Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"Preaching in Trying Times"
2 Timothy 4

by Brent Seals
Pastor, First Baptist Church
Elizabethton, KY

Imagine the elation of architect Robert Mills. On that day in 1836, the fledgling Washington National Monument Society announced they had chosen his plans for the soon-to-be-constructed monument to the nationís first president. Mills had slaved for months over the elaborate drawings, and he had dared to dream big - a granite obelisk soaring over 555 feet high. It would be no less than the tallest structure in the world. Mills had designed many other buildings in his career, but this monument was different. And now his dreams were becoming reality.

But the funds didnít come in as fast as the society had hoped. Construction wasnít able to begin for five years, ten years - a full twelve years later. Then the engineers discovered the ground at the site was too soft to support the weight of the huge monument, so they had to start over farther north. Work proceeded fairly smoothly for six years, and major figures began donating marble to the project. But in 1854, when Pope Pius IX donated a marble block from the Temple of Concord, a group of saboteurs stole the block and destroyed it. The incident shocked the public, and donations nearly stopped. Then members of the Know-Nothing political party broke into the societyís offices and actually seized possession of the monument. Vandals continued to deface the monument, and construction finally stopped dead in 1855.

What remained of Millsí soaring dream was a squat, ugly 150 foot stump. When Robert Mills died that year, he must have died with a broken heart.1

Pastors can identify with this story. We yield our lives to God. We plan, dream and preach faithfully. And yet at times it seems that we are preaching from an old gray tree stump in the midst of a barren forest. The birds and squirrels are rejecting our message, the snakes and bears biting at our heels and the turtles withdraw into their shells and tune us out.

This is a frustrating, heartbreaking experience. Why go on? Why preach another week? Because God has called us to preach in season and out of season. Because the challenges are not new, Godís tools are not rusty, and Godís Spirit is still alive.

I. Our Challenges

Yes, the task is hard. These are difficult days to be a pastor, but not impossible ones. What are some of the challenges we face today?

The Season of Cultural Change.

Several years ago Oldsmobile sponsored a commercial that stated "this is not your fatherís Oldsmobile." The purpose of this catchy ad was to say this is a different car for a different day. This is a different day from the one in which many of us were trained to minister. Times are rapidly changing and change is a challenge. As I write, the number one best seller is the book Who Moved My Cheese? Author Spencer Johnson writes about dealing with change at work and in life.2

Attitudes of the people in our communities are changing. In 1999, 7% of churches with weekly attendance of 100 or more were sued.3 Recently a neighboring church applied for a zoning variance in order to build a larger sanctuary. The request was reasonable. We were shocked when it was denied.

Today the number of people who do not know the gospel is increasing. Other religions are penetrating our community. People no longer consider Christianity the only option. To say one is spiritual does not necessarily mean one is a Christian.

The Season of Church Conflict

In 1950 Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee had voted to build a new 3000 seat sanctuary at a cost of one million dollars. Pastor, Dr. R.G. Lee, was given a list of potential building committee members. The laymen who compiled this list pointed out four names on the list who were disgruntled and not in favor of the building.4 It goes to show as long as there are people there will be conflict.

We now have so many generations of people in our churches that some conflict is inevitable. George Gallup writes, "With more people living longer, we now face increasing numbers of generations alive at the same time....The generation gap of the sixties and seventies will have nothing on the age to come...By my count, in emerging generations there are about a dozen major subcultures, each with multiple Ďtribesí. These subcultures cluster around such activities, issues, and values as extreme sports, arts, political causes, alternative sexuality and gender partners, technology, economics, music style and fashion, racial and ethic status, and protecting/respecting historical beliefs."5

Much of Paulís writing had to do with conflict in those early groups of believers. Like the tide, conflict comes and goes but we do not have to be one of the many who are terminated today. Though it is difficult, we can learn to preach well and lead well during these periods. Less spoken about, but just as real is

 

The Season of Inner Conflict

Call it what you will, but I vividly recall waking up a few years back and realizing something was terribly wrong with this pastor. It was like another individual had invaded my mind. Not only was my energy for ministry gone, I cared less. Preaching that once was a joy became a drudgery. Call it mid-life turbulence or depression. Fortunately for me, the church was supportive and gave me the time and the means to get away and rest. However, for several months I preached with practically no prayer life, relying on Jesusí intercession for His children.

Crises do come. You may be in the middle of a storm right now. It may be a marriage problem or disappointment with a child. Perhaps you have neglected taking time off, or personal time with God and now you find yourself sick or burned out. Donít give up. Donít run away. Donít turn to the false comfort of another relationship. God has provided tools to enable us to live faithfully and preach powerfully during these days of challenge.

Did God not know that there would be times when preaching and leading was difficult? Of course He did. But remember, for every need there is a perfect provision of God.

II. Godís Resources

Psalm 57:1 says "I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed." What resources does God have for us under the shadow of His wings?

Under Godís wings we find the companionship of friends.

Paul writes in II Timothy 4: 9-11, ".....come to me quickly. Demas has deserted me. Crescens and Titus are on a mission and only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him. ( paraphrase mine). Paul has endured hardship from Alexander. Perhaps he was an informer and responsible for Paulís arrest. Right then Paul needed real friends.

We never get so spiritual that we do not need friends! Every pastor needs a Luke, a loyal and trust-worthy friend. I have discovered that I must have them. God has given me a Luke who is a good listener, encourager and an honest critic when necessary. Your Luke may be a mentor, pastor, or counselor. The point is, have one. We need each other.

Under Godís wings we find the companionship of the Bible.

Paul pleads, "When you come......., bring my scrolls, especially the parchments" v. 13. Most scholars believe that this refers to portions of the Old Testament and perhaps some sayings of Jesus.

Dr. R. G. Lee loved Godís Word. He wrote "No one can be remote from loyalty to the Bible."6 No matter how many years we have served as a pastor, or how many sermons we have preached, or how many churches we have served, we must spend time in the Bible allowing God to speak to our hearts and replenish our souls. Unfortunately our quiet time with God is often the first casualty when we are tired from the spiritual battle. Fellow pastor, during days of challenge, we simply cannot neglect Godís Word.

The Bible is your friend. Dr. Lee gave a sizable portion of his personal library, including Bibles to Union University for the R. G. Lee Memorial Library. In a letter to the university president, Dr. Robert E Craig written February 2, 1974 he writes "with some heartache I give up my friends to Union University." 7 Certainly words of wisdom come from the pens of godly writers. Certainly we are to read broadly. However, we place ourselves in peril when those replace the Bible.

Under the wings of God we find His faithfulness.

To Timothy the young preacher, Paul pens these words of wisdom, "........no one came to my support, everyone deserted me...but the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength...I was delivered...the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and bring me safely to His kingdom" v. 16-18.

Preaching in season and out of season can be a tough and lonely experience. But Paul found God to be faithful and His grace to be sufficient! People may let you down but God will not. The word, "stood", in verse 17 is a technical term for advocate, one who came and stood beside the accused and whispered advice into his ear on how to answer. Paul is saying, "While I had no one to stand beside me and speak for me, God stood beside me and spoke to me." During those days of change and conflict trust God to stand with you and keep you on your feet.

III. Godís Rewards

In the Olympic Games in Greece the greatest prize was a laurel wreath with which the winner was crowned. But this crown would wither in a few short days. However, Paul knew there awaited him a crown which would never fade. God does notice our service. He is aware of our struggles and one day He will reward our ministry with a crown that we will want to lay at His feet.

We all like rewards. Each of us enjoys being noticed and praised for doing well. In verse 8 Paul reminds us that if we faithfully discharge the duties of ministry in ordinary times and in times of hardship, we will be rewarded by the Lord Himself with a crown of righteousness.

Preaching is one of todayís hardest professions. No one can do it perfectly all the time. Sometimes we hit a home run and other times we strike out. Gordon MacDonald offers valuable wisdom when he proposes mid-course corrections which refers to the process of regenerating, redirecting and refining the spiritual life of the biblical person.8 How true that is if we are to be fresh, relevant, and powerful both in and out of the pulpit.

Conclusion:

Now back to Robert Millsí vision, the Washington Monument. From the year Mills died, no work was done on the Washington Monument for twenty-five years. But somehow the dream wouldnít die. In 1880, with funds appropriated by Congress, work resumed, and four years later a cast aluminum cap was placed over the granite tip. Today Millsí monument stands as the tallest masonry structure in the world.9

Robert Mills did not have the pleasure of seeing his great project completed. How disappointed and discouraged he must have been. We stand week after week preaching from a book that stands tallest among the worldís writings. Much of the time we do not see the fruit of our efforts. Do not give up! Do not lose hope! Preach faithfully in season and out of season. Our God indwells us by His Spirit so that we "can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!" (Phil. 4:13)

Written by: Brent Seals, Pastor
First Baptist Church,
Elizabethton, Kentucky

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rev. Brent Seals is pastor of First Baptist Church, Elizabethton, Tennessee. He holds the bachelor of arts degree from Carson-Newman College and the master of divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Pat have two children, Dylan and Dana.

Endnotes:

1Miller, Kevin. The Secrets of Staying Power, World Books, 1998, p. 53-54

2USA Today, March 3, 2000

3Hammon, Richard, Leadership Journal, Spring 2000, p. 89

4Lee, R. G. Scrapbook, 1950

5Gallup, George, Jr. & Jones, Timothy. The Next American Spirituality, Cook Communication, 2000, p. 143

6Lee, R. G. A Charge to Keep, Christ for the World Publishers, 1954, p. 15

7Lee, R. G. A Personal Letter, 1974

8McDonald, Gordan. Mid-Course Correction, Nelson Publishers, 2000, p. 2

9Miller, Kevin. The Secrets of Staying Power, World Books, 1998, p. 66


Joanna Moore, Campus Ministries & Church Services

R.G. Lee Center for Christian Ministry