There’s no doubt that the pastor’s calling is unique. It comes with unique blessings and unique challenges. Some of the greatest challenges are related to both preaching and to being a preacher—preaching as the actual task of preparing and delivering a sermon week by week, and being a preacher as the life and character that makes a man worthy of this task. These are the twin subjects of Rick Reed’s new book The Heart of the Preacher.
Reed currently serves as the president of Heritage College and Seminary in nearby Cambridge. Prior to that he was a pastor in both California and Ontario. Both vocations have given him the experience and authority to address this subject. As he begins the book, he explains how his years of preaching launched him on a kind of journey into the heart of the preacher.
I went back to God’s Word for correction and direction; I also listened to wise counsel from seasoned, godly preachers—some I knew personally and others I only knew through their writing.
In this book, I seek to pass along the heart-level lessons God has been teaching me over the past thirty-plus years of preaching. I’ve had the chance to test these findings with other pastors and with students I teach in homiletics courses at Heritage College and Seminary. My heart in writing is to help your heart as a preacher.”
From this tried and experienced position, he has written a book that falls into two parts. In the first, “The Testing of a Preacher’s Heart,” he offers 15 tests that most preachers experience as they proclaim God’s Word. They may not have consciously grappled with each of these things, but as they read them, I expect most will see that they’ve actually faced them at one time or another. Here he deals with the role of ambition, the temptation to unhelpful comparison, the need for necessary comparison, the struggle with laziness, the Monday blues, the fear of failure, the reality of criticism, the problem of disengaged listeners, and so on. Each of these may represent a way the Lord tests the preacher’s heart. “God’s agenda in testing our hearts is not just to expose what’s in them. He already knows that perfectly. His larger purpose goes beyond revealing to refining. He works through the fiery tests that scorch and soften our hearts to reshape us from the inside out. He plans to purify our faith and burnish our character. He molds and makes us into preachers who can better reflect his glory through our lives and preaching.”
In the second part, “The Strengthening of a Pastor’s Heart,” he offers practical guidance on ways pastors can prepare themselves to face these tests as well as others. While pastors cannot avoid all testing, they can prepare themselves to endure it well and benefit from it. Here he looks at the necessity of practicing personal soul care, of a genuine devotion to Word and prayer, of having realistic and appropriate expectations, of remaining focused on expository preaching, of faithfully carrying out the work of an evangelist, of always keeping that first love, and quite a few more. “When we talk about guarding or keeping our hearts, we may only think of playing defense, fending off the temptations that threaten to trip us up or take us down. But keeping our hearts requires more than being reactive; we must also become proactive. We must not only play defense; we need to go on the offense. We must intentionally fortify our hearts, strengthening our souls for the tests that most certainly will come our way.”
While every Christian must carefully guard his heart (see Proverbs 4:23), the preacher must pay extra-close attention to his, for he is called to his task not just because he has the skill to preach but, foremost, because he has the character to be considered an exemplary Christian. In the life and ministry of the pastor, character is king. The Heart of the Preacher is a book that offers both the challenge and the encouragement he needs. I heartily recommend it to any pastor.