The Focused Preacher


By Christopher Raley

When I was in high school the church I had grown up in and still attended was on the verge of a disastrous end. Long years of fighting the worship wars of hymns versus choruses and traditional service versus seeker service had created a deep congregational divide.

So much attention had been given to these questions and their tangential issues that I couldn’t imagine a church life where these things didn’t matter. They were all consuming, so that, whether he meant it to be or not, everything the pastor preached on seemed to be about that issue.

Eventually that pastor left, and the congregation, which was divided largely along generational lines, was left to lick its wounds in the kind of quiet that comes from bitter entrenchment. The church which could not seem to find agreement on anything, now had to come together and plot a course for the future.

During this time, the church hired an interim pastor. This pastor did something remarkable that, I believe, truly changed the course of that church. He stepped into the pulpit and, ignoring everything that the leadership had no doubt told him about the situation, ignoring everything that people had no doubt told him without invitation, ignoring the divide of those present and the empty spaces of those who had left, he simply opened the Bible and taught it, speaking from the foundation of our faith: Christ crucified for us.

This pastor was bi-vocational. He viewed (and, as far as I know, still views) his ministry as a gift but not as a career. He was a Scottish man who had lived a colorful life prior to his conversion. He spoke with a thick accent and employed a sharp wit which meant that he could plot a slow, careful pace through the scriptures and still keep people engaged.

He was exactly what that church needed: a man of God whose exacting words measured out the scriptures before us. Slowly the atmosphere of the gathered church began to change. Hearts began to soften as the focus shifted from the distracting acrimony of pet issues to the lasting significance of our Father’s will. The church did not revitalize instantly (that would be years in the making with another faithful servant preaching the word), but it did begin the difficult turn to a new course.

As a young man, this was an example to me of the power of scripture in the hands of a humble and skilled expository preacher, and it remains a reminder of the mechanics of change, change that is begun by the words of one man, alone on the platform, Bible in hand.