A preacher’s guide to idols: the pulpit

Yesterday I gave a quick outline of Derek Tidball’s book, Preacher, keep yourself from idols. Today, a look at the first of the twelve idols he highlights: the pulpit.

While the actual pulpit may have symbolic significance , the concern in this chapter is the activity that the pulpit represents: preaching itself. Preaching can become idolatrous when it becomes an end in itself.

Tidball has no desire to write off the importance of preaching and preachers:

It remains an immense privilege to be called to be a preacher and I readily affirm its importance in the mind and ways of God.

However he believes that there are signs that preaching is in danger of being idolized among some of its supporters, with other marks of a healthy church being revalued to allow pride of place to preaching. And who is to say that the contemporary sermon equates to the preaching of the early church?

To say the twenty-minute (or whatever length you choose) monologue to believers in a church building which we call preaching is the heir to New Testament preaching may short-change New Testament preaching.

Tidball suggests three ways that our valuation of the status of preaching has a practical impact:

  1. Inflated ideas of preaching can lead us to inflated ideas of ourselves. Phillips Brooks, in the 19th century, highlighted ‘self-conceit’ as the first danger for a preacher.
  2. A correct estimate of preaching reduces the pressure on the preacher, whereas an overestimate increases the pressure on the preacher. Does the preacher wish to be remembered as ‘a great preacher’, of a mere messenger for a great God?
  3. A correct evaluation of preaching magnifies the sovereignty of God. Note that the same sermon, preached on a different occasion, may not have the same effect.

What do you think?

  • Does your church tradition emphasise preaching too much at the expense of other things?
  • Does failure to emphasise preaching equate to a failure to honour God’s word?
  • Do you agree that it is possible for preaching to become an end in itself?
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