The church of Jesus Christ is His body, bride, temple, army, flock, and family. It is a vibrant community sometimes referred to among Christians as a great ship traversing the stormy seas of life where Satan, like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, threatens to derail and destroy its designated mission to seek and save the lost. Preachers are divinely appointed pilots of this ship, and the congregation is the anointed crew. There’s perhaps no greater privilege or responsibility than to be called to be a leader of this great ship. While the Bible provides some challenging requirements for Christian leadership, Ellen G. White noted that “the Lord does not leave the ship one moment to be steered by ignorant pilots.”1
When it comes to preaching as an essential, central,
spiritual leadership dimension, “what is needed today is not a
new gospel but men and women who can restate the gospel
of the Son of God in terms that will reach the very heart of
our problems. Today, people are flinging the truth overboard
along with the terms. Why should we not become workers
who need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth
to our own people? The majority of orthodox ministers are
hopelessly useless, and the unorthodox seem to be the only
ones who are used. We need men and women who are saturated
with the truth of God who can restate the old truth in
terms that appeal to our day.”2
For spiritual leaders, there are times when deconstruction
is helpful to create reconstruction of a new life in the
Word. Familiarity with a theology of preaching (1) helps the
preacher decide what significance should be attached to research,
sermon preparation, and delivery; (2) shows that the
methodology of “how” to preach, under which most preachers
are trained, seldom, if ever, answers the question, “How
can or will they preach and lead unless they are sent?” (Rom.
10:15a); (3) clarifies for the preacher what leadership does
for theology and vice versa, so that sermons are not endless
methodological rules and formulas or rhetorical gymnastics;
and (4) “theology’s exposition of the faith and its openness
to the world corresponds with preaching’s dual responsibility
to the word and the world.”3
There are “major issues within a theology of preaching,
including the authority [or leadership] responsibilities of the preacher, the relationship
of the Bible to preaching, and the
historical, social, and liturgical
contexts of preaching.”4
expectations of leadership in
preaching range from proclaiming
the Word of God, to liberating the
oppressed, to providing pastoral
counseling on a group scale. Although
this range is broad, some
experts suggest three major
groupings: (1) preaching principally
is to play a role in the sanctification
of the people of faith; (2)
preaching’s primary role is in the
justification of human beings before
and (3) good preachers
are also good leaders, although the
reverse is seldom expected. David M. Greenhaw suggests
that “the office of the preacher is ideally preserved for those
who are capable of careful and faithful interpretation of the
traditions of the church. He or she is to have enough training
and character to promote a fitting Christian style of life, to
explicate the sources of the Christian faith and apply them
meaningfully to the present setting.”6
Preachers who are
called to these responsibilities are also expected to be human
and holy, but tend to be either human or holy. Both extremes
are detrimental to potential spiritual leadership and the growth
of a congregation.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN AND HOLY
Jesus calls us to follow Him, and He was human and holy:
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize
with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all
things as we are” (human) and “yet without sin” (holy). Being
human, “Jesus did not die a death with dignity but a death
endured, screaming to a God who did not answer. Jesus paid
the price. He became utterly poor. In this total renunciation,
Jesus professed what it means to be human. He endured our
lot. He came to us where we really were and stood with us,
struggling with His whole heart to have us say yes to our innate
But it’s not a material poverty; it’s a poverty
of spirit (Matt. 5:3) that drives one to total dependence on
God. “How does this poverty of spiritism [sic] reflect itself
in day-to-day living?” asked Brennan Manning. He answers
with an invaluable description of a great leader: “In conversation,
the poor man always leaves the other person feeling,
‘My life has been enriched by talking with you.’ And it has. He
is not all exhaust and no intake. He doesn’t impose himself
on another; he doesn’t overwhelm him with his wealth of insights;
he doesn’t try to convert him by concussion with one
sledgehammer blow of the Bible after another. He listens well
because he realizes he is poor and has much to learn from
others. His poverty enables him to enter the existential world of the other, even when he cannot identify with the world.
Being poor, he knows how to receive and can express appreciation
and gratitude for the slightest gift.”8
To be holy is
one of God’s commands (Lev. 11:44). Because holiness is to
the spiritual life what breathing is to the physical life, it wasn’t
a principle to be observed only by Moses and the Israelites
during their exodus, for this injunction is repeated in 1 Peter
Despite these biblical admonitions for holiness, some
who claim Christianity as their faith and leadership as their
gift have little or no concept of what it means to “be holy.”
In fact, a survey conducted by the Barna Research Group
found the idea of holiness baffling to most church-attending
Americans—both preachers and congregants. It concluded
that they were and remain confused, if not daunted, by the
The biggest challenge to practicing holiness is “self.” Jesus
said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he/she must
deny [say no to, absolutely repudiate] self and take up his/
her cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34, amplification mine).
According to A. W. Tozer, this “self is the opaque veil that
hides the face of God from us. It can be removed only in spiritual
experience, never by instruction. As well try to instruct
leprosy out of our system. There must be a work of God in
destruction before we are free. We must invite the cross to do
its deadly work within us” because “self can live unrebuked at
the very altar. It can watch the bleeding victim die and not be
in the least affected by what it sees. It can fight for the faith of
the Reformers and preach eloquently the creed of salvation
by grace, and gain strength by its efforts. To tell the truth,” he
emphasized, “it seems actually to feed upon orthodoxy and is
more at home in a Bible Conference than in a tavern. Our very
state of longing after God may afford it an excellent condition
under which to thrive.”10 However, “let us beware of tinkering
with our inner life in hope ourselves to rend the veil. God must
do everything for us. Our part is to yield and trust. We must
confess, forsake, repudiate the self-life, and then reckon it
crucified.”11 Two practices for the repudiation of the self-life
can be named among Christian leaders.
First is a negative autosoterism. This is a combination
of two Greek words: autos (self) and soter (salvation) or the
spiritual and eternal deliverance granted by God alone (Rev.
12:10) without human participation or intervention, unlike
sozo, the temporal, human, and divine partnership of deliverance
from sin. It is a naturalistic religious belief that one can
save oneself, based on one’s natural powers to accomplish
everything God requires for salvation. Preachers who practice
autosoterism, this most pernicious false religious doctrine
that proposes that humans are capable of doing what
only God can do, are also authoritarian leaders.
Second is the prayer of relinquishment. “We learn the
Prayer of Relinquishment in the school of Gethsemane. Gaze
in adoring wonder at the scene. The solitary figure etched
against gnarled olive trees. The bloodlike sweat falling to the ground. The human longing: ‘Let this cup pass.’ The final relinquishment:
‘Not my will but yours be done’ (Luke 22:39-
46). We do well to meditate often on this unparalleled expression
of relinquishment.”12 This type of prayer is a giving up of
all rights to oneself to God. It “is a bona fide letting go, but it
is a release with hope. We have no fatalist resignation. We are
buoyed up by a confident trust in the character of God. Even
when all we see are tangled threads on the backside of life’s
tapestry, we know that God is good and is out to do us good
always. That gives us hope to believe we are the winners,
regardless of what we are being called upon to relinquish.
God is inviting us deeper in and higher up. There is training in
righteousness, transforming power, new joys, deeper intimacy.”13
This can be the source of strength for a spiritual leader.
HOW BEING HUMAN AND HOLY AFFECTS THE PREACHER
AS A LEADER
First, the preacher should be as intense about worship
as she or he is about preaching. If and when “worship lies
lower down the priority list behind preaching, leadership,
pastoral care, and administration . . . hubris plagues the act
of preaching; rightly convinced of preaching’s importance,
preachers can wrongly become self-important.”14 This trend
can tempt preachers to think more highly of themselves and
usurp the role of God among His people instead of plumbing
the depths of Scripture to bring out the beautiful gems of
wisdom to transform worshippers. According to Jeff Crittenden,
Walter Brueggemann passionately declared that it captures
their imagination and reshapes their experience of the
world in such a way that justice, compassion, right relations,
and hope abound. Crittenden also referred to Augustine’s
statement that the preacher’s responsibility as leader is to
educate, delight, and persuade. Affirming this, Karl Barth is
reported to have said that to function legitimately as a human
and holy ambassador of Christ, the preacher should have the
newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.
Second, the preacher should show that he or she is human
by preaching hope and practicing grace with loving understanding through life’s many transitions. “Preaching
through transitions demands that the preachers be carefully
tuned into the context of the community they are serving.”15
Times of grief and loss are some of the most difficult and
dreaded responsibilities of pastoral leadership. They should
be used to: (a) honor the memory of the loved one with authentic
vignettes of his or her life; (b) comfort the bereaved
in their loss with a homily or short sermon, not with a long
evangelistic sermon to capture the minds of people who
would not otherwise come to church; and (c) avoid controversial
theological discourses. A good leader points to the
biblical promises of Jesus Christ that death will one day be
overcome (1 Cor. 15:26). While visitation and homilies are
important tools, counseling and compassionate conversation
also bring relief to those going through painful transitions.
Weddings are happier occasions, but they are transitions
that require as much sensitivity and preparation as funerals.
“The celebration and blessing of a marriage presents
the preacher with a unique opportunity. The ambiguity of the
marriage ceremony, in which secular and sacred elements
combine, challenges the preacher’s imagination, pastoral
skills, and powers of communication.”16 Weddings are also
great opportunities for a spiritual leader to demonstrate that
he or she is both human and holy.
Now more than ever, what we need is spiritual leadership
through preaching that helps hearers make transitions
“from what was toward what is emerging in their personal
1 Ellen G. White, Counsels to Writers and Editors, 42.
2 Oswald Chambers, Approved Unto God, 19.
3 Richard Lischer, A Theology of Preaching, 5.
5 Concise Encyclopedia of Preaching, 477, 478.
6 Ibid., 478.
7 Souvenirs of Solitude, 90.
9 https://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna... 162-the-concept-of-holiness-baffles-most-americans.
10 The Pursuit of God, 45.
11 Ibid., 47.
12 Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, 49.
13 Ibid., 52.
14 Preaching As Worship: An Integrative Approach to Formation in Your Church, 28.
16 Ibid., 426.
17 Three Goals for Preaching in Our Context, 41, 42.
Dr. Hyveth Williams serves as Professor/Director of Homiletics and
Acting Seminary Chaplain at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological
Seminary at Andrews University, where she is also founder and
senior pastor of The Grace Place, a community church plant in
South Bend, Indiana, USA.