re nearing the end of your ministry, use this book as a tool for guiding and equipping the next generation to be faithful preachers who not only handle the text rightly, but who persevere with joy and confidence in proclaiming God’s powerful Word.