Jan

06

2012

Steve Burchett|2:00 AM CT

When Your Preacher Is Not John Piper

Many who have had the privilege of hearing John Piper preach in person would testify that it felt like a monumental event. His preaching powerfully combines truth and passion, leading to convicted and exhilarated listeners. After the sermon, certain hearers might leave wondering if they were just in the presence of a figure who will be talked about in future centuries.

Then they go back to their home church, where several things are different, including the preaching. Thankfully, the gospel is still proclaimed. In fact, the sermons are thoroughly biblical, but the ability of their regular preacher simply does not measure up to the phenomenal preaching they recently heard.

Unless you attend a church led by of one of the celebrated preachers of our day, you most likely have faced a similar situation. Either at a conference or on the internet, you have heard exceptional preaching, but each Sunday you're back in your simple little home church that hardly anybody beyond your town knows about, with its "nobody" of a pastor who will probably never preach to thousands.

What if your gospel-preaching pastor is not as good as one of the great orators of our day? Is it time to sell the house, pack up the family, and change churches? No, I don't think so. But what should you do?

Five Suggestions

First, rejoice that your preacher is a man who proclaims the gospel. In some towns, finding someone who preaches the true gospel is as difficult as locating that precious new golf ball you sliced 100 yards into the thick woods. I once endured a 40-minute sermon that consisted mainly of the preacher telling about his family's vacation. Though that might be an extreme example of non-gospel preaching, too many preachers fail to speak of the holy God, sinful humanity, and the redeeming work of Christ. But not your preacher. He speaks honestly about sin, boldly proclaims "Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2), and then lovingly invites listeners to repent and believe. That is a reason to rejoice.

Second, recognize that certain men are uniquely gifted by the Lord to have an international ministry and appeal, but this is not the norm. The typical local church should be satisfied to appoint as pastors men who are "above reproach" in their lives, who believe the gospel and are able to teach God's Word, and who have an aspiration to serve as shepherds (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Most preachers will not be strikingly smooth and polished. They may never be the keynote speaker at a big conference, but this is not a tragic shortcoming in your corner of God's kingdom. It is precisely his design.

Third, if your pastor is (honestly) dull, but he preaches the truth faithfully, a little statement I once heard might be helpful for you to remember: "The mature worshiper is easily edified." When hearing lackluster (even if biblical) preaching, immature worshipers will typically not listen to the message because they wish the messenger was more exciting. Conversely, mature worshipers eagerly receive the truth as it is proclaimed, even if it sounds like the preacher is reading a phone book.

Fourth, listen "outwardly" to the preaching. Here's what I mean: Sit with your Bible open and routinely make eye contact with the preacher. An occasional nod of your head when he makes a point will encourage him and stir up his confidence. In my experiences of both preaching and listening to sermons, I can confirm that yawning listeners with glazed-over eyes make mediocre preaching worse, while eager listeners inspire better preaching.

Fifth, verbally encourage the preacher(s) in your church. Every preacher who is not extraordinarily gifted has heard remarkable preaching and moaned, "After listening to that, why do I even try?!" This is a strange phenomenon, but great preaching from the renowned teachers of our day makes many "ordinary" pastors discouraged. Here's a simple way you can buoy your pastor: After a sermon, instead of just saying "Nice sermon!" as you head out the door, take a few moments to tell him what was especially helpful and/or convicting from the sermon. In the first church I served as a pastor, one young couple would stay after the service, about once a month, conversing with me about what they learned. These helpful conversations sometimes lasted for more than an hour. Even today, I am heartened when I recall their zeal for what was taught.

We should praise the Lord for giving us outstanding, well-known preachers, but let us not forget Paul's command to Timothy, who was entrenched in a local church with pastors whose names none of us knows: "The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching" (1 Tim. 5:17).

Steve Burchett is a speaker, writer, and an assistant to the president for Christian Communicators Worldwide. You can follow him on Twitter.

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  • http://thepedestrianchristian.blogspot.com/ Alex Guggenheim

    Are you serious? I believe I feel the ground sinking here.

    "After the sermon, certain hearers might leave wondering if they were just in the presence of a figure who will be talked about in future centuries."

    Oy vey.

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  • http://justjules.me Jules

    We need a lot less John Pipers and a lot more nameless shepherds who love and feed the sheep.

    • http://www.lakewoodlivingword.com jun

      The very reason we need MORE John Pipers is because he loves and feeds the sheep.

    • Vicenzo

      Enjoyed reading your insights. I've never heard this address anywhere. The part I liked most was:"The mature worshiper is EASILY EDIFIED." A lot of times the flesh wants entertainment something superficial like children. These are very good suggestions for bringing pastors preaching into perspective.

  • Paul

    I think your points are great but they are lost on those who haven't raised Piper up to demigod status.

    • Melody

      What a silly response. Everyone has a John Piper in their background. You do realize that the writer was just using him as an example? I guess not.

      • Ali J Griffiths

        @Melody: no, not everyone has 'a John Piper in their background'. Some of us are naturally more eclectic and sceptical folk who don't,and never have, focused on one particular person's ministry.

  • Nate

    I don't think the main problem is the laity wishing their Pastors were like John Piper (frankly I think my pastor is a better preacher than him), I think the big problem is pastors who feel they have to be like JP or anyone else.

    • http://justjules.me Jules

      Nate...you took the words right out of my mouth.

    • Jonathan

      It's not about Piper per se. Insert the name of whoever your favorite preacher in the world is to hear. Common sense says a reformed blog on this topic will use one of the most famous reformed preachers of our day as the example. :)

    • Gordon A Loop

      Nate, I read this article in part earlier and in discussion with my wife thought of the same problem. I am a preacher who looks up to Piper and I often get discouraged when I don't feel the same passion I feel from Pier's preaching. So a part two to this article should go when you preach as well as John Piper. I look froward to it.

      • http://deofmovestofca.blogspot.com/ Deof Movestofca

        That should be easy enough: preach the Word faithfully. That's what God calls you to do, regardless of your oratory skills (or lac thereof). It isn't about your preaching or Piper's preaching or anyone else's preaching, it's about the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Angela

    In our little town in Canada we are so grateful to have a faithful, engaging preacher of the truth! Our church doesn't get much attendance, but he faithfully presents the Gospel to us every week. Thanks for these reminders!

  • Tony

    I don't think John Piper would approve of your statement: "After the sermon, certain hearers might leave wondering if they were just in the presence of a figure who will be talked about in future centuries." I don't know Piper personally, but I think he would take that as a criticism... that people should talk about him for centuries when he wants us to talk about Christ!

    But I think there's a Biblical misconception that needs to be corrected in many Christians. The role of the pastor is different from the role of a preacher, hence they are different gifts. Piper is the pastor of preaching and vision. There are other pastors in his church who serve other roles so he can dedicate his resources developing and perfecting his gift of preaching. Most local pastors are generalist, it's not about who is better or worse, it's just different roles. We are all just different parts of the Body

    • John

      Do you think John Bunyan would be upset by the fact that we still talk about him?

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  • http://www.thewayeverlasting.com JS Park

    Thank you for this one, a great article. I've heard some absolutely boring preachers that still faithfully preached the truth. It often creates a more mature response since people are not pseudo-emotionally stirred or deceived by theatrics. You can call it "weeding out" the listeners.

    I remember hearing about a layman who was asked to preach because his pastor was unable, so the man decided to do a straight reading of Romans for a few chapters. Two people were saved. That's the power of the Word.

  • Bill

    A few of y'all are missing the point... his point isn't about John Piper. "Piper" is simply representative of any number of exciting, high-profile pastors. He could have just as easily used MacArthur, Giglio, Chan, MacDonald, Lutzer etc. His language isn't meant to give anyone 'demigod' status but to communicate how many people feel about the particular preacher they enjoy.

    The question is not "Do you feel this way about John Piper?" but "Do you feel this way (even if exaggerated for emphasis) about anybody?". If we compare our pastors to anybody they will fall short. So then, let us encourage and pray for and esteem our pastors for what they do instead of lamenting over who they aren't.

    • Kirsten

      Agreed, Bill!

  • Lauren

    The point here is presented well, whether readers are put off with the assessment of Piper as a great preacher or not. My husband is a young pastor who often struggles with the level of engagement he can offer. Not dull by a long shot, yet not being offered a weekly tv gig. I really appreciate the reminder for all here that faithfulness to the Word must be primary in judging a message.

    • Paul Buckles

      God's blessing's to you and your husband in his work. I whole- heartedly agree with your closing statement and have offered my own comment below. Never, never let your husband be deterred in his calling by looking to the left or right, and may God bless you with faithful co-journeyers who seek after Truth, from whatever mouth it emanates.

  • Paul

    @Bill... I totally agree but simply from a journalistic standpoint putting Piper in the title starts the author at a disadvantage.

  • Rob

    Personally I'd pray for 1000 more "Pipers" to be raised up. No not to be just like JP, not to be megachurch pastors, but to emulate him in his passion, conviction, joy and love of grace and truth I would always pray for more of that. Piper was also virtually unheard of until the last decade or so yet God started forming his preaching over 3 decades ago. Take heart young preacher, stay in love with Jesus and preach him crucified for needy sinners. For all of us let us consider encouragement over criticism and comparison.

  • Gareth

    Interesting article, but I think a more interesting article would be one that looks at this statement.

    "Second, recognize that certain men are uniquely gifted by the Lord to have an international ministry and appeal, but this is not the norm"

    My question is what on earth makes you say this? Is that really why they are gifted? Does God intend to raise up people to go and preach in different conferences all over the world? or is this sort of thing an invention of conference organisers, and publishers who have taken the idea of celebrity from the secular world and imported it into the church.

    The church at the moment is rife with celebrity worship. I wont go to a conference or convention unless a big name or 'A-class' preacher is there. Putting all the emphasis on the person, and not on the Word or the Spirit. If we did away with this stupid Christian celebrity idea, then there would be no need to write articles like this.

  • http://thesidos.blogspot.com/ Arthur Sido

    When we live in a performance oriented church culture where most people are mute observers of the speaker/pastor, it is little wonder that we seek out the most talented and engaging speakers to watch. If the purpose of the gathered church is to listen to a monologue sermon, why shouldn't we seek out the most entertaining and engaging men to listen to? If on the other hand we see the gathering of the church as an opportunity for mutual edification, equipping and encouraging where all of the church is engaged, involved and participating, rather than focusing on one man week after week, these sorts of question become irrelevant.

    • joe

      That's a great comment and perspective, thank you.

    • http://www.squarepeggedness.wordpress.com Rachael Starke

      Joe, keep in mind that Arthur has brought up this straw man before. True preaching is in fact a dialogue, between God through His Word, and the Holy Spirit convicting of sin, righteousness and judgment. That people don't understand that is where some get confused about just whom, or Whom, was responsible for that sermon that so moved you that it changed your vocabulary, your habits, your thoughts. That's not John Piper making that happen, and he would be the first to say so.

  • Dan

    The problem is people who think they are so mature because they hear a meaty, dynamic sermon while they are really immature babies in the faith.

  • http://www.everybodyillustrated.blogspot.com Melody

    I never have that problem with *my* pastor, I love his preaching style, but I sometimes find it hard to pay strict attention to the pastors at churches I visit.

  • Katie

    Seriously!!?? Doesn't this sound like the Corinthians? "I am of Piper, I am of Chan, I am of Calvin..." The Holy Spirit has already began another Great Awakening of the Gospel of Grace and Satan is using topics like this to distract us from Truth! Preaching is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not a work of the flesh. Too many pastors have looked at preaching as a vocation, not as a calling. If someone is a great preacher, it comes from what God has already accomplished within them, not because they honed their skills and emulated someone else's method. Come on, people!! These are mere men, THEY AIN'T JESUS! Let's keep the main thing, the main thing.

    • http://dustinsmetona.wordpress.com Dustin

      Hi Katie,

      It would seem that Steve is actually resisting the notion that folks should identify themselves with one popular preacher and instead find satisfaction in the preacher(s) that God has placed over them in their local church family. He is actually making the same point as Paul in Corinthians in that we should not give our allegiance to a particular Christian leader other than Christ Himself because we are all one in Him.

      I do agree that we are seeing a resurgence of promotion on the gospel of God's grace and that is something worth celebrating! Thank you for reminding us that this is the main thing and that our pastors, however wonderful, are still not our true Shepherd. He deserves our ultimate trust and allegiance.

      Blessings to you.

    • Paul Buckles

      Having attended Bethlehem Baptist, and visiting there when I am visiting family, who also attend BBC, I can say first hand that the people who think it is 'Piper's Church' are incorrect in their attitude and approach.

    • http://ezekielcountdown.wordpress.com Carrie

      Katie,

      These are mere men, THEY AIN'T JESUS! Let's keep the main thing, the main thing. Amen!

      God will not share HIS glory with another, but people fawning over men will learn this, prayerfully this side of eternity, when the one they exalt is brought low.

  • http://adebtortomercy.blogspot.com Wyeth Duncan

    First of all, I do appreciate the suggestions the author presents and the spirit in which he wrote. Secondly, it does seem (whether intentional or not) that the author assumes John Piper is everyone's idea of a paragon of preaching. He's not. Now, please, don't get me wrong: I have absolutely nothing against Piper's preaching. I thank God for John Piper, love hearing and reading what he has to say, and believe I have been greatly blessed and influenced in my theological thinking through his teaching. But, I think I've also heard sermons just as good, or better, through other preachers, both living and deceased (Reddit Andrews & Martyn Lloyd-Jones are just 2 examples which come to mind). Finally, as a preacher myself, rather than "an occasional nod," I find hearty, vocalized shouts of "Amen!", "Say that!", "Yeah!" or "Preach!!" much more encouraging and motivating. ;)

  • Cody

    Thank you for this article Steve. My wife and I are blessed to have several very good, gospel-preaching pastors at our church in Waco. When we visit churches while travelling we've encountered a mixed bag of preaching. We've found some great people on fire for the gospel, and other times on the way to the parking lot we ask each other, "Um..he was nice, but did you ever figure out what the point of his sermon was?"

    This article makes me grateful for those pastors who preach gospel-filled sermons, regardless of rhetorical skill.

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  • Blake

    Jonathan Edwards was known to read his sermons verbatim, and God brought a massive revival under his preaching. The power is in the gospel. It grips the mind first, then moves into the heart by the Spirit.

    • Sally

      It was only after hearing preaching by John Piper and a few others that I realized how little bible teaching was going on at the church i attended.I am very grateful to The Lord for the internet for allowing me to hear such great preachers....

    • Andrew Stravitz

      See Doug Sweeney's 'Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word' for a much more balanced assessment of Edwards' preaching than the common and inaccurate critique of Edwards as a monotone preacher. Can't wait to see that myth eclipsed.

      • threegirldad

        Indeed...

  • Mitchell Hammonds

    There is absolutely no need to write an article like this.

    • http://thekingsfellowship.com Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

      Would you care to explain?

  • Josh Gervacio

    First off I appreciate your article...secondly no matter what one can say the author's point are very pure, honest, and him some wisdom to readers such as myself. But I would like to comment on the fact that there will always be critics but let it not be said of any one of us that we KNOW what your talking about. The celebrity cut on Piper was just flat out disrespectful, God gave the growth! Piper knows that and several men in tIIs day know this as well. Thus make it there goal to stay under grace, be all the more humble and PREACH the POWER of the GOSPEL of CHRIST not Piper! Pray for more men who want to display the greatness of God!

  • Paul Buckles

    I attended Bethlehem Baptist and sat under John Piper for Sunday's in '96 and '97 along with the Wednesday Evening informal sessions. Upon moving west in '98, and settling in a small mountain community, I was resigned to never be challenged from the pulpit again, after having been able to have such a great teacher in Minneapolis. I have been delighted to be proven WRONG to my initial sentiments and have continued to enjoy, and be challenged by, the teaching of my faithful, no-name pastors, whom I now feel need to have a lot more people be exposed to their teaching of the Common Truth which John Piper so beautifully expounded.

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  • Max Lucado

    I read this article "outwardly"...

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  • Ellis Brazeal

    Good thoughts. I would postulate: "is it good to have Piper for your preacher?" At the vast majority of churches, the success of the church is based upon how well the pastor speaks and communicates, not necessarily what message he is bringing. In fact, if we can all be honest for a moment, having a good communicator can be deleterious to the health of your church. When you have a good communicator, people take him on as their "priest," and you can never, ever point out improper preaching on the part of the preacher. Never. Really!

    What's more, the true Gospel (the law is perfect--we are far worse sinners than we ever imagined--but we are forgiven "a priori"--God's grace is that much more amazing) is rarely, rarely taught. When it is, regardless of whether your pastor is a good communicator, those who are chosen will be blessed and changed. I much prefer the content of the message over the speaking ability of the preacher. Even if the pastor is a poor communicator, if he proclaims that we are justified AND sanctified by Grace and demonstrates this from Scriptural accounts, then the preacher is doing God's work. Otherwise, he is a mouthpiece for Satan.

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  • Linda

    I am blessed to have a pastor who sets the standard for what I believe to be excellent preachers. I have heard very few that preach as well as he does.

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  • http://deofmovestofca.blogspot.com/ Deof Movestofca

    This reminds me of a passage in The Cross and the Switchblade where Stagecoach, the leader of the Chaplains gang, tells David Wilkerson that his message was "coming through" to which Wilkerson replies that it wasn't he "who was coming through but the Holy Spirit" (p. 70). And in the end, that's who should be "coming through" in any sermon, regardless of the popularity, charisma, speaking ability, or whatever (or lack thereof) of the person preaching it.

  • Chris

    I'll bet John Piper is cringing. But having said that, I have not been overwhelmed by the nature of all these so-called "celebrated preachers" going around these days. They seem more loud than powerful.

    Before all this celebrity stuff started happening many of us were quite satisfied with our pastors, still are. I know of many pastors who are not celebrated who can run circles around the big-names, both theologically and rhetorically. They just don't have blogs, PR employees & promotional agendas — perhaps on principle....

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  • http://wyattchurch.com josh bullock

    Steve, Josh Bullock here. Don't know if you remember me but wanted to tell you thanks for the info in this article. Its great! God bless you guys in KC.

  • Liviu V

    I am very disappointed after reading those "five suggestions" because they all look like secular methods to improve a mediocre employee. First of all, those who are running after celebrities, should repent of this sin, since Saint Paul says "What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each" and second, if your pastor preaches the Word faithfully, whether he is a good or a bad orator, you must pray for him day and night that he might be in the presence of the Holy Ghost and preach the Word of God in power, not only in sophisticated phrases. I am fully persuaded that a godly pastor, who is consumed by the glory of God and advancement of His Kingdom(and not his own kingdom), would be more encouraged if he would be told that the ones whom he shepherds are praying for him day and night than to see their approval when he had said something "great" or "cool". Unfortunately, the Christendom today has its own Hollywood Walk of Fame. As for those ministers who are seeking their flock approval, they are just man pleasing people, who like to have their flesh tickled. Maybe, after all, they were not even called into ministry and went out to prophesy when no message was given to them(see Jeremiah 14, Ezekiel 13)
    Lord, have mercy...we are such idolaters.

  • Curt

    I think the author missed one more point of good advice-- maybe we should be praying for our individual pastors that God uses them the best way possible and that God gives our pastors the power, passion and convition they need. And that we should be praying for ourselves that we might be able to hear the words of our pastors as God is speaking through him.

  • tricia

    How endless is our need to find something or someone other than God to worship,my heart goes out to John Piper, what a heavy burden to carry, all this idol media hype surrounding him, met him once in South Africa,and was impressed most by his humility, we are making it so difficult for him to cultivate this quality in his walk with God.

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  • jean

    Thankful for my mom who reprimanded me after a service when I was younger and complained of being bored. "If the Bible is opened, you need to listen. God speaks through His Word" that has always stuck with me.

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  • Gary

    Agreed, but I trust this isn't an excuse for mediocrity. Preachers are professionals and specialists. If their preaching is poor, they should do everything in their power and God's power to improve. There are courses to take, books to read, and good preachers and sermons to listen to. People come to church for fellowship, to worship, to be inspired, etc. The pastor should do his/her part to make their sermon the most inspired hour of the week. I always listen back to my sermons to see how I can improve. Have been doing this for 30 years. I've shared this with others and they say they can't listen to themselves. Amazing! And they expect others to listen? No one will critique them honestly. Therefore, they need to be responsible to improve themselves. Most importantly, spend time in prayer asking God His message for the people. Don't preach a sermon unless you know God is in it. This book by Watchman Nee helped me in the early days with my preaching. http://www3.telus.net/trbrooks/MOGW.pdf . Final thought, if your hair stylist is a nice person but does a poor job on your hair, are you going to keep going back?

    • http://www.lakewoodlivingword.com jun

      I agree with you that preachers need to excel but as Piper would put it, brothers, we are not professionals. Preachers are not professionals and specialists, What sets them apart or qualifies them to preach is not their abilities but God's calling and their faithfulness to the message of God's word whether people like it and are inspired or they don't like it and walk out of the church. just some thoughts.

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  • Stephanie

    wow, this was quite an audacious post. i'm stunned.

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  • Janelle T

    My dh and I were just away for a long weekend and discussing how much we love and appreciate our pastor (and his wife). We are members of a very small Southern Baptist Church, and not only does our pastor preach and teach very well, (I have learned so much since we began attending 2 years ago); but he truly loves his church family, is humble, is willing to expose his own weaknesses and failings, and loves and fears the Lord. He also doesn't shy away from preaching tough passages. He is currently preaching through Hosea. We love to listen to Piper, Platt, Washer, Chan, etc on You Tube and podcasts; but when we got home from our vacation, what we most wanted to listen to was a recording of the sermon that we missed last Sunday.

  • Marcia Rios

    It's all about the message-NOT the messenger!!!!!!!There are no superstars in the the body of Christ- except Christ himself. People need to remember this!

  • http://ezekielcountdown.wordpress.com Carrie

    Marcia,

    Amen!

    Did JP or anyone else die on the cross purchasing the pardon for our sin? NO! This "cult of personality" is an effective tool to convince people flocking to a mega-"star" is what matters which results in a skewed focus on the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ!

    Bow before the Lord Jesus Christ in humble repentance and faith or chase after men but don't be fooled that it is OK to do both.

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  • Daniel

    That is so true, about what you wrote Steve. A child (non-mature christian) always complains, but a parent(mature christian), put's every word at heart.

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  • Stewart

    "Third, if your pastor is (honestly) dull, but he preaches the truth faithfully, a little statement I once heard might be helpful for you to remember: "The mature worshiper is easily edified." When hearing lackluster (even if biblical) preaching, immature worshipers will typically not listen to the message because they wish the messenger was more exciting. Conversely, mature worshipers eagerly receive the truth as it is proclaimed, even if it sounds like the preacher is reading a phone book."

    This sounds like an invitation to be satisfied with mediocrity. There is absolutely no excuse for a boring sermon. If 'it sounds like the preacher is reading a phone book', he clearly hasn't grasped the power of the book in his hands (Heb. 4:12), nor the responsibility of his role in teaching and feeding God's people.

    While preachers can improve their exposition, organization, delivery, etc with training and practice, there does remain that bottom line whereby some are gifted to teach and preach publicly and others are not. Listeners need to be discerning, particularly mature Christians and shepherds, so that young men are not encouraged into ministry when they clearly lack the necessary ability.

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