When I even think about writing on the topic of preaching with humility, I feel like a conference preacher I heard several years ago who was assigned to preach on this same subject. He opened his message by asking, “Doesn’t preaching on the subject of humility immediately disqualify you from possessing the quality?” Maybe that’s why we don’t hear preachers talk about it any more than we do. We’re a little self-conscious about addressing a subject that most of us haven’t mastered, and we certainly don’t want to be perceived as suggesting that we have.
Well, I definitely haven’t mastered it, but let me risk the perception that I have by offering a few observations and corresponding takeaways on the subject.
Preaching with Humility is Inherent
I love being a preacher. But if I’m honest, I wonder at times if I love preaching more than being a preacher. The Apostle Paul declared to Timothy, “I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” (2 Tim. 1:11; cf. 1 Tim. 2:7, ESV). The word “preacher” comes from the verb kērussō and depicts a proclaimer — or herald — who officially and publicly announced a message that wasn’t his. He spoke on behalf of a ruler, not himself.
They didn’t have Fox News or CNN in those days, so the king’s announcements were made in the city square by these royal representatives. Preachers are public heralds announcing the gospel on behalf of King Jesus. If we really believe we’re delivering somebody else’s message, it’s hard to take credit for it. That makes humility implicit in the preaching task.
Takeaway: Preachers, let’s preach expositionally to ensure that we say what God says, nothing more and nothing less. It’s hard to be arrogant when we’re speaking on His behalf.
Preaching with Humility is Essential
I celebrate the revival we’ve been experiencing in recent years of Christ-centered and gospel-driven preaching. For a long time, we’ve needed to move past moralistic and deistic sermons that were lifted out of the larger story and purpose of the whole Bible. Most of the recent conversations, however, have focused on Christ-centered hermeneutics and homiletics – how we interpret the text and then develop messages based upon it. Little mention is ever made of the preacher himself being Christ-centered. Just like it’s possible to expound the right meaning of a text and yet fail to expound the biblical author’s mood in the text, it’s also possible to deliver Christ-centered sermons without being a Christ-centered man. The Apostle Paul exhorts us to walk in humility, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, by having
“this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8, ESV)
Such a posture is absolutely necessary for preaching if we’re really going to be Christ-centered preachers.
Takeaway: Preachers, let’s cultivate in our personal worship and daily walk the attitude and demeanor of our Lord. It’s the only way we’ll truly proclaim Him as the center of our preaching.
Preaching with Humility is Hard
Much of gospel ministry is an uphill battle, and being a humble preacher is certainly part of that challenge. Apart from the message we preach and the One we represent, just about everything in the preaching event pulls us in the opposite direction from meekness and lowliness. We do what we do on platforms in front of crowds of people. We see people’s lives transformed by the very words we speak. Congregants frequently tell us how much they enjoy and are blessed by our sermons. People often make choices about where they go to church based largely on what we bring to the table. Let’s be honest — it’s hard not to let that go to your head. Maintaining a spirit of humbleness as preachers is a constant and ministry-long struggle because there’s so much about humility that’s counterintuitive to so much of what’s involved in preaching.
Takeaway: Preachers, let’s enlist accountability from objective listeners who will not only give us feedback on our sermons but also on the spirit, attitude, and mood with which we deliver them. Humility won’t come naturally and passively in our preaching.
Preaching with Humility is Easy
At the risk of sounding like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, I’ve found that preaching with humility is rather easy if I just listen to the right people. I wrote my dissertation on a well-known, dynamic, Bible-preaching pastor. I remember asking him in an interview how he kept his feet on the ground and avoided letting his popularity get the best of him. I’ll never forget his response. He said, “I have to go home at 5 o’clock every day.” To be clear, he wasn’t bemoaning his responsibility as a husband and father (nor was he speaking literally about his work hours!). He was simply acknowledging that his wife and kids knew the real him.
It doesn’t matter how many people sing our praises. The people who know us best are the people we live with. They see us 24-7, not just for an hour or so each week when we’re leading in worship. In addition to our families, all of us have people in our church who help us identify with the Apostle Paul’s experience:
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” (2 Cor. 12:7)
Both our loving family members and difficult parishioners often speak and act in ways that remind us that we’re not anything special.
Takeaway: Preachers, let’s listen closely to the people who know us best and love us the most, and let’s not be too quick to dismiss the naysayers in our ministries. Both are deposits of God’s grace that keep our egos from becoming inflated and make it easy to foster humility in us.